The Social in the Personal
An excellent example of paper 1 by Chvonne Wardrop - Winter 2009
Upon reading Body Ritual among the Nacirema By Horace Miner, I was painfully relating to their suffering and how our culture is too living this way, also how they do not even realize the torment they have afflicted upon themselves. These poor people, even worse off then us! That is what I thought as I read this article. To probe into the depth of my story I will discuss a question that stems from C. Wright Mills argument about sociological imagination. How did the context of society shape my life in such a way that living daily in torment was my "norm".
I remember the first time I realized that my "things" were not as pretty as the girl next to me. I was wearing a new skirt from the goodwill right down the street and oversized used pair of dirty tennis shoes that I thought were really cool. My hair was always a mess and cut very badly. I felt so good going to school and walking in that door the first day of second grade, then all at once, my sweet innocence began to wither and the beast of society started to take root. My oppression began when society told a seven-year old child her needs were to be filled by physical attributes and material possessions. I found myself being the odd one out. Other children did not want to sit by me. I really wanted these people who did not like me to be my friends, and so the story goes, as Kurt Vonegaut would say.
I turned thirty years old this year and I was ever so excited to be leaving my twenty's behind. As I started to near thirty I began a spiritual journey that led me back to recapturing childhood memories. I grew up in a lower class neighborhood with "white trash" parents who were stuck in the 80's. My mother is illiterate with the emotional intelligence of a thirteen year old. My step - father was a "cool dude" with a very unique crude personality. He never wore pants, only shorts with spandex underneath them, even in the winter.
I lived on the school cusp between a middle class and lower class neighborhoods. Due to this location, I was constantly trying to play both roles. I began to play one person at school and the other person after school. I constantly had no idea who or what I wanted or needed to be. Fortunately, this taught me how to socially react in many different situations as well as what is expected of me. I felt familiar with many types of people, but I always felt as if I was performing and auditioning to fit molds. Sadly, it really just became apart of who I was.
During my High School years - I was given $100 dollars for school clothes and shoes for the whole year. My destination was K-marshe, my mothers fancy name for K-Mart. I once had a friend who made fun of seeing two classmates with their arms full of clothes from K-mart, for he was only there to buy bug spray with his dad. I was in the sixth grade when that statement was made, and it forever changed the idea that my self worth would be measured by the places I had to shop.
In the text "Sociology in Everyday Life" the authors discuss, Emile Durkheim's "established significance of society, as something larger than the sum of it's parts. Society is external to individuals, yet it's existence is internalized in people's minds because people believe what society expects them to believe." I whole-heartedly agree with these statements, as a child internalizing society's "norms" I didn't stand a chance for the mental strength needed from this pressure. Even more so, when like myself, you do not have an emotionally mature person teaching you the power of self-control or the strength of being mentally sound.
You see what that boy said, I internalized in such a way that I felt shameful for going there. I not only felt shameful, but I realized at that moment that there were things I would have to keep to myself. I was actually really very close with this boy and was even the "popular" girl at school. I never had thought, that where
I purchased an item would have such an influence on what people thought about me until that moment.
Next came Middle School and it only got worse, because now that I knew the rules for social acceptance, I really had to work hard at being someone excepted. After all this was my life! As I read about the shrine's in Body Ritual among the Naceriema, I immediately thought about my years at school. I never felt good enough and I was always reapplying makeup. Everywhere I went I sought out my shrine. I look back during that time, and think, that poor child. At this time I was old enough to know what I wanted but had no idea how to get it, so I began to steal. Yeah, I was a thief. I stole makeup, because it had to be Clinique. That was the kind everybody had. I would steal from my friends, people I would babysit for and department stores. I became so good at stealing I began stealing for people. To give as gifts!
You would never believe it, but nobody ever knew, or perhaps they did and they just never said anything to me. I was living two lives; one was as a young thug girl and another as an impostor in middle class America. I found myself relating to the torturers' in the article, People still willing to torture. Dr. Abigail San said, "They tend to identify massively with the 'experimenter', and become very engaged and distracted by the research. There's no opportunity for them to say what's my moral stand on this?" I knew it had to be wrong mentally, but my desire to want and need to fit in-canceled out any chance of moral reasoning.
Now I am thirty and I am really very thankful for every part of my life. Who I have been and who I will become because of it. Although the internal conflict from the oppression of society brought me to some really low points, I have and continue to rise above and to continually question my values and morals. Even though I am still living in some mental torture from time to time. I am able to recognize the strong hold of the beast and call it away knowing that it is not and will not define who I am as a human being. If somebody so thinks they can define me and place me into some valued little box, then I smile and wish the best to them. The journies we travel belong to us and will never be somebody else's story. My "norm" was once mental anguish, in never being satisfied with who I was, and since I left that place I am pleased to finally meet myself in a place of acceptance.