Choices: First World Problem (Kirsty)

Kirsty  writes A Safe Mooring. She writes best when she is angry about something.  She is angry now.  She is right.  This is a post about the loss of perspective, about greed, about having too much choice.  About absolving responsibility for your selfishness.  About being careful about what we choose, about what those choices say about us, and about remembering that we are all in this together.  It’s angry and powerful and a call to action.  It’s simply brilliant.
I give you Kirsty:  

 

I have a first world problem, and it’s this:

Every time I see the phrase “first world problem“, I want to punch the person who wrote it in the face.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the way this phrase is used online, allow me to explain. The tag #firstworldproblems is typically employed by people grumbling about something trivial or mundane, or a problem that only affects the priviliged or the wealthy. For example: “My cleaner keeps rearranging my cupboards and now I can’t find my gluten-free biscuits! #firstworldproblem”. Or: “Can’t decide between the princess-cut solitaire and the emerald-cut with shoulder baguettes! #firstworldproblem”. Or: “My private helicopter was diverted because of snow and now I have to *drive* all the way to my exclusive Swiss alpine bolthole!” #firstworldproblem”.

It’s intended to act like a knowing wink, a sympathetic tilt of the head; an acknowledgement of the ridiculousness or pomposity of whatever minor drama is being bemoaned. It’s basically the social media of equivalent of your mum forcing you to eat broccoli because “There are starving children in Africa, you know!” (the inevitable response being, “Why don’t you send it to them, then!”. Ah, the joys of childhood.)

The people who regularly use this phrase seem to be labouring under the misguided impression that by tacking #firstworldproblem onto the end of every sentence, the reader will graciously overlook its whiney, spoiled content and instead be impressed by how self-aware they are, how appreciative of their privileged position, how right on. If we are also mildly amused, so much the better.

 

 

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy a self-indulgent whine as much as the next girl. Sometimes the minor irritations of daily life build up, and the only way to let off steam is to vent about it, even when you know, deep down, that you’re being childish. Wedding planning can make you a repeat offender. Mother-in-law interfering with the seating plan? Can’t find ribbon to match the bridesmaids’ dresses? Fine. Vent. But have the balls to own it. Adding a patronising hashtag doesn’t mean a person can whine with impunity. It doesn’t make it cute or clever. All it says  is, “I thought about my situation, then I thought about how much worse some people have it in developing countries, and I still decided to have a gripe about it.” Not cool, people. Not cool.

And it’s not as if the first world is entirely without its problems. Choosing between putting food on the table and shoes on your child’s feet? This, sadly, is a first world problem facing women within half a mile of my house. Choosing between staying home with your newborn baby, unpaid and unprotected, or going to work and leaving them in overpriced daycare? Hello, America! This is what a first world problem looks like! Having to buy supermarket emmental because the farmer’s market ran out of that award-winning organic gruyère? That’s not a first world problem. That’s a bourgeois middle-class douchebag problem. (Maybe every time someone uses #firstworldproblem, I should suggest, helpfully, ”I think you meant #bourgeoismiddleclassdouchebagproblem”? Who knows, it might catch on.)

Here’s another real first world problem for you: according to Oxfam, of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty around the world, more than two-thirds of them are women and girls. And here’s another: two-thirds of all children denied school worldwide are girls. And another: every minute, a woman with no medical care dies in pregnancy or childbirth. These things might not be happening in your city, or in your country, or even on your continent, but they are happening in our world, and they are no less our problem just because they are taking place somewhere else.

 

The other day, there was a bit of a kerfuffle over on a hugely popular design blog. The blogger, Grace, wrote a post about choosing which colour of $30 dollar nail varnish to buy. A #bourgeoismiddleclassdouchebagproblem if ever there was one. But the discussion it sparked was completely unexpected, covering the way in which female entrepreneurs are judged and criticised by other women, the tendency of women to downplay their financial success, the ethics of mass-production and global consumption, and, yes, which colour of nail varnish was prettiest (for the record, I’m digging the turquoise).

Of course, it was only a matter of time before someone felt compelled to throw in a “first world problems” digGrace’s response and follow-up were interesting: in essence, she argued that discrimination against women in terms of pay and opportunities is a worldwide issue. By insisting upon respect and equal treatment in our own daily lives, we have a knock-on effect for women and girls throughout the wider world. And perhaps she’s right. Perhaps equality, like charity, really does begin at home.

I think this, deep down, is my real issue with #firstworldproblems. It is not that it is glib and obnoxious (although it is). It is the division, however light-hearted, of the world into Them and Us. We have our silly problems, they have their big bad problems, and never shall anyone in the first world experience tragedy, or anyone in the third world stub their toe.

Of course we in the developed world are privileged, of course we are lucky. It goes without saying, so stop saying it like it’s no big deal. Our injustices might be small, in comparison with the crimes perpetrated against women around the world every day. But if inequality exists anywhere in the world, then it affects all of us. If one woman is beaten, we all bear the scars.  If one woman is discreetly groped in a plush boardroom, we are all violated. If one woman is denied control over her own body and her own future, we are all powerless.

If one women cannot find the perfect shade of coral nail varnish, we all get a bad manicure.

Okay, maybe not the last one.

I’m not asking you to drop everything and run off to a Third World country (though we are lucky to have the option to do that, if we so choose). Nor am I asking you to give money to this cause or that cause (again, lucky). I’m not even asking you to stop moaning, because it would make me a big fat hypocrite. I live in a beautiful city in a democratic country and spend my spare time writing about whether friendship bracelets are still cool and why people aren’t leaving more comments on my blog. I could probably add #bourgeoismiddleclassdouchebagproblem to 99% of everything I say.

I suppose I’m just asking you – asking all of us - to be mindful in our choices. Choice of words, choice of lifestyle, choice of how we spend our money. Let’s not be flippant about inequality. Let’s take pride in how far we have all come, but recognise that before one woman can truly be considered equal, we must all be equal.

It’s not Third World Women’s Day. It’s not First World Women’s Day. It’s International Women’s Day. And it’s brilliant.

(Beautiful portraits by Lauren McGlynn Wedding Photography)

Categories: International Women's Day
44 interesting thoughts on this

42 Comments

  1. Posted March 8, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    THIS is a phenomenal piece of writing. Kirsty, it needs to go in a national newspaper for all to read. I am so completely in agreement with what you say and so delighted you’ve written it. And yes let’s all reply to #firstworldproblems on twitter with what the hashtag should *really* be…

  2. Posted March 8, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Bloody hell girls, today is going to make my brain hurt.

    Kirsty, what a way to start. This is incredible writing.

    I think you’ve got it so spot on I can’t even comment properly as I’m just nodding my head.

  3. Posted March 8, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    I love kirsty, I think she should be the king.

    • Posted March 8, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      If Kirsty is king, the nation should be issued greyhounds and friendship bracelets

      • Posted March 8, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

        Sounds pretty perfect to me. If Scotland ends up independent, I’ll put myself forward as the people’s alternative to a President. I think they’ll go for it. *FREE DEEP-FRIED PIZZA FOR ALL!*

        • Kiara
          Posted March 8, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

          Now there’s a reason to vote ‘yes’!

  4. Emma
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Kirsty, your writing is always fantastic – but this! Wow – just amazing. I’m completely blown away by it. Thank you.

    xx

  5. Posted March 8, 2012 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    I’ve never used the hashtag (maybe not cool enough, maybe not bourgeois enough, who knows) and I concede it’s irritating. However. Whenever my friends (I can think of one in particular who cares deeply about the community she lives in, and is a tireless campaigner for gender equality) use it, I read it simply as an acknowledgement and appreciation of the life we are lucky enough to have. If you take the concept extremely literally then you have every reason to be angry. Taken with a pinch of salt, though? I suspect a lot of these people feel the same way you do.

    Great post.

    Px

    • Posted March 8, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      I totally know what you mean, and if a friend of mine used it I’d probably forgive them ;) The trouble is I think too many people use it as a throwaway remark, a get out of jail free card, and it has devalued the phrase to the point of making me want to throw my computer out the window. (Or, you know, just unfollow. Which is probably the less costly option.)

      • Bella
        Posted March 8, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        I am guilty of using the phrase ‘uptown problems’ because Betrothed said to me, when I was stressing out about something and nothing, that I had to remember all the good things and not let the bad overwhelm me – i had to remember to put things in perspective. But I completely agree that using it in a glib fashion, to justify a whinge is just not on. Fab post x

  6. Posted March 8, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    What a way to start the day. IWD was one of my absolutely most favourite days of the year on AOW last year, and it’s shaping up to be this years’ favourite too. Gosh ladies, I am proud of this community.

  7. Posted March 8, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Amen Sister. I also can’t abide the #middleclassproblem hashtag thing. It almost makes me want to unfollow someone.

  8. Becca
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Today I will do no work because I will spend all day on the hour reading any other woman #can’tspellthefirstwordmiddleclassdouchebagproblem

    Kirsty should rule the world #factoftheday

    Can’t wait until 9am to read next installment #whatareyoudoingtome?

    Is M & S cool enough to wear to an East End pub #middleclassproblembutvitallyimportantproblem

  9. Posted March 8, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    I only became aware of this hashtag on Sunday, and whilst I think Penny is right about what people *really* think/care about, I love the way you have taken the idea and run with it to highlight the big fat choices we have everyday. Here’s to not turning a blind eye to the issues that affect all of us. And to the men who ask when’s International Men’s Day is…well, they should read this and then shut up.

    I am still nodding vigorously, that’s a lot of nodding. Thank you for being so fierce, bold, frankly brilliant and right!

    • Zan
      Posted March 8, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      hahaha…my other half asked me that EXACT question last night… I think after a small tirade on gender equality, he was wishing he hadn’t ;)

  10. Posted March 8, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Kirsty I started with this because I knew what impact it would have. It is so powerful. Thank you for reminding us of what’s important.

  11. Posted March 8, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Gosh Kirsty, it’s not even 9am and you’ve already made me seriously emotional. This is an amazing pice and an excellent point to make. I am so glad to know you lady. xx

  12. Posted March 8, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    I cried, Kirsty. Your writing is so powerful, and so true.

    If I’m crying before 9am, am I going to cope until 5pm?!

    K x

  13. Mahj
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Ok, my fave 2 quotes that I may steal from this are:

    “Fine. Vent. But have the balls to own it.”
    And something about bourgeoisie douche bags. Which is soon to be my FB status.

    Kirsty, i am high fiving you via this comment as we speak. This is a brilliant and intelligent piece of writing.

    xoxo

  14. Posted March 8, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Blooming hell, this is one heck of an amazing post! Love it Kirsty! And yes to #bourgeoismiddleclassdouchebagproblem… you never know it might just catch on. I think if you’re going to whine, own it… is spot on. As is the thing about small and big problems wherever you are.

  15. Steff
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    #bourgeoismiddleclassdouchebagproblem <- hit the nail on the head. Fab piece and really got me thinking which is dangerous for this time in the morning…

  16. Posted March 8, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I love it when you make me think, which you definitely did with this excellent piece, so thank you.

    I am guilty of having used the offending hash tag a couple times. The first few times I saw it I wasn’t entirely sure what I made of it, especially having grown up very much in the third world. I suppose I am acutely aware of how very lucky I am, and how very easily my life could have been entirely different, and have used it when feeling quite guilty for feeling pissed off about something so utterly trivial, so very relatively first world in comparison to what my daily problems *could* have been. But it is glib, and very misleading, as I see in my daily work, and I guess if something’s trivial then why for the love of Pete am I wasting energy tweeting about it? I should indeed choose to be more mindful of the things I casually say. A timely reminder, since I very much believe that the issues small ought not to be overlooked. All it takes is one broken window.

  17. Zan
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    I feel like I need to get a banner and protest at something… anything really! It’s not often I feel so empowered at this time of the morning – amazing post Kirsty!

  18. Posted March 8, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Brilliant. Kirsty, you are excellent at putting into words what so I (and I’m assuming many other people) read and then just point at and say ‘this. This is exactly what I think but would never be able to put so eloquently’. I am in awe. And if this is the beginning I can’t wait for the rest of the day x

  19. Posted March 8, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    I <3 you all.

  20. Posted March 8, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Kirsty, this was incredible. I always shied away from the #firstworldproblem meme but never really thought about it, and you’ve beautifully articulated everything that made me uncomfortable about it, then added on about 1,000 more layers of insight and wisdom. Thank you!

    • Posted March 8, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, and I hope it wasn’t too much of a shock seeing your lovely face up the top there!!

  21. Posted March 8, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Brilliantly powerful, Kirsty, I love it.

  22. Gill Surfleet
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Love it Kirsty, such an amazing writer:-)

    • Posted March 8, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      Aw thanks Gill, that means a lot coming from someone with first-hand knowledge of *actual* problems everywhere from Glasgow to Kampala, and not just bourgeois middle-class douchebag problems like mine.

  23. Katy
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Yay! Love this. xxx

  24. Amanda
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Please, please, PLEASE use the #bourgeoismiddleclassdouchebagproblem – love it!

  25. Rach M
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Fab work Kirsty. I actually just banged my desk in passionate agreement. Hand now hurts, but it’s worth it. Brilliant writing xx

  26. Posted March 8, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    I’ve thought long and hard about this post and couldnt leave it without commenting. I’m with Penny on this one.

    Yes, people who use the term ‘first world problem’ (and no, I’ve never used it on Twitter,) in a flippant sense or even as a reference to the problems that they basically dont give a crap about, are annoying. I’d even go so far as to say shallow. But for me, it’s a well meant acknowledgement of the fact that I know I’m lucky to have been born a first world woman with all the benefits that brings with it and that I know for example in my post today, that deciding whether to continue a career or start a family with the benefit of maternity leave rights pale into comparison against some of the issues women face elsewere in the world.

    It seems to me the comments themselves are the problem… ‘my cleaner hides my gluten free biscuits…’ well actually, my cleaner (and no, I’m not going to apologise for having one,) moves my bottle of cordial every week, I just dont tweet about it, because it’s not really a problem.

    • Posted March 8, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      I find this comment really interesting Rebecca, not because I disagree with you but because I completely agree! So I’m curious what it was in my post that made you think I wouldn’t?

      Acknowledging and appreciating how fortunate we are in the developed world – in the meaningful way you describe – is obviously vitally important. It’s possible to worry quite justifiably about maternity rights, for example, without also feeling grateful to have any rights at all. Expressing that gratitude in a thoughtful way is fundamental in reminding us that others around the world lack a voice and need us to speak out for them.

      What I [hope I] am attacking in this post is the use of the term – specifically, the hashtag – in a mindless and inappropriate fashion. Neither you nor Penny has ever used it (neither, to my memory, have I) and a cursory glance at the latest results on twitter brings up scant few examples of well-meaning usage, and far too many of the other kind. (This one is particularly obnoxious.) While I agree that most of these tweets would be irritating with or without the hashtag, I do think there’s an argument that almost everything we tweet, write or blog about falls into the “we’re fortunate to even have the privilege to care about this” category, including this very post. (I mean, I’m getting worked up over a hashtag. The irony is not lost on me.) But we don’t indiscriminately add a “first world problem” disclaimer to everything we say or blog about. Apart from anything else, it would quickly dull the impact if there *was* an issue that we felt strongly about.

      I think there is a way of highlighting the global issues of poverty and inequality without resorting to mindless platitudes. I tried to find the balance in last year’s IWD post, when I talked about experiencing sexism as a lawyer while acknowledging how lucky I was to even have the option to become one. I don’t think I’m completely there yet, and there is always going to be a certain awkwardness to my attempts when I’m blogging about it from my warm, comfortable home (and, erm, office – shhh). But I do think it’s important we keep talking about it and sharing ideas and opinions – just please, without the lame hashtag.

      I should also add I’m not advocating a ban on moaning on twitter. Letting off steam is essential in the high-stress world we live in, like it or not, and my mum’s stories of her cleaner rearranging the furniture and redoing the Christmas decorations because they weren’t up to her high standards are hilarious. I do admire you for your online attitude though – I never see you moaning about little things, you’re always full of positive energy and for that I salute you. As I mentioned in my post, I’m guilty of it far too often myself.

      Anyway, I hope that clarifies a bit what I was trying to say in my post, and I’m sorry if that’s not what you took away from it. xx

      • Posted March 8, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        Wow. That was way longer than it was meant to be. Errrr, sorry about that!

      • Posted March 8, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

        Oh. Also, in the second paragraph of my comment essay, that should be *while* also feeling grateful, not *without* also feeling grateful. Oops.

  27. Posted March 8, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Whoops, far too much emphasis there and unfinished italics html. Sorry! Far too caught up in trying to express myself adequately!

  28. Posted March 8, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    I want to write long comments on all the posts today – they’re all so amazing! But unfortunately I’ve got to hop in the car and drive from Chicago to St. Louis on our amazing honeymoon adventure, #firstworldproblems hey?

    In seriousness though, this is a brilliant post. Clearly when we’re talking about non-problems (as mentioned by Rebecca), the comparison of a first-world scenario to a third-world scenario is inane/weird/ridiculous/douchebaggy. But when the conversation is about equality, it simply doesn’t matter whether there is greater injustice elsewhere, dealing with the injustice at your doorstep is not meaningless or bourgeois. This covers more than women, too, and includes racism, ageism and so many other “isms”, but each is worth kicking up a fuss over (and makes it important that we vote & get involved in local/national affairs as well as caring/donating/raising awareness regarding larger global injustices).

    I’m sitting in a hotel lobby in a country where a man can call a woman a whore, simply for voicing her opinions on birth control, and yet still have a widely syndicated radio show. That’s not a first world problem – that’s simply a problem.

    • Posted March 8, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      “That’s not a first world problem – that’s simply a problem.”

      Exactly!

      Deeply troubling stuff happening in America just now – I find it incomprehensible that these people are devoting so much time and energy trying to stop women accessing birth control when 1 in 6 Americans are living in poverty. Baffling. (And probably off topic, but still – baffling.)

    • Posted March 8, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

      Kirsty, I’ve been thinking about this post all day! I finally figured out what I wanted to say and it looks like Fiona has said it for me!

      “But when the conversation is about equality, it simply doesn’t matter whether there is greater injustice elsewhere, dealing with the injustice at your doorstep is not meaningless or bourgeois.”

      I wonder if I can get this tattooed across my fist so its the last thing that morons see before I punch them in the face?

2 Trackbacks

  • By Gendering « accidentallyyours on March 8, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    [...] in the spirit of IWD, a great post on why inequality anywhere matters everywhere. Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. from → Soapbox ← Dear [...]

  • By A veritable mish-mash on February 5, 2013 at 7:01 am

    [...] 2012, we re-launched as Any Other Woman, with our shiny new blog, AND invited some brilliant women to write about Choices. The writing, and the community coming together in both years was truly awing [...]

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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