Is it ‘patriarchy’?
Is it ‘problematic’?
Is it ‘praxis’?
Okay, your mind probably jumped to ‘penis’ or ‘poop’ before it jumped to any of the above words, but whatever. This is my intersectional feminist blog goddamnit, so either way, you, dear hypothetical reader, are imaginarily incorrect–the ‘P’ word I’m talking about is PRIVILEGE.
What is privilege?
I am not going to do the dumb dictionary thing again. (And seriously, if you find yourself frequently resorting to simple, straightforward, and superficial textbook/dictionary definitions for conceptually complicated words and you’re actually SERIOUS when you’re doing it–I’m not when I do it, fyi–you really need to polish up your critical thinking skills, bro.)
So, no textbook or dictionary to be seen (I promise), this is my not-so-great-but-mostly-straightforward definition:
Privilege is an advantage given to you not by way of individual choice; rather, it is through the systematic oppression of others that you are awarded this benefit, whatever it may be–and it can be a LOT of things, really, things you probably didn’t even stop to think about because yenno, you’re all privileged and shit.
Hey, don’t get all OFFENDED because I’m telling “you” off. I really mean “we,” because EVERYONE has some amalgamation of privilege! (Funny how we social justice people are stereotyped as “overly sensitive/easily offended,” when it’s so clearly a two-way street. And how is you taking offense at my offense any less take offense-y than me taking offense to begin with? I mean I would think that you taking offense at my taking of offense is way more of an offense, because you are simply offended by my offense, whereas I am offended by things like racism and sexism aka things that are actually detrimentally impacting the world, kthnx, and so actually you’re the easily offended one otherwise you wouldn’t be so defensive, I mean why would you be so defensive if you claim that you weren’t being offensive to begin with? Anyway. Back to the overall rant here.)
So people who haven’t really thought about the P word or don’t really think much at all, automatically think that privilege means class privilege.
But yeah, these people are like, “I’m not rich, so I don’t have any privilege!”
Yes, class privilege exists, but that’s just one of many privileges that exist in the world!
I think the fact that so many people default to class privilege when they think of/about the P word just goes to show how deeply our minds are entrenched in a capitalistic framework–which, FYI, is BAD, becasue it’s limiting and also quite frankly dehumanizing–for yourself and others. Like, do you actually think that money is the ONLY thing that can benefit a human being? Get your head out of your materialistic a-hole. There are plenty of the other things. You just haven’t thought about them because you’ve taken them for granted because…ding ding ding! You are privileged, in some way or another.
(Don’t worry, all this vague ranting will yield some concrete examples soon.)
So what I’m trying to get at is, privilege isn’t as simple as, “Jane has one billion dollars. Dick has zero dollars. Jane is privileged. Dick is not.” It’s more like this: “Jane has one billion dollars because in this hypothetical scenario she can easily be described as magically having a shitload of money, whereas in actuality, her gender makes it less likely that she will obtain this much given the pay gap between women and men and the fact that men tend to occupy more lucrative job positions due to socially valued traits such as dominance, aggression, and confidence which are traditionally coded as masculine across different cultures, but even if Jane was super wealthy and Dick was not he’d still have male privilege ok.”
Privilege doesn’t have to be fancy, glamorous elaborate shit–the fact that you think that really just showcases your privilege, actually, and yenno, your total ignorance. Seriously though, privilege oftentimes manifests in the simple, little things you don’t even notice because those things have been normalized for you–you don’t see them as advantages. You see them as just the way things are, the way things should be. Hello! That’s your privilege talking. That’s your privilege showing.
Okay, I shall now cite a few examples of some of my own privileges so you can get a better sense of what I mean. I know there’s this trend where everyone likes to cling to their marginalized identities (yes, I am guilty of doing it), but since we’re talking about the hated P word, this is the blog entry where I will (guiltily and shamefacedly) talk about how I got it pretty damn good (in these particular facets of my identity).
I have cis privilege. ‘Cis’ is short for ‘cisgendered.’ It means that the gender I personally identify with aligns with the gender I was assigned at birth. Because I am cis,
- Something as simple as deciding what bathroom to use isn’t a potentially life-threatening situation for me.
- My gender is always an option I can comfortably check off on whatever form/application I need to fill out.
- People won’t usually ask me personal, invasive questions about my genitalia.
I didn’t CHOOSE to be cis, the same way trans and genderqueer people don’t CHOOSE to be trans/genderqueer. It’s just the way things happened. Unfortunately, it just so happens that whereas being cis is a societal benefit to me, being trans/genderqueer is a societal detriment to others. Yes, it’s not *my* fault that cis people are favored in society, but it is also not trans/genderqueer people’s faults that they get shitted on by society. So, I have no right to start shitting on them for shitting on me about not getting shitted on because while here I am not getting shitted on, there they are getting shitted on, and I am just adding to the shit that is being shitted on them while lookie me I’m shit-free and guess what, that’s just shitty of me.
But here’s where I’m asking you to kind of try exercising your brain a bit more. Isolating the different types of privileges and oppressions is helpful when discussing them in theory, but reality is not so straightforward, because we’re all human beings with complicated, intersectional identities, right? (Well, most of us, I can’t really speak for wealthy cishet able-bodied neurotypical white dudes.) So by “shit-free” in the above paragraph, I mean I’m shit-free in the gender alignment department. I’m not quite so shit-free in the gender identification department or the race department or the class department.
Bringing those other oppressions into a space focused on the marginalized experiences of trans/queer people is being an AWKWARD ASSHOLE.
It’s kind of like doing this:
Person A: My parents were murdered by some weird alien man without a nose who keeps calling himself the Dark Lord.
Person B: That’s not that bad. My parents had to raise a bunch of ginger-haired kids and we’re all poor and shit, at least your parents left you some money and now you’re all famous and shit.
^^Person B is an AWKWARD ASSHOLE. You don’t want to be Person B (aka Ron Weasley).
There’s a time and a place to talk about your shitty experiences, and it’s NOT when someone else is talking about theirs. Besides, you know what they say–there’s no point in playing the Oppression Olympics, because everybody loses. What’s the sense in arguing about who is worse off, when no one ends up better off?
While the Oppression Olympics aren’t something you should actively participate in, looking at privilege/oppression as a multifaceted interlocking system of shittiness (aka kyriarchy) is an important and necessary social tool that will guide you on how to avoid being an awkward asshole. This means that although I identify as a woman and women are systematically oppressed, it would be awkward and assholish of me to complain about how bad I have it to a transwoman, because transwomen have to suffer the double marginalization of being trans and being a woman. This also means that if you identify as a white dude and you complain to ME about how I’m so bigoted for thinking you’re privileged and whatever Asian people are totally just as privileged as white people, then YOU are the one being awkward and assholish and totally ignoring my marginalization as an Asian woman while apparently having no conception of what race is whatsoever. (Yes, this example is oddly specific because it actually happened.)
It’s not that you aren’t allowed to complain. It’s just that you should complain to people who have the same privileges as you! Otherwise, yep, you’re just an awkward asshole.
So moving on to more privileges I have:
I have straight privilege. This means that
- Nearly all of the media I consume (be it movies, books, TV shows, magazines, etc.) caters to my sexual orientation.
- I don’t need to worry about my loved ones ostracizing me because of my sexual orientation
- People won’t undermine my [totally imaginary] romantic/sexual relationships as something trivial or deviant
Okay, so I guess now we’re at the point of, “All right I admit I have privilege. What do I do now?” Congrats, you are on your way to becoming an AWESOME ALLY and no longer being an AWKWARD ASSHOLE~~!!
And okay, before you’re like “UGH QUIT JUDGING ME MISS I-THINK-I’M-PERFECT” let me just add a fucking disclaimer here: look, I am far from perfect. I fuck up and make mistakes and shit, I’ll own up to that. But there’s one thing I’ve come to learn in trying to be an ally and it is to stop making X experience about me. The best thing to do as an ally is to LISTEN, UNDERSTAND, and SUPPORT–NOT to talk, demand, or offend. It’s about decentering yourself from the issue and strategically using your privilege to amplify marginalized voices without monopolizing those voices or appropriating their ideas.
You think being an ally would be a pretty simple concept to follow.
1. Acknowledge your privilege.
BUT NOPE! Few people can barely do #1, and that’s the foundation on which you would build the other pillars of solidarity. Sad. Actually, more like disgusting. Yes, it’s disgusting when a person can’t do something as simple as recognizing that they have certain advantages in society, when other people who DON’T have those advantages are forced to recognize and realize that every day through their LACK of advantages.
By the way, being aware of your privilege in an effort to minimize its collateral damage does NOT mean you can no longer have a sense of humor, which is yet another stupid stereotype about social justice-oriented individuals. As a matter of fact, the funniest people I know are fellow intersectional feminists who don’t need to rely on a one-dimensional gay joke in order to produce a laugh–because they’re smarter and better than that. If your sense of humor is contingent upon the oppression of others, you should probably reevaluate your life choices (and your life in general, cuz, no offense, you sound like a total asshole).
Being an ally isn’t about being perfect. No one is. Being an ally is about trying. You’re going to fuck up. I’m going to fuck up. But as long as we keep holding each other accountable, we can foster an environment where everyone feels a little safer in their identities.
Here’s a final example of privileges I have: (Final for this blog post I mean. This should go without saying, but none of these lists are exhaustive–are lists ever exhaustive??)
I have thin privilege, meaning
- People automatically assume I’m healthy and don’t need to work out (shit I’m probably going to die early what with all the junk I eat although my friend Nicole doesn’t like me half-joking about that so shhh don’t tell her I made another morbid joke)
- I don’t have trouble finding my size when I go clothes shopping
- People find me attractive because my body type is closer to the socially constructed, fat-shaming ideal of beauty that is completely arbitrary and narrow-minded
Having a certain privilege and being aware of it, particularly in a situation where you’re surrounded by people who don’t have it, is certainly awkward. But your awkwardness about facing your privilege is nothing compared to the kind of challenges a person without that privilege has to face on a daily basis, whether through systematic/legislated discrimination or de facto social policing via microaggressions or street harassment. So your best bet as an ally is to shut up and push through that uncomfortableness in order to do some good.
Let me just add, you don’t get a trophy or anything for being an ally, which is really just a synonym for being a decent human being in social-justice speak. What you do get is feelings of lukewarm semi-satisfaction that you aren’t a total piece of shit human being. Yay!
Seriously though–being an ally isn’t about you, it’s about other people and how you should support them if you actually believe in practicing equality. Call people out if they make racist jokes about black people. Refrain from using gay as a synonym for shitty. Support your female friend when she confides in you about being sexually assaulted and DON’T ask what she was wearing. And when YOU’RE the one being called out, take a step back, reconsider your perspective, mentally remove yourself from your privilege, and say, “Hey. I’m sorry I came off like a __-ist. I didn’t mean to. I know actions are just as if not more important than intentions, so I will stop doing x in the future.”
I can feel the trolls swarming now: “YOU STUPID FEMINAZI BITCH! UGH, PC POLICE HERE! STFU NO ONE GIVES A FUCK ABOUT WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY YOU EFFING HYPOCRITE”
To which I say: “FUCK YOU TROLLS I’M A FLAWLESS FEMINAZI BITCH AND I DO WHATEVA I WANT. KTHNXBYE”
(Semi-) joking aside, being aware of your privilege is an outlook you (and I) must continually cultivate in order to avoid exploiting and hurting others. But it’s not like this privilege/oppression stuff has to be your all-encompassing, energy-draining life’s work, necessarily. I know it may sound like that, but actually, there are many social justice-oriented individuals (like myself) who spend a lot of their time watching TV shows that are bad for them or working 9-5 jobs that involve more mindless data entry than mindful sociopolitical change (to clarify, my organization effects mindful sociopolitical change–my specific job within the organization, not so much). Being an ally and a decent human being is simply a matter of being considerate as a conscious individual interacting with others, engaging in different forms of media, and navigating a world that is undeniably pluralistic. You can choose to shut your eyes to what’s really going on, but then you’d be missing out on the transformative beauty and wonder of human empathy and understanding. And trust me, that’s way more soul-crushing than owning up to your privileges.
tl;dr I’m privileged, you’re privileged, we’re all privileged! Is it really that fucking hard to admit? Goddamn goddamn goddamn