Tag Archives: Feminism

White male privilege

I recently discussed male privilege with someone who took offence at another woman referring to another man misusing his “white male privilege.”  The woman, lets call her Jane, stated that she was frustrated with another man, we’ll call him Fred, because he was misusing his white male privilege when he was transphobic and refused to listen and apologise .  The first man, we’ll call him Geoff, derailed the conversation and stated that he objected to the term “white male privilege” as it creates a perception that white males are “the bad guys” and that Fred’s actions were indeed wrong, but they were wrong in their own right, not because Fred is a white male.  Geoff believed that there was  a fallacy of division being painted here that he saw just as bad as the transphobic behaviour.

I pointed out, as gently as I could that white male privilege exists and pointed Geoff towards several resources, specifically:

A – The wikipedia article on male privilege

B – A quote from the Geek Feminism blog:

“Privilege is described as a set of perceived advantages enjoyed by a majority group, who are usually unaware of the privilege they possess.

A privileged person is not necessarily prejudiced (sexist, racist, etc) as an individual, but may be part of a broader pattern of *-ism even though unaware of it. “

And C – Andrea Rubenstein’s awesome post on “Check my what?” On privilege and what we can do about it

In the next conversation about white male privilege, Geoff suggested that he didn’t mind the term privilege but to associate it with another term is similar to saying “Islamic Terrorist”, and indeed that’s the way he regularly sees it used; as an emotional term, or used as a type of discrimination.

I admit that I began to lose patience at this point.  I reminded Geoff at this point that the term was not used in relation to him.  That the initial discussion was about Fred and not about Geoff.  Geoff responded that the term “white male privilege” gives people a target to aim at, and that as a white male, he is part of that group and therefore about him because he cannot escape being a white male.

I then wrote a long essay, which I will pretty much reproduce below with thanks to those who have written before me to help guide my thinking and for the parts of their writing that I have quoted below.

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Men, especially white men, are at the top of the pile as far as privilege goes.   It’s not really a venn diagram. There’s male privilege and there’s white privilege; but white male privilege is more than the two put together. There are things that white men get, for being white men, that neither white women nor non-white men get.  For example, a non-white man would have a hard time being a priest in many of Australian parishes; (but so would a white woman), likewise a business banker, or a CEO, or a CIO etc.  There are exceptions, but these are things society generally gifts to white men; over coloured men or any woman.

You can draw a venn diagram of all Islamic (or any nationality or religion) people and have a small overlap with terrorists and say “this tiny proportion of people in here are Islamic Terrorists (or English Terrorists, or Australian Terrorists)” but privilege doesn’t map that way.

I don’t know if you read any of the links I put in my emails, but I am going to continue to do so anyway, because they are useful and may help explain my position here:

http://meloukhia.net/2010/01/your_privilege_check_it.html
http://meloukhia.net/2009/08/lets_talk_privilege.html

“Once you have a basic grasp on the system of privilege, the next step is one simple self-realization: you are privileged. Chances are, your reading that has made you feel  defensive. While it’s a perfectly natural, and common, reaction, don’t let it get in your way of actually thinking about what the statement means. What you need to realize is that we all have privilege to some degree: white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege, etc. The hardest thing is to do is to get over your instinct to fight and say, “But I’m not like that!” If you can do it, you’ve completed the first step towards being a pro-equality in reality rather than simply saying and believing that you are.”
http://blog.shrub.com/archives/tekanji/2006-03-08_146

I highly recommend reading that entire blog post – it is REALLY good.

It is important to remember that, “If you are in a position of privilege, it is not your fault, and people do not blame you for it.  (For example, I have white privilege. That is not my fault. But I can recognize it and ask myself what I can do about it, and I can respect people who lack white privilege when they ask me to check my privilege.) Privilege is the result of social structure, which means that discussions about privilege are discussions about society, not about individuals who have privilege.” (http://meloukhia.net/2009/11/personal_and_political.html).

“I believe that luck and random chance play an ENORMOUS part in our lives — much larger than any of us (including myself) really like to acknowledge. And I therefore try not to feel too smug and entitled about every good thing that happens in my life — or too guilt-ridden and responsible for every bad thing. (In particular, I try to remember that, as a white, healthy, middle-class, college-educated American, I pretty much won the privilege lottery when I was born, and that griping and whining about the petty annoyances in my life is really kind of pathetic. Not that I don’t do it anyway… but when I catch myself, I try to knock it off.)” – http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2007/06/not_a_butler_ei.html

As a man Geoff, you ride a much smoother life than many others.  You don’t face sexism, you don’t face discrimination and you don’t face objectification.  As a white person you aren’t questioned for your right to be in the country, you aren’t persecuted, you aren’t likely to be racially vilified, you won’t face discrimination on the basis of your skin colour, assumed religion, assumed association, and you’re more likely to be successful at finding work.

I don’t think that anyone here is aiming at all white men and calling them evil.  Feminists aren’t generally misanthropists, they just want society to change from the Kyriarchy that it is, to something fairer.

Geoff, you said that it is, therefore, about you because, by definition, you cannot escape that category.

In the end, this is a logical fallacy.

Dalmations are dogs.  Spot is a dog, therefore Spot is a Dalmation.

Males misuse male privilege.  Geoff is male, therefore Geoff misuses male privilege.

And as stated above, a discussion about privilege is a discussion  about society and how it can be misused… and in this case, about an individual who did misuse his privilege – and that doesn’t mean that it is about you.

I would like to point out here that asking me to justify myself and explain myself is a use of privilege in itself.

As I stated earlier, white males generally have more privilege than any other group in the world (and even more if you add wealth, cisgender or heterosexual privilege to that mix – and less if you add trans, homosexual or poor (but still usually more privilege than women and people of colour).  So Fred was using his white male and cismale privilege to refuse to listen, to state that his desire for personal freedom was more important than someone else’s identity and freedom to be  themselves and refuse to hear that he had offended, until threatened with potential expulsion [from our group].

This might help here:
http://questioningtransphobia.wordpress.com/how-to-check-your-cis-privilege/

[and this summary from Andrea Rubenstein’s post as stated earlier]

“Any time a non-privileged individual busts out with an angry critique (or even a nice one), someone will eventually come up with the, “I’m sorry you hate men/whites/heterosexuals/etc.” line. With rare exception, non-privileged individuals do not hate privileged individuals, but we do hate how many privileged individuals act! Learn to take criticism. Learn to not deflect it with excuses about how the non-privileged person is just angry, hateful, etc. Even if the person in question is angry, hateful, etc. Even if you, personally, don’t act that way.

“There are many issues in this world that are about you, but non-privileged groups are not the place to discuss them unless specifically invited. Yes, men are negatively affected by the patriarchy. Yes, they get raped too (and have their own set of victim blaming rhetoric). Yes, privileged groups can and do come into contact with prejudice and discrimination. Are those discussions valid? You bet. But, are they appropriate when the topic is on the discrimination and/or oppression of a particular non-privileged group? Not a chance.  If you think the subject may not be appropriate, don’t bring it up.  There’s always a later discussion, a new thread, and especially proper forums for discussions like those.

“If You’re Not the Problem, Then You’re Not the Problem
But if you feel the burning desire to leap to your own defense and declare, “I’m not the problem!” then you just might be. The facts are, people who have followed the steps I’ve outlined will most likely not be the problem. If they are the problem, they accept that and will be working on a way to be less of the problem. If they’re not the problem, then they feel no need to protest the critique by saying that since they aren’t the problem, then the point is obviously invalid.  So, whenever you feel an urge to defend yourself against a criticism about your privileged group, think about why you feel that way. Chances are, the more aware of your privilege you are, the more you’ll see it as a knee-jerk reaction about having your privilege challenged (even if you don’t, in fact, engage in the behaviour being ranted against).” – http://blog.shrub.com/archives/tekanji/2006-03-08_146

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The copyright for the quoted sections of text belong to the respective authors.  I also appreciate the assistance given to me by my sister and girlfriend for helping shape my thinking in responding to Geoff.

In addition to that, I would like to add one further link that I found today.  Justine Larbalestier talks about men derailing conversations about sexism to make it about them called “I know you mean well”.

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Understatement of the Month

After a gang rape at a school dance in the US:

“‘‘Obviously we’ve had some breakdowns. Obviously, it was not safe because this happened,’’ said Charles Ramsey, a West Contra Costa school district board member. ‘‘Should we have had higher awareness, should we have been more vigilant? Probably.’’”

No… that last world should be YES.

If people felt that gang raping a 15 year old girl was ok, there are a lot of things wrong with that school. I don’t really know where to begin with the list of things that are wrong either… apart from EVERYTHING. At least the police are actively investigating the rape and assaults and hopefully the judicial system will not use the “oh but she asked for it” line.

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Exclusive clubs

Exclusion on any basis tends to annoy me. Always has. The exclusive nature of apartheid in South Africa was probably one of the things that taught me that exclusion was a bad thing. After all everyone was saying how bad it was, and South Africa was a pariah among “western” nations… so clearly excluding people on the basis of skin colour was a bad thing. This much I figured out.

I also wasn’t a fan of unfairness which wasn’t quite exclusion, but was almost. Someone being treated unfairly because of a real or perceived difference by someone else. A beautiful, intelligent and patient Aboriginal girl at my primary school was made to repeat Grade 3 (after finishing Grade 6) because the school did not know what to do with her. Suddenly an 11 year old girl was placed with the 8 year olds. When I spoke to her about it, she said that she would transfer to Yirarra and finish her education there as soon as she could. In a typical 8 year old fashion, I never chased it up nor do I remember if she eventually did.

My parents, well more my mother, was big on fairness, non-discriminatory behaviour and treating people equally regardless of who they were and where they were from. The missionary inspired teachers that taught me in Alice Springs were also big on social justice, and the nuns and brothers of the Sacred Heart in Alice Springs were also big on social justice.

One good thing about my Catholic upbringing, was generally the ability to discuss social justice issues and talk about fairness and justice in general. Certainly more useful in my primary school in Alice Springs versus my secondary schooling in Bendigo.

My mother, in Alice Springs, taught Aboriginal students in the Aboriginal Unit of my Catholic Primary School. She thought that it was exclusionary for those students who had good attendance and who did not need the extra support that the Aboriginal Unit was developed to provide to be kept away from the mainstream educational system. She fought for those students to be included in mainstream schooling and only for those who needed extra support and attention to be in her unit. She had the support of the Parish Priest, but outraged those social conservatives who thought they knew best about what these students needed, and lets face it who were probably consciously or unconsciously racist, to be kept in the Aboriginal Unit. So outraged were they, they started a smear campaign against my mother and the Catholic Priest, suggesting that they were having an affair and were horrible to me and my sisters. Thankfully we left town for unrelated reasons just as this started to get really nasty.

So why this blog post… well I’ve had some interesting conversations with people about exclusion recently, and read some interesting articles about exclusive clubs and the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission’s thoughts on exclusion for clubs. It has been suggested by the Government I believe that exclusions granted to clubs and institutions to discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and the like may actually not be in line with Victoria’s Human Rights Charter.

Of course religious groups have complained that the state is interfering with their religious freedom by not letting them discriminate and exclude people whose lifestyles and/or beliefs are not in line with their religions, and Men’s clubs in Melbourne are also under attack. Both of these, of course break my heart and bring tears to my eyes… not.

You see… I’ve rethought exclusion. I have a problem when a powerful group excludes a powerless, or less powerful group…. though there are caveats here. So when white Afrikaans in South Africa excluded all black people… they were a powerful minority, the same goes for Sunnis in Bahrain excluding the Shia in Bahrain. Its not about the size of the group, just the power that they possess. So a Men’s club in Melbourne being under threat by a change of law? Yippee! Force them to live in the modern day and age… and deal with some diversity – because I’d suspect that they’re not only a male only club, but they also have “standards” as to who their members can be… so I’m guessing wealthy, mostly white business men.

The same goes for religious groups… and I’m looking mostly at Christian churches here, because that is where my experience is. A group that has spent time persecuting and excluding less powerful members of society or their own less powerful members… they’ll suddenly have to employ single mothers, queer folk, divorcees, etc. This cannot be a bad thing, as much as they may sook about it. I’m quite happy that Christian school children will actually have a wider world experience with people from different situations in society. It’d be really nice if there was a way to force the Catholic Church to accept women and married men as priests… but I don’t see that happening at this point.

The legislative change also goes for Women’s Clubs… which I have a bit more of a problem with, because traditionally women actually have less power, and need safe space to network and generally exercise. I suspect that Women’s Clubs will be able to successfully fight for their right to exclude men on the basis that far too many women are harassed and killed in gyms than men (just look at that recent massacre in the US for instance), and that women’s clubs are required until women really do have full equality with men .

But what happens when a persecuted minority group, who has their own private club on private land, begins to exclude others? I can understand a lesbian’s collective excluding men… and to an extent I can understand them excluding heterosexual women. But by what token can they exclude bisexual women or even trans-women? Apparently the argument for excluding trans-women is that they were born male and therefore have accessed the privilege that men have… but surely by transitioning to female, they’ve not only forgone any privilege they may have had (and since when was the queer looking boy at school granted any privilege?) they’ve also assigned themselves far into “other” territory and are far more discriminated against and excluded than lesbians. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

I guess bisexuals, by their argument, have the best of both worlds, spend time passing as heterosexual or something. This is not an issue which I have spoken to any radical lesbians about, I just participated in a conversation with someone who is bisexual who was aware of this conundrum.

An ideal world is one where people are recognised for the intrinsic value they possess and the unique gifts they bring into the world. A world where gender, sexuality, relationship status and skin colour aren’t even noticed.

Doctor Who – The Doctor Dances [2005]
Captain Jack Harkness: I’ve gotten to know Algy quite well since I’ve been in town. Trust me, you’re not his type. I’ll distract him. Don’t wait up.

The Doctor: Relax. He’s a fifty-first century guy. He’s just a bit more flexible when it comes to ‘dancing’.

Rose Tyler: How flexible?

The Doctor: Well, by his time, you lot are spread out across half the galaxy.

Rose Tyler: Meaning?

The Doctor: So many species, so little time.

Rose Tyler: What, that’s what we do when we get out there? That’s our mission? We seek new life and…

[weakly]

Rose Tyler: and…

The Doctor: [nodding] Dance.

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