It is clear to me, now more than ever, that the advocacy, activism, and critical commentary that normally characterizes feminist writing must continue during COVID-19. Those most affected by the novel coronavirus and shelter-in-place restrictions are the same folx (see, for example, the disproportionate impact on undocumented workers) that were neglected before the pandemic. We must care for, fight for, and support them.
Yet, I haven’t been in a place this week where I have felt ready to continue to fight. My appetite for criticism is gone, and all I’ve felt every day this week, is an incredible amount of gratitude. I’m grateful for every minute I can spend outside. Each morning, as I run at the foothills of snow capped mountains, I’m grateful to be there. I’m grateful to have the privilege to run, grateful to be running in crisp mountain air, grateful to be able to breathe. The outside world feels like a magical, wonderful place, and I am intensely aware of the joy I feel simply to be able to step outside. Gratitude is important, and it is a much-needed coping skill in times that feel uncertain and scary.
Yet, my feeling of gratitude accompanied by a new distaste for criticism is evidence of my own privilege. Settling into the quarantine, feeling safe and comfortable is evidence that my privilege has enabled me to have a relatively comfortable quarantine experience. That, combined with a reluctance to be critical has led me to interrogate my own comfort. Why am I shying away from critical analysis of societal responses to the pandemic? Why have I felt I reluctant to continue those conversations here, in the writing space I’ve designed to do this very thing – the What We Read series. Is my reluctance to bring continued awareness to the things being silenced, ignored, or misrepresented actually evidence of my own privilege? Is my privilege, my comfort, making me want to be silent?
I think, at least in part, the answer is yes.
Altogether, this quarantine has only served to reinforce how privileged I am as a white, middle-class, well-employed woman.
I have the privilege to be able to shelter-in-place. Despite social media shaming of those who cannot (or, do not) self-quarantine, the privilege to have a job where I can work from home is one that is not universal. Yes, I am being “socially responsible,” but it is because I can be socially responsible. I can afford it. This New York Times article describes the distribution of quarantining by socioeconomic status as represented by neighborhood, and it is clear that those most at risk for dangerous complications from the coronavirus are those who cannot stay home, at all. Many of the “shamers” don’t seem to recognize what must be in place for someone to self-quarantine. If one doesn’t have food, a secure place to stay, an income, a job that transitions to a virtual location, no amount of shaming and finger-wagging is going to enable them to stay home. I am grateful that I have all of those things and can stay home whilst almost maintaining my regular life.
To be clear, if you can self-quarantine, you better. But for those who cannot, regardless of the reason, we need to put protections in place to help you. (And part of those protections is the social distancing of those who can afford to do so.)
I’m also exceptionally privileged to be quarantined with my family, safely ensconced in a household where I feel safe and loved. I am, indeed, locked in, but I’m locked into four walls with people I love, people who wouldn’t intentionally harm me. I am not trapped, you see, I chose this and these people, and I’m grateful every day to be here. The same can’t be said for those who are now trapped with their abusers. Reports of domestic violence and child abuse are on the rise, and there is often no escape for those trapped with the very people they are most at risk from. I might get annoyed, sure, when a family member doesn’t clean the bathroom like I hope they might, but that is a minor annoyance. As someone who still has nightmares about being stalked, who still panics about the potential for a social media post to share location data, feeling safe is a luxury. And I’m so grateful to be feel safe, to be quarantined with my people.
These feelings of gratitude and comfort, then, are evidence of privilege – I don’t have to fight for my own rights, because my immediate interests are already being fought for by political leadership who looks like me. This week, I let comfort become complacency. It is not okay. While it is exceptionally healthy to feel gratitude during this time of stress, I can be grateful while also being aware of how much privilege I have to feel that gratitude.
And, then, that privilege also requires me to fight, to continue to bring awareness. The burden should fall to me – indeed, as it always has – to fight for those who need it the most.