YOU Are Not The Issue, Societal Systems and Norms Are: How we mislabel barriers for those who are Black or female or gay or… or… or…
“I didn’t get that job because I’m a mental illness sufferer.”
“I failed to make the boardroom because I’m a woman.”
“I wasn’t welcome in that church because I’m gay.”
We are naturally analytical, when things don’t go right for us. We ask questions about why we don’t succeed, but I want to remind you that our reasoning is often wrong.
When we label a failure as down to something we cannot change, we are doing ourselves a disservice. We make the label of “Black,” “female,” “gay,” “depressed,” into a negative, something to be blamed when things don’t go our way.
We’re saying that our skin color, gender, sexuality, wealth level, whatever it is, is holding us back.
But it’s not – at least not in the way you might think.
What’s holding you back is not that you happen to be Black or happen to have a mental illness. What is holding you back is society’s reaction to those things.
As a woman, I may not get a boardroom seat, but that’s not because I’m a woman. It’s because of the patriarchal society in which we live. I cannot change that I am a woman, but I can start to help break down the barriers and stereotypes of gender identity.
A gay person is not embraced by a church, not because they identify as homosexual. It’s because of societal homophobia. They cannot alter their sexuality, but they can take part in pro-LGBT movements.
You see, it is natural to be female, gay, Black, and so on. These are not things we can change. The barrier to success in certain areas is not a result of being those things, but a result of society’s prejudice.
The obstacles in your life are not skin colour, sexuality, gender and so on. The more you tell yourself that you are the problem, the more you’ll believe that there’s nothing you can do about it.
“I can’t change that I’m female, so I can’t change that I didn’t get that job.” What if I change this to an acceptance that I didn’t get the job due to systemic misogyny? Now I have something I can fight against, something I can change.
I can be proud that I’m a woman fighting systemic misogyny, rather than resenting not getting a better job. Rather than denigrating my gender, by blaming it for not getting the job, I have taken a proactive role.
Only when we stop seeing things we cannot change as barriers, are we able to acknowledge the real obstacles and overcome them.
As an example, let’s take cross country running. We don’t label ‘being a runner’ as the barrier to getting over boulders on the route. We say that the stones are the obstacles to the runner.
Just like for the runner, the obstacles are often outside of us, and need us to find ways to get around them.
Being a runner isn’t the obstacle, the rocks are.
Being a woman isn’t the obstacle, societal stereotypes are.
By addressing the root cause of things not going our way, we are calling things out for what they are. We need to end racism, homophobia, misogyny, and so on, but the way to start doing that is publicising that it happens.
You cannot fight against your gender, but you can fight the patriarchy.
You cannot fight against your skin colour, but you can fight systemic racism.
You cannot fight against your sexuality, but you can fight homophobia.
If there’s one takeaway from this, it is that the problem is the way others see you, not what you unchangeably are.