I timidly raise my hand. Here. I'm right here. We're right here.
I think you're saying a good thing here, that all women aren't necessarily beat down and powerless and shouldn't be constantly portrayed as such, and certainly not as selling point for women's magazines and news segments. I think that's great, really great. But that's one small media image in a melting pot of swirling memes, one that overflows with a different sort of destructive image of women- the kind that screams SEX!, and never HUMAN BEING! You speak of a world of where women are college educated, empowered, confident ladies in their twenties, which quite probably exists somewhere, but I'm personally not familiar with it. The majority of women in the USA and the vast, vast majority elsewhere don't live in that world, and to say that in this post-feminism earth, no woman need suffer from low self-esteem, no woman is bombarded with messages that tell her she is not good enough, no woman wants more from her life but thinks she isn't good enough to get it, that's ignorance. These tragedies are everywhere.
I think about the trailer park I grew up in, and I have trouble thinking of a single woman who lived there who didn't have abysmal self-esteem. Domestic violence was the social norm- women got beat, and that's all there was to it. These women took care of the children. These women didn't go to college. These women spent their lives primping and dieting in the hopes of securing a man who would sweep them off their feet, take them somewhere far away and wonderful that they could never dream of finding on their lonesome. And when instead of Prince Charming, they got Mr. Wife beater, Mr. Alcoholic, Mr. Emotionally and Verbally Abusive, or even Mr. Not Too Bright and Not Too Motivated, they only blamed themselves, their own failure to be good enough to do better.
I think of the inner city high school I went to, where boys and girls alike were told that college was too expensive to be worth the trouble, and they were better off enrolling in one of the trade programs the school district offered, to become a cosmetologist or a welder. I think of all the lovely young black girls, poor, uneducated, who threw any chance of a successful future away because they deemed it impossible for girls as stupid and insignificant as them to make it big in life, who ran with the gangs because it gave them a sense of power and belonging they found nowhere else, who learned from an early age that violence was just a way of life, that to be beaten and shot at and to beat and shoot at other people was simply a part of the give and take of human existence. I think of these girls' eyes staring out at me from behind the cold bars of jail cells, and how they really couldn't tell you how they ended up like that, only that it made sense that they did, made sense in an ugly, ugly way.
I think about the United States, and the statistics of eating disorders, of rape, of childhood physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional abuse, of abusive adult relationships, of the gulf between what men are paid and what women are paid for the same jobs, of percentages of women holding public offices and leading corporations. I think of the world outside of the United States, in countries where law and culture haven't been enlightened by feminist movements, where the experiences of women are often utterly horrifying. I think about veiled women in Saudi Arabia, stoned to death on vague adultery charges, I think about twelve-year-old prostitutes in Thailand, I think about rural women in Costa Rica who must be content to bear children and work their fingers to the bone on their husband's tiny farms because there is nothing else for them in life, even in this modern world.
I think of my own mother, who grew up educated middle-class, who grew up in four different countries and spoke three languages fluently, and how she thought so little of herself and had so little to aim for in life that she gradually fell apart, ended up a heroin addict in an abusive marriage, who finally ran away with her drug dealer in a last-ditch attempt to lead a different, better life.
And I think of myself. I think of how years of beatings, rapes, torture, and hunger at the hands of my own father left me a scared and small shell of a girl. I think of how, as a seven-year-old, I figured that I wasn't a real person, but some sort of robot built to withstand pain so that other people wouldn't have to. I think of how close I came to not ever finding myself, and how lucky I am to have had a good public library, loving grandparents who adopted me at age thirteen, and several wonderful therapists, how I owe my life to these things. I think of my recent struggle with schizophrenia, how it feeds off of my low self-esteem and in turn, generates more, of the voices in my head that tell me how horrible I am with a merciless consistency. I think of how I'm writing here on Everything because I'm often too shy to say what I mean about anything in real life, and how, even here, I'm unsure of what I'm writing and afraid of being rejected. How I'm sure that everybody else's thoughts and opinions are better and more valid than those of a little sixteen-year-old nothing of a girl like me.
Where are all the women with abysmal self-esteem? Look a little closer at the world.