I’m Learning About ‘Privilege’

‘Privilege’ is a word that crops up increasingly in conversation at the moment – as it should – to make every one of us question our attitudes towards different races and genders. woman-1302674_1280

 

As a middle-aged woman with some free time now that the kids are older, I have noticed a reignited hunger and enthusiasm for learning to understand what the world holds for my young adults entering into it and the generations of our family in the future. I’m becoming more aware about the different kinds of ‘privilege’, in particular those that have been staring us in the face for centuries – that of ‘white privilege’ and ‘male privilege’.

 

I learned more about these when I went to the launch of Clementine Ford’s book ‘Fight Like A Girl’ in Sydney last week.

 

Sometimes when I try to convey my personal feelings about inequality, whether it’s with friends or here in this blog, internally that little voice in my head tells me that I don’t really have the right or enough knowledge to speak about this important topic that divides nations. I was never an activist for feminism in my youth and when I read articles by leading feminists that are so much more intelligently written and researched than the meagre offerings I put out, I feel like a novice. Yet everyone has their right to their own opinion, everyone has a voice, and we should use it in whatever forum we have if we are to progress and make any change in our society.

 

I suspect that if I mentioned the term ‘male privilege’ in one of the heated discussions about feminism that I have monthly with my dad on Skype, he’d laugh in my face, in the same way that he does when I talk about the pay gap and climate change. I’m not making excuses for him, but there is a distinct generational gap of understanding when it comes to equality, I believe, and interestingly his opinions don’t necessarily anger me – he’s entitled to them – it’s the fact that he won’t listen to my perspective that irks me.

 

Perhaps because he’s male.

 

I’m sure that Clementine would disagree, but I can’t draw up a huge list of times where I’ve been the victim of male privilege, either on a personal level or in the work place. I’ve been fortunate to have been given the same education opportunities and I don’t believe that I have ever lost a role due to my gender or colour, so I am undoubtedly the perfect example of ‘white privilege’.

 

Perhaps my bolshy nature has helped because I’m no pushover and I’ve always voiced my opinions loudly, so although I can admit to being witness to sexist and racist remarks that I since regret not jumping on immediately, and I’ve equally suffered at the hands of the occasional, ageing male predator, I’ve made sure that my circle of friends and my partners have inherently feminist ideals, even if they choose to be more ‘silent’ than I’d like.

 

Certain among them have required some extra coaching – not mentioning any names.

 

There was one situation in my late teens when I was hitchhiking through France and the initial delight that a Mercedes had stopped to pick me up quickly turned to fear when the driver’s hand found my knee and I was forced to bolt at the next petrol station.

 

Inevitably, more and more stories about male dominance are currently bombarding the media due to the catalyst of Trump’s march, nay limp, towards the Whitehouse – thwarted recently (*praying*) by the exposure of the level of his abuse of women, (and it seems to me), general misogyny.

 

How any nation could consider putting such a man in power when girls and women around the globe continue to be kidnapped, raped, tortured, married off and made pregnant when still children – often for political gain – or silenced and abused in the workplace, I have no idea.

 

Yet in spite of these daily events and stories of male dominance, (that even the most ardent anti-feminist can surely not remain immune to), astoundingly there remains an underbelly of male supremacy that continues to try to curb whatever progress women at the coalface of the feminist movement, such as our own Clementine Ford and Germaine Greer, or politicians such as Julia Gillard and Hillary Clinton try to make. And they employ brazenly vitriolic bullying tactics and threats.

 

The state of Victoria is about to introduce a new program to public schools to educate children about ‘male privilege’, not to ‘man-bash’, but in an attempt to get to the root of where this concept of male dominance comes from and to reduce the number of female deaths at the hands of domestic violence, before this privilege spreads like a cancer into the developing brain cells of the next generation of young men.

 

Of course the program already has its skeptics, who have accused its creators of brainwashing our children into a campaign of ‘man-hating’ – yawn – the atypical reaction to feminism in spite of statistics that prove that many of us man-haters continue to put up with them, and some of us even like and marry the fuckers.

5 thoughts on “I’m Learning About ‘Privilege’

  1. Louisa. I totally ‘get’ the point of this article. What really worries me is that the decent young men are actually starting to fall into the ‘underclass’. My son, who probably due to his upbringing and two sisters, is the staunch defender of womens’ rights but I was really shocked that he clearly feels that ‘women are better at most things than men’. Sorry?? No. Both genders are neither better or worse and cannot be put into one large homogenised ‘lump’. I don’t want young men to be marginalised in the way young women have been. I’m all for workplace gender equality and measures to make that effective. I’m not convinced that lessons about ‘male privilege’ are helpful. The ones that need to hear it, wont listen and the ones that don’t (like my son) could tip over into feelings of inadequacy which doesn’t serve a benefit for either gender. So I am a bit of a skeptic. I understand the thinking behind it but I think as women we can do better. Am all for raising womens expectations but not at the price of devalueing young males self worth and for the sensitive ones this is another brick in the wall. Personally think the answer is positive discrimination in the boardrooms and corporates and getting women in positions of power so that it is a natural flow through from above and not in the classrooms at this point. OR yes, lessons on male privilege in alignment with white or not even white, simply economic privilege for those of us lucky to enjoy that benefit by living in Australia – with equal balance…in the very same lesson so females take equal responsibility and not all young men are vilified with the same brush.
    Domestic violence is a huge issue and I am certainly not dismissing that, but the vast majority of our young men do not fall into that category and although as a feminist, it slightly pains me to say this, I don’t think they should even for a second have to feel awkward about being a male and I suspect some of the rhetoric (dont mean that to be loaded) will make them feel that way.

    Lx

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    1. Agreed, they should not be made to feel awkward for being male, which is why we need to get to attitudes as they develop, in the younger classroom. As a feminist, I believe in equality so there’s no reason that men should feel victimised and I wouldn’t want that to happen at all.

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  2. This post hits me right where I live – privilege is a constant underlying issue for so much of the work I do. Then, too, as a U.S. citizen, your thoughts about a certain candidate for president – with which I absolutely agree – make me cringe. That’s probably the most extreme and horribly embarrassing example of privilege and sexism anyone could possibly imagine.

    I’m really interested in your words about not having been particularly affected by male privilege or white privilege, probably due to a lecture I attended not long ago on the topic of unconscious bias and microagression. That lecture helped me recognize the many and constant instances in which privilege and bias affect marginalized groups, through words and actions that may appear small and/or innocuous but which serve to beat down members of those groups.

    I’m also intrigued by the comment above this one, in terms of males feeling inadequate in the face of so much conversation about male privilege. My experience has been quite the opposite. Our son, who is 21 and finishing up his degree at university, would be the first to advocate for intentional classroom instruction on the topic of male privilege. He’s a fierce advocate for women’s rights and is generally the first to point out instances in which women are subtly (or not-so-subtly) denigrated / subjugated. At the same time he’s entirely confident in his own self and his abilities, and has never felt “less than” for being a male.

    So…thanks for this post. So much food for thought.

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    1. That’s wonderful that your son is so progressive. Mine is a ‘work in progress’ but I am hopeful that more maturity will help. Unfortunately, the culture here continues to breed some very antiquated ideals in terms of gender power. Sometimes, it feels as though we are moving backwards, even in a westernised society.

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