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.