Today I want to talk about privilege. I’ve mentioned various types of privilege in several previous posts, so I think it would be good to define and describe it a bit for those readers who may be unfamiliar with thinking about the lenses through which they view and interact with the world.
There are basically as many types of privilege as there are different types of people in the world. To my understanding, “privilege” is just a shorthand way of saying: This type of person fits societal standards of “normal/ideal” in this aspect. Of course, this has a lot of hidden and obvious negatives towards those who are not that type of person, and a lot of hidden and obvious benefits for those that do. Let me give some examples…
Cis-gender privilege: Cis-gender is a shorthand way of saying that the gender of the body (sex) matches the gender in the head (gender). If your body’s gender/sex was born matching with what you know you are inside as a person, then you are probably cis-gender. If there’s a difference (transgendered, genderqueer, genderfluid, androgynous, etc), you are probably not cis-gendered. I use the word “probably” because I try not to tell people they ARE this way or that way due to a definition. I respect whatever label you feel most comfortable with; it’s always your choice.
So here’s a scenario of cis-gendered privilege: you think of yourself as male, and look male, and have always been that way. If someone called “sir” you probably wouldn’t think twice about it. So imagine if you felt exactly the same way about your identity as male, but were born into and currently have a female body? Getting called “sir” would be thrilling, but rare at best. You would be surrounded by constant reminders that you are different, that you are not privileged to the same forms of automatic treatment as the guy next to you. If you are not cis-gendered, your life is filled with battles and struggles on a daily basis, from paperwork to public bathrooms. And it doesn’t usually end even if you fully transition to being perceived by others as the matching gender (called “passing”). The act of trying to pass or transition itself is often a result of being outside the privilege of being cis-gendered, requiring extraordinary amounts of time, expense, effort, and sacrifice.
Male privilege: Those who appear male have crazy amounts of privilege in this society, especially if they are also white (which is a whole other category of privilege, of course). Being female-bodied myself, I recognize and envy their privilege of not living in this society as a women; trust me, it’s often difficult and rage-inducing at the best of times. Men have the privilege of automatic respect, of not being forced in a position of fearing or even preventing rape (note how pretty much all the advice about preventing rape is directed towards WOMEN), of having basically any body type be okay, of having a bad day without getting called a bitch, of being sexual without being called a slut, of basically any less-than-ideal human behavior without being shamed for it. The list of male privilege goes on, but it’s rough being a feminist and talking about this, so I’m going to stop before I induce too much rage in myself.
White privilege: This is one of the privileges I DO have, although I’m currently living in a place where that makes me a minority. Obviously I can’t speak from authority from the unprivileged side of the lens on this one, but I can still think about some of the more obvious privileges I receive from it. This includes things like; media portrayal (my race is not automatically the “bad guy”, or forced into a role of beneficial wise adviser. My race is not restricted to a few portrayals and generalities in news footage, or used for fear-mongering on a daily basis.); how I’m treated in random interactions with strangers (without automatic suspicion, or invasive personal questions.); interactions with positions of authority (I won’t harassed by security, my word will be believed equally against another, I will be trusted, I will get hired.); and so on.
There are many many more types of privilege — straight privilege springs to mind immediately — but these examples should be enough to start helping you to thinking about this issue and see more of them on your own. For the RPG-minded of you, remember that privilege stacks the more of them you have. A perfect example of this is the frequent use of “white cis-gendered straight male” as the automatic assumption in any hypothetical person in a conversation or media. If the hypothetical person is not one of those things, that variation must be stated, otherwise it doesn’t exist. The above described person in real life will also enjoy the most benefits from society, and can basically get away with being completely evil. (Which is NOT to say that all those fitting that description are evil. Just that they could probably get away with it IF they were, based on how many of them seem to when they are.)
Basically all privileges pretty much boil down to how people (including media, ect) treat you based on their assumptions and your outward appearance. This is why the whole mess privilege creates is so inaccurate and unfair, and why it can be so difficult to deal with. It’s something we’re all raised with. It starts the moment we come into this world and are slapped with our first set of labels. From that moment on, we are indoctrinated with the expectations of those labels, and all the privileges and disadvantages that go along with them.
It can be a long hard struggle to fight free of those labels, and the lenses they give the world, but I think it’s worth it. Even if you are the most privileged of people, recognizing your position and realizing what the world is like for others can only benefit everyone. The more we can work towards understanding the world through the experiences and eyes of others, the more tolerance and change we can bring into reality. That’s my dream, anyway.
As always, please leave any comments or questions you might have, and I’ll try to respond ASAP!