For those who may not have read it, there is a piece going around that The Huffington Post published written by a young woman named, Taylor Cotter. The piece is aptly titled, "A Struggle of Not Struggling", and it has received a lot of criticism because it drips with privilege. When I first read it, I felt like crying out of anger. I've calmed down since then. I'm not going to talk down to Ms. Cotter, as there are so many others doing that right now. I do want to say that it is evident that Ms. Cotter has led a very sheltered life to be able to write something so privileged, and yet, make it sound like she doesn't know any better--like there is no accountability in her words.
Ms. Cotter's post discusses how she did everything "right" in her academic path, and now she has a full-time job with benefits, an apartment, and a car. Congratulations, Ms. Cotter--you deviate from the norm! You have beat the system!
A choice excerpt from Cotter's piece:
I suppose that I'm grateful that I can make all my car payments and start saving for retirement while most of my friends are living at home and working part-time jobs -- but I often find myself lamenting the fact that I'm not living at home and not working a part-time job. From my perspective, these are just some of the life-changing, character-building experiences that I may never have.
As someone who is "lamenting the fact" that I'm going to be moving home shortly, because my unemployment benefits have ended, it is difficult for me to feel compassionate for someone in Cotter's situation. Though, I do feel sad for her that she is so incredibly uneducated in white privilege. She badly needs to read Peggy McIntosh's, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack"--for starters.
Ms. Cotter mentions the HBO television series, "Girls", into her piece more than once. She claims she'll never get to live like those characters. She feels like she's missing out. Cotter ends her piece saying:
Though I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that I might not be living a Lena Dunham-inspired life, I'm putting myself in a position where in the future, I might have a few more options to pursue what I really love -- and maybe I'm closer to Carrie Bradshaw than I think. At least that's what they're telling me now.
First of all, the characters on "Girls" are characters. Sure, there are probably some women with similar lifestyles, but they are few and far between. Secondly, Lena Dunham--the real person--is wealthy and has wealthy parents. Thus, Ms. Cotter is probably living more of a "Lena Dunham-inspired life" than she originally thought. Carrie Bradshaw--another extremely privileged character--was a pseudo-journalist whose only talent was writing puns in each of her articles. I beg you, Ms. Cotter, find some new role models.
The thing is, when you write a piece like Ms. Cotter wrote, it is immensely important to acknowledge your privilege. Without doing so, you come across as an asshole--to be blunt. Any time I have written about myself being on unemployment, or food stamps, etc, I have always entered with, "Look, I know I have certain privileges. These are..." When you don't do this, it really feels like a slap in the face to those of us who are going through the very things you claim you wish you could go through--in order to have more "life-changing" experiences. NOTE (this is important): I'm not on food stamps because I want to have a "life-changing" experience. I'm on food stamps, because I don't have enough money to buy food.
My hope for Ms. Cotter is that she will soon gain some much needed education on privilege accountability, and all the ways in which what we do (and say) with our privilege can have an enormous effect on others.
- Taylor Cotter: A Struggle of Not Struggling (huffingtonpost.com)
- 22-Year-Old Is Very Upset That She Didn't Get to Be Poor for a While [First World Problems] (gawker.com)