Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Privilege at its Finest

Most of you know that I rarely write on my blog, so this must have been a biggie to incite me to write after about eight months of latency. I try my best to respect all people, and their contributions, therefore I am not in any way asserting that this is the behavior of all men. I just thought that this situation is one that should be pointed out, as to raise our consciousness about something that we should have somewhat mastered by the time we enter our adult years – mutual respect.

I was working on a publication for our non-profit agency – a brochure that would advise our potential funders of what we do, and why they should feel compelled to make a contribution. The program that we are promoting is aligned with the Children’s Defense Fund – an agency that serves as a voice for minority, poor, and handicapped children. After presenting several times nationally on the subject of community needs assessment, empowerment for minority and oppressed populations, and even working to implement a model for youth empowerment in Charlotte, NC (about which I hope to publish the results of that work with a team of distinguished professors from all over the United States), I thought that that work would qualify me to be addressed as more than just an errand girl fetching information, and actually be regarded as one with valid points, and opinions.

No such luck. I was told in a tersely, “Bring your work. I’m sure I’ll have to revise it. Know that our third party will have a view, and you’ll have to leave the emotion out of your point of view.” I try not to curse, but my emotion almost came out. There were so many oppressive undertones to this conversation. The sad thing is that I don’t know if I should attribute this blatant insensitivity to sexism or ageism. All too often women and young women are treated as if we need to constantly be evaluated by paternalistic older men who believe that they have to continue to check over our work as if we are completing a grade school homework assignment. It is definitely time that we change our language and come into the 21st century. When we work together, we certainly should not impose authority over one another in a group, especially when the job descriptions do not dictate that we do so.

But, we must also look at the roots of our prejudice. Why is it that women are always assumed to be guided by emotion for emotion’s sake? Even if that were the case, I am the one with the psychological background, and thus my input should definitely be valued and highly regarded. I am the one who has studied what motivates people to participate in philanthropic initiatives, and what motivates them to spend money. Emotion has a lot with whether people give to one charitable cause over another. Understanding emotions, and the motivations for those emotions, is certainly important when done in an intentional manner. Furthermore, what my colleague did not understand, is that there are some who are guided by emotions, and those who are not. The objective is to pinpoint our audience to figure out whether emotions motivate them or not. But, if you ignore or devalue the role emotions play in our decisions, then you assume that all people think the same – which makes you vulnerable to stereotyping others, and thus offending those which you are asking for money.

Despite the overt insult, I kept cool and suggested what I thought to be obvious – have different publications that target different populations with different values, interests, and motivations. Isn’t that one of the major tenets of marketing – to identify and target various segments of the population, without assuming every segment is the same. The person I was speaking to forgot that I have studied both business and psychology, and that one of the major challenges for those who only think in terms of business is that they often forget the consumer, and the diversity of consumers.

This situation in a sense humored me, and in a sense saddened me. It’s funny how I can do so much work on a national level, with colleagues of national status, and my contributions be accepted at face value with no struggle. Then, I come back to my hometown to share that work and I am treated as if I am still about eight years old. Then I remember how Jesus was treated. A person is often without honor in their hometown. Unfortunately, I am not as self-sacrificial as Jesus. I will not be used and then denigrated. I will not lift a finger unless I am at the very least regarded as more than a woman without a brain whose only value is to carry out someone else’s ideas. I have plenty of my own, and the harvest already has too few laborers. There are too many opportunities to carry out the common good, thus I will only pursue opportunities where I am regarded as a peer, a collaborator, and a full partner.