Privileges (Not the POSIX Kind)

Somewhere along the line I first encountered the concept of “privilege.” For the purposes of this post, privilege is defined as receiving preferential, unearned benefits simply by belonging to some group. You can go looking around the internet for these lists, and there are quite a few of them; Male privilege, heterosexual privilege, white privilege (big one), cis-gender privilege, the lists go on and on. I’ll be the very first to say that this concept of privileges is very likely true and something worth being aware of. What I won’t agree with how important being aware of privileges is. Talking to some people, you’d think they do nothing but go through their days keenly aware of all the privileges they’re missing out on. That seems like kind of a weird way to go through your daily life to me. I certainly grew up with certain privileges, like being white, but I absolutely lacked others.

My family was definitely in the bottom third of the town economically speaking. Did I spend my days focused on that? No. I did my best to be my best regardless. The times when I was forced to show my hand of being poorer than many of my schoolmates, I did what I could to give the metaphorical middle finger to the system. Oh, you wanted that paper typed up? Well, my family can’t afford a computer, so I’ll either use a goddamn 20 year old typewriter to type the paper, or I’ll hand write it in super small, super neat handwriting. I actually had teachers complain about this all the way up until high school. Too bad. I didn’t know about the concept of privilege then, but even if I did, what would it have changed? Would those teachers still want papers typed? Probably. I think I would’ve behaved the same way.

My problem with the concept of privilege is that everyone has certain privilege, and everyone lacks certain privilege. Everyone. So while it’s a nice thing to be aware of, I don’t see how it can be much of anything other than a wash in the end. It also seems very focused on outward appearances. I did my best to visually fit in with my wealthier peers as a kid, and I did a pretty good job. Ostensibly you wouldn’t be able to accurately tell about my “privilege” or lack thereof. Additionally, some of the lists of privileges are so narrow minded and themselves almost stereotypical. One of those lists is what actually spawned this post. I don’t know how generally “good” or “bad” this list is, I only know that reading it pissed me off. So if it’s actually considered a shitty list, I apologize. Also, I’m not saying that none of these things happen, I’m merely trying to point out how they’re not anywhere near as clear-cut as they seem. If anything, many of them are one-off examples of random people having sexist opinions. That’s not an example of privilege, that’s an example of asshattery, and that’s something anyone can have.

Here are a few of the examples of “Male Privilege” that really upset me:

  • You can be a careless driver and not have people blame it on your sex
    • Is this 1965 or 2014? I (and many others) assume careless drivers are just generic asshats or people from Boston.
  • Work comfortably (or walk down a public street) without the fear of sexual harassment
    • I’ve been sexually harassed. I didn’t even know what it was. No one told me I could be sexually harassed, and no one would’ve believed me if I said I was. I’ve been jeered at for any number of reasons by people when I’m just walking around. Asshattery isn’t limited to one sex.
  • Go on a date with a stranger without the fear of being raped
    • Yup. Because men never have this fear. Thanks for discounting my experience!
  • You can decide not to have children and not have your masculinity questioned
    • What? In what world? If I so much as choose not to have, or don’t desire sex, I’m shamed all to shit. I’m not a “real man”. Give me a fucking break.
  • Most political representatives share your sex, particularly the higher-ups
    • Because that really matters doesn’t it? I’d much, much rather political representatives share my socioeconomic status. Hell has a better chance of freezing over.
  • You can ask for the “person in charge” and will likely be greeted by a member of your sex
    • Who the fuck cares? I want to talk to the person in charge. Either they’re in charge and they can solve my problem or they can’t. If they can’t, they’re useless to me. Do I give a fuck that it’s a man or a woman? NO!
  • If you’re not conventionally attractive (or in shape), you don’t have to worry as much about that negatively affecting your potential
    • Jeez. Potential for what? Jobs, dates? I’m not “conventionally” attractive because of my short height. Is that right? No, but it is what it is.
  • You can go to a car dealership or mechanic and assume you’ll get a fair deal and not be taken advantage of
    • Here’s a tip for you: if you walk into a car dealer or a mechanic, you should always assume you’re going to be taken advantage of. Regardless of your sex.
  • Expressions and conventional language reflects your sex (e.g., mailman, “all men are created equal”)
    • Language is language. It’s imperfect. It evolves. There are much more important things and causes to become upset about. We should be (and I am) thankful that I speak a language that doesn’t have gendered noun classes.

This was really just a fairly quick riff on this annoying list. I’m not saying that all or any of these are bullshit, but I’ve seen so few of these first hand, or even heard about them happening. As can be seen in many of my responses, I don’t receive many of these “privileges for being male” at all, and in some cases, saying that I do is hugely dismissive of my experience. That’s why these privilege lists are so moot. The subset of people you’re describing either being denied or receiving certain privileges is so small. This list does as much to stereotype men as it does to stereotype women, and that helps no one.

I guess what I’d prefer to see instead of the idea of privilege is constructive ideas. Privilege divides. Construction unites. If someone came up to me and said, “Hey, you know, many women have a fear when they go on a date with someone new that they’ll be raped or sexually assaulted. Do you ever feel that way?”, they’re trying to include me and my experience in that discussion. It’s not about gender. It’s about a problem (rape and sexual assault) that anyone can be the victim of and that NO ONE should be the victim of. Sometimes that is in my mind. I sure as shit try to make any first date with someone new as public as possible, for both our benefits. I have other fears in that situation too. She’ll laugh at me for how I dress. She’ll expect some physical acknowledgement at the end of the date (like a hug, or kiss) or she won’t want to see me again. She’ll call me a creep (for damn near any reason).

This harkens back to a post I wrote about feminism. Great idea. Tends to be divisive. Dividing is easy, and I’m so tired of it. The ONLY way we move forward as people is to unite and see ourselves in others. You break down dividing barriers (male/female, white/non-white, heterosexual/non-heterosexual, human/Gelgamek) by focusing on the commonalities, and the common experiences, not highlighting the differences, and problems.