I’ve been working really hard for years now, to understand privilege and oppression, and how it plays into my own day-to-day life. The time has come, it would seem for me to try to share some of this knowledge. For the purposes of understanding where I am coming from, I am conscious that I am privileged in the following ways as an individual:
I was born in North America, and continue to live here. I live in first-world conditions with access to literacy, education, clean drinking water, and so on. I’ve got it pretty good, relatively speaking, just by having the exceptionally good luck of being born in North America.
I am a white person (my blood comes from all across Europe, not just the Northwest), who is also part Caucasian and part Jewish by ethnicity. The society I live in assumes that whiteness is objectively superior to any other ethnic state of being. More on what that means in another post, but for the time being, this means that the default assumption is that if you’re white, you’re right. I’ve got it pretty good, relatively speaking, just by being born a descendant of Northwestern Europeans (on one side of my family).
I am college-educated, I have access to the internet, and my first language is English. I’ve got it pretty good, relatively speaking, because I can use these tools to communicate to the most socially privileged groups of people in the entire world. That means I have a voice, I can make myself visible, and I can try to access help from people who have it to give. I still struggle, but I’m alive today, and that’s more than I can say for untold millions of people who have been born and died in my lifetime, because they didn’t have these privileges.
You’re A Guy (I’m Not), You Have Male Privilege (I Don’t)
Privilege, in its simplest terms, is the default state of being treated with favour by everybody in society, by legislation, by media, by governments, by the application of authority, and so on. This comes with a cost attached, but first, more about how awesome it is for you: one critical superpower of privilege is that you are, by default, blind to other people’s experience of oppression. When you begin to learn about it, you can just look away or completely avoid any actual hurt feelings/frustration/harm that is caused to the people who are treated lesser every day so that you and everyone like you can be treated so well. And that’s the cost part. You are not to blame for it as an individual, because like the ways I am privileged because of my geographic location and skin colour, you simply inherited it by virtue of the fact that you have a Y-chromosome. This is also not an accusation against you personally, of consciously perpetrating oppression against other people who are different (especially women).
What I’m driving at here is privilege is as impersonal and apathetic a construct as oppression is. It’s a social force that doesn’t care if it hurts your feelings when, say, someone who notices it’s putting the wind in your sails starts yelling at you because they have to paddle really fucking hard. Maybe they don’t have sails at all. Maybe they do, but the way privilege works, the wind is working against that person’s movement up stream alongside you. They may really want to be where you’re headed, but because they were born with two X-chromosomes or with more melanin in their skin than I was born with, they are still getting pushed downstream, no matter how hard they try. You’ll pass by people who are shipwrecked, and wonder why they don’t just pick themselves up and carry on, or why they didn’t just steer around an obvious obstacle. You’ll also feel the cool breeze on your face, feel the momentum of your boat picking up, and get a smug sense of satisfaction that you’re moving along quite swiftly. You may or may not actually be smug.
Evidence that you are privileged because you’re a guy is evident everywhere. Because you’re a guy, your voice as an individual is among the most abundantly over-represented population within literature, mass media, governments, medicine, human history, economics, and the list goes on — especially if I get more specific. Because you’re a guy, you are valued first and foremost for your intellectual capacities (unless you are a disabled guy, except in the obvious case of Stephen Hawking). Because you’re a guy, your potential isn’t just protected from being actively diminished by this inequality at the expense of women’s oppression (not to mention trans* people’s as well). In fact, your potential is quite literally boosted because of your privilege. Even the view of the world from your eyes is the assumed default vision of all human beings (this is called the male gaze). When a woman is raped, we ask ourselves “What if I was accused of raping someone?” instead of asking ourselves “What if I was raped?” When rape is written about or filmed in graphic detail in evocative fiction stories, all the “action” centres around what the phallus is doing. The same goes for how erotica is depicted.
The list goes on. The point is, evidence is everywhere, that guys inherited (and have) privilege, for the simple fact that they were born with a Y-chromosome.
Saying “You’re Privileged” Is Not A Personal Insult
If I tell you, a guy, that you as an individual have social privilege, it’s not a personal insult against you. In fact, it’s quite literally not even an insult, considering what that means. So stop whining about it when someone calls you on it. What they are trying to tell you is that you are blind to something else that is taking place in the conversation where you think you have authority. That conversation may be about how women experience systemic sexism. It may be about slut-shaming. Whatever it is, it’s not about you, Individual Guy. But when you start whining like someone has personally insulted you because they aren’t stroking your ego to tell you that you’re doing everything right and you’re awesome, you are making it all about you. That’s going to make people angry at you, and only then will it actually be about you. At least, that is, until you have sufficiently derailed the entire conversation and effectively silenced everyone.
Remember the part where I mentioned that it’s not your fault that you have privilege, because you inherited it through no fault of your own? And that part where I mentioned that privilege as a force doesn’t care if someone yells at you for having it because they don’t? This is what I mean. It’s not a personal insult. It’s like making neutral observations about your appearance, such as “You’re wearing clothes.” Except in a conversation about someone else wearing tattered linens they painstakingly wove with their own hands because that’s all they can acquire with what resources they inherited, you’re observed wearing an Armani suit you inherited from your father. It’s not a personal insult, so when you try to defend yourself as though it is, you’re being a bad ally (and derailing the issue of misogyny).
Stop Whining About Misandrist Women
Remember the boats again? You’re sailing along upstream with a nice breeze in your face, and you occasionally pass by someone who is shipwrecked, wondering why or how, as you continue to sail away and quickly reach a place where they aren’t visible to you any more. Well, sometimes misogyny is so destructive to women (as it has been in my case, when I was living as one), that the reason they are shipwrecked is because a series of men in boats ripped off parts of individual women’s boats faster than they could repair, and just when one of them sprung a leak, another guy in a boat came along to set it on fire. And another one came after him and fired a cannonball through it. The ship went down because of a series of men behaving terribly towards a vulnerable woman, and now that woman is powerless. That’s assuming she’s alive, of course. But her story had to come from somewhere — the men who helped her get there aren’t going to tell it.
So say a woman just like her finally rebuilds through years of hard work, and you come along minding your Ps and Qs, and she yells at you or says something condescending, because you have privilege and seem to be blissfully unaware of it as you sail right past her while she’s paddling as hard as she can. All the whining in the world on your part or in your defence, about how much she’s hurting your feelings because you didn’t do that to her, isn’t going to help her heal and stop yelling. She has every right to be suspicious and angry. It’s because of suspicious and angry women who aren’t afraid to trample all over the delicate sensibilities of the men holding the tools of empowerment, that women have any rights at all. It hasn’t even been a hundred years since women won the right to be legally acknowledged as persons in Canada, and at present in the United States, reproductive rights are being ripped out of women’s hands by legislation that defines conception (or even the beginning of the menstrual cycle in some states) as the moment when life begins (TWO WEEKS BEFORE THE FUCKING SPERM IS ANYWHERE IN THE VICINITY FOR FUCK’S SAKE).
Yes, women who are actually misandrists are actually causing harm. But women who are misandrist have either directly experienced such significant misogyny that the mere suspicion of it is enough to send them flying off the handle against it, or they have observed other women experience so much of it that they feel a responsibility (however misguided) to fight against it to the benefit of those women who cannot do the fighting themselves (because they’re shipwrecked somewhere inaccessible). To compare misandry from women to misogyny from men is like comparing racism against whites on the part of individual people to the systemic racism against people of colour as a collective — unlike individual interactions where you can just walk away, systemic means it is literally structured into every aspect of society. It’s calling for equal attention to be paid to grossly unequal disparities, and that makes you a bad ally.
Calling attention to misandrist women shows that you either aren’t willing or aren’t ready to address the problem of misogyny. The presence of misandrist women anywhere really has no bearing at all on the onus we all have to work against misogyny.
More On Women Being Condescending Towards Men
I know what it sounds like to someone who isn’t paying very close attention, or who is just looking for ways to secure the right to be… well… right. It sounds like women have a free pass to trample all over your feelings and be condescending, which means that as a guy in a conversation about misogyny, you’ll have an urge to claim victim status or hurt feelings as a result of an unpleasant interaction with a condescending woman who may or may not actually be a misandrist. But that’s really not the portrait I’m painting here. I keep talking about the boats because I’m kind of a visual person, and that’s the first image that came to mind today. Really, what the aim of that is, is to inspire empathy. And since you’re a guy and you have all this social privilege, right down to the default of human perception on everything being a guy’s point-of-view, when you experience condescension it’s because women have become impatient with you.
While women have been actively and passively socialized to be emotionally empathetic to all people, and nurturing and loving, they’ve also been actively and passively socialized to see everything from a guy’s perspective. Being a woman and being empathetic to oneself is actually not nearly as natural as you, a guy, may believe. It actually takes work for a woman to put herself in her own shoes, because she is so constantly held to the expectation of putting herself in someone else’s — most often men’s shoes, because guess who she will spend most of her time listening to: that’s right. Guys again!
When you, as a guy who opposes misogyny, fail to empathize with this aspect of women’s experiences, and demand that impatient women who are being condescending towards you try to empathize with how you feel, you are perpetuating a form sexism that touches them in that place of emotional alienation and dissociation. That’s going to make already impatient women either flip their shit (FLIP all the shits!) or just stop talking to you entirely. And if you tell them they need to be nicer to keep you interested in working against misogyny? Well, you’re touching them in another place of their life-long experience of sexism, where they have been told all their life to be submissive to men, docile, nurturing, and quiet. If you want to take part in working against misogyny, you just need to get used to being made uncomfortable.
Remember at all times that women have been forcibly made this uncomfortable for their entire lives. But you’re a guy, so it hasn’t happened to you, and when you voluntarily put yourself there, you can take a break from it whenever you need to. You’re a guy, and you’re not directly targeted by men who hate women; men who rip off parts of women’s boats, light them on fire, and fire cannonballs through them, leaving women shipwrecked as a matter of habit. When you engage directly with what it is to be targeted by misogyny, you are going to get directly uncomfortable, and whining about someone getting impatient and becoming condescending simply isn’t going to help. In fact, it makes you a bad ally.
It’s Not Your Fault — Yet
Another really important thing about misogyny is that it’s not your fault as an individual (you know, unless you happen to hold women down by the neck while you rape them and punch them in the face in your spare time). But empathizing with women’s experiences of misogyny is not asking you to apologize for those experiences, so please don’t. That’s making it all about you again, and perpetuating yet another form of sexism in the same gesture. Remember that part I just finished mentioning, about how women are held for their whole lives, to the expectation of being nurturing? Well, this is what I’m referring to. When you apologize for things you haven’t even done, what you’re really doing is soliciting for coddling and hand-holding. And how does that work? Because we all are socialized to think first, “What if I was accused?” And because women are socialized to empathize with everyone else, the first thing that will come to mind is how horrible it would feel to be blamed for something that one didn’t do oneself. This is isn’t just being a bad ally — it’s being a terrible one.
But now that you’re becoming conscious of how harmful misogyny actually is to those who are targeted by it (i.e., not you), you will only demonstrate how deeply you understand by eradicating misogyny from your own behaviours. If your female friend just told you how fucking horrible it was to be date-raped, the onus is on you to tell your male friend to shut the fuck up before he finishes a joke about date-rape. Or gang rape. Or Grand Theft Auto’s prostitutes (or real prostitutes). The onus is on you to call people out for using misogynist language such as bitch, slut, whore, etc. (unless they are self-identifying as any of these things) because it’s no one else’s place to “reclaim” these words for everyone — especially not men. The onus is on you to take an active part in thwarting misogyny until the day comes that it has become eradicated (and we are a fucking long way off). If you don’t take an active part in fighting it, you are helping perpetuate it (either actively in taking part, or passively in exhibiting neutrality).
If you’re a guy and you want to help stop misogyny, and you’re comfortable with the idea of becoming uncomfortable through the process of empathy, I cannot stress this point enough. Mansplaining is when a man is so used to being right all the time (especially in conversations with women), that in a conversation with someone he perceives as a woman (whether or not they actually are one), he just ‘splains anything he can. And in conversations about misogyny, this is especially sexist. Whether you’re ‘splaining about how to make a public demonstration against misogyny, or how to talk about misogyny to win allies against it, or how misogyny manifests, what you’re really doing is speaking from the privileged assumption that you’re right all the time. Even about shit you are never directly impacted by and can take a break from any time it pleases you. This is especially nerve-grating when the introduction of the term “mansplaining” comes into a conversation, and it is answered by a guy who says “that’s so condescending!”
Grow a little backbone here. Be a strong ally. Sometimes the most important thing you can do is just stop talking and start listening — and not just listening for your turn to speak. I mean really listening to what’s being said, even if it’s something that makes you uncomfortable.
There Is No Ego In This, So Yours Isn’t Going To Get Stroked
Women don’t have a choice in whether or not misogyny impacts them. There is no reward to a woman’s ego in being slut-shamed, being blamed for being raped, having their bodies policed by men and phallocentric organizations such as religious pro-life groups, or being beaten with fists or stones for the horrible crime of existing while having two X-chromosomes. There is no ego-stroking in having one’s potential actively diminished every time any another woman somewhere else in the world is murdered by yet another misogynist, or is beaten, rendered permanently disabled, accosted, molested, raped, forced to marry her rapist, mutilated, aggravated to commit suicide, or indoctrinated into getting high-risk plastic surgeries for no reason other than the sexual gratification of her male partner. There is no ego-stroking from humbling oneself completely, and taking a public stand in a demonstration against misogyny.
And you, as a guy, cannot expect your ego to get stroked for taking part, either. That’s trying to make it all about you, by creating an incentive system specifically for men, which I can guarantee would not be fulfilled by other men (i.e., going right back to the expectation of coddling and hand-holding that comes out of apologizing for shit you didn’t do). Anti-misogyny allies take part in working against the problem out of a need for social justice — not for kicks. Justice is the reward. It takes hard work, and it comes in small doses. Which brings me to mention mansplaining again: because of the amount of energy it requires to both experience and fight against misogyny, telling someone how to go about fighting it is pure horse shit.
The Onus To Educate You Is On Your Own Shoulders
If any part of this blog entry is unclear to you, please do us both a favour and use the power of the internet to do an online search for it before you comment to ask me to educate you further. It’s the most powerful tool for knowledge and learning humankind has ever had at its disposal, and you are clearly using it right now to read this. Just open another tab and use some of the unusual language you find in this writing to do a search on Google. If you see “feminist” or “gender” in the URL, there’s a high chance you’re using the right search terms. Especially if you see “genderbitch”. I have a particular kind of writing style that I’m fully conscious is not the easiest for everyone to understand all the time — I’ve also written nearly 4,000 words in this entry alone — so if something I’ve said isn’t clear, read about it in someone else’s voice. But for the sake of peat, do not hold me exclusively responsible for educating you, simply because I’ve started this conversation.
While I am happy and willing to have it with you, I don’t need to be held to the expectation of fulfilling your need to be nurtured. I’m not your mother. In fact, I’m no one’s mother. And you’re an adult using the internet. How fabulous and convenient!
And That’s Where I Have To End This
This was exhausting to write. It literally took me all day. Hours. And I wouldn’t have been able to write it at all, if I hadn’t spent $50,000 in student loans attending school for four years. But my understanding of this topic is also from living nearly 30 years with two X-chromosomes, and attempting to live as a woman for a majority of my adulthood, even though this was not my authentic gender identity. Looking at myself through my gender exploration from 7 to 26 years old, as if from the back seat while someone else was driving the car, I have endured a lifetime of sexual trauma, sexual harassment, sexual objectification, and sexism. I’ve also watched my two sisters and my mother endure much of what I went through, at same the time. And now I have been watching all of my female friends fighting against the same kinds of social oppressions. And I still hear about even more women’s experiences every day. While I can completely empathize with any guy who is actively trying to wrap his head around misogyny in the abstract sense (about the closest any anti-misogyny ally-guy will ever get), my own head is full of fuck.