A lot of time my Privilege in Action posts are born out of me seeing two unrelated areas of interest facing the same exact privileged arguments. This time, it’s on the subject of women-oriented spaces, but of course it can be applied to spaces geared towards any non-privileged group.
Let me begin my post with a quote from one of the essays linked in the two threads I will be discussing [emphasis mine]:
After a while, we began organizing “chick nights,” gatherings of just the four of us and maybe some other women we knew from outside the group. For reasons that were often kind of bizarre, some of the men in the group took exception to this. They never organized nights at which we were excluded. When we pointed out that by the law of averages, a good half of the various social outings ended up being guy-only, they replied that it was not the same thing.
“Look,” I finally said to one of them, “when we get together Saturday night, we’re going to paint our nails and put goop on our faces and play with each others’ hair and watch movies with really hot guys and talk about how hot the guys are and probably talk about sex and periods and all that fun stuff. Do you really have any interest in that?”
“No,” he replied, “but we could do other stuff instead.”[From When Worlds Collide: Fandom and Male Privilege by Lucy Gillam]
Those of us who are veterans of anti-oppression work get the point that Gillam was making, even before her explanation of why they had “chick nights” in the first place, but for people such as her male friend, the concept is foreign and seems discriminatory in nature. He is used to, by virtue of his privilege, being included in things as a default, and therefore to him the natural course is not only to be included in the nights, but to be given a voice equal, or greater, to the women in deciding what is done in those nights.
And it is with that thought in mind that I begin this post on Privilege in Action.
Please Note: Since this post is going to be long enough as it is, I would rather not explain the difference between privilege-only spaces and non-privileged spaces. For those of you who wonder what the difference is between the two, please read my post on A Deeper Look at “Minority Spaces” before continuing with this one.
I. This is our garden. We like it.
I would like to first start by discussing a series of posts on the Feminist SF blog regarding the female-dominated slash fandom. The posts, for reference, are as follows: Slash fandom and male privilege/hetero privilege (a great PiA post written by someone who isn’t me!), This is our garden. We like it., and So, why do fanboys hate fanfic, especially slash?. The common thread that I want to talk about (also addressed in So, why do fanboys hate fanfic, especially slash?) can be summed up with this quote: “The fanboy… perceived a roomful of women, talking about men, and was infuriated to find that his opinion was regarded as of no value.”
When non-privileged groups form our own spaces to talk about our issues, whether or not we welcome participation from privileged groups or not, there is always a backlash from someone who feels that their privileged opinion is not being properly respected. In addition to the examples that Yonmei listed in her posts, every single one of them had an angry man coming on to lecture her and the other commenters about his opinion on slash/fanfic in the same exact style that Yonmei was criticizing in her posts.
Yonmei sums up the problem with conflating privileged participation and privileged domination in spaces for non-privileged groups:
If you find it comfortable to play in the slash sandbox, as is, I don’t think you’ll find any female slash fans telling you you can’t. If what you want to read is slash, no one can stop you. If what you want to write is slash, slash fans will want to read it. If you want to join in metadiscussions about slash, this is also possible – so long as you do so as a slash fan, and not as a gay man arguing that you know how gay men experience the world, and this or that in a slash story isn’t it. Because then you are not trying to join in metadiscussions as just another slash fan: you are trying to distort metadiscussions about slash with male privilege.[From So, why do fanboys hate fanfic, especially slash? by Yonmei]
Going back to the quote I used in the introduction, it is not that there is necessarily a problem with privileged groups wanting to participate in non-privileged spaces, but that it often comes out that they want to dominate and change those spaces so that they appeal to them in the way that all of the other kinds of spaces out there do.
II. Defining how friendly “privilege-friendly” spaces should be
I don’t put much stock in old adages, but one thing that the constant tug-of-war over defining spaces brings to mind is, “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.” I’ve been feeling that way about the woman-oriented gaming network, Iris and its child magazine Cerise that I recently created with Revena. In anti-oppression speak, I would call us a inclusive non-privileged safe space. In real terms, that means that we are a feminist/woman-oriented site that welcomes participation from men as long as they come as allies.
But most guys in the gaming blogsphere, even some who position themselves as allies or openminded, are not content with that. Take, for example, this heated exchange between myself, some other women gamers, and a male commenter on a post on New Game Plus called More reasons for a magazine for gaming women.
The exchange can be summed up as such:
Him: Why care what a guy says? Why react to the negativity? Why create a validation for them?
Me: Women need to see others sticking up for us — both within our community and without… Because It’s. Not. About. Teh. Mens. It’s about networking and safety and creating a non-toxic gaming environment.
Him: But again, why bother?… Why bother trying to convince them otherwise when you could better spend your energy living and creating the world that you want? [Insert a several paragraph diatribe about women wanting to be fetishized, that we shouldn't "force" our view of equality on him, and that there is no problem because he doesn't see it.]
Me: Listen to what has already been said. It’s. Not. About. Teh. Mens… Men like you, who feel the need to talk over us and not listen to us, are exactly why we need a separate space in order to get our voices heard.
Him: I don’t feel the need to talk over anyone. If anything, this is a need to know. But I think I’ve learned enough.
Well, I wasn’t nearly as nice sounding in the actual exchange. But the deluge of misogyny and privilege in his 17+ paragraph argument about how we women need to just shut up and realize we’ve already achieved equality since our voices are already being heard, all being said while he was simultaneously failing to hear what had been said only one comment above about how the premise to entire argument was false did not put me in the mood to make nicey-nice.
Anyway, the point of it all is that Nic felt affronted at the very idea that there was a space out there where his voice was given less weight, and decided to rectify that fact by dominating the conversation on another woman-oriented space in order to tell us all how much we hate men, freedom of speech, and “equality” that recognizes men’s rights to silence women.
So as not to give the impression that criticism of openly women-oriented spaces is confined to only misogynists like the Kotaku commenters and concern trolls like Nic, though, it is important to point out he is not the first to have criticized the community for not properly catering to male needs. Tony Walsh of Clickable Culture wrote an entire post about how put off he was by our magazine having a tagline saying that it was for women gamers.
Both arguments boil down to: “Your community/magazine doesn’t appeal to men enough, change x, y, or z to make it appeal more.” Both of them miss that, while we welcome privileged participation and want to reach beyond the scope of our group, we are here to give voices to women and women’s issues. Why do we need a gaming magazine “for women”? Precisely because of the assumption that underlies the two arguments being made, that male needs need to be catered anytime and anywhere, those women in the gaming community and the gaming industry (not to mention those who are actually allies who want to try to understand women’s issues rather than assuming they know “what women want”) be damned!
None of the privileged people could wrap their minds around the idea that their opinions were not only not worth more than those of the non-privileged group whose space and conversation it was, but actually meant less. These men were coming into a woman-created, woman-oriented sandbox and instead of playing by the rules of the community, they were trying to force it to conform to their ideas of what the community should be!
Privilege is believing that, regardless of the purpose behind a space, any space you enter should conform to your ideas, and that the pre-existing members of that space should give your singular opinion weight equal to that their group as a whole. If someone entered a community devoted to Spiderman/Peter Parker, telling them that they should focus on Mary Jane instead is something that, I think, is universally recognized as rude and presumptuous. Why, then, is it considered acceptable to go into communities devoted to giving women a voice in a certain area (like fandom, gaming, politics, etc) and tell us that we need to change to cater to privileged groups, or listen to a privileged point of view, and otherwise change what we are doing because it is not exactly like every other
privilege-oriented, excuse me, every other normal space does?