Sunday, September 14, 2008

Privilege-Colored Glasses

Most people will acknowledge that sexism exists, even if they claim that it is now just a feminist buzzword of sorts that really doesn't apply to modern women. Often times when I talk to men about my political beliefs and mention the fact that I identify as a feminist, the first thing that will come out of their mouths is something along the lines of, "Oh, well [insert some anecdote here that hopefully convinces me that they are totally not sexist]." They get so defensive, like I might bite their head off if they do not prove that sexism isn't their thing. Interesting, because the same people who do that are the kinds of people who want to convince me that the wage gap is nearly gone and women have so much power! But if sexism wasn't alive and well, and it wasn't so harmful, they'd have no reason to prove that they were somehow on the good side. It gives validity to feminist concerns, even without their knowledge.

It may seem odd that men can both recognize the problem (even unintentionally) posed by sexism and contribute to its survival by refusing to see its full extent or do anything about it. But that is because most of these people have a little something called male privilege.

The concept of privilege has been discussed before, but the fact that many of the people I have been talking to lately seem blinded by their privilege has lead me to write this post. And because I hope that my own privilege is something that I can come to terms with and keep from clouding my understanding of the world's problems, but that sometimes may only be possible with a little help. That's why I want to address a few people here.

To "Ben": I never met you, and I don't even know your name for sure, but the single instant messenger conversation I had with you gave me a decent idea of what you must be like in person. I admit, I was acting silly when I was talking to you. And I know that most of the information you got about me was from Mutual Friend, who introduced us in the first place. I thought it was funny how as soon as Mutual Friend told you that I was a feminist, you went into this story about how you quit going to your church because its unfair pay practices based on gender were affecting your mother. Okay, great. But when I later decided to end the conversation because you were putting words in my mouth, you signed off by saying that you were going to have the girl from down the hall make you a sandwich. That blatantly sexist statement completely wiped out any hope you had for getting me to believe that you weren't into sexism. What kind of person can claim to be against sexism one moment and contribute to it the next without fear of longterm social/economic consequence (I mean, contributing to sexism isn't going to affect your paycheck in anyway, is it?)? Someone with male privilege. Someone like you, "Ben."

To Tyler: Sometimes I don't understand how you can be so well-informed about certain topics, but fail to see the validity in some of my complaints as a feminist. You once tried to convince me (all in the same conversation) that the wage gap was negligible, sexism was a "subcategory" of stupidity, and that your problem with feminists was that we "want more rights than duties." Those quotes are brought to you by the copy of that conversation that I saved to remind myself why feminism still matters. You also told me once that the father of a baby should have to grant permission for a woman to get an abortion...or that men should have control over women's bodies. How can you be so oblivious to the real problems that women face every day? Oh, I think someone's male privilege is showing!

To the National Guard soldier stationed on Kellogg St. during the Republican National Convention: You. Disgust. Me. I was having a pretty good night after seeing Rage Against the Machine. I was in such a good mood, in fact, that as my friend and I walked by the blockade that you and your fellow troops were standing behind, I waved a said "Hello!" to you all, despite the fact that having so many uniformed/armed troops around made me uneasy. You were in uniform, and I didn't see your face, but when you called out, "Hey, baby!" after I waved at you, I wanted to scream. What the hell? You were in uniform. You were supposed to be representing this country, and how do you do that? By cat calling? What is this, the Sexist States of America? Seriously? What makes you feel you can get away with that shit? Your male privilege and a sense of entitlement, because, you know, I was stupid enough to walk home after dark with a friend.

To my father: I really don't understand how you can complain so much when a few expenses come your way. You constantly try to worm your way out of paying for necessities for my sister and myself. Not winning custody of us in your divorce meant that you never had to deal with the pain of the wage gap and work two full time jobs to take care of your daughters, especially when I had just been diagnosed with a chronic illness. Mom did that, and she never complained. So why are you so upset? You have to pay for some books? Some medications? Mom and my step-dad and footing most of my college tuition, and my sister's, too, and other living expenses. If you weren't so blinded by your male privilege, maybe you would realize that my mom had to work much harder than you would have had to if you were in the same situation, just because of her chromosomes. So really, stop complaining.

And finally, to the many heterosexual guys I know who have had multiple sexual partners: Go ahead! Discuss your "conquests!" You male privilege assures that you are much less likely to suffer from the stigma of the label "whore." That term, it seems, is reserved for the ladies that you had sex with.

Sexism is real, and it is harmful. One doesn't have to be affected directly by it on a daily basis to do something about it. It can be as easy as calling people out when they make sexist comments/jokes. All I want is for people to understand why they may not "get" what I am saying as a feminist. There is, most often, a reason for that, like someone's privileged position that leaves them removed from the problems faced by others. Sometimes it just needs to be pointed out.


FEMily! said...

I hope the people you wrote this post to are reading this. It's important to tell them what you think. Even if they respond in a way to make you think they're ignoring you, they can't deny that you didn't tell them. And the next time they do or say something sexist, they can't claim that they didn't realize they were offending someone.

Sometimes, when I'm in a good mood and someone says something sexist to me, I give them the benefit of the doubt. They've lived in the same sexist society that you and I do, and even most women wouldn't even recognize some of the subtly sexist things they're subjected to. Sometimes it pays to politely but firmly tell them what you think. Besides, if you pretend to be nice after someone is an ass to you, it's hard for them to respond in a jerky way.

Anonymous said...

There have been instances where I have been really hurt by male friends who I thought were not sexist. I would be talking about sexism in x, y, or z, and they would completely go off on me about how I was wrong, misinformed, in denial about reality, failing to do the appropriate research, or using gender as a blinder and not seeing the situation clearly. It was a long time before I realized that it was their privilege talking, and that it is really hard to find men who aren't tainted by some amount of male privilege.

Amelia said...

Yeah, and this privilege is not something that these guys can escape, they at least need to be made aware of it. Once that happens, it is up to them to decide how they will act.

I hope these people read it, as well.

Lindsay said...

Great post... It's important that we, as feminists, inform those around us how their privilege hurts others. Especially people who actually want to help, but are just too blinded to acknowledge their own behavior.

Jenn said...

Rock on! Angry posts are a must for the feminist movement to survive. You know, it's personal, and I'm reminded of that every day when situations much like yours play out in a way that makes me want to hurl things around the room.

By the way, I don't know who first coined the term, but the name for liberal dudez that want recognition for how humanist and awesome they are while ignoring or belitting those that point out sexist, racism, or classism is "fauxgressives". It's useful when you're in a conversation with dudez that just won't get it.

That_St_Paul_Friend said...

You should have told me so i could have punched him in the face... even if he had a gun, and mace, and a huge wooden dowel... i would have the satisfaction of knowing i did something right.

Renee said...

I have spent a lot of time dealing with privilege recently. It is never an easy subject to engage in and tends to bring about a very hostile reaction. I believe this is based in fear. Once you admit that you have a privilege you must act to mitigate it and thus in small ways reduce your social power. I think that we can all agree that power no matter how small is attractive and most would do anything to hold onto it.

jim said...

st paul friend you rock said...

Its unfortunate but true that males have the power in the world and they stereotype women as a way of controlling us. It used to be more overt but now its gone underground. They know its not politically correct but they still feel that way so its become the shadow of their being.