It’s been a couple of weeks since I shared the post in which I announced that I was closing down my old brands effective immediately.
The response has been interesting.
Some have been shocked.
Some have been confused.
Some have reached out to reconnect.
Some have probably deleted my information or disconnected from me on social media.
Some probably haven’t even noticed.
Some people have held me up as some kind of inspiration for the choice I made. As I (hopefully) made clear in a follow-up Facebook post, this was not done to be inspirational, motivational or to ‘get the cookies’ – it was done because it was the decent thing to do.
But there were two responses to my post that I felt required some further attention.
The first was from a dear soul sister of mine who sent me a direct message saying,
“Hey you, good to see you making changes. And…it might be helpful to be specific on how you have been harmful. This might help people who feel harmed get some acknowledgment (while simultaneously opening eyes to others who might be harmful themselves).”
I’ll be honest (as I have been with her). The patterns of privilege are life-long, run deep and take time and continued effort to unpack, unlearn and dismantle. The pattern of fragility was the first thing to come up in me on reading her message (more on fragility in coming articles, but for a quick reference, check out this video from Robin D’Angelo).
This had been a difficult decision and felt like a big deal for me to do and I felt disappointed that the focus of this response was on pointing out where I was not yet going far enough (as it was further than a lot of people will currently go). I was disappointed in myself that I hadn’t yet ‘got it right’ and that was being reflected in this response. In short, the fragility response was making it about me. Which was never the point of doing this. But after pausing, taking a deep breath, identifying that what was coming up was, in fact, a predictable and toxic pattern of fragility, taking a moment to dismantle that pattern of behaviour and see beyond it, what surfaced was deep gratitude.
Here was a friend who was compassionately calling me out and calling me in. Not for her benefit, but for mine. She was being vulnerable by holding up a mirror to where I still needed to do more, knowing that fragility patterns tend to be the common response to doing this and knowing that if they came up, the consequences of those patterns were more than likely going to land at her door. In spite of all that, here she was, letting me know where I not only could be doing more, but where I need to (my words, not hers). I am so grateful to have people in my life who hold me accountable, believe in my ability to do better and are courageous enough to offer support to me at risk to themselves. I feel humbled every single time it happens. My response was simple, “Thank you for the feedback, I really appreciate it. I agree, that will important for me to address. It feels that will be an article in its own right.”
The second response that felt like it needed some more attention was from someone on my mailing list:
I guess it was not easy to write this honest and pretty open-forward letter to such a big audience.
I also read the explanation you referenced in the E-Mail – I still feel a bit lost…
One thing caught my attention especially … you mentioned, that especially your “ignorance to your privilege” was a reason, that your work prior to this transformation does not reflect your current values …
As I’ve been actively reading about that topic recently, I was wondering if you could elaborate this more.
Maybe you already have a longer explanation online or plan on writing one – it’s okay if you would just direct me towards it.”
With these two responses, it was clear to me that I needed to go further in explaining more specifically WHAT harm had been done in my previous work, and why it no longer reflects my current values.
In truth, there were other articles that I wanted to share on these topics first, but these responses showed me that I needed to make this the priority. Because this is not about me or what I want. This is about what this work is asking OF me.
The truth is that I could release an article a day for the next year and not get close to doing justice to the deep journey I have been travelling with understanding and dismantling privilege. It wouldn’t even begin to describe the multitude of ways in which my work to date has been harmful, toxic, ill-informed and out of alignment with what I know now. As Robin D’Angelo mentioned in the video I shared above, “Sincerely, if you haven’t devoted years of sustained study and focus, yeah you have an opinion, it’s misinformed, it’s superficial, it’s limited. It couldn’t be anything other than that because it’s so complex and nuanced and nothing gives us the information we need. You could go get a PhD, you could lead a university system without having any skills to engage in this arguably most complex and nuanced social dynamic.”
My perspective is still misinformed, superficial and limited. I have barely begun to scratch the surface.
But, one of the things I have also learned on this journey is “progress over perfection,” and not becoming obsessed with not making mistakes because they are quite simply inevitable in the culture and climate that we currently live in. What matters more is both doing as much as you can to learn how to minimise the instances of these mistakes by educating yourself and doing the work and also HOW those mistakes are dealt with when they happen (not just sincerely apologising, but then doing the work that minimises the possibility of the same or similar mistakes being made in the future, and making amends in order to give the apology meaning).
So I am not going to try and write an exhaustive list of everything that caused harm – with my privilege ignorance I could literally have gone through the 500 or so pages, articles, videos and quotes of the two brands I’ve closed down and I’m sure come up with thousands, if not millions of examples and instances. But instead, I’m going to focus on five significant areas I can see where I behaved in ways that will have caused others harm. Without doubt, there are others, and I may write a ‘What harm, part 2’ sometime in the future when more of these become visible to me through the work I am continuing to engage in.
But before I can do that, I need to first own my privileges. Because it is my privileges, the ignorance of them and the consequences of them that has caused harm. Without diving deep into the definition of privilege (again, another article to come will do this much more effectively), a privilege is something for which you systemically and institutionally gain benefit in our society, and for whom those without the privilege are systemically cost (and for whom there has been a legacy of cost and oppression for an extensive period of time). Often these benefits and costs are not consciously realised and recognised for everyone involved (although those who are systemically cost tend to be much more aware than those who systemically benefit).
Privilege doesn’t mean your life is easy, it just means you do not have a particular aspect of yourself or your life making it harder.
Some of the privileges that I hold are: white privilege, class privilege, cis privilege (I am cisgendered, meaning that I identify internally with the same sex that my body suggested externally when I was born), heterosexual privilege, able privilege (both physical and mental), age privilege, thin privilege…and the list goes on. These are all elements of me that lead to me systemically benefitting from the way our society is structured and run, that the equivalent elements for others would lead to them being systemically cost.
One example of a privilege that I do not hold is male privilege.
So, based on this perspective, what are the five significant areas where my privilege, ignorance of it and my actions based on it have caused harm?
1. Lack of inclusivity, representation, equity and justice in my work – Because of my ignorance to my own privilege, I did not see how my work was lacking in even diversity, let alone inclusion, equity and justice. For a great definition of these terms I recommend listening to Layla Saad’s Wild Mystic Woman podcast with Desiree Adaway on leading difficult conversations on race, class and gender . Desiree talks about the issues with diversity by helping listeners to understand that diversity is nothing more than ‘ticking the box’ to show there are ‘different’ people present, but with no awareness or consideration of whether they have power in the room or access to all the things in the room that other people have. She explains the difference between diversity, equity and inclusion and justice in the context of inviting people to a party. The example she gives is that diversity means inviting people to the party who might be black, female or muslim, equity or inclusion might mean letting them play some of the music or making sure there is food they can eat and justice is considering everyone’s needs when planning the party to ensure that, for example, the date doesn’t clash with certain religious festivals that could impede everyone from fully participating. If you were able to go back and look through the pages, articles and videos on my websites you would see that even the ‘box-ticking’ of diversity was completely absent. Most of the images on those sites were of white, thin, able-bodied, cis gendered, heterosexual men and women who conformed somewhat to the western societal image of ‘beauty.’ The language that I used meant that I was creating and sharing content in a way that it only really worked for people who looked, identified and lived somewhat like me. What this created was a space which favoured those who the system favoured, and almost certainly led to those who the system costs feeling further unwelcome, excluded, devalued and unimportant. And for this, I am deeply sorry.
2. Microaggressions – My ignorance of my privileges meant that it would have been virtually impossible for me to have shared around 500 articles and videos without engaging in microaggressions. Microaggressions are the multitude of seemingly small, seemingly insignificant ways that people with privilege act and behave that perpetuates, upholds, supports and are complicit in systemic and institutionalised discrimination and marginalisation. They are defined as “indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalised group.” Each one individually may not seem like ‘much’ (although every one is harmful and unacceptable), but given marginalised folks deal with literally hundreds, if not thousands of these, every single day, the compound effect is huge. The instances of micro aggressions that I have engaged with over the last eight years are many and varied. But a few examples that are immediately obvious are where I was speaking about relationships without making effort to ensure my content was explicitly relevant and inclusive of all types of relationships, to the multitude of transgressions in my post “can black women even be feminine?” the writing of which was in and of itself WAY out of my lane (I should have paid a black woman (or several women of colour) who was an expert in this area to answer the question that was posed by my audience member), the perpetuating of stereotypes in multiple articles and my ignorant use of only the terms “men and women” which excluded large groups of people who do not identify as either. Add to these my belief that I was a ’nice white person’ and so I would regularly say ‘I don’t see colour,’ which was not only offensive and erasing an essential part of a person’s identity and history, but also meant that I did not see where these identities were missing in my work. And for this, I am deeply sorry.
3. Where I was unknowingly complicit in the areas I did NOT hold privilege – While often the areas in which we have privilege are the biggest issue, more and more as I do this work I realise that the areas in which I did NOT have privilege was one of the biggest for me. I shared a lot of content about men and women (again, ignorant of the groups of people who do not identify as either), but what I did not realise at the time was how much I had internalised the messages and systems of male privilege and patriarchy. What this meant was that in sharing my content there were a lot of times where I underpinned these systems at the cost of women and people who do not identify as male. I am aware of several ways in which I placed responsibility on women and those who do not identify as men, which was not actually theirs and did not hold men accountable and responsible for their actions and behaviours in ways that they need to be. My ignorance to the ways I had accepted and internalised the patriarchic systems meant that at times I was actually supporting and upholding them in my work to the cost of women and people who do not identify as men. As ashamed as I am to own this, I have realised that there were many times that I was unknowingly a literal mouthpiece for the patriarchy, excusing and ‘justifying’ unacceptable behaviours by men and placing the responsibility for the existence of these behaviours and changing them on women and others who do not identify as male, when the responsibility for creating and perpetuating these behaviours were not ours. And for this, I am deeply sorry.
4. Social Context – One of the biggest issues in a lot of personal development work is that it is ignorant of and fails to address the social context that is relevant to the content being offered. The simple fact is that, due to systemic privilege power dynamics in our culture everyone is not coming to the work and tools of personal development from a level playing field. It is simply not going to be as easy for people without these systemic privileges to create the same levels of ‘success’ or ‘progress’ in different areas as those who have them, because they have more to overcome in order to get there. That’s not to say that it isn’t possible, but if the work doesn’t acknowledge that not everyone is starting from the same place, with different levels of access to resources, and very different types and numbers of hurdles or barriers to overcome in getting there, then it is doing the audience a disservice. In addition, there is a lot of social context missing in the actual work itself. I read this very powerful article on the lack of social context in Brené Brown’s work, which really brought the situation home for me. The reality is this article really could have been written about a lot of personal growth and personal development work (I would even go so far as to say the vast majority of it), which has in some ways has become a form of ritualised victim-blaming and avoidance of addressing where systemic issues exist and need to be confronted in our society. Personally, I have got a lot out of Brené Brown’s work over the years, but I’m also a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, middle-class woman…so it’s not surprising that it feels powerful and relevant to me, because it was created by someone who has a similar lived experience to me. But if it is reductive and ignorant of the very real lived experience of different groups in society, but purports to be an (or often “the”) answer to one of the biggest issues in our culture for everyone, then there is a problem that needs to be addressed. I can say without any doubt or hesitation that up to this point in my professional career there has been a complete absence of any social context in my work, both in the application of it and in the actual content itself. And for this, I am deeply sorry.
5. The specific harm done as a result of the way I taught about ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ aspects – While technically I have covered this in the points above, because this was such a key part of my work over the last eight years, it felt necessary to address it as a separate point. It is important to make note of my approach to the (in the absence of better terminology, which I am actively seeking) ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ aspects that can be accessed by all people irrespective of gender or sexual orientation. There are many things to address in this piece, like, for example the instances in the past where I conflated for my own ease, speed and comfort the terms masculine/male/men/masculine aspects and feminine/female/women/feminine aspects which was both ineffective and not representative of the content (this would have therefore been confusing and misleading for men, women and those who do not identify as either). But the biggest pieces for me with respect to this work is firstly how my use of the binary terminology masculine and feminine perpetrated the perceived superiority and normalisation of a gender binary that was insensitive and I’m sure challenging and harmful to those who identify as non-binary or gender fluid. The second piece for me which feels important to address is how my initial work in this area was completely ignorant of people who do not identify with either of these spectrums of aspects (‘masculine’ aspects or ‘feminine’ aspects), or who identify with both of them, which meant that groups of people were ignored and their life experience erased in how this content was designed and delivered. And for this, I am deeply sorry.
This list is not exhaustive or even complete, it is just the start. As individual instances come up I will continue to address, apologise for and make amends for them. And as my work continues and deepens, more will inevitably come to light, and those will be addressed with equal importance.
But in the meantime, I hope that the above will serve as a beginning.
A beginning of making amends to those who have been harmed in the course of the work I have done to date (both those who are aware of it, and those who are as yet not). My work here it not even close to being done, there is a long road still to travel ahead, both in addressing the harm done in the past and being a part of ensuring that less harm is done in the future.
And a beginning for those of you reading this who hold privilege. The beginning of maybe another level of awareness, another perspective to consider, another place for you to look for how you can do better than you have done to date too. The beginning of you being able to see new ways in which your privilege has impacted others, and ways in which you might want to learn and grow to do better as well.
If that resonates with you, then I invite you to stay with me for the journey ahead. I will be sharing more of my personal experiences that might help support you with your own. The journey is and will be difficult, challenging and uncomfortable, but from personal experience, I can tell you it is deeply worth it.