Some Introductions to Privilege (for those who desperately need them)


You are privileged.  You may have more sorts of privilege or fewer, but you have privilege.  We all do.  And you need to accept this fact.

Among the privileges you probably enjoy if you don’t have a blog dealing with race or gender issues is that people probably don’t storm onto your blog and demand that you prove why they’re so privileged.  This isn’t an “explaining why male privilege exists” (AKA “explaining that the world does not exist for your personal benefit”) blog.  There are plenty of blogs and blog posts out there that can explain this to you.  May I suggest:

Finally Feminism 101.  This is the absolute best starting place for gender issues: A blog designed specifically for people who have questions or points of contention about feminism.  Read it all, but especially their FAQs about male privilege and “reverse sexism”.

The essence of privilege is not having to think about the advantages you have over others.  John Scalzi lays it out for you; he says it’s like playing on the lowest difficulty setting.

As far as race privilege goes, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack is a classic resource.  Livejournal IBARW has another description.

If the issue is portrayals in the media, The Hathor Legacy is an excellent resource on the voodoo that is Hollywood and how it favors some demographics and ignores others with very little reference to what’s actually profitable or in demand.  Here’s her classic article, and here’s more on why discrimination happens even when it doesn’t profit, women making up the majority of moviegoers and women as a valuable target audience, why studios don’t market to women, the dismissal of hits starring women, and Hollywood generally operating on a bunch of woo.

If you’re a fan of gender essentialism, The Hathor Legacy is all over that too: Why it’s sexist, why it’s irrational, and why it never helps discussions.

There, now you don’t need to use my blog to demand an explanation for why the world shouldn’t be entirely structured around your desires.  If you have further questions not addressed by any of these articles, I’ll happily respond to them with more links.  Because it is not my job to check your privilege.

EDIT 3/18/2012:  If you’ve been under the impression that feminism believes that all men are privileged over all women, you’ll be happy to know that you’ve been misinformed!  In fact the concept of privilege is multifaceted, taking into account many ways that one person can be privileged over another, gender among them.  Two words you should know: “intersectionality” (the idea that there are multiple interconnected types of privilege that may or may not overlap in one individual; Thinking Girl explains) and “kyriarchy” (the social structure arising from intersectional privilege, where people with more types of privilege are closer to the top; here are explanations from Feminism 101 and My Ecdysis).

I’m also going to head everyone off and throw in Genderbitch’s eternal classic explaining why your intent doesn’t actually make it all better.



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23 responses to “Some Introductions to Privilege (for those who desperately need them)

  1. Bryce Laliberte

    I’ll look over some of these things. I’m sorry for having brought forth a critical eye to claims, I guess being able to ask questions and expect something like a reply to them is a sign of my “privilege.”

  2. M

    I think it is always a good thing to check out multiple sources, so if Katz’s somewhat scathing remarks offend you, don’t assume that everyone who subscribes to at least some aspects of “feminism” is exactly the same as she is. I urge you to keep your critical eye looking around for more and balanced information.

  3. Bard

    This commenter has been banned for inappropriate behavior.

    • katz

      1. I’m not sure which material gave you that impression, but you’ll be happy to hear that feminists agree with you! Privilege is absolutely multifaceted and of course every man is not more privileged than every woman. There are even words for it: “kyriarchy” and “intersectionality.” I’ve updated the post to cover this material.

      2. So we shouldn’t risk offending the oppressors or they might continue to oppress us? Having to appeal to the privileged in the hopes that they’ll treat us better sounds like, you know, continuing to be oppressed.

      3. You’re saying four or five unrelated things in this point, but no, understanding that other people go through different experiences than you shouldn’t decrease your ability to see them as people.

    • Jordan

      As usual, you are in this weird place of both agreeing with and yet wanting to argue with the OP. You say bigotry is wrong; agreed. You say racism is wrong; agreed! You want to lift oppression; great! You argue for no double-standards, no jerk-like behaviour, no treating people not-like-people – yay!

      And then you go and be a jerk, and push back against people who are fighting for the things you say you want. This makes you a part of the problem, whether you like it or not. You are contributing to the complacent attitudes that keep oppressed people oppressed, and keep anybody from ever actually saying what they think for fear of rocking the boat. I’m sorry, but you’re a walking contradiction, and if you’re going to be a strong woman and a clear thinker who wants fair and just treatment, you need to stop perpetuating arguments that keep others down, muddy the waters, and work against the feminism that’s liberated you.

      • Bard

        This commenter has been banned for inappropriate behavior.

      • katz

        You do realize that a) your analogy is not actually analogous to anything, and b) “you’re being a jerk” is a statement of opinion and consequently not a logical fallacy, right?

      • Bard

        This commenter has been banned for inappropriate behavior.

      • katz

        Well, it’s pretty much a truism that if you deny something is happening, you’re allowing it to continue happening. So you either need to go all out and deny that some groups are privileged over other groups, or stop wanking at people who are trying to do something about it.

      • Bard

        This commenter has been banned for inappropriate behavior.

      • katz

        So you’re of the “if Trayvon Martin didn’t want to get shot, he shouldn’t have worn a hoodie” camp.

      • Bard

        This commenter has been banned for inappropriate behavior.

      • katz

        Wait, you’re complaining about misrepresentation after you claimed that feminists don’t think privilege is intersectional, a statement which could have been easily disproved by a cursory look at any of the sites linked to in this post?

        In any case, it’s not a misrepresentation. Your prior post clearly indicates that it’s the victim’s job to suck it up and deal with it, and that we certainly can’t consider the possibility that there’s systematic oppression going on. If we can’t talk about why stylists aren’t taught how to cut curly hair, then we can’t talk about why men who shoot unarmed black boys don’t get arrested.

      • Bard

        This commenter has been banned for inappropriate behavior.

      • katz

        OK, look, you have yet to make an interesting point about anything and have scarcely made a point of any sort. I didn’t create this blog for the purpose of holding boring, pointless conversations with you. If you want a platform for your opinions, start your own blog.

  4. Joe Sullivan

    Maybe I just don’t get it, but it seems to me that “privilege” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For example, we all live in the USA, and while that makes us all privileged compared to someone living in, say, the Congo, I don’t think we should all move to Africa to even things out.

    Similarly, there are aspects of male privilege that are not bad. An example of that would be the fact that men are generally bigger and stronger than women, and that makes men more suited for some occupations, such as construction work, or firefighting. For better or for worse, this is the way that God made us, and I think that His work is good.

    When privilege is a result of prejudice, then that is bad. Prejudice can be very difficult to change though. While we may not like it, trying to eliminate prejudice is kind of like trying to make people stop being stupid – it is a worthy goal, but probably doomed to fail.

    And when privilege comes about as a result of discrimination, that is almost certainly bad and should be corrected. However, I believe that specific examples of this are relatively rare. Some forms of discrimination are illegal when it comes to employment and most employers are pretty motivated to avoid being hauled in to court unnecessarily. We probably need more laws along these lines. I see this as a work in progress – we have come a long way, but we aren’t done yet.

    In short, I don’t quite understand the rationale for griping about privilege. Discrimination, yes. But privilege, no. Am I missing something?

    • katz

      Yes, you’re missing the, um, definition of privilege. Privilege is not about the existence of different sorts of people–it’s about the treatment of different sorts of people. Let me quote from the first site I linked to (it really is helpful to read the links in a link post before commenting, FYI):

      Privilege is: About how society accommodates you. It’s about advantages you have that you think are normal. It’s about you being normal, and others being the deviation from normal.

      For instance, the movie industry treating white male leads as normal and everyone else as special-interest: Women are half the population and more than half of the moviegoers, but films about them are treated as a “niche.” You wouldn’t say that’s a good thing, would you? That’s what we’re talking about.

      (P.S. Pro tip: You were in fact reinforcing privilege with that very post! There are, in fact, women who are strong enough and fully qualified to be firefighters, paramedics, etc, and probably every one of them has at some point faced career obstacles because someone didn’t believe that a woman could do that job. So you’re doing your part to reinforce a system that benefits you more than anyone else. Privilege at work!)

  5. Bard

    This commenter has been banned for inappropriate behavior.

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