I was listening to NPR this morning, and they played a clip from Rick Santorum’s speech at the Republican National Convention: “Graduate from high school, work hard, and get married before you have children and the chance you will ever be in poverty is just two percent.”
I wanted to punch him. Repeatedly.
But I think my reaction comes, in a large part, from growing up in a very conservative family where both financial success and happiness were thought of as something you could achieve if you just follow the formula and work hard enough. If you didn’t succeed, if you weren’t happy–it was your own fault. Obviously you just weren’t working hard enough.
I did all the right things. I graduated from the #4 high school in the country with a 3.6 GPA, I worked at a fast food restaurant in the evenings and all summer, I did volunteer work in the community, I didn’t have sex or use drugs. (Okay, I did smoke pot once, and there was that caffeine addiction.)
But here I am at 26, disabled and almost totally dependent on my family for financial survival. I’m the 47%, I’m the victim class. Apparently.
I do the best I can, but it’s just not enough. Whether it’s finances or happiness, I’m a failure in the eyes of my family and the Republican Party.
“If you just worked harder, you’d be happy, Sara. You have to decide you’re going to be happy, and then you will be. Just stop being so negative! You just have to get out there and get a job and then be happy with it. You make your own happiness.” These are things I’ve heard over and over for most of my life. I find it impossible to separate the bootstraps approach to financial independence from the bootstrap approach to mental health because, in my life, they’re intertwined. I’m not financially independent because I’m not sane, can’t handle normal life like a normal person. According to my family, if I’d just choose to be happy, then I’d be able to get a job and support myself.
I think the reason I’m so angry at Rick Santorum is I believe what he’s saying. Not for other people–I get enraged for them. But I believe it applies to me: if I’d just quit whining and feeling sorry for myself, get off my ass, and pull myself up by my own bootstraps, I’d be fine. I’d be able to handle job stress because I’d decided I could; I’d be happy because I’d decided to be.
That’s the insidious thing about indoctrination: if you tell a kid the same thing over and over for years, she’ll believe it. She may grow up and realize the logic is faulty, realize she would never judge anyone else so harshly. But she’ll never be able to stop judging herself. She’ll still feel like a failure at both independence and happiness.