The Myth of Rugged Individualism 

By Anjali Nayak 

At the cornerstone of American patriotism is the ever accessible and ever possible American dream. In America, a citizen can overcome the odds and rise through the ranks — a term widely defined as rugged individualism. Only in America is a citizen gifted the opportunity to make a name for themselves, no matter their identity or background. With enough hard work and ambition, anyone can move from rags to riches. 

It’s all too good to be true. 

Rugged individualism is meant to invigorate the American spirit, but it seems to only stilt progress. Despite righteous intentions, the concept is often used as an excuse by the federal government to not correct systemic issues pertaining race, gender, and sexuality, serving as a blanket statement to describe the ‘ever appealing hope and prosperity of the United States.’ For one, women are often discriminated at a professional level, however  instead of addressing the systemic issues of sexism in the workplace, women are told ways they themselves can ‘work past’ the prejudice, targeting the effect instead of the cause. Whether it is carrying pepper spray, learning self defense, or dressing modestly, a systematic, societal issue gets pushed into the hands of individual citizens. Rather than attempting the amendment of widespread injustice on a  governmental level, the issue is seen as something that can be overcome classically through American hard work and persistence. Advocates for rugged individualism find themselves unable to trace the centuries of sexism that persist in America today. 

Similarly, minority groups in America are disproportionately more likely to experience mental illnesses than their majority counterparts. Once again, the government chooses not to tackle the issue at a systemic level, but instead pushes for the individual to solve the issue independently. Although solutions such as antidepressants and going to therapy often have positive effects on those with mental illnesses, such necessary commodities are reserved only for those that can afford them. Through proper welfare systems and safety nets, the United States could ease the mental health epidemic, however rugged individualism has shits the responsibility into the hands of American citizens. The system has created the problems — but refuses to fix them. 

In virtually every minority group, rugged individualism has been applied and has failed. The concept blatantly excuses discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. By saying that a minority group can simply ‘work past their problems,’ decades of discrimination are suddenly ignored. Rugged individualism urges American citizens to tolerate the systematic oppression they are subjected to. The government insists for the common man to keep his head down and withstand the unnecessary hardship; thus choosing to ignore the rampant problems plaguing our country rather than solve them. Policymakers must maintain a deeper understanding of history and institutionalism in order to provide opportunities for success — and make the American dream a reality.