Maria Gonzalez, an asexual Honduran immigrant, won the title of Most Oppressed Woman of 2017 at a ceremony Saturday night. She came in first place after first tying with Avery Brown, a black transgender woman who is blind.
“I honestly can’t think of anybody to thank for this,” Gonzalez said as she accepted the award. “I just want every young woman out there to know that oppression is very real and it’s probably affecting their lives.”
Gonzalez was one of fifty contestants who participated in the annual Awareness Awards. Originally created as the Tawana Brawley Scholarship in 1987, the event highlights the impact of racism and misogyny on the lives of American women. Winners have varied widely over the past 30 years, from a Jamaican lesbian to a black agender woman with a severe stutter.
Gonzalez, who is the first Hispanic woman to win the award, immigrated to the United States from Honduras in 1990 with her parents and two brothers. Overweight since childhood, she faced the combined burden of fat phobia, racism, xenophobia and sexism from an early age.
“I went to Warped Tour and wore raver gear like many asexual girls, but I never felt completely safe in high school,” she said after receiving the award. “My father owned a successful construction business, but his money did absolutely nothing to shelter me from discomfort.”
After choosing to major in Gender Studies at her liberal arts college, Gonzalez says that she became acutely aware of her lack of privilege. “Now that I am more educated about victimhood, I realize that many of my privileged classmates don’t even realize I exist. I’m like some phantom floating around campus.”
According to event organizer Trudy Hancock, the Awareness Awards were created to underscore the feminist notion that oppressed groups cannot succeed in American society due to systemic discrimination. “We want to empower these women with the knowledge that everyone is against them,” she said. “By focusing on their weaknesses, we are giving these girls a voice.”
The ceremony honored more than a dozen award categories, including Least Understood Sexual Orientation and Most Likely to be Misgendered.
Critics of the Awareness Awards have argued that the ceremony promotes learned helplessness among minority groups and deemphasizes the value of individual agency. Other scholars have denounced the event’s emphasis on “inborn privilege”, which is often used as a justification to delegitimize and silence members of certain social groups.
Gonzalez hopes that her win will encourage other women to acknowledge the oppression that is holding them back. “It’s liberating to know that I am not responsible for any of my own failures. Like that car crash last week.”