Thursday, 31 August 2017

Cruz Ramirez and Belonging

We went to see Cars 3 the other day and, much like Inside Out or Toy Story 3, it was very poignant and moving, and it made me think about a range of deep issues--seasons of life, ageing, mentors, believing in yourself, belonging, etc. I've been struggling for years with finding a sense of belonging and direction in academia. On the one hand, it's what I love and what I feel called to do, but on the other hand, I've had many, many times where I've felt that I don't belong, that I'm not good enough, that I don't have the same mental energy that my colleagues seem to have. I worry that I'm not cut out for academia, but then I know I'm not qualified to do much else (with a PhD and no experience in any type of industry...), so I feel a bit stuck in the field that I love. I've spent far too much time reading self-help books and websites and watching inspirational talks--and where has it gotten me? I'm still struggling.

This morning I had an interview for a part-time lectureship in my department--basically the same job I've been doing, but now with a proper title of "lecturer" instead of "tutor" and a solid 50% FTE instead of the cobbled-together 10%, raised to 45%, raised to 48% contract I've had for the past 2 years. The panel included one member of staff who I've known for years and who I've always struggled with--I like this person and I admire their work, but I always seem to say something stupid in front of them. Does everybody have a colleague like that? Someone who intimidates them into sounding like an idiot?

This is where Cars 3 comes in. Jackson Storm is a new challenger on the racing scene, and his success has made Lightning McQueen question himself--is he too old, no longer competitive, not cut out for racing anymore? Lightning's sponsor makes him work with a trainer, Cruz Ramirez, who tries to get him back in top form for a high-stakes upcoming race. As their friendship develops, we learn that Cruz wanted to be a racecar, too, but became a trainer because when she tried racing once, she looked around at the other cars and felt like she didn't belong. I won't include any spoilers here--it's a brilliant film & highly recommended--but suffice it to say that this kind of self-doubt really hit home for me. 

Leaving the theatre, my first reaction was that it was a brilliant feminist message. Cruz wasn't a love interest, she was a professional, a colleague, a racer--there was no direct reference to her gender. That's true gender equality right there. This piece in Romper did a great job of acknowledging the limitations of a feminist reading of the film, so I won't go into it here. But I do think this message is pretty universal and goes beyond *just* women.

I think every woman, every person of colour, every LGBTQ+ person--everyone who's not a white, Western, Christian, heterosexual, cisgender man--can relate to that feeling of looking around at your colleagues or peers and not feeling good enough, of feeling like you don't belong for whatever reason. Maybe you are a white/Western/Christian/heterosexual/cisgendered man but you grew up poor or in a dysfunctional family and your class and background made you feel like you didn't belong. Maybe there was a particular bully in your life who made you feel that way--your own personal Jackson Storm--or a well-meaning colleague like mine who wasn't a bully but still made you doubt yourself for some strange reason.

So just as Cruz tells herself, "I am a racer", I'll keep telling myself "I am an academic."

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