Feminist Infighting

I was just reading An Open Letter to the White Feminist Community and was struck following arguments:

WE ARE ALL WOMEN FIRST and every one of these women who call themselves feminists seems to have forgotten that infighting doesn’t further the feminist cause.

This kind of divisiveness hurts us. And it drives away young women of all races and classes who feel that such discussions, with nothing more, serve little useful purpose.

The letter translates the real meaning behind how those arguments are used (“When you complain about racism in the feminist community, you cause divisions. So shut up and don’t complain.”), but I want to directly address how those arguments relate to privilege.

Privilege means not having to look past your own oppression to see the ways that you are oppressing others. It’s easy to see the ways that we’re disadvantaged because it affects us, but it’s much harder to admit that there are ways in which we are part of the problem. Especially if we believe that our oppression is the most important, or at least the most pressing, one out there.

In this case it means that you can use say things like “we are all women first” without realizing how dismissive that is to women who experience more than just gender-based oppression. Gender might be the most pressing oppression to you, but that’s not necessarily the case for other women. It also is a means for avoiding self-critique. By trying to force a certain amount of homogeneity in order to create a sense of harmony (eg. “universal womanhood”), then you never have to look at what you, personally, are doing to alienate women/feminists who aren’t part of the white, middle-class, straight, able-bodied (etc, etc) force that is the dominant voice of mainstream feminism.

Yes, infighting sucks and, frankly, I think we could all do more to educate ourselves on how to discuss differences in a mature fashion rather than engaging in the mud-slinging that happens on sensitive issues (and I’m not just talking about intersecting oppressions here). But, ultimately, when it comes to matters of intersecting oppressions, it is the feminists with privilege (whether it be white, heterosexual, cis-privilege, etc) are the ones who bear the primary burden of listening to those without, and from that foundation trying to create the kind of bridges that will help strengthen the movement.

The power of indifference

Yonmei has a post up about The politics of indifference which I think makes a great example of privilege in action.

I’ve excerpted a portion (with one minor edit so the text doesn’t break my layout):

I have experienced bigotry directed against the minorities to which I belong, but not often. The most common reaction of majority to minority is indifference, not hostility: in my experience, the first hostile reaction happens when the indifference is broken by a minority question that the majority cannot ignore.

Years ago, I worked in a department that had grown from five people to a dozen people quite quickly, and the manager, trying to weld us all into a team, used to organise monthly lunches for which attendance not- exactly- compulsory- but- you’d- better- have- a- good- excuse- if- you- don’t- go. Habitually, to save time, when the bill was presented, everyone used to kick in the same amount (it was usually £10) and that would cover the cost of the food/drink and a tip. I was the only vegetarian in the department. The kind of places we went to never had a particularly exciting menu, and my options as a vegetarian were usually a baked potato with cheese, a vegeburger with chips, or soup with bread. (Sometimes there was a vegetarian salad.) These were all cheap options. The cost of my meal was usually about £6-7, and paying £10 every time was irritating. I tried to suggest, several times, that I’d rather we all paid for what we bought; to this, most people responded with “Oh it evens out in the long run”. I pointed out, more than once, that it didn’t even out for me, because the only meals available to me were always less than £10: to which someone always rejoined “Oh, there’s nothing to stop you ordering what you like”. When I finally lost my temper about the situation, and got hauled up before my manager and rebuked for lacking team spirit and trying to spoil other people’s team spirit/enjoyment of pleasant lunches together, it wasn’t because I thought that my colleagues were being hostile towards me because I’m vegetarian: it was because I had been confronted with their complete indifference to the situation that my being vegetarian put me in, at far too many departmental lunches at which I was expected not only not to mind part-paying for other people’s meals as well as my own, but not to irritate other people by talking about it.

One aspect of privilege is that you do not have to be aware of being privileged. If something is set up to convenience members of a privileged group, members of the group privileged will often react with anger and hostility to any reminder that the way things have been set up is not “just how things are”: that arrangements have been purposefully made to convenience members of the privileged group, with – at best – complete indifference as to how this may inconvenience people outside the privileged group. It should be fairly obvious why this is: if this is “just how things are” then they will not change: everything will always go on as it now is. If you acknowledge that “how things are” is a purposeful arrangement made to convenience some people and inconveniencing others, the question necessarily arises: why are some people deserving of convenience, while others are not?

I would suggest reading the piece in full for the rest of the examples and analysis she gives.

Forcing all spaces to be privilege-oriented spaces

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.

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.

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!

III. Conclusion

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?

On air Privilege in Action

Maybe it’s a little unfair to be using FoxNews as the subject of a PiA post, since that station seems to go out of its way to defend and perpetuate bigotry, but the methodology is exactly the same as people with good intentions use, so I decided that it was worth using the material.

The Hannity and Colmes section starts out with Alan Colmes giving an overview of the issue and asking president of the Organization of Chinese Americans in New York, Vicki Shu Smolin, some questions about why the Asian American community feels that the Doghouse jocks and the show’s producers should be fired. Despite the biased slant on the questions, Colmes only interrupts Smolin once, and it is during a pause in the sentence and for the purpose of segueing into the Q&A with Michael Harrison, the editor of Talkers magazine. During this part of the show, Sean Hannity takes over the role of questioner.

Privilege #1: The Right to Offend

Hannity: Michael, I’m getting concerned here… like for example, both of my parents came from Ireland. If someone tells an Irish joke, am I supposed to get offended? Are we at the point where we can’t–this isn’t my type of humor, but I’m getting very nervous about the type of environment that’s being created here.

What Hannity here is concerned about is that free speech will be curbed if we put social pressure on comedians and other well-known personalities to practice self-censorship in terms of bigotry. This is actually a common argument, and the reason I put it in with “privilege” is because in this case “free speech” is being used to mean the right to insult, a “right” that is exercised disproportionately on non-privileged groups and with a disproportionately heavy impact.

When people try to use the “free speech” argument to caution against groups calling for action when they are the victims of racism, sexism, or other forms of bigotry, it’s not just about potentially curbing one’s ability to speak one’s true mind, but the collateral damage is that it implies that one should not be held accountable for one’s words. As earlbeck says, “But freedom of speech is not freedom from criticism, and freedom of speech is also responsibility for the words that one uses… People need to take responsibility for their actions, and that includes their words.”

What groups like the Organization of Chinese Americans are doing isn’t asking for these men or companies to be thrown in jail for what they’ve said, but rather making a statement that they, and all Asian Americans, have been subjected to racism (as all women have been subjected to sexism) by the show’s content, and that the show is responsible for its content and that it must face the consequences of its free speech.

But Hannity is skillfully using a rhetoric that erases that responsibility, a usage enabled by privilege. Privilege is being able to be free from responsibility in many encounters that involve a non-privileged group. Especially in cases like these, where the offense is “minimal” — meaning it was “only” words, or some other non-violent incident — the personal responsibility we have for our own words, and the corporate responsibility that companies have for the content of their shows, can be neatly swept under the rug of “free speech”, because no one wants to “walk on eggshells” or worry that maybe sometime, somewhere, they will face real consequences for a casually bigoted thing that they have said.

Privilege #2: My experience speaks for all

Harrison responds in agreement to what was said about the restrictive environment, then Hannity cuts him off to say the following:

Hannity: Anyone can make fun of me, I don’t care. By the way, Michael, as you know–we’ve been friends a long time– they do.

I hear this one a lot in real life. “People make fun of me all the time,” say the wealthy, white, heterosexual men in my family, in my school, and online. As if their experiences are universal. Privilege is assuming that your experiences give you the authority, and the knowledge, to rightfully speak for the experiences of others.

I have no doubt that Hannity is made fun of. I also have no doubt that there is some pretty vile stuff about him said in person, in the internet, through letters, and any other medium that people can communicate through. He’s a TV personality, and one on FoxNews at that. But three things are going on: 1) he’s implicitly conflating good-natured teasing (through his nod to Michael as a longtime friend) with actual verbal attacks on his person; 2) he’s erasing the distinction between receiving jokes as a person in power versus receiving jokes from a person in power when you are a person/group without power; and 3) he’s assuming that his potential feelings on this matter are the only valid ones.

Those three tactics both minimize the acknowledgment of the damage of racism, sexism, and other bigotry, while providing Hannity with a safe cocoon of rationalization in which to feel justified about his stance. The root of his argument is, of course, that he (and others) should be allowed to say whatever bigoted things that they want without being censured, but if he were to state it like that, then he would be called a racist, a sexist, and an all-around bigot.

By playing it up in the, “Well, that kind of stuff happens to me, too, and I don’t react so strongly!” He paints himself and his argument as rational, logical and correct and the non-privileged group’s reaction as emotional, illogical, and wrong. This is probably not even cold calculation on his part, but rather an honest attempt to understand the issue through his own experiences. But, when you are the one with power, you cannot assume that the situations you’ve faced are comparable to similar ones that people without power face. This is because, as I’ve stated above, the power dynamics are completely different and therefore, even taking out the differences between individuals, the situations, though similar on the surface, are in fact fundamentally different.

Endnotes: Bigotry in Action

This has already turned into a long post, but I would like to point out one thing. There is a point where Hannity’s privilege turns into actual bigotry when he addresses Smolin for the last time. Now, keep in mind, Hannity interrupted Harrison once, and that was about the time when he segued to his thoughts on the issue and began, well, the way it came across to me as a viewer, was that he began lecturing Smolin.

He interrupted her no less than three times, all of them when she was in mid-sentence, trying to answer his questions and assertions. He talked over her twice, one time of which she refused to stop what she was saying and kept talking until he gave her the floor, the other time she let him interrupt her. I can’t speak for the racism aspect (although I would suspect that it’s similar), but I know that men have a habit of interrupting women and women have a habit of letting them. I, myself, have been in a couple situations where I have literally said, “Let me finish,” and “You’ve interrupted me,” to a man and had him not let me finish what I was saying.

While this does stem from the privilege of feeling that you have the right to be heard anytime, anywhere, what Hannity did — and what was done to me, and continues to be done to countless other women — is sexist. It doesn’t matter that, since it stemmed from privilege, he probably wasn’t aware of it. It doesn’t matter that he probably intended to treat Smolin with the same courtesy as Harrison. The facts are that he blatantly and obviously silenced a woman and that passes privilege and goes straight into sexism.

The reason I bring it up here, beyond the fact that I think it needs to be discussed, is because this is a perfect example of how privilege enables bigoted behaviours to escalate. If Hannity didn’t have the privilege of speaking up anytime and anywhere nursed by our society — as a white person, a man, a TV personality, etc — then he would have a harder time casually silencing another human being.

I write this series to bring more awareness about what privilege is and why it’s important to understand the kinds of privilege that we have. I have not even touched on all of the elements of privilege that were displayed in that 6:12 minute news spot, and this one instance is only a drop in the bucket of the kinds of privileges we take for granted in our own lives. People — real people — have been hurt by not only the likes of Don Imus and the Doghouse DJs, but by the sheer number of people who have rationalized the behaviour as normal an harmless while pathologizing the responses by the non-privileged communities and their allies as anti-free speech, censorship, and emotional and therefore wrong and dangerous. And, well, if that’s not Privilege in Action, then I don’t know what is.

Via reappropriate.

More real world Privilege in Action: Casual heterosexism

I wrote about my language school for another PiA post here, but I’d like to bring it up again today. My topic here is heterosexism and it’s in similar vein to the first post and, again, about a reoccurring pattern.

We were going over a compound verb today with three different meanings: to signify a longstanding friendship, to signify a romantic attachment, and to ask to do an action together (yeah, the last one seems a little bit out of place, but that’s Japanese for you). My teacher — a very sweet and contentious woman, if a bit more conservative than I — talked about how the first meaning was between friends and wrote the word for “friend” on the board next to the example sentence. The third one was similar, although the explanation was too complex to sum up in a word so she left the right part of the example sentence blank. When she got to the second, however, I expected her to write the word for significant other (ie. the frequently used gender-neutral word for boyfriend/girlfriend) but she talked about “relationships between men and women” and then wrote the heterosexual specific word for male/female relations.

When I had an opening, I was like, “Um, sensei, wouldn’t [gender-neutral word] be a better choice? I mean, not all relationships are between a man and a woman…”

She looked at me and blinked for a split second, and then it was like a light bulb went off in her head. “Of course, of course!” she said abashedly, “[Gender-neutral word] is much better!” And she promptly changed the word on the board.

My teacher obviously wasn’t intending to exclude those of us in the class who were queer. In fact, I would wager that she never even thought that the language she was using — typical language, I believe, for adults to use in regards to relationships — could be exclusive. But, that’s just it. Privilege is having the dominant discourse be tailored to your group, to the point that you often don’t notice how certain words are exclusive of other groups.

The “normal” discourse all too often erases the experiences of groups outside what’s seen as “normal”, making it easier to ignore, minimize, and otherwise ignore/forget the existence of those groups. It’s not that most people do this intentionally; far from it. People use words which are exclusive (boyfriend/girlfriend in the context of assuming heterosexuality, mankind instead of humankind, etc) all the time, but because of privilege, these words are in such common usage that we use them as if they are all encompassing when the reality is that they are not.

For most people, when it’s pointed out to them is when they change it. This is not a terrible reaction; and most certainly is better than insisting that there’s nothing wrong with a word that has been pointed out to be exclusionary. However, in this case the best response is for us to be aware of our language as best we can, and choose the egalitarian version of a term whenever possible. Many people put down this kind of idea as being the “thought/word police” or the “PC gestapo” or somesuch, but the truth is that it’s just about using language that acknowledges and respects the basic humanity of others.

"Black is an EXTRA feature… Therefore, you hav[e] to PAY for it."

Via kynn who found it via symbioid; some information on Acclaim’s new game, Dance, where the default is white. One of the users took issue with this and began a thread called, I GOTTA PAY TO BE BLACK?

This situation is, perhaps, one of the most clear-cut examples of how the privileged groups are normalized and the non-privileged groups are Othered. First of all, this game seems to be still in the development stage; they’re testing out game mechanics and the like. Just as with Fable, as I discussed in my gender-inclusive video game thread, treating a female option as an “extra” rather than an intrinsic part of a game that supposedly lets you be anything, Acclaim’s Dance treats white as the default and non-white as an extra feature. As one of the moderators on the board explains, “Black is an EXTRA feature. It makes your person look unique, so that is an EXTRA feature. Therefore, you having to PAY for it.”

A site administrator takes a different tactic from the “it’s a compliment because it’s unique” approach, by implying that this is the best way to handle things because the game structure won’t allow for anything else. The staff member says, “As an optional character upgrade, we must put this in the item shop for players to acquire. This is the only way to offer the African-American heads.” The “only way”? Really? Perhaps at this stage it would be so costly to make the necessary adjustments to the system that it seems like the only way is to make it a paying option (although, really, in that case I can’t see why they couldn’t at least make it 0 points instead of 1, but I digress), but if they had programmed from the ground up with diversity in mind instead of allowing white to be the default, then there would be no problem — hence framing it as something out of their hands reads, to me at least, more like a tactic for avoiding responsibility than the full truth.

A more detailed explanation of the moderator’s stance — non-white skin colour as unique — is as follows [emphasis mine]:

THE REASON, there is no available choice at the moment is because, being white doesn’t necessarily have to represent you color in game. To change your skin color in the game, IS a special feature. It makes you STAND OUT. Therefore, your going to have to pay for an extra feature. Maybe in full release, there will be a bit more leeway, but for now you have to stick with what you got and test the game, and don’t worry so much about your character they’re going to be wiped regardless… We didn’t mean for this to be a racial bash. But the default skin tone we have in DANCE! is white. If you want something extra your going to have to pay. Nothing in life is free.

[From I GOTTA PAY TO BE BLACK? comment by coasterguy26]

Acclaim wasn’t aiming to be racist. I would say that no successful company — at least none that want to stay in business — tries to be racist. But the whole point about privilege is that you don’t have to try to be bigoted, but you have to actively try not to be bigoted because of the way the bigoted point of view is normalized in society.

See, privilege is about not having to see yourself as the Other. The moderator quoted above — and the company he represents — don’t see the hypocrisy in saying that they didn’t “mean for this to be a racial bash” and then in the very next sentence say that “the default skin tone we have in DANCE! is white”. They don’t think of it as racist because in our society being white is “normal”, it’s the “default” and it’s certainly nothing for anyone to get worked up over.

White people, who do already have it so that the avatars “represent [their] color in game” (and in most games, movies, tv shows, comic books, books, etc), have the luxury of seeing race as an extra, as something to do to make yourself unique and stand out. People of colour, who aren’t automatically represented in this game or most other parts of society, don’t have that luxury. If they want to have their avatars represent someone like themselves — something a white person doesn’t have to think about if they don’t want to — they have to pay. They get to see themselves be Othered and then told that they should be grateful because they are seen as “unique” and something to be desired. What is a fun accessory for a white player is a necessary component for a player of colour who wants to have the same ability as the white person to allow their avatar to represent their real life self. Privilege is not having to think about how the “extras” afforded to you come at the cost of allowing non-privileged groups the same basic representation that you take for granted.

It’s certainly much easier for Acclaim to take the tactic that they have — it’s out of our hands, we’ve made it an extra feature to help make you unique (so we can’t be doing a bad thing), and, hey, we don’t mean to be racist so obviously we can’t be! — than it is for them to acknowledge that they fucked up and take the time to fix it.

Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it's not there

Today’s PiA post comes from the Girl Wonder forums. It is, in part, a reaction to my privilege list, which the poster in question was linked to among other posts.

I have lived my life bullied and dismissed and marginalized and aloof; if there’s a “white male heterosexual privilege”, no one ever told me how to cash it in.

[From Untitled post comment on page 3 by Patrick Gerard]

Gerard’s statement clearly illustrates that privilege isn’t a binary thing. A person does not either have privilege or not, but rather that we all simultaneously benefit from privilege and are the victims of it because of our various circumstances. Gerard here benefits from privileges such as being white, male, and heterosexual (you can add to that ones like being cisgendered and able-bodied), but one of the ways in which he is non-privileged is class. He is neither rich nor middle-class, but rather makes it known that he has never been able to get above the poverty line.

He clearly has seen the discrimination he has faced because of power imbalances such as the one in his class status. In this way I think he’s like most of us: it’s much easier to see the imbalance when we’re the ones getting the short end of the stick. I think it seems so obvious because we’re the ones who are hurt, we’re the ones who are having to overcome hurdles others don’t, and we’re the ones who see others dismiss us without a thought.

And, you know what? That’s exactly what his post did to me. I mean, he may have done it on the Girl Wonder forums and not on this blog, but he basically dismissed the real experiences of myself and many, many others like me (not just women, but all varieties of anti-oppression workers) by calling concepts that I tried very hard to carefully and non-offensively explain “delusional”. I have another comment waiting in moderation that won’t be published because it breaks the golden rule of politeness, not to mention condescension. So, yeah, it really frigging hurts to be dismissed when all it would take is an extra two minutes of thought on how your criticism is worded to change your argument from being a high-class flame to being a critical one that may open up discussion and broaden the knowledge of both parties. You’d better believe that I remember almost all of these instances — everything from, “this chick needs some dick” to long rebuttals which engage with certain points while using turns of phrase that diminish me as an equal member in the discussion — because, well, being dismissed really hurts.

But instances where I benefit from privilege are much harder for me to remember, mostly because I count these things as normal. I am not excluded, therefore I am not hurt or unsatisfied. I will never, say, have a problem going to a public restroom if they are gender segregated. “But,” you may be thinking, “that’s not benefiting from privilege, that’s just using common sense. I mean, you wouldn’t want to share a bathroom with a man, right?” Therein lies the rub: it’s common sense to you and me because we’re cisgendered — meaning our gender identity (our belief that we are male or female) is the same as our expressed sex. What about a transwoman who looks too feminine to go into the man’s washroom without fear of having violence done to her, but looks too masculine to go into the women’s washroom without fear of having security called on her? Such incidents happen, but cisgendered people like you or I take it for granted that we’ll never be barred access or otherwise given trouble for using the bathroom of the gender we identify with.

And that’s just one example of how I, personally, benefit from something in society being made to fit my situation that is exclusive and hurtful to another kind of person. Going back to the original example of Patrick Gerard’s post, Gerard hasn’t ever “cash[ed] in” on privilege because that’s not how privilege works. Cashing in implies that the benefits are waiting there for the right people to take them, but the reality is that privilege is being the beneficiary of unseen benefits that are obscured because they are portrayed as common sense and/or just the way things are done.

Richie elaborates on Privilege in Action, so I don't have to!

Over at his newly created blog, Crimitism, Richie writes an Analysis of MySpace responses that he received on his own blog. It’s the same subject of opinions that I discussed in my last post, but in a different context.

Here’s an excerpt:

See, here’s the thing about equality: If you’re in the dominant position, you have to be willing to give things up, and a depressingly large number of people who pay lip service to it immediately begin backpeddling when they realise this. This guy was willing to accept everything I said, until I suggested that men are not doing enough to combat rape, at which point I’m being completely unreasonable and man-hating. Because… Well, because I suggested he stop being complacent and actually do something, basically. He repeatedly called for “the genders to meet each other half way” on the issue of rape, yet failed to realise that women lack the power to meet men half way on anything, and the only way this could possibly work is if men made a point of giving up power over women. Ah! But placing the burden on the the shoulders of men, well, that’s just sexist. Did you know that most rape allegations aren’t even proven, and it just drags men through the courts and is responsible for damaging the careers of promising young footballers? Misandry! It’s everywhere

Definitely worth a read, especially since it illustrates how the principles of privilege I talk about this series come up in a variety of different contexts.

Do we have the right to express our opinion anywhere, anytime?

If I tell myself, “this will be a short PiA post” will that make it true? Anyway, this post is halfway between real life and internet, as it happened to me while I was playing Final Fantasy XI last night. I don’t have the chatlog, though if I hadn’t been tired and cranky I probably would have screencapped it. Definitely should have. Oh well, live and learn.

Now, before I got back into this game I specifically looked for a queer-friendly linkshell because I wanted to be as far removed from the casual bigotry of “that’s so gay!” and “get into the kitchen and synth me some pie!” comments. Everything was going really well until one of our members shared a story about how, on her show, Tyra had on some parents who are allowing their child to live as the male he clearly feels himself to be. The woman who shared it thought that it was heartwarming, as did I.

One member, however, didn’t agree and called it “creepy”. But the more he was called on his opinion, the worse it got. First he used the “tomboy” excuse. I and another member told him that it was sexist and, furthermore, that gender identity and gender roles were two separate things. Then he pulled out the question, “Was the kid ugly?” and continued to protest that, because kids were cruel, that it was a completely relevant and appropriate question. At which point I basically told him that a queer-friendly linkshell was not the appropriate forum to express his uninformed opinions about subjects he admittedly has no knowledge about.

He continued by asserting that the transgendered child in question probably was emotionally damaged rather than trans. Another person told him that being transgendered did not make one emotionally damaged, and I tried to counter yet another assertion that there was “nothing wrong” with saying that the whole thing was creepy by asking him to consider how any transpeople on the LJ chat channel might feel hearing that he found them to be “creepy”. At which point one of the pearlsack holders shut us down with an “agree to disagree” line (which pisses me off because, as a moderator, he is one of the people responsible for maintaining the space, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish).

The player in question felt that he was perfectly entitled to air his opinions — nevermind that they weren’t grounded in reality, that they were offensive to those on the linkshell who are against transphobia, and hurtful to any trans-members even if they weren’t on the shell at that time — without regard to whether or not they were appropriate for the space he was in. Even though that space is specifically there so that we can have someplace in which to escape from the bigotry in the greater game community. Privilege is not having to understand why opinions you share should have a factual basis, and furthermore that the opinions you choose to share should be appropriate to the space you’re in.

This player was allowed to get away with disrespecting the fundamental rules of our chat space. His belief that his opinion is valid no matter where and when he shares it overshadowed any questions of appropriateness, and he felt no need to consider how his words made others feel. In the end, because of the mod’s words, even after I tried to get him to make the connection, he probably walked away from the encounter feeling that he was perfectly right in what he had said — after all, by saying that we should “agree to disagree” the moderator in question validated the player’s actions by framing them as having equal weight to what I, and the others protesting his actions, were saying.

Defending anti-oppression activism while using bigoted language

Now that I’ve started this series, I seem to be drowning in examples. Every time I go to finish a post I’ve started, I come across something new that I want to post for Privilege in Action. In addition to this one, I have two more that I want to write.. not to mention the non-related posts I need to finish. Anyway, this PiA post came to my attention via ilyka, who posted a critique of a critique of the newest Dove commercial.

Reading her post, and especially the parts she highlighted from the original article by Slate’s Seth Stevenson, I was struck by the fact that, while trying to call out the Dove ads for not being feminist enough, he used language that belittled and objectified women.

A quick scan of his article turns up these terms and phrases: “[a] woman cavorts in her shower”, “plus-sized hottie”, “average-looking woman”, “I’m told that even bargain-basement porn features flashier production values and more compelling actresses”, “simpering coed”, “extremely angry ladies”, “women have strong emotional attachments”, “nonemaciated women”, “righteous sisterhood”, “in which nearly every woman shown is a skinny, fashion-model-gorgeous nymphomaniac”, “the Dove girls”, “skinnier, hotter women”, “woman’s charming smile”, “lovely Sara Ramirez”, “nude older babes”, “[w]omen of a certain age will aspire to look like the fit, attractive senior citizens featured in the ad”.

One or two of the ones I pulled were the right words to use for the context, but are still part of a disturbing pattern when the article is looked at as a whole. Behind the jump I examine some of the language in context and talk about how privilege allows us not to see how the language we use in defending non-privileged groups reinforces exactly what we’re arguing against. Continue reading