I have been trying to explain privilege to someone lately and they keep coming back to me basically with hierarchy of oppression…. “So is a black working class man having more privilege than a middle class white woman” etc etc and it makes my head spin round and round trying to explain privilege, entitlement and I think it is called “intersectionality“. But it seems impossible to explain privilege to someone with privilege, particularly when they don’t accept it! Sigh
Anyway, I am determined to nail it! It’ll be an ongoing conversation. But is privilege a real thing or a theory? And does it matter? Is it a bunch of middle class bollocks that stroppy hysterical feminists usually shout when they have lost the argument on a late night internet discussion that has descended in to insults, screaming the last word “check your priviledge” at the troll who has stood on their last nerve? It might seem that way, but this is just continued frustration with having inane discussions over and over again
If privilege is a theory then what is it? When thinking about theories, we must reflect upon the question: “why are we asking the question?” Why are some men asking some feminists to explain privilege to them?” because it really isn’t hard to understand. And in asking the question of “what is privilege?” is it dismissing women’s experiences of men’s entitlement and privilege? I am asking these questions rhetorically, by the way!
It is fine to ask about privilege, it’s fine to dismiss that you might not have privilege, particularly if you don’t feel very privileged. Honestly, it is fine and I mean that! But that doesn’t negate that you don’t have it. Theorising about privilege is fine too, and since privilege is a normal word used by some feminists every day, feminists who use the word should question it too because if we don’t then we don’t have arguments to back it up. We have to be able to explain ourselves, if we are going to use words and terms that might not have a meaning to someone else.
As a Materialist Feminist (I’ll do another blog about that another time) I want to look at the resistance to look inward i.e. for feminists to explain their terms and for those who (usually men) to object to the term privilege, because to theorise and to think about the world effectively, we must think critically about ourselves and the ideas that we have are not maybe always accepted to be true by others
- privilege denying dude #1
Or when we are discussing something they then try to explain it back to us because we didn’t understand what it was we were saying and thinking
I suppose the whole point of privilege is you sort of don’t know you have it, by its very nature that you and your kind have always had it, your privilege feels well every day and normal.
My favourite are the unconstructed leftie men (some are very sophisticated and they shouldn’t assume that I mean them) who will then try to explain class society to feminists they are debating with, almost like the feminists have never read anything or never noticed we live in a brutal class society. If only we could only understand the brutal nature of capitalism and the class society we live in, it might negate women’s experiences of every day sexism. Sometimes I wonder if they think we are too stupid to notice that we know we live in a horrific capitalist system. What does capitalism mean for women, well in a nutshell – not earning equal pay, having caring responsibilities, fearing violence, worrying about having to control our fertility, continually being treated as commodities and just being dismissed for having opinions, really.
Whoever we are – feminist shouting “mind your priviledge” at privilege denying dudes or indeed the dudes who deny privilege, we always need to be thinking about ourselves and the impact we have on others. When feminists who talk about privilege, talk about privilege we aren’t meaning that a man is personally oppressing us, but that as a man they have extra privileges just due to their gender, it’s not fair or equal. Men don’t and can’t experience women’s lives.
Question: who feels the greatest need to negate the others experiences, and who has the luxury of not having to question power structures?
Answer: those with privilege!!!
What I mean is it is ……some men don’t recognise women’s everyday experience of sexism, many white people don’t truly recognise what it might be like to live with racism day in and day out. But women notice the sexism and people of colour recognise the racism. It’s like rich people are willing to give to worthy charities and worry about the poor maybe even join the Labour Party but do little to challenge the status quo. Older people worry about younger people and whether they are doing “things properly” but rarely give them the resources or make space for them etc etc. I could go on and on. But I won’t.
But let’s imagine otherwise, right now: what would happen if more people with “privilege” began to think about their “privilege” or even potential “privilege”? What would happen if the ruling class recognised that they were parasites hosting on capitalism rather than those they blame when it doesn’t go well – everyone else, except them? (Mind you I think we would wait a long time for that, so don’t hold your breathe) But think about it, if men challenged men’s violence rather than women doing it, how different would it look? Very! By not being a bystander when women (and others) are being put down, objectified, hurt or abused. A man understanding his privilege would then support his sisters, not because it was the right thing to do but because it was absolutely necessary.