Don’t feel privileged? Then you’re privileged

A great description of male privilege from a guy who gets it. I especially like a story he shares from his classroom:

At one point during class I was talking about male privilege, and one student asked me to explain. He noted that he is a man and he doesn’t feel particularly privileged. In response, I noted my own privilege: “When I leave the building late at night, I don’t give a second thought to my safety as I walk to my car. If it’s ten at night, if it’s dark, I just assume that I’ll be fine. But for many women, there is a constant thought process: Do I find someone to walk me to my car? Is it safe at this hour? What are my options?” And then I asked, “who has gone through that train of thought recently?,” and every woman in the class raised her hand.

I generally don’t feel myself to be too negatively affected by misogyny, but I can still relate to stories like this one. Women are always getting messages about how we should act, what we should wear, what we can’t wear, when we should go out, etc. Thought processes like the one above are common in our daily lives.

A common response to privilege in general is the one the student above gave: he “doesn’t feel particularly privileged.” Here’s the thing about privilege–it’s hard to see when you have it, but blatantly obvious when you don’t. The things privilege gives you are things you take for granted, so you don’t notice them. To give an example from an economic angle, a child of rich parents may consider a trip to the Bahamas every December to be normal, while the child of poorer ones may be awestruck by the idea of a vacation as far away as out-of-state. As someone who has spent most of her adult life around people from a higher socio-economic class than the one I grew up in, I can tell you, it is really weird to be around a group of people sharing stories of their childhoods that revolve around things that were beyond possibility in my own. To them, it is normal and unnoteworthy. To me, it’s a reminder of where I came from, and brings up old resentments.

Economics is a fairly easy one to recognize. Others relating to ethnicity, gender, disabilities, etc. are harder for the privileged to see, but they are no less visible to the oppressed. Something as simple as a dress code can highlight the difference, since many regulations in that area are targeted at female modes of dress.

In the end, this comes back to my rule of not denying the reality of others. When someone tells you you’re privileged, don’t dismiss it out of hand–not noticing it is part of what privilege is.

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