Usually when we think of privilege, it’s simple things like your parents giving the privilege to drive their car, or having the privilege to go to school or not go hungry. But privilege is much more than that— it’s about the everyday, ordinary things in our lives that we take for granted. A black person, for example, cannot go to the mall without being followed by security (because all black people are shoplifters, or course). A white person doesn’t have to worry about that— they can go to the mall and be perfectly fine. Similarly, many women cannot walk down the street without having people yell sexist things out of passing cars. A man can walk down the street and think about puppies and kittens. That’s what privilege is— you can do ordinary things without harassment or without feeling self-conscious or unsafe, and you won’t even notice it as something extraordinary.
The other day, a friend told me about how she was hanging out with some friends when they suddenly started telling jokes— jokes about sexually abused children. The thing about privilege is, you can do or say things about other people under the assumption that those people are not present. Or, if they were present, their opinion and their feelings wouldn’t matter anyway. This is all, of course, in spite of those very inconvenient statistics that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have been raped, molested, or sexually abused.
Privilege is also about convenience; the conscious and sometimes subconscious desire to ignore issues or problems. A white person can say things like “hey, let’s all just be color-blind. People are just people” because they’ve never been made to feel like less than a person because of the way they look. A person who hasn’t been sexually abused can say “Why is the internet signal in here so retarded and gay?” (answer: because it was abused as a child), all without even realizing that if there are at least six people in the room, it’s pretty likely that someone is going to be hurt by what you say. For you, it’s a joke— but for that person, it’s an experience or multiple experiences that are so horrible that they’d rather die than have to relive them.
The fact is that you probably know a friend or a family member who has been sexually abused. Maybe they’ve even considered telling you about their experience before— at least, they did until you shut them out with your rape jokes. How many people in your life will never be able completely trust you, will never feel safe around you because of that? 10? 20? 30? It could be your mother, your brother, your daughter, or your best friend.
You might never know.
Following in the steps of Peggy McIntosh, I am going to generate a list of “I-wasn’t-sexually-abused” privileges. When we think about privilege, we should ask ourselves these questions:
What can I do, say, or feel safely that others cannot? Would people of other groups be able to do these safely?
If I speak out about how I feel or voice my opinion, will others take me seriously? What if I was in X group or minority?
Are people of my group equally represented in popular media?
Do I ever feel like I have to “prove myself” to other people because I am different?
Do I ever look at other people and envy what they have or can do?
Are my needs being met when I express them?
You might notice that the majority of the following privileges are about safety, sexuality, love, and power—it makes sense when sexual abuse is so much about powerlessness and violation of private/personal space, and so much of it takes place under the pretense of love.
I am comfortable watching popular media portrayals of abuse, kidnapping, sexual assault, rape, molestation, or murder; if these things do make me uncomfortable, it is because of my moral beliefs, not because it is personal.
I can easily trust people of both sexes.
If I am in a public place and a person, male or female, stands behind or near me, it does not make me feel unsafe.
I can make crude jokes about sexual abuse with my friends.
I feel safe around other people when I am in a crowded space, such as an elevator, stairwell, or train.
I am not (regularly) scared or shaken by shouts, bangs, sirens, thunder, or other loud noises. If I am, I can easily laugh it off.
People can trust me to take care of their children without worrying about whether or not I will abuse them.
If I have children, I can easily trust family members, friends, teachers, or babysitters to take care of them.
I can take care of children (my own or other people’s) without worrying about getting into an abusive situation.
I can rely on and trust every person in my family.
Family reunions, the holiday season, and other family gatherings are happy occasions for me.
I believe that I am a good person and that I deserve to be loved.
If I am in the bathroom or my room, I feel safe enough to leave the door unlocked.
I do not regularly have unexplained bouts of anger, depression, or fear.
Although I sometimes might want to be healthier, I generally believe that my body is okay and that there isn’t anything wrong with it.
I have never felt or rarely feel as if there is something terrible, evil, or wrong with who I am as a person.
If I have had an abortion, it was because of economic or other social reasons, not because I felt as if something terrible, evil, or wrong was growing inside of me.
I have a healthy sex life.
When I do have sex, I never have to suddenly stop or ask my partner to stop because it has brought up bad feelings or memories.
I can go to parties and kiss, make out with, or engage in sexual acts with strangers and not feel violated.
I am comfortable and confident enough to have one-night stands.
I feel safe enough for sexual experimentation with my partner, even in situations which could leave me powerless, such as BDSM.
I believe that I will someday find the “right person” for me. In fact, I even look forward to it.
I believe in true love.
When I date someone, I don’t try to “buy” their love with lots of gifts and presents because I am afraid of losing them.
I have good memories of and feelings about my childhood.
I can live alone and sleep alone and not feel unsafe.
I can sleep in the same bed as someone else and not feel unsafe.
I am rarely afraid of falling asleep because I will have bad dreams or nightmares.
I can watch other couples and not be afraid for the woman in the relationship.
I feel safe and comfortable talking to adults, teachers, priests, pastors, professors, police, and other authority figures, even when I am alone with them.
I trust authority figures and never feel as if they have ulterior motives or bad intentions.
I do not have moments when a sound, a word, a thing, a smell, a taste, a place, a movie, an act, or a person brings back unpleasant memories.
I can wear exposed clothing and feel comfortable doing so. I rarely feel like I need to cover myself up.
I do not cope with stress through an eating disorder, drugs, compulsive buying, or other bad habits.
I am sure that there are more out there. Please feel free to add your own.
Number 8 pisses me off as a survivor. Yes, I know all about the concept of a cycle of abuse, but treating us like we’re dangerous simply because we were victimized never fails to irritate the shit out of me. Not every abused child becomes an abuser. And 40…people probably think I am completely ridiculous for my reaction to bugs, but I literally cannot cope with cockroaches, millipedes, centipedes, or ants & that’s after years of therapy. Please do not try to cure me, or explain to me that they’re smaller than I am, or whatever other urge strikes you when you hear I have a bug phobia unless that urge is to keep bugs away from me. I don’t want to flip out any more than you want to see me flip out. Trust.
41. I feel like I have the right to say no to sexual acts/encounters I do not wish to engage in. I believe that I have the right to refuse people access to my body, even if I am in a relationship with them.
42. I do not feel guilty for refusing to give consent, I do not feel as though I am inadequate because I am refusing sexual access to my body.
43. I do not feel as though people will only want me because of the sexual pleasure I can provide to them. I do not feel as though this is my only measure of worth.
You get the idea…
At this point, I genuinely feel that Tumblr has been one my most productive,uplifting and informative forays into social networking ever. I’ve gotten information, connections and experiences here that have profoundly influence my real life and the way I see the world, for the better.
But back to the actual topic, this is really somehting that needs to be addressed academically. Like “Deconstructing Privilege” as an educational tenet mandated at every level of education, of course tailored to each specific level of maturity. Maybe a minor housed in sociology departments? Clubs? A blog? A Vlog? I think I may have found something else to do with my time…
“The oppressors do not perceive their monopoly on having more as a privilege which dehumanizes others and themselves. They cannot see that, in the egoistic pursuit of having as a possessing class, they suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are; they merely have.”—
Paulo Friere, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed
He goes on to write:
For them, having more is an inalienable right, a right they acquired through their own ‘effort,’ with their “courage to take risks.’ If others do not have more, it is because they are incompetent and lazy, and worst of all is their unjustifiable ingratitude towards the ‘generous gestures’ of the dominant class. Precisely because they are ‘ungrateful’ and ‘envious,’ the oppressed are regarded as potential enemies who must be watched.
Ok. Now think about this in terms of the youth of color rioting in England. Friere is describing here the justification for police/state violence against poor people who are now destroying the material property of the oppressor class. As the news insinuates, “we must arm ourselves (with police) against those dark-skinned youth who just can’t be satisfied to not have what we have all worked so hard for.”
To this, Friere would say, “you no longer are, you merely have.”
Matching or even exceeding the persistence of graffiti writers, older white men have appeared in several cities, vigorously buffing and painting over tags, stickers and all types of graffiti art. The paradox? These anti-graffiti vigilantes are vandals themselves, as they typically paint over graffiti without the property owner or city’s permission, often doing more physical damage than what they’re actually covering up.
If you’re in San Francisco this weekend, check out the premiere of the Vigilante Vigilante documentary film at the Roxie Theater and tell us what you think about the film!
“You have to question a cinematic culture which preaches artistic expression, and yet would support a decision that is clearly a product of a patriarchy-dominant society, which tries to control how women are depicted on screen. The MPAA is okay supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario, which is both complicit and complex. It’s misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman’s sexual presentation of self. I consider this an issue that is bigger than this film. … There is something very distorted about this reality that they’ve created, which is that it is OK to torture women on screen. Any kind of violence towards women in a sexual scenario is fine. But give a woman pleasure? No way. Not a chance. That’s pornography.”—Ryan Gosling, actor and feminist, in a letter protesting the NC-17 rating of Blue Valentine. The rating was based on one consensual sex scene. (via snowstorminjuly) (via blaisingfeminist)