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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Feminism 101: Privilege

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Feminism 101 is a series in which I define some of the terms that feminists like to throw around. My goal is to help those who are totally new to feminism understand what it's all about.

Today's entry: privilege.

Several years ago, I went to a conference with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and attended sessions focused on how God wants to bring justice to the world. (By the way, I love InterVarsity, you guys.) The first day of the conference, the session leader took us all outside to a field and said we were going to have a race.

He had us all line up in the middle of the field, and marked the finish line at one end of the field. But before we raced, he said, we would take a few steps forward or backward depending on our answers to a series of questions.

"If there were at least 50 books in your home when you were growing up, take one step forward." I was kind of surprised- come on, EVERYBODY has 50 books in their house! What kind of question is this? And I took a step forward.

He read some similar statements relating to the opportunities we had for education growing up, and we all took steps forward or backward according to his directions. Then he moved on to statements about race. "If, when you read textbooks, you expect to find accounts of accomplishments of members of your race, take a step forward." "If, when you ask to speak to 'the person in charge' you are pretty confident you'll be speaking to someone of your race, take a step forward." Etc.

And statements about gender. "If, when you go to buy something like a car, you bring a member of the opposite gender along, to keep from getting ripped off, take one step back." This went on for a while. Statements being read, steps forward, steps back.

Finally it was time to actually run the race. But of course, we were all scattered all over the field. There were a few white guys a couple steps from the finish line, and a few international students so far in the other direction that they were standing in the woods.

So the race wasn't all that exciting... or fair. But wow, it was a shock to realize other people's lives were so different from mine.

Years later, I became a feminist, and realized all the statements he read came off lists of examples of white privilege, male privilege, etc. Privilege checklists.

So anyway, what is privilege? 

Privilege is the set of advantages you have because you belong to a certain group, maybe based on your race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Usually it's because of something you have no control over, but not always. (For example, there is Christian privilege in American culture.) In general, people with privilege don't even realize they have privilege.

Some examples:

Women are often warned about protecting themselves from rapists. Don't walk alone at night, don't leave your drink unattended at a party, etc. Most men never think about that stuff at all.

Straight people can totally tell everyone about their marriages and kids and all that. But those who are in same-sex relationships might worry about being judged or even losing their job if they talked about their families.

So if you have privilege, does that mean you should feel guilty about it? No! Like I said, usually it's based on characteristics you have no control over. But you must be aware of it, and realize that other people's experiences are different from yours, and you need to learn from them.

Also, privilege isn't necessarily something that should be eliminated. Able-bodied people have privilege and have access to a lot of things disabled people do not, but does that mean we should make everyone disabled? No.

And members of minority cultures will have some disadvantages in navigating through a society run by the majority culture, but there's no obvious way to "fix" that. It's not necessarily anyone's fault either.

What it does mean is we should consider others and realize that not everyone is the same.

Anyway, other people have explained privilege much better than I can, so I invite you to read more about it:

Why Should We Care About Privilege?

What does it mean to be 'privileged'?

The Price Is Racist: When Minorities (and Women) Are Asked to Pay More

Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

And find some examples here:

White Privilege Checklist

Male Privilege Checklist

Heterosexual Privilege Checklist

Cis Privilege Checklist

Thin Privilege Checklist

Able-Bodied Privilege Checklist

Class Privilege Checklist

Christian Privilege Checklist

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