Tag Archives: privilege

Privilege: a quitter’s guide.

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I’ve been reading feminist writing for some time now, but it’s only since I’ve been trying to articulate the ways it’s inspired and enlightened me thru this blog that I’ve come to appreciate the adage that ‘the more you know, the more you realize how much you have to learn’ (or words to that effect). In a recent post, Haters, whores and hypocrites…, I waxed on the subject of, amongst other things, male privilege and hypocrisy. I think it’s a pretty good post, as far as it goes; but it got me thinking about my own privilege and how much that was unconsciously affecting the perspective I bring to my writing and my life. Best intentions aside, it would be arrogant of me to assume that 40 years of living in a male body and seeing thru male eyes hasn’t impacted on my view of the world. To point up the hypocrisy of others and not subject myself to equally ruthless scrutiny is, well, hypocritical.

It’s one thing to recognize the existence of privilege and the fact of your own, but how good are you at policing your own speech and behaviour? ‘Check[ing] your privilege’, to use the current vernacular. For every time you’ve caught yourself in the act of thinking or saying something sexist or making a privilege-based assumption/judgement, there are probably a dozen times you didn’t; at least, that’s my experience.

So for the benefit of myself and other guys, I’m posting a link today (see below) by a blogger called Synecdochic, who kindly took the trouble to produce a checklist aimed at those of us seeking to meet women (and the world) on more gender-neutral terms; not freak women out, and recognize when you’re on a hiding to nothing and back off, dignity – yours and hers – relatively intact (along with a couple reflections of my own).

DON’T BE ‘THAT GUY’

In Entitlement (part one) she begins with the fundamental assertion that ‘Women don’t owe you anything … not even their attention’. Ever posted a comment on a feminist blog, mentally congratualting yourself on how clued-up and sensitive you are on the subject in hand, to complete… apathy. Chances are they’ve heard it all before, so don’t waste a moment getting all butthurt about it. And whilst I don’t feel entitled to get a response to anything I post – I ignore/spam some comments others leave on my blog, too – I really appreciate it when I DO get one, even a ‘negative’ one, and it’s clear that the respondant is telling me something I need to know. I replied to a thread on a blog recently and the mod left a short, polite note informing men that that topic was a women-only discussion and that our comments would be spammed. Her blog, her prerogative, and there was no reasonable way I could take it personally. You don’t have to travel far on the www – or in the world, to which much of Synecdochic‘s advice also applies – to observe that men’s responses (to women) when the shoe is on the other foot are frequently MUCH less reasonable or respectful, and often sexist, spiteful and threatening, to boot.

And a point Synecdochic makes in Entitlement (part two): ‘It is a very sad fact that nine times out of ten, people with privilege, who are exercising that privilege in a way that makes other people feel uncomfortable, will not hear the fact that they are making other people uncomfortable until it’s pointed out to them by someone with the same privilege … that guy is way more likely to listen to you.’   This is something that’s always been in the back of my mind since I started mbg. If I’ve had any kind of agenda in putting my thoughts into words – widening my knowlege and honing my writing skills aside – then reaching out to other guys has certainly been a big part of it: this hypothetical audience might include guys who have read and been influenced by feminism; heard of/read it and dismissed it out of hand, or never encountered it at all. By and large I’ve found myself conversing more with women, simply because guys on the whole haven’t been as interested; or at least, less inclined to get into discussions. Sad to say, I think the misconception that feminism is ‘anti men’ still prevails in many quarters. This has not been my experience. By way of example, Andrea Dworkin – an intellectual and activist frequently reviled as often by other feminists as by liberals and conservatives – has written movingly of the men who have touched her life, and frequently exercised great generosity in discerning positive qualities even in those she came to dislike and despise. If you can read her heartfelt tributes to her father and brother in this autobiographical piece, without a) reaching for a handkerchief and b) feeling a little lighter and more optimistic about the potential of your fellow man, then you’re harder-hearted and more cynical than I. Hers was – and remains – an original voice, challenging both politically and linguistically; reason enough for any aspiring writer, feminist or not, to open up at least one book of hers. I’d recommend Life and Death, for what it’s worth; and if a recommendation from a man rather than a woman is more palatable to you, then I can live with that just fine, for now.

To continue, and conclude on the subject of writing, if you’ve made your way thru to the end of this post, then thanks – I do write in the hope of being read, amongst other motives – but did you click on the link? I hope so. In a mere 3000 (ish) words, Synecdochic demonstrates kindness and insight and you might begin to gain a whole new perspective on the world. To paraphrase (the aforementioned) Dworkin:

‘Am I saying I know more than men about [social interaction*]? Yes, I am. Not just different: more and better, deeper and wider, the way anyone used knows the user.’
* fucking [orig.]
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Haters, whores and hypocrites: now trending…

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‘[Darwin] emphasized that, though in almost all species the female was the choice-maker, in human societies the privilege of choice making had passed to the male, with deleterious effects.’ Gillian Beer, Introduction to the Origin of Species, 1859, Oxford University Press, 1988, (regarding Darwin’s, The Descent of Man, 1872)

As a man – and an educated man from a middle-class background; thrice-privileged – I can take freedom of choice, in speech as elsewhere, largely for granted, which is a very different proposition from saying I ought to be able to, or believing that the content of said speech is intrinsically valuable. One problematic aspect of privilege is that the privileged position renders it scarcely-visible; the distorting effect on one’s worldview tricky to apprehend. Admitting this perspective, it’s at least understandable that a challenge to one’s privilege might be mis-construed as an infringement of rights. I’m being magnanimous, here: plenty men intuit only too well the social head start that the accidental inheritance of a ‘y’ chromosome provides them with and miss no opportunity to revel in it, generally at the expense of those less-privileged than they.

Put another way; men are prone to a) talking bollocks, and b) lashing out like wounded animals when their ‘bollocks’ is subject to scrutiny. So it’s no wonder feminists come in for a lot of flak; scrutiny of men’s ‘bollocks’ being somewhat of a specialty of theirs. I came across a fine example of this a couple days ago via Madeline Rachael‘s fine wp blog The Feminist Agenda (below)

Kevin Swanson and Dave Buehner: ‘There are “two forms of feminism…”

Swanson and Buehners‘ dismissal of feminists as ‘whores’ – and in a discussion diatribe defending ‘the family’ and ‘society’ – is as typical as it is telling. Christian conservatives of their stripe would have one believe that they love ‘good’ women and that their beef is with only certain types of ‘bad’ woman. I’m minded of a press statement issued by West Yorkshire detective Jim Hobson during the investigation into ‘Yorkshire RipperPeter Sutcliffe here in the UK during the early ’80s which (British feminist) Joan Smith quoted in her essay ‘There’s only one Yorkshire Ripper‘ (Misogynies, Faber and Faber, 1989):

‘He (The Ripper – at that point yet to be apprehended) has made it clear that he hates prostitutes. Many people do. We, as a police force, will continue to arrest prostitutes. But the Ripper is now killing innocent girls. That indicates your (sic) mental state and that you (sic) are in urgent need of medical attention…’

(My emphasis)

The implications of this statement are clear and frightening – only violence against ‘good’ women is remarkable, never mind legitimately criminal; prostitutes fall outside outside of the ‘good’ category; are thus legitimate targets for men’s and society’s disapprobation, and that the distinction between the legitimacy of arresting and murdering women is a mere matter of degrees. To emphasize differing degrees of misogyny, however, or to give credence to the notion that some women are deserving of it, would be to miss the point that criminalizing ‘bad’ women and murdering ‘good’ ones both attack women as a class.

Three decades on, Swanson and Buehner, whilst they’re clearly not advocating violence against women per-se, are nonetheless arguing their ‘case’ (further magnanimity) against feminism from the same mindset; namely that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ women and that feminists fall squarely into the latter camp, along with ‘whores’. The glaring contradiction is that both the women who confront their assigned status in the gender hierarchy (feminists) and those who submit perfectly to it (‘whores’)** are subject to the same negative judgement: ergo, in their eyes all women are ‘bad’, whatever they might say to the contrary.

This is significant when one considers the conflict between Radical Feminism and the Liberal Left/Trans* lobby which, though decades-old, exploded so dramatically into public consciousness via the publication of ‘Transphobic’ articles by Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill and the subsequent Twitter storm. Notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ women loom large in the vocabulary of Trans* activists. As in Dt Hobson‘s assessment of Sutcliffe‘s murder victims (above) the wrong kind of woman is, in their opinion deserving of ‘extreme predjudice’ and the wrong kind of woman – the ‘bad’ woman – is any woman who questions the bipolar gender model on which their ‘identity’ depends. Scrutiny of their ‘bollocks’ is not encouraged, to say the least; presumably because it bears more than a passing resemblance to that spouted by Swanson and Buehner: sexist, anti-feminist and rigid in its adherence to gender bi-polarity. Accusations of ‘Trans-misogyny’ (an unhelpful term to my mind) are rendered risible by prolific resort to the common-or-garden variety by Trans* activists and their supporters.

So whilst bollocks of their kind continues to proliferate both on and under the radar of the MSM: on blogs run by Men’s Rights Activists; on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr and in the comments sections of all manner of online publications; feminists, who discern profound ideological issues and serious health and safety concerns for ALL women, are being subjected to inquisition , hounded , jailed, ridiculed, and silenced by those who fear the prospect of a life shorn of privileged position. Some women themselves argue against the need for feminisn, including this Huffington post writer, who is somewhat hoist by her own petard by her declaration that ‘feminism is misunderstood … by many of those calling themselves feminists’, and her sexist dismissal of the anticipated feminist backlash to her article.

For the Trans* activist who has spent the majority of their life occupying a position of privilege, discerning the difference between loss of said privilege and a genuine infringement on human rights might conceivably be difficult; but let’s not make the mistake of being magnanimous again and again in the face of evidence to the contrary.  That anti-woman propaganda such as the Generations Radio feature and the Huffington Post piece are allowed to stand whilst the likes of Burchill and Gallusmag are censured tells us something. That these and other women – feminist or not, wives or the prostituted, straight or queer, butch or femme, workers or home-makers, black or white, young or old, trans* or ‘cis’ – so frequently take the brunt of societal problems that are manifestly not of their making tells us much the same thing: somebody needs to check their privilege, and they’ll be carrying a ‘y’ chromosome, I betcha!

**Couple points to note: a) I didn’t want to get sidelined into any kind of ‘blame game’ at that point, sufficed to say that the choice to be a feminist or a ‘whore’ are clearly not equal and opposite – specifically that the latter can be considered as ‘free’ a choice as the former – nor mutually exclusive. Andrea Dworkin is a case in point whose radical politics were deeply-informed by her personal experience of prostitution. b) The original use of the word whore was Buehner’s, and having quoted him thus I ran with it for the duration of the piece, mainly a creative decision since it made for a more memorable title. It implies no disrespect towards prostituted women on my part, hence the quotes ‘—‘.

A.M.