Suicide, American Women and Privilege Bias: A Toxic Cocktail of Shame

Recently I enjoyed watching Netflix’ modern remake of the classic comedy series “One Day At A Time.” It had heart, strong female leads, a positive message and was LGBT-inclusive. There was only one thing that spoiled an otherwise lovely new series for me: it’s blatant ‘Privilege Bias.’ Celebrating the eternal lie that someone white/blonde/rich/pretty etc. cannot possibly suffer from problems/depression/abuse.

The only two blonde women on the show were a ditsy secretary who was oblivious to sexism and any problems in the outside world and the other woman, a young girl in her twenties. The way the young girl’s character portrayal was the most problematic. In the episode, the scene played out like this; that the main character was at first unaware of whom, she was speaking. She was sympathetic to the girl’s problems until the big reveal: Oh dear, the girl was blonde and model pretty! Boom! Within a second the main character had lost all sympathy for her, telling the upset girl that there was no way her problems could be real. Why? Because she was a blonde. Beautiful people like her do not have any real problems

This is a very dangerous message to spread, but sadly it is one we hear far too often these days. The media is filled with articles reminding certain groups of their “toxic” privilege and how they are unconsciously harming other “vulnerable” groups. Most of these messages, though, are aimed at people who are vulnerable themselves, maybe in a different way, but vulnerable all the same.

These messages are aimed at women: business women, blonde women, pretty women and rich women.

Women are told that they are to blame for everything that is wrong with this world today. This is an impossibility because as rich as some of them may be, women are still not in charge of the world’s governments or global finance.

Women who are well to do have usually worked that much harder to get where they are, sacrificing most of their life to reach their position.

Blonde/pretty women cannot help how they are born. Looks and hair color do not necessarily equal an easy life no matter what TV shows might tell us. Meanwhile, even women who are born rich can suffer from issues and depression. Faith does not make exceptions.

What makes the attitude towards this group so dangerous is that it makes them feel guilty when they suffer from loneliness, depression or when they suffer abuse. The always present voice inside is telling them I shouldn’t feel the way I feel, I am successful/beautiful/privileged.

Obviously, that can stop a person from speaking out and asking for help. Even worse, when these people do try to speak out, they are judged or laughed at. This often happens when a celebrity tries to discuss their mental health problems or other serious issues in the media. The general thought is that those who appear rich, pretty and well to do cannot be suffering. This is incredibly isolating.

Being denied an outlet for one’s mental suffering can often lead to bottling it up, causing a build up of internalized guilt. This leads people that believe going that extra mile will prove how “liberal” they are often with dangerous consequences. The new trend amongst young girls is to “hide prettiness”, this usually includes cutting off their hair and hiding their bodies in big bulky hoodies. Often they call themselves ‘gender queer.’ These girls are told that they are liberating themselves from ‘cis toxic whiteness,’ but it only makes them lose their own identity as women.

Anxiety, self-harm, depression, and loss of ‘self’ is rising amongst women of every age group, but because of that ever present guilt, they will hide their problems until the bursting point, until there is no way out.

No way, except one: suicide.

Last year a report by the CDC revealed that after a decline in the suicide rate in the United States before 1999, the rate is up more than 24% for all populations under the age of 75. Suicide, they reported, is now one of the ten leading causes of death. It also revealed that the suicide rate has increased for women in particular during this period.

The suicide rate is up 63% for women aged 45-65 and up 200% for girls aged 10-14. A worrying statistic but for some reason, this statistic and the damage privilege bias is causing to vulnerable women and girls is often ignored.

Clinical Psychologist Jamieson Webster discussed this influx of successful suicidal women in an article for the Guardian:

“Many patients struggle in their role as women, something that has taken on a particular exigency because of drastic changes in gender dynamics. The women I see are often anxious and cannot reconcile ideas concerning work and family, what it is to be a successful woman and a mother, to say nothing of the demands of maintenance placed on their bodies. They are disappointed, and they feel disappointing.

Professional life leaves to the side their desires for children, for family, for love. Women need to contend with a lack of child-care support and maternity leave, as well as male dominance in the workplace. Compounding this is the fact that being a sexual woman is still a series of confused and contradictory images of empowerment that smell of subjugation.

Women need to contend with a lack of child-care support and maternity leave, as well as male dominance in the workplace. Compounding this is the fact that being a sexual woman is still a series of confused and contradictory images of empowerment that smell of subjugation.

All of this leaves women incredibly vulnerable to shame, which is the outpost at the boundary of depression. These pressures and pains are not easily given voice by either the women or the young girls I see; I often have to pry them from around the edges of what they are saying.”

With suicide rates rising and more and more women suffering from all sorts of stress, anxiety and various forms of self-harm because of their internalized guilt it is time to look closely at privilege bias and find a way to stop this social attitude before it’s too late. The world needs to understand that no-one is immune to misery and that a life filled with pain and loneliness is not a privileged one at all.

Photo Credit: keith ellwood Flickr via Compfight cc



Dannii Cohen

Dannii Cohen is a former stand-up comedian and comedy writer turned author, psychologist, professional counsellor, life coach and self-help expert. She is specialized in LGBT issues, anxiety, women’s issues, female empowerment, and bullying. Dannii is an author for Life Hack, Feminine Collective, She Knows, The Gay UK and Colours of Nature. Her books "50 Things To Know To Have A Better Life" and "Being Ace" will be published later this year.

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