Posts Tagged ‘privilege’

Apparently people should have identical needs

I know I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I usually gloss over headlines like “Home Depot Embraces Sharia Law” and for once actually decided to see what was being blown out of proportion myself. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, one Home Depot in an area with a large Muslim population decided to educate their employees so they could better serve that particular sub-group of customers. One article on it asks if a business shouldn’t be trying to better serve all of its customers. Of course it should–it’s never wise to upset your clientele when they have other options–but that doesn’t mean the best way to serve one customer is the best way to serve every customer.

This is a familiar form of privilege distress, which is often described as being preferential treatment. People often ask why we need a Department of Women’s Health, or a Black History Month, and when we can get a Department of Men’s Health and a White History month. But these things are not an attempt to give preferential treatment to those groups of people, they’re meant to counter the centuries of ignorance that has surrounded them. Women’s health has long been ignored, to the detriment of women being treated by doctors whose knowledge of medicine is based primarily on male physiology. History, it is said, is written by the victors, or perhaps more accurately the ruling class, and that has long meant white men in our part of the world. We don’t need a White History Month because essentially that’s EVERY month. This can be seen over and over again, in virtually every arena where acknowledgements of inequality exists. The privileged group wonders why they don’t get such special treatment without realizing that special treatment towards them is the default mode of operations. Everything is already geared towards what suits them best, but that state of affairs is invisible because it’s the default.

Treating people equally often requires recognizing and accounting for differences. If you randomly started handing out peanut butter sandwiches to strangers, you’d have a number of people grateful for the free sandwich, but others would wind up sick because they’re allergic to peanuts. While the action towards both groups is the same, the results are quite different and certainly cannot be considered equal. Offering those with an allergy a tuna sandwich instead is a different action, but it is more equal than only offering food they can’t eat.


Intimate knowledge

Ever feel like your life is being appropriated for someone else’s agenda?

I’ve been involved in a conversation elsewhere about whether or not to vaccinate your children, and–big surprise–the conversation turned towards autism and vaccines. I kind of knew that it would be a bit of a trainwreck going in, but vaccination is important to me as a community health issue, so it was hard for me to stay out of it. As things became more and more autism related, a couple things happened, both of which struck me as being on some level fundamentally wrong.

1) As things became more and more autism-centered, I felt less and less like I should be contributing to the conversation. Let’s let that sink in for a moment–I felt out of place participating in a conversation that was partly about people like me. It’s hard for me to really pin down why that happened–maybe because I’m fairly mildly affected, maybe because I didn’t feel I’d be listened to, maybe because I didn’t want to have to drop the information that I’m on the spectrum because I didn’t think it’s truly relevant to the argument–but the fact that it happened at all bugs me.

2) A person on the other side commented that ze typically would asked people if they knew a child with autism before getting into the conversation, saying that ze wasn’t interested if you didn’t have ‘intimate knowledge’ of the condition. While I will acknowledge that this person is more familiar with it than most people, it was the term ‘intimate’ that bugged me. I’m on the spectrum–I live with it in a way more intimate than this person possibly can, and it felt like ze was appropriating an experience that isn’t truly hirs. And it struck me as one of the ways that autistic people, particularly adults, are frequently de-centralised from conversations about autism. There’s a lot of stories from the perspectives of parents and caregivers talking about the struggles they’ve dealt with, how hard it is to have a family member with autism, and I don’t want to discount that it does profoundly affect their lives. But there are far fewer stories that look at what it’s like to be autistic, and when someone does try to get inside of that experience it tends to be in a fairly clinical way, not from a perspective of personal experience. It’s largely the families of autistics who drive the conversation, making autistics themselves secondary characters to the stories of their own lives.

I also noted that the person used the word ‘child’, not ‘person’. Since the conversation tends to be driven by parents, it tends to be centered on issues about how to help children, since that’s their particular concern–sadly, this isn’t confined to the autism community but extends other disability communities as well. While there’s been some advances in developing programs to help children transition into adulthood, there really isn’t much out there once you’re past school age, and those transitional programs aren’t helpful if you’re already an adult when you get diagnosed. Being diagnosed has been helpful in connecting me to a community about people like me, and I try to contribute by relating my experiences, hoping to help improve the lives of those behind me. It doesn’t feel like much, and I often wish I could do more. It’s hard to feel too guilty about doing so little, though, because the truth is that the community offers me even less in return. Autistic children tend to get de-centralised from the conversation, but autistic adults are almost entirely invisible.

If I can’t fit in in spaces that concern people like myself, where can I belong?

Women, video games, and sexism. Again.

I really admire Anita Sarkeesian, if for no other reason than that she continues to do what she does after all the crap that gets heaped on her by the gaming community. In today’s episode of Let’s Be Entitled Because We’re Male And Women Don’t Game, Anita posted a tweet noting that every Xbox One game shown off at E3 featured a male protagonist. The reaction was sadly predictable, from calling Anita a cunt and a bitch to asserting that men are the largest demographic (true, but less so than people like this tend to make it sound) to asking if we were expecting games about stereotypically feminine stuff. I’m going to skip over the early ones she posted because they’re mostly just generic sexist name calling and highlight some of the later examples which try to be intelligent but manage to miss the point oh so badly.

#31–Didn’t realise you were entitled to games w/ a female protag. They can make whatever they want. Check your fucking privilege Anita

A man, telling a woman who is noting the lack of female leads in video games, to check her privilege? The irony is so deep you could drown in it. And yes, they can make whatever they want. But generally, what they want is to please gamers so we keep buying their products, making what they want what we want. And some of us want more female leads.

#32–Yeah, the gender of the protagonist really makes or breaks the quality of a video game. Said no one outside of victim culture ever

Oh fun, the victim culture card! I think I just got bingo.

To be fair, he’s right, it doesn’t make or break the experience. But it can make it better or worse. And as a female gamer, playing games that realize I exist is a better experience than playing one clearly aimed at a purely male audience.

#37–Calm your tits! There will be a new Tomb Raider eventually, and a Mass Effect with FemShep. You women are nuts!

Gratuitous reference to female anatomy. Nice touch there. Also a nice touch noting two major franchises that ‘feature’ a female protagonist (I use quotes because Mass Effect gives the option, but you can also play as male). But there aren’t a lot of those around, especially if you’re looking at games that have a set lead, rather than a gender toggle. I doubt this guy would be happy if I told him “Don’t worry, there will be a new Halo game and Saint’s Row with a MaleBoss soon” if the situation was reversed. Women deserve better than a few token options.

#39–Stop being sexist. Dictating to people that a game should have a particular gender lead role is childish. It’s whatever fits the game

Forget bingo, I think I’m going for a blackout. Also, isn’t it interesting how ‘whatever fits the game’ is almost universally male, especially when we’re talking about big titles from major developers? It’s almost like there’s some sort of bias against women going on…

#40–It’s roleplaying, ho cares about the gender of the character who cares about the gender of the character you play as?

Apparently someone does, given how many people flip out when it’s suggested that there be more female leads.

#47–Get over yourself. Women make up a small part of their demographic. Your tastes are obscure and unprofitable. Nothing else to it.

1) We’re not that small of a demographic.

2) Given how most games are designed and marketed with men in mind, it’s not like they’re inviting us to buy their stuff.

3) Unprofitable? See Tomb Raider above.

#48–Almost like they wanted relatable main characters

I want that too. You know what would make them more relatable? If their gender matched mine once in a while.

The othering of privilege

As I’ve learned more and become more aware of the different types of oppression, and have learned in what ways I’m privileged and what ways I’m oppressed and how that has affected my life, there’s one piece that still doesn’t fit, one thing that I’m mostly happy with and am certainly in some ways privileged by, yet that still makes me feel like an outsider and leaves me often feeling unsafe to talk about anything related to the issue: my weight.

I’m thin, I always have been. As a child my mother was constantly complaining about how she could never find pants that fit me because of how in children’s clothes length is related to waist size, and vice versa. (As an adult, the problem shopping has moved from pants to lingerie, though at one point both were impossible). So I’ve also always been aware of it.

Thanks to our culture’s obsession with thinness, especially among women, and weight loss, there’s another thing I’ve always been aware of–jealousy. I’ve always known that I had something that many people work hard to achieve, and that many fail at getting, or even die trying. And that’s made me very nervous around the issue, because I’m afraid of invoking those feelings of envy among others when it comes up. Even without bringing it up, I’ve gotten random comments about my weight or how I eat, and it’s one of those things where I can’t really win with people who want to bring it up.

More importantly, though, there are far more people who have tried to lose weight than to gain it, and that’s where the real feeling of other-ness comes in. Many people use their struggles with weight loss as a bonding element, something that I’ve never dealt with, and with that on top of the jealousy issue I’m very reticent to join in any conversation anywhere near the topic. But where things coalesce into a perfect storm, of sorts, is when I’m having issues relating to my own weight, minor gripes I may want to get out of my system, or more pressing issues like trying to gain a few pounds after or while being sick. Because frankly, I’m scared to talk about it a lot of the time. I’m afraid of it being dismissed because of the privilege I already possess, or of stirring up feelings of resentment (even if they don’t wind up being directed back against me)

I wouldn’t say that things are remotely as hard for me as they are for someone who struggles with weight issues on the other end of the scale. I know I still have things very easy in comparison to many other people. It’s that awareness that makes me feel so out of place sometimes.

Immigration is a privilege

This post originally appeared on Feministing. I have re-written it slightly to bring it up to date.

A hour and a half on the road, rush hour traffic, a wrong turn and a meeting with an INS agent later, and I’m ready to become a citizen. It’s been almost five years since this whole mess began, and I keep thinking how fortunate I am, because there are many ways that the process could have been worse.

Firstly, I’m a white Canadian.  ‘Nuff said.

Money.  I’m sure most of you are already aware of this, but immigrating is not cheap.  We spent at least a grand for years ago for my adjustment of status to resident alien–this includes not just the fees for filing (which went up soon after) but also a retainer for a lawyer, fees for a medical checkup and biometrics, and probably a few other minor things I’m forgetting about.  It cost us another $500 for the renewal, including another round of biometrics, then $700 for naturalisation (and MORE biometrics. How many copies of my fingerprints do they need?).  We could have possibly skipped the lawyer, but we wanted to be sure we did everything right–the process can be confusing, and it’s not always easy to figure out just what is required of you. That’s upwards of $2000 for a single person.

A good job.  Not me, my husband.  First of all, we had to prove that we were financially positioned to support ourselves (this one nearly bit us in the butt from lack of a cosigner, but thankfully the process took longer than expected, so he could get his taxes filed for his first year out of university).  Secondly, he had to take time off work a couple times during the process for various things, mainly stuff involving driving me places (his truck at the time was a stick, dammit), but he did need to be present for our interview.  Fortunately, the lawyer didn’t, which saved us some money there.  And finally, since I couldn’t work during the initial process (permission for that would have cost more than it may have been worth), he was able to support both of us on his salary.

Independent transportation.  Well, not really, since my husband drove me most of the time (including a last minute break from work when my ride got stuck in traffic, so I could make the second part of my medical exam).  The medical exam required two appointments two days apart, and needed to be performed by a certified doctor. There’s exactly three doctors in this city of a quarter million people that are able to do this.  We also had to go to Omaha five times, which is an hour away, as that’s the nearest DHS office to us.  I’m not sure how we would have managed if my husband didn’t have his own vehicle and the ability to take time off work.

Health.  I needed to undergo a doctor’s evaluation, as well as prove that I was up to date on my vaccinations. Fortunately I have no real medical issues.

Heterosexuality.  Not an immigration issue per se, but since the whole point was to be able to live with the man I love, a definite bonus for us–our options basically boiled down to ‘get married’.  Had I fallen for a woman instead, we’d’ve been screwed.

I’m sure I’m missing things, but these are the major ones I can identify.  Had any one of these things been different, I have no doubt that the process would have been more difficult, if not impossible.  If I were a POC from a different country, the interview would have probably been harder, and we would have probably wound up paying extra to have
our lawyer with us.  If my husband didn’t have as good a job, there’s a number of ways that could have made it harder.

The process for us was pretty straightforward, but it was still nerve-wreaking at times, and often frustrating as there was a lot of waiting involved–the initial process took 9 months start to finish, the renewal 5 or 6, and naturalisation another 5-6.  I don’t want to touch on the issue of illegal immigration, because the whole thing is a cluster, but I will say
this–being on the inside of the process gave us a new understanding of it.

Refusing privilege

I was poking around Finally, a Feminism 101 blog and a couple comments caught my eye. They were about how to handle being part of a privileged group.

The first one, unfortunately, doesn’t really have an answer. The questioner was asking how to ensure that he was being judged based on merit, rather than identity. There isn’t really any way to do that, as either his status was a member of many privileged groups will be known, or he will be assumed to be a member of those groups. Most of us, when we think of a generic ‘person’, imagine a straight, white, cis-gendered, likely Christian, male. So when we are unsure of the identity of a person, we tend to fill in the unknowns with the appropriate ‘normal’. As a result, even hiding aspects of our identities when possible doesn’t really change anything if you are privileged in that respect.

The second commenter asked how he could use his privilege to make the world more equitable. The short answer is, follow the lead of feminists (anti-racists, gay rights activists…just insert your social justice movement of choice here). Call out instances of bias when you notice them. Work towards changing biased policies.  A member of a privileged group doing these things helps in two ways. One is alleviating the work that has to be done by oppressed groups, who usually wind up doing the lion’s share of activist work and often have to weigh the benefits of speaking up and trying to make change against the chance of becoming ‘that person’ who is always talking about oppression. The second, and I hate saying this but it’s still true in our world, is that members of privileged groups have more power to actually effect changes.

That last sentence has a trap in it that needs to be kept in sight, however–try not to speak for members of groups you don’t belong to. People with privilege tend to dominate in discussions of how to help oppressed groups–just a couple weeks ago the US congress held a panel of reproductive rights that didn’t include a single woman. Some of the best-known anti-racism activists around today are white. Members of oppressed groups often get shut down as being ‘biased’, and ‘non-objective’, as if being white, straight and male means that one is unbiased and objective. It is true that being a member of a minority group gives one a different way of looking at things, a different perspective, but that is by no means a less objective or more biased perspective. We’re all biased. An African-American knows more about what it’s like to be a black person in America than I ever will. I can read and learn as much as I want, I will never fully understand that person’s life. I can’t. So as a white person, part of my role in working for equality is to know when to shut up and let the people in question speak for themselves*. “Nothing about us without us,” is a common line among social justice movements, for good reason–far too often minorities are spoken for, rather than listened to.


*This is why I mostly write about feminism, autism/disability and occasionally poverty when I write about specific movements. Those are my particular areas of interest, but more importantly those are the oppressions I am most familiar with (and even then, I’ve been fairly fortunate in all three areas). This does not mean that I do not care about other social justice movements–as I’ve posted before, I see them all as one large movement–just that I lack the perspective and knowledge to write about them with any sort of authority.

Defining ‘luck’

The gap between rich and poor is a perennial topic for debate. There’s one point that gets made about how people get rich that i think needs to be dissected a bit–the idea of ‘luck’. The rich of this world generally have had some measure of luck to get where they are. The first thing that I want to dispel is the idea that being lucky means you didn’t have to work hard to get where you are. Some people didn’t, but others did. Their luck was not in not having to work hard, but in being in a position where effort could be turned into financial gains.

More importantly, I want to define what sort of ‘luck’ is being talked about here. In some cases, it is true luck, but more often that luck comes from privilege and opportunity, the inequalities endemic in our society that allow some to climb and forces others to wallow. Privilege comes in a lot of forms–money itself is one, and the most easily quantifiable. Money is power, and power is a tool. It can be used on things like better schooling, a car to get you there or to your job, or healthcare that will keep you healthy enough to work for a living. Money makes things easier. That’s no secret, but one that seems to get lost a lot in this debate.

Of course, not everyone who has a lot started out with a lot, and this is where other forms of privilege come into play. Sometimes it is race or gender–being white and male still makes it easier to get ahead in our society, because of the biases, conscious and unconscious, that we all hold. Sometimes it is location–a child in New York City will have access to a lot more opportunities than a child in Shag Harbour, Nova Scotia. Health is another one–people with disabilities or perpetual health problems need to spend more effort and money just to live as comfortably as a similarly well-off able-bodied person (This is one reason I support universal healthcare–when you need to pay for your own health care just to be able to work, as soon as you fall below being able to afford it you’re pretty much screwed). And the list goes on. There are innumerable forms of societal bias and opportunities that can make it easier or harder to get ahead in life.

Some people manage despite having the deck stacked against them. And the typical refrain is, “Well, they can do it, so anyone can.” But there’s two things that are missing there–one, those people often still had to luck into some opportunity that normally wouldn’t be an option for them, and two, they shouldn’t have had to work so hard to get to where they are.

When I say, “You’re where you are because you were lucky,” I’m not saying that you didn’t have to work hard for what you had. I’m saying that for many other people, getting where you are is barely even a pipe dream no matter how hard they struggle to get ahead–or even just get by.