When I asked Patti Smith about self-advocacy at her book signing for Year of The Monkey, I’ll never forget the broadening of her face as she said, “You already know.” All her following words disappearing into the next book she’d sign. “It’s compassion, the people you surround yourself with… you already know,” she repeats.
Her magnified eyes gripped me. I felt a sort of shock twist up my spine like tree roots. I looked at her from the person behind me and said, “In my heart I know.”
Bumbling around New York City a couple hours earlier, I was reckoning with my own idea of self-advocacy, “If I’m too nervous to ask Patti Smith about self-advocacy than I wouldn’t really be advocating for myself.” I spoke with loose, flailing hands to my friend Lex who just moved from the UK to the shores of New Jersey. As they settle into their new home, Lex transcends. They love it here.
Versus Lex, in living on the Jersey Shore, I don’t always feel like I’m doing the best for myself. Lex will say, “Something good must have come out of this town, you’re here.” And I’ll smile and give them a hug wondering where I will end up on this journey. Maybe Lex and I will switch places, I, finding home in the UK.
Western worlds are so old they are compromised by their own stubborn age. Nevertheless, America is so young, its adolescence seems incorrigibly problematic. The softest comfort sits as a rendering fat on the surface of an exhausted America—compliance.
Compliance is easy. We are trained for it. We go to American public school as factory cows for the war machine to pump our milk and sell it for profit. Only so few cows advocate for themselves. Only so few cows say no to the machine and I believe this is why change happens so slow. The beginning of change starts with the self-advocate.
“It’s a game,” says Lex’s friend Candice of Berlin. “New York is a game. You either play or get left behind.” She talks about first walking into New York earlier in the week. She speaks of never having a moment of awe. Nothing captivating her senses to enrich this idea of New York City. It was just New York. Candice writes poetry, she is 24 and speaks with a rich English accent, laughing in the world rather than at it. This was the first time I met Candice. Traveling to places that fill her, Candice’s advocacy held light in her soul. I lived in her space for just a night and felt her self assured fires burning to live life for the randomness that existence is.
This topic of self-advocacy seems to align with our health and our perception of self. I believe the faces we come in contact with act as mirrors of the mind. Viven Siegel, Ph.D in Genetics of University of California, San Francisco writes for American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) about self-advocacy as it applies to gender stereotypes in an article, “Self-Advocacy: Why It’s Uncomfortable, Especially for Women, and What to Do About It”. Siegel details how self-advocacy can churn successful based on the binary genders of man and woman.
Siegel shares the common tale of the gender pay gap. The source of this disparity can stem from the employer, but in her story the male interviewee advocates for higher pay whereas the female interviewee does not:
“A self-advocating argument made by a woman will be seen as more self-promoting, even aggrandizing, than the same argument made by a man. Second, the social cost of resisting gender stereotypes is being liked less by both men and women.”
Siegle suggests that people who have less privilege, in this case women, need back up when it comes to advocacy.
If cis-straight white women have the most privilege below cis-straight white men, then I project this social cost of resisting and self-advocacy widening as identities diversify from the most privileged who can afford compliancy. For example, men can afford to be compliant toward the gender pay gap because it doesn’t directly affect them, but when men advocate for the self-advocating woman, change happens faster for women. This ladder of privilege starts with the white cis-straight man downward. We could dissect identity privilege and it’s effects on self-advocacy for miles.
Anyway, I don’t think I am moving to the UK anytime soon. There is lots to be done with who I am, and where I am, right now in this moment. Patti Smith, was right though. I do know what self-advocacy is. The self-advocate lives in perpetual activism for self and the silenced. Swinging into modern day politics where the airs of privilege stare compliant and hateful to the equal rights of a people. Self-advocacy is showing up a screeching banshee even when the waves of discriminatory rejection tumble a toil. Self-advocacy is finding a home in a people that stand with you in allyship and shared experience, a desire for change in this life that roles dice as if a game.