Privilege is a concept that affects a lot of people, and yet it’s really hard to talk about. The basic idea behind privilege is that someone lives within conditions that benefit them, and so they don’t really have to think about what it’s like to not have those benefits. Common examples include white privilege (white people don’t encounter the effects of racism very often, so they don’t tend to think in those terms) and male privilege (men don’t know what it’s like to be sexually harassed the way so many women are, so they often dismiss women’s claims of harassment as trivial).
One of the reasons this is a difficult concept for many is that it’s hard to measure. If you’ve not had the same experiences as someone else, how do you compare them? Moreover, nobody likes to be accused of being privileged; it’s not like white people or straight people or men got to choose to be that way, although they do end up reaping a lot of benefits.
This is why this essay by Natalie, born with a Y chromosome but living as a woman, is so fascinating: she started out life as a guy, but then had male privilege taken away from her when she chose to live as a woman. When discussing the differences between living as a man and living as a woman she writes: “But by far the thing that has been the biggest adjustment, the most prominent issue, the one that has caused me the most stress and emotional difficulty, and has been the biggest surprise and took me most off guard, is learning to live with cat calls and sexual harassment.” Natalie details her experiences having to deal with street harassment, cheesy come-on lines, and situations that made her feel downright unsafe.
She concludes (and I totally agree): “So please, take it from someone who has a basis of comparison, who had it but sacrificed it, male privilege is real. Women don’t have it easier. And while we’re pretty much all being hurt by the gender binary, and no one is really benefiting all that much, women are getting the worst of it.”
Read and pass it on; I think a comparison of one person’s experience living as a man and living as a woman is a pretty convincing demonstration that privilege exists, and it sucks. As an aside, I found this discussion of male privilege in nerd culture to also be pretty interesting. The author does a good job of explaining why “The idea that perhaps the way women are portrayed in fandom is a leetle sexist is regularly met with denials, justifications and outright dismissal of the issue” – since having to confront the demands for inclusion from excluded groups takes away the privilege that makes the privileged group feel most at home (see this comic for a visual corroboration).
Privilege isn’t a comfortable or happy topic to discuss; it often puts people on the defensive. But I think these are important conversations to have, if we want people of every gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and any other excluded identity category to feel that they also have access to choices and lifestyles and hobbies and integrity and… well… just about anything else they (we) want, seeing as we’re all human beings with hopes and dreams and desires and needs.