A SYTYCB entry — Dear Taylor Cotter: A Rebuttal

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For those who may not have read it, there is a piece going around that The Huffington Post published written by a young woman named, Taylor Cotter. The piece is aptly titled, “A Struggle of Not Struggling“, and it has received a lot of criticism because it drips with privilege. When I first read it, I felt like crying out of anger. I’ve calmed down since then.

I’m not going to talk down to Ms. Cotter, as there are so many others doing that right now. I do want to say that it is evident that Ms. Cotter has led a very sheltered life to be able to write something so privileged, and yet, make it sound like she doesn’t know any better–like there is no accountability in her words.

Ms. Cotter’s post discusses how she did everything “right” in her academic path, and now she has a full-time job with benefits, an apartment, and a car. Congratulations, Ms. Cotter–you deviate from the norm! You have beat the system!

A choice excerpt from Cotter’s piece:

I suppose that I’m grateful that I can make all my car payments and start saving for retirement while most of my friends are living at home and working part-time jobs — but I often find myself lamenting the fact that I’m not living at home and not working a part-time job. From my perspective, these are just some of the life-changing, character-building experiences that I may never have.

As someone who is “lamenting the fact” that I’m going to be moving home shortly, because my unemployment benefits have ended, it is difficult for me to feel compassionate for someone in Cotter’s situation. Though, I do feel sad for her that she is so incredibly uneducated in white privilege. She badly needs to read Peggy McIntosh‘s, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack“–for starters.

Ms. Cotter mentions the HBO television series, “Girls”, into her piece more than once. She claims she’ll never get to live like those characters. She feels like she’s missing out. Cotter ends her piece saying:

Though I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that I might not be living a Lena Dunham-inspired life, I’m putting myself in a position where in the future, I might have a few more options to pursue what I really love — and maybe I’m closer to Carrie Bradshaw than I think. At least that’s what they’re telling me now.

First of all, the characters on “Girls” are characters. Sure, there are probably some women with similar lifestyles, but they are few and far between. Secondly, Lena Dunham–the real person–is wealthy and has wealthy parents. Thus, Ms. Cotter is probably living more of a “Lena Dunham-inspired life” than she originally thought. Carrie Bradshaw–another extremely privileged character–was a pseudo-journalist whose only talent was writing puns in each of her articles. I beg you, Ms. Cotter, find some new role models.

The thing is, when you write a piece like Ms. Cotter wrote, it is immensely important to acknowledge your privilege. Without doing so, you come across as an asshole–to be blunt. Any time I have written about myself being on unemployment, or food stamps, etc, I have always entered with, “Look, I know I have certain privileges. These are…” When you don’t do this, it really feels like a slap in the face to those of us who are going through the very things you claim you wish you could go through–in order to have more “life-changing” experiences. NOTE (this is important): I’m not on food stamps because I want to have a “life-changing” experience. I’m on food stamps, because I don’t have enough money to buy food.

My hope for Ms. Cotter is that she will soon gain some much needed education on privilege accountability, and all the ways in which what we do (and say) with our privilege can have an enormous effect on others.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted August 17, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Allow me one little moment of Devil’s Advocate: How much of her post is her own privilege (and I have no doubt she is privileged) and how much is the cultural mindset that people who suffer are somehow better off? Such things as all the quotes we hear about ‘Adversity building character’ or what about this little gem from Judge Sotomayer: “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

    This isn’t the only case, either — we see it in the media, in general philosophy, in whole cultural attitudes, this idea that having to rough it, having to suffer makes us better people. I’m willing to cut individuals a little slack, if only because I, too, wish I had even a little bit of hardship (Granted, my reason for it is more out of guilt — I feel pretty awful that I HAVE had the privilege I’ve had when there were children my age at the time whom were starving or sick or any other number of things — so maybe there’s a difference here.)

  2. Posted August 17, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    Cotter’s alternate working title should have been “Ode to My Lost College Dreams” or “Why Reality Sucks.” I’m not that much older than Cotter, and I am thankful every. single. day. that I am NOT living her fetishized, romanticized Bohemian lifestyle. I am not ashamed or embarrassed to say that yes, I have some degree of privilege working for me, but I’m not going to lament the “life experiences” that I’m not getting because I’m not living at home with my parents.

    If she REALLY wants to live like her cohorts, she can. Invest the majority of every single paycheck into a 1 year CD at the bank. Go home and live with Mom and Dad. Buy only Ramen noodles and don’t go out to lunch every day. She can still live a frugal lifestyle. But will she, willingly? I doubt it. It’s not a necessity for her right now. Why eat Ramen when you could have Panera?

  3. Posted August 17, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Good piece. Thank you. I like that you included clips from the article so I didn’t have to flip back and forth.

    Ms. Cotter can buy character building experiences such as those offered by Outward Bound. She needn’t lament.

    I don’t think it is so much a lack of recognition of privilege as it is a lack of gratitude. Where we should find gratitude for being fortunate, as much due to luck as “doing the right things,” we find what seems to be a spoiled whine.

    Brava! Keep up the good work.

  4. Posted August 17, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    Given my feelings on gentrification in NYC (Have I ever mentioned them in passing on this site? ;) ), I cringed and made sure my knuckle tape was in reach and the shared punching bag free before clicking this link. But I have to say, it wasn’t as bad as I was dreading. I mean, it was privileged, to be sure. And her obliviousness about that did make her seem a bit, as you wrote, of an asshole, true. But beyond that? Well…it was kind of pathetically sad. I got a sense of a person who doesn’t know who she is and is too timid to discover what life is about for herself. She’s played the game well enough, but it’s still left her unfulfilled, and rather than define who she is on her own terms, she takes all her cues about what her life is supposed to be from the media, from what other people present of what young women, or writers, or New Yorkers or whatever are supposed to be.

    As an unabashed and native Nuyocentric I’d say this: this place is multifaceted, nuanced, teeming with cultures and social strata, not just us natives, but the tourists who come from around the world to see it. Turn off the TV and get out the door! Go to neighborhoods you haven’t been to, find a free or cheap(ok, I guess that doesn’t matter to her) happening of the sort that you wouldn’t normally go to but intrigues you, and check it out! Stuff like that. And instead of feeling bad about not needing food stamps why not donate or volunteer at a food pantry? Food stamps are kind of a pain, it seems like they’ll mail stuff out a bit late for you to fill it out and renew, and then they’re off and you go “huh”? and have to get them back – none of this builds character, it builds disgust with beauracracy., Hmm, maybe I should go tell HER all this.

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