A Reflection on Marginalized People and Inequality
Sometimes I sit at my desk and ponder about my insignificance in the scope of changing the world through social reform. When this feeling of contemptibility seeps into my day, I often slip into the habit of magnifying my inutility as all humans seem to do at some point. This seemingly innocent thought leads to the mental creation of what I imagine the perfect world would look like. Here, there is no injury or illness. No one suffers from hunger or cold because pain stemming from one’s efforts to survive does not exist. Sadness is temporary and heartache doesn’t last long. In this place, one thing I know we do not have today is possessed by all, human rights.
Let’s be honest, it’s hard not to constantly think about our current societal climate in these contemporary times. Technology has truly granted us the ability to be more globally connected than ever before. I am almost seventeen and though I have a lot to learn about this world I have already witnessed innumerable historical advancements in the field of social justice. More recently, I have seen the rising importance of equal rights which is why I decided to review social justice issues in my inquiry project. My final product accordingly is a James Baldwin-inspired personal essay discussing my particular perspective on issues that affect me as a young woman like sexism and gender inequality.
A Letter to the Daughter I May Never Have
I have tried to write this letter for six months and I can not decide whether it should be an apology or not. As I write now, I imagine your face which is also my face, as well as your grandmother’s. Like me, I picture you as someone who is passionate, stubborn, naive, and has a tendency to always strive for excellence to prove your worth to others. I envision that you have inherited your grandmother’s unapologetic strength because you want no one to think you are delicate, the same strength that I lack. If you were to meet her, she would tell you about her accomplishments as well as her regrets; the perspective of a woman who has been oppressed by man her whole life, a common experience yet always unique. Her resilience is admirable and she has taught me all I know, I’m sure I would mention something about all that to you, but there is one thing I truthfully never was able to learn; how to remain hopeful. Well, for this very reason, you’ll never meet her, nor will you meet me. You will never have the chance to grow to despise certain parts of the world as I have. I am doing this because I love you, though I do not know you or will ever meet you. Perhaps the choice in itself is selfish and for that I am sorry.
I imagine what it would be like to raise you. Carry you in my arms and on my shoulders, to kiss and watch you learn to walk. I wonder what it would be like to love someone for that long; first as an infant, then as a child, then as a woman. Other people would not feel what I feel when I look at you as my daughter. I would feel a sense of accomplishment for your effort and responsibility for your pain. The guilt of knowing I would bring you into a world filled with hatred as a mother, as your mother, is unbearable. I don’t want you to suffer.
I think about you all the time and why I don’t want you here. I think of you when I feel like I am being followed on the street at night. In those moments I begin praying even though I have never believed in God, wishing I will make it home safe. I think of you when I wear multiple layers of clothing out of insecurity because my body has received everything but respect the moment I turned thirteen. As I have grown my flesh has become the weapon of my own demise and my figure always seems to speak before I can to others. I think of you when I am whistled at, when men’s words shoot daggers through my worth. I have had to answer to everything except my name, for what they shout at me is not said as a compliment rather to make sure I remember my place. I think of you when I am searching on the internet for what lines of work have the most sexual assault incidences so I can modify my career plan accordingly. I frequently fear that no matter how hard I work in a male-dominated industry I will never be able to reach my goals due to my gender. I think about you when I read reports of rape and domestic violence cases in other countries. Though I have the privilege to not be in those circumstances, my heart still aches for the women who live every day of their life in fear of men. I think of you when I am taught in history class about how common it was for women to be forced into domestic settings due to their gender and how many brilliant minds never had the opportunity to prosper. I mourn the lives of those women who died truly believing what men would say about them in intents of degradation. I think of you when I look at our world’s current state and I don’t want you to be here, though I would hold you tight if you were.
I am writing this letter to you to tell you something about the world I live in and the circumstances that must change. I am very familiar with the conditions in which we women exist, under which you would be born into. This society has been built with brutal clarity against us. We are not expected to aspire to excellence as we both strive to: women have been socialized since birth to settle and are expected to comply. That is the very reason why we march, speak, and write.
My deepest fear is your suffering above all else, yet my biggest dream is that one day you’ll experience the world’s beauty free of discrimination. Though I never learned to be hopeful at a young age, the thought of raising you in a place where you are safe and comfortable gives something to work towards. The really terrible thing is, darling, that there is a long way we must go.
If by any chance you are reading this, then I have found hope or my efforts have been of value, and if not this letter has most likely already gone forgotten. If there is one thing you should take away from my words it is this. Women have minds, hearts, and ambitions worth fighting for. Never let anyone have you believe otherwise. Perhaps this world needs you and certain forms of human suffering are inevitable, though, I am not sure I will ever be able to accept that I can’t protect you from everything. Nevertheless, I will always try. Please remember this my dear.
Though currently, the state of patriarchal tendencies has diminished in certain countries, the effects these ideologies from past generations have held still affect women today. This James Baldwin-inspired essay seeks to express my personal fear of having a daughter in our current society after what I have encountered in my short lifetime. It has been written in a letter format as is the Baldwin essay I analyzed in class formally which is titled “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew”. This letter I wrote addresses the global issue of sexism and gender inequality out of all the social justice issues I could have chosen because it is something I can relate to as a woman which is important because a key element to a personal essay is to integrate an author’s interpersonal message. It also aspires to capture the extremes of Baldwin’s style: the righteous anger that made him famous and his fervent belief in the redeeming power of love. Honestly, when writing this I was constantly reminded of how bad of a writer I am. I don’t mean that to sound pitiful, but I mean to say that I have so much to learn and can only aspire to create a piece that merely resembles an author like James Baldwin. Though I am a poet and creative writer, I often struggle with perfectionism which makes it difficult for me to learn to love my work. I have heard people say that you are always your harshest critic, and when it comes to me I completely agree with that statement.
The research I did for my personal essay involved understanding current movements and circumstances women face around the world since my experience is only one out of billions. I usually would read the news to catch up on current events, but only after I started doing research for my project I started reading on the much more polarized and tragic cases women face in other places. I also read more about movements around the world that seek to spread awareness of issues that directly affect women for example one of the most well-known is the #Metoo movement. When I was doing my research and told my cousin about what my project is about, he was worried. After the conversation I had with him I knew that when I thought about feminism and when he did we thought about completely different things. This is why I also sought to fully understand what feminism true definition is. My interaction with my cousin perfectly encompasses many misinterpretations you can see here in Peru. Here, when you talk about feminism, most think of only radicals that hate men when in reality true feminism holds ideologies that seek to establish political, economic, personal, and social equity between the sexes.
Before committing to the idea of my project, I had writers’ block that had been limiting me from producing poems I could be happy with. As an aspiring writer, this can be disappointing. The inferiority in feeling you are not good at what you enjoy doing and put effort into is brutal. The last time I was assigned an activity that involved writing and granted creative liberty was when I was in IA (Innovation Academy, a creative program offered at our school). Therefore writing a personal essay seemed like the perfect task to overcome my personal struggles.
The BOW I had chosen to analyze was photographs from the 2017 photo exhibition “Let Us March On” by Yale University holding images of the acclaimed American photographer Lee Friedlander. The photos included were originally taken in 1957 and the exhibition was held by the University’s art gallery in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom (an early Civil Rights demonstration in Washington). In this demonstration, Martin Luther King Jr. himself delivered his “Give Us the Ballot” speech which advocated for the voting rights of black Americans across the country. I chose this BOW because I was interested in the Civil Rights Movement and what Baldwin experienced in these demonstrations. These street photographs offered a raw perspective of what inspired Baldwin’s work and why he continued his career as an activist; the people. When we first learned about him in class, I wondered what it must have felt like to inspire. The image I had of him after watching the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” and the various conversations about his writing in our class Socratic Seminars was reason enough to why I was more than lenient to learn more about the era he lived in. But when it came time to create my own essay, though I had educated myself on the black experience in America, there is only so much I can truly understand due to my white privilege, therefore I felt as though writing about this issue would not be appropriate in a personal essay. So I decided to focus more on the bigger picture racism belonged to, social justice. A perspective I could relate to is that of a woman which means a subsection relating to discrimination is sexism. So overall in a way, James Baldwin has heavily influenced and been present in the entirety of my project. And after reading some of his other pieces in my free time, I am glad I chose to manage my project in this unique manner.
What I at first attempted to do in an implicit manner with this piece and get across to the audience under all my words is this sense of grief and moderate anger that the world has caused in the speaker as a young woman. The essay’s intent is not to paint, restrict or label men as bad, but rather focuses on the frustration certain actions some of the opposite sex take, which is not what I consider generalization. The only reason this implicit purpose works is because my explicit purpose is to write a letter about how I feel being a young woman in our current world is like, which goes hand in hand with bitterness. Though this is a letter written to a supposed future daughter that may never exist (explicit), the implicit audience I intended is men who believe that there is no inequality between the sexes. I hoped to achieve an emotional impact on this audience though men themselves can not relate to the situations mentioned, for this reason, many details are provided to support examples. I hoped this impact would prompt reflection of the various issues women face because they are women, perhaps through my words, this audience can acknowledge the differences in the female experience. Though these men are the intended audience, I believe women would be more attracted to the piece because it is relatable. I think a specific group of women would be those of my generation at my school in Peru, seeing that the experience of women varies depending on social class and other factors. I still think that a younger male audience would benefit from reading the personal essay though, seeing that many of the situations mentioned are very real and some preventable. Young men have mothers, sisters, female friends and may one day have wives (depending on their sexuality and if they get married) which is why they must be informed just as much as other women on the issue. If I can achieve even the slightest moment of reflection in this intended audience about how our society is structured and the normalized behavior that should not be routine, I would consider my piece’s purpose successful. I personally am not sure if I would like publishing this anywhere seeing that, I am not the most confident in the piece itself as every insufferable melodramatic writer is about their work, but I think if I were to further develop it I would like to share it potentially on a platform accessible to the younger generation.
I believe that my essay has various layers that relate to Baldwin’s writing which is the task I was assigned so I am going to explain some of my favorite sections as the author and the techniques/devices used. The letter begins by emphasizing how difficult it has been to actually write this letter as does Baldwin by using a hyperbole to strengthen the point in the line “I have tried to write this letter for six months…”. Besides the introduction, the first paragraph for the most part contains tender family connections being made where I used structurally similar lines from Baldwin’s essay in order to create a resemblance in writing. For example, the similarities between physical features mentioned which involve nostalgic reminiscing on orientation, the line that alludes to his essay reads “As I write now, I imagine your face which is also my face, as well as your grandmothers.” But this reflection abruptly transitions into a serious tone due to the line “Well, for this very reason, you’ll never meet her, nor will you meet me.” This tone shifts as the speaker directly addresses their supposed daughter and use of colloquial language indicates to the reader that this letter might not be what the reader originally anticipated. The second paragraph uses rhetorical devices that Baldwin uses, though it stems from his style of writing more into how I write due to the nature of a personal essay. I use parallelism and repeat the words “I think of you” to emphasize the point that is trying to be made which is that the world can be a bad place at times. In the third paragraph, I regain a Baldwin touch and allude to his past work in sentence structure once again. I wanted to add more empowerment in this section seeing that some could interpret the paragraph before as “victimizing” oneself which is not what I wanted it to come off as, rather the worry of a mother when loving deeply and worrying for her child. In the last lines, I tried to leave an impact on the audience by ingraining strong words of advice from mother to daughter and finish the essay with a more ambiguous end on whether the speaker decided to have a child or not. Something that is very unique to my writing and is relevant in this letter is the twists and turns of thinking you are reading. What I mean by that is, when I write I am also questioning myself and in this case swayed from wanting a daughter and believing it may be better not to. All of these worries mentioned are authentic from a real almost seventeen-year-old, me, which I believe makes them valid though they may be unshared. In the end, I felt like what I wrote was lackluster but I ended up coming to terms with it. I originally felt like that by not having any epic solutions to provide or life-saving recommendations the end seemed disappointing, but by not having a resolution I now believe it also makes the ending more raw and real. The meaning of the essay was transmitted successfully thanks to Baldwin’s writing which inspired me. I often looked back at his lines when I needed a guide, this is why there are so many similarities that I believe an inspired essay should contain if desired by the author. Though the entire global issue I wanted to focus on was social justice, in my writing I wanted to contribute my own experience that I could fully understand in order for the overall message to be effective which is that inequality between the sexes exists and it limits women. Therefore, the essay explores social justice but one out of many perspectives out there.
My thinking has evolved a great deal from when I started this project to where I am now finishing my very agonizingly long blog entry. I started my journey with no inspiration and ended with a final product that took time to shape into something I was satisfied with. Over this process, I have learned that there is always something you can improve on, especially when writing. For example when I tried to include rhetorical devices that Baldwin used, most of them I didn’t even know about in the first place and when applied did not have the desired effect on the reader that I was looking for. Trial and error truly were what helped mold my personal essay into what I am presenting in this blog today. Now that my project is almost over I feel slightly anxious knowing I will be sharing my writing, perhaps it’s the vulnerability aspect of sharing with people I don’t actively seek feedback from like my poetry group friends. But I need to face this fear if I want to pursue writing as a career seeing that publishing my non mediocre poetry pieces is a dream I am working towards. A skill that I have learned during this process is to take constructive criticism as what it is, feedback. My biggest goal out of this project was to diminish my fixed mindset and through seeking other’s opinions I became more open-minded. Overall, even though I don’t like it when people tell me I don’t know how the world works because I am young, I believe that instead of “not knowing” our new generation of innovative minds has more time to learn. I and many others of my generation have the will to tackle social justice issues at hand as can be seen by the Black Lives Matter Movement to the#Metoo Movement. We are going to the places we must travel for equality to be achieved. As James Baldwin once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”