The Privilege Delusion

Posted: August 27, 2011 in Blogging, Feminism, Identity

http://www.iamkeltik.com/post/9372895849/having-privilege-isnt-something-you-can-usually

“Having privilege isn’t something you can usually change, but that’s okay, because it’s not something you should be ashamed of, or feel bad about. Being told you have privilege, or that you’re privileged, isn’t an insult. It’s a reminder! The key to privilege isn’t worrying about having it, or trying to deny it, or apologize for it, or get rid of it. It’s just paying attention to it, and knowing what it means for you and the people around you. Having privilege is like having big feet. No one hates you for having big feet! They just want you to remember to be careful where you walk.

I hate the current discourse around ‘privilege’. It is a lazy, thoughtless way of examining and identifying ‘power’. Did Foucault use the word privilege all the time? NO.

Saying that telling someone they are privileged ‘isn’t an insult’ is a bare-faced lie.

I have seen so many feminists, gay and queer and trans activists use the single word ‘privilege’ to dismiss an individual and their arguments I have lost count.

No one hates you for having big feet! Until you step on someone’s toes? Then they really hate you.

‘Privilege’ seems to be a way of  at once blaming individuals for complex situations, and then also maintaining a ‘group’ identity of those who are not privileged.

Take trans politics for example. I am continually labelled as ‘privileged’ as a ‘cis’ woman. And this enables trans people to always be the victim in discussions, the victim of my privileged viewpoint. But I don’t think I have any ‘privilege’ in terms of gender identity. I fail at being a ‘woman’. My sexuality is closest to that of homos, with no access to the physical experiences of homo-men. I have no gender ‘advantages’ I can think of at all, except that I am not going through the pain of transition. Just the pain of a lifetime of ‘not fitting’ to my supposed gender identity.But in conversation with trans people, they can always claim the ‘privileged’ position of the powerless.

I think privilege is used as a weapon in identity politics.

And just because a statement is ‘reblogged’ nearly 600 times on tumblr, does not make it true.

 

 

Comments
  1. Alex says:

    Quite. Society doesn’t just hand you privilege along with your birth certificate. It’ll set you a set of hoops to jump through.

    If you want all the straight man privileges, you’ve got to be sporty and laddish and flippant and beery and fixated with MASSIVE boobs enough not to get labelled a fag. White has always been a very competitive club to get into as well, and membership is easily revoked.

    “Privilege” is a thing whatever system lets you have if it likes you. The idea that misandrists might hate certain types of women too, or that snobs might look down on other members of their class too isn’t surprising, why not expect it to be systemic.

    • well I am not sure of the ‘system’ you are describing but yes, ‘privileges’ in identity groups are hard fought over and complex.

      • Alex says:

        Not sure myself either. I just thought it was sad that, when you see proper, determined Men’s Rights types on the internet, especially the Nice Guy ones, despite working hard to be really, really sexist they often still don’t seem to get that much out of a system that’s meant to be privileging them.

        • well you could argue the ‘system’ they are fighting against is feminist orthodoxy.

          It’s hard for men to assert their views/needs in our culture.

          • Alex says:

            Here’s a fag paper. Try and slip it in between the system of feminist orthodoxy and patriarchy. There’s a shiny penny in it for you if you can.

  2. I think people are seriously misusing the word ‘privilege’. Just as they also misuse ‘cultural appropriation’. You can’t take these very nuanced, complex ideas and then apply them in one dimension to everything. The problem it seems is people using theoretical feminism/humanism/social justice ideas and trying to apply them IRL. Real life needs hands-on feminism/humanism/social justice action.

    For instance, as abortion restrictions spread in the US (2011 has seen a record number of restrictions) we don’t need to talk about the privilege of women living in states like NY that still have available, cheap abortion. We need to figure out how to get the women in Midwestern states where there is no clinic for days, to NY when they need to.

    Also this was very timely for me! I had just gotten a comment on my asexuality thread about “sexual privilege” and my immediate reaction was: can we stop using the word privilege? It’s become such a joke. I want to make comedy videos in which I play a hipster tumblr feminist talking about ALL the diff kinds of privilege. I really do. But my rants were avoided as the commenter noted, that this was really about power: http://rachelrabbitwhite.com/lets-talk-about-what-can-we-learn-from-asexuality/#comment-6749

    • Hi Rachel, fantastic comment. I will go and read that asexuality post.

      You know what though, if you made a comedy video about a hipster tumblr feminist (love that phrase) talking about all the different kinds of privilege, it would have just looked like a piss-take of ‘Privilege Denying Dude’! The actual hipster tumblr feminist ‘privilege’ meme. I found that meme hilarious because about two thirds of the time, I actually agreed with what PDD said…

  3. On agreeing with “Privilege Denying Dude”:
    http://fyeahpdd.tumblr.com/post/9441269232/picture-background-8-piece-pie-style-color

    Revisiting that tumblr is kinda making me depressed. It’s a caricature not just of “privilege denying people” but of “hipster tumblr feminism” (loving this new term too) itself with a spotlight on it’s self righteousness– which is so out of control that you can’t even point it out.

    • very true. Its self righteousness is so out of control you can’t point it out. And some of the most ‘self-righteous’ of those hipster tumblr feminists, are in fact, in socio-economic terms, incredibly ‘privileged’.

      • typhonblue says:

        Hell, in terms of gender those hipster tumblr feminists are privileged.

        After all, there’s a good chance they haven’t had their genitals cut into as an infant, that they won’t ever loose contact with any children they beget, and that if they are victims of domestic violence or rape they will get either the therapy they need or a reasonable stab at legal recompense.

  4. Gs says:

    Privilege isn’t usually applied to one who works and succeeds. That is successful.

    So, apparently, accusations that you’re ‘privileged’ are like saying that, in having the right to think and argue your own thoughts and be successful in those arguments, you are ‘privileged’ to not have their,at best, group-think or, at worst, mob mentality. They’re all nazi’s from what I can tell!

    • That’s a good way of putting it GS. I sometimes think there is a kind of ‘envy’ not of people’s actual socio-economic status, when the word privilege is bandied around, but like you say, of their ability to hold their own in an argument.

  5. redpesto says:

    Having privilege is like having big feet. No one hates you for having big feet! They just want you to remember to be careful where you walk.”

    This is, of course, based on the assumption that people with big feet are forever treading on the toes of people with smaller feet, because that’s what people with big feet always do.

    #analogyfail?

    @QRG -perhaps it’s not just a way of not talking about power, maybe it’s also lazy because it locates that power in biology rather than ideology?

  6. To Red Pesto’s: “This is, of course, based on the assumption that people with big feet are forever treading on the toes of people with smaller feet, because that’s what people with big feet always do.

    #analogyfail?

    @QRG -perhaps it’s not just a way of not talking about power, maybe it’s also lazy because it locates that power in biology rather than ideology?”

    Yes, yes, yes. Here we get into the idea that someone needs to apologize for being (just an example) thin and white, because they look like the very ubiquitous image that marketers use. When marketers use this image are supporting only one way of looking, perhaps supporting eating disorders, and often repressing people who don’t look thin and white, etc.

    But the random thin, white woman isn’t doing anything to oppress anyone else, she doesn’t need to apologize for her biology. Rather it’s when money is made off of her image to promote this one image is it wrong and oppressive.

    To hark back to the cultural appropriation example, if I am an artist working in the medium of found objects and sculptures, and I begin making “shrine-like” sculptures which take on religious iconography from other cultures, I as an artist am not wrong for just making something for my personal creative expression.

    BUT, if I as this same artist am hired by Scion to make a shrine for a Scion commercial, which breaks down me making the shrine and the different cultural artifacts I embed to then put a Scion in the middle… That is fucked.

  7. It’s funny that some people will tell you that you have privilege but that you are blind to it. Well, according to “their” rules, isn’t it possible, likely, even that they have privilege they are blind too also? Funny How “they” get really mad when that topic is brought up……

    seems like a cheap tactic to force dogma down people’s throats……

    another one that has got to go out the door is the idea of a “derail”–some threads just NEED to go in a more interesting direction……

    • don’t get me started on derailing! it’s so stupid. I have been accused of derailing discussions simply for saying anything at all. SHUT UP! YOURE ANTI FEMINIST! WE ARE THE POOR VICTIMS OF YOUR MISOGYNY! YOU SUCK COCK! RAAAH!

  8. oh, and another thing funny how group I won’t name **cough** **cough** (quiet voice) Feminists love to dismiss another group I won’t name but the initials are like National Rifle Association but with an M instead of an n……

    Funny how they always dismiss those arguments with statements like “your just bitter because you can’t get laid” and “why don’t you just man up.”

    The group that does sound like NRA can often sound like whiners and I have a hard time taking them seriously but because certain people from another group go out of their way to dismiss them, it makes me think that they have many legitimate complaints and the first unnamed group is a “safe space” for allot of hateful bigots to congregate.

    Since I am being discrete, I won’t name Amanda Marcotte and David Futrelle as two people who do this frequently, but I will say that you can see some of their rhetoric at Pandagon and Manboobz……
    😉

  9. Alex – ‘feminist orthodoxy’ and ‘patriarchy’ are totally different. Feminist orthodoxy is a culture whereby it is unacceptable to ask ‘what about the men?’ and where ‘woman’ is presented as ‘virtue’ and ‘man’ as ‘dirty dog’. It is not a statement about women ‘ruling the world’ but about how women’s feminist concerns (not all women’s) are seen as more valid than men’s.

    And I still think you just play devils advocate when actually you *believe* patriarchy exists and you are basically a feminist man. I wish you would just be straightforward about that.

    • Alex says:

      Feminist orthodoxy is a culture whereby it is unacceptable to ask ‘what about the men?’ and where ‘woman’ is presented as ‘virtue’ and ‘man’ as ‘dirty dog’. It is not a statement about women ‘ruling the world’ but about how women’s feminist concerns (not all women’s) are seen as more valid than men’s.

      Aye, and that and what they would call “patriarchy” are just offshoots of the same compulsory expectation of gender-differentiation. Is what I’m getting at. I just can’t be fucked to use inverted commas every time I type patriarchy.

      • you’re so full of shit alex. we have argued about this before where you have claimed patriarchy exists.

        either it does or it doesn’t.

        • Alex says:

          Nah, I’ve never said it exists because I don’t think it’s a very useful term. I think a system exists where gender is taken very, very seriously rather than just treated as an amusing sexy roleplay, and that it does tend to be one of the two genders that does better out of it. But giving it a big daddy man name and seeing it purely in terms of a system of men and their cocks has always seemed a bit daft to me.

          • there are not ‘two genders’ in my view. Gender is the context, the concept of ‘masculine and feminine’ that is being fought over. People are more complex than that.

          • Alex says:

            I meant the two genders that the system in question recognises, and thereby constructs, to the exclusion of any others or grey areas.

    • Alex says:

      Well, there’s a few. Third-person pronouns. Birth certificate procedures. Colour-coded baby clothes. Adult clothes. Marriage in the UK. Standard vanilla sex.

      You know the whole “gender binary” that you don’t like? It has a finger in a lot of pies and only recognises two genders.

      • Indeed. but when you and I talk we always go round in circles. which suggests to me there is a problem in communication. I was having a perfectly constructive discussion with a range of people here, you came along and it got stuck. I don’t think this is my fault. I think you are deliberately avoiding actual communication.

        I understand the power of the gender binary I just don’t think there is a ‘system’ that defines how it is employed. And I don’t think ‘men’ benefit from the binary any more than ‘women’ or anyone else. And I am not arguing for why. Again. You have read my work on this.

        • Alex says:

          “Systems” are difficult things to define, and I use it for want of a better word. There are lots of things that are quite clearly systems – semantic gender in English grammar for starters – that incorporate it as a component.

          How would you define gender binary? Just a distinction, or a concept, or a grammatical convention? Either way, in an awful lot of situations, which box you’re slotted into can advantage or disadvantage you.

          By the way, are you accusing me of derailing your comments section?

          • No alex, you just derail my patience. It’s like you go in some kind of spiral. I don’t know what you are trying to either find out from me or teach me about.

            Yes being ‘slotted in’ to a ‘box’ in the gender binary can advantage or disadvantage you. But I do not think that advantage happens consistently to one ‘gender’ identy over another, or even to one person over a lifetime. I have both benefitted from being a ‘woman’ and not.

            The gender binary is a concept that has huge real life repercussions, in language, institutions, health, sex/uality etc etc.

          • Alex says:

            But I do not think that advantage happens consistently to one ‘gender’ identy over another, or even to one person over a lifetime. I have both benefitted from being a ‘woman’ and not.
            Well quite. As I was saying earlier, the “privileges” available to those deemed men and women aren’t just handed to you on a plate. You get them by acting the part satisfactorily.

            It’d be hard to argue that the poor, lonely chaps in the Not-a-Rifle-Association stonerwithaboner was talking about have it better than the average woman, or that they’ve managed to get the most out of whatever “male privilege” they’re lucky enough to have. Similarly if a woman wants to use the Institution of Motherhood for a better shot at custody of her kids, she’ll need to fit the image of a good mother.

  10. Love the final tumblr comment. How did all those priv-obsessed folks end up on tumblr anyway?

  11. actuallly alex mothers are much more likely to win custody of children whether or not they fit the image of a good mother. The cards are stacked against dads.

    So the idea that ‘one gender’ usually benefits from the binary is not holding water

    • Alex says:

      I don’t think I ever argued that one gender always benefits regardless of the situation.

      • You said a few comments up:

        ‘I think a system exists where gender is taken very, very seriously rather than just treated as an amusing sexy roleplay, and that it does tend to be one of the two genders that does better out of it.’

  12. Cid says:

    I agree with this so hard. “Privilege” is 100% used as a weapon and they always try to frame it as being “not about you”, when it totally is. As soon as they have a reason to believe you have privilege, you’re dismissed immediately, called a douche and a mansplainer, etc.. No discussion will ever happen.

    I don’t believe “privilege” exists as they put it. My husband should have the ultimate in privilege being rich(ish), white, cis, straight, while male.. but it’s BS. He still has his hardships and people will still treat him like shit depending on the situation. He doen’t *really* have much advantage over me, even though women are supposedly so oppressed.

    Funny you mention Tumblr, I keep having to delete people off my Tumblr because they keep bringing up feminist/identity politics nonsense. I just want my ridiculous videos and nerd stuff, jeez.

    • Hi Cid.
      Ha yes I wonder if the feminist/identity politics folk live in one corner of tumblr and everyone else just gets on with watching their videos and checking out nice pictures!

      • Cid says:

        That’s pretty much Tumblr in a nutshell I’d say! Some of their posts leak out, but most people don’t really pay much mind to them (and go back to looking at their porn.)

  13. Alex says:

    In most of the world, in most of history, and in an awful lot of situations here and now, it does seem to be one particular side that benefits from that distinction. But I was very careful to say “tend” because it’s by no means all.

    • well I don’t agree with you, so that is what we are arguing about! You think ‘in most of the world , in most of history blah blah’ – men benefit from the binary. I don’t.

      That’s all we needed to say. It turned into a ridiculous conversation about nothing.

  14. […] Ah, the notorious QRG. I never quite know with her which way things are going to go, but this time she’s got a point. […]

  15. Matthew says:

    Foucault does not talk about priveledge but of agency and knowledge/power being everywhere ever present in all actors within a culture:

    ‘We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes’, it ‘represses’, it ‘censors’, it ‘abstracts’, it ‘masks’, it ‘conceals’.  In fact power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth. (Foucault 1991)

    We as individuals ALL are the actors that maintain power, whether we feel priveledged within that power regime or not. Hense discourse that sets up paradigms of priveledge and non-privledge reinforces the status quo. It creates a “truth” of power rather than negotiates power. It maintains paradigms of priveledge. Because an actor maintains a certain power from victimhood which is difficult to let go of. It is a coercive strategy of power.

    And I agree men do not benefit from the binary but neither do women. ALL are actors but ALL must show up to renegotiate power.

  16. “Having privilege is like having big feet. No one hates you for having big feet! They just want you to remember to be careful where you walk.”

    I’m a bit late to this party, but I read this and thought of the perfect song to describe how people actually use the term “privilege”

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