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why teaching equality hurts men
May 18, 2012 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Why Teaching Equality Hurts Men: "It hurts them by making them unconsciously perpetrate biases they’ve been actively taught to despise. It hurts them by making them complicit in the distress of others. It hurts them by shoehorning them into a restrictive definition masculinity from which any and all deviation is harshly punished... It hurts them through a process of indoctrination so subtle and pervasive that they never even knew it was happening, and when you’ve been raised to hate inequality, discovering that you’ve actually been its primary beneficiary is horrifying – like learning that the family fortune comes from blood money." (via nooneyouknow)
posted by flex (134 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Very well written; I have to agree with what the author is saying, that instead of pretending to children that our society IS equal, we should remind them that equality is an ideal worth striving for and that we have not achieved it yet.
posted by Renoroc at 3:31 PM on May 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


Despite the essay, I feel like this person is very misinformed about gender and society in the modern world. She said:

We all, right now, need to stop the pretense that the world is anything near an equal place.

But nobody thinks this, on any side of the discussion, so to speak. So I think her premise is badly flawed and the argument she advances is incoherent as a result.
posted by clockzero at 3:34 PM on May 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Even if nobody thinks this, a lot of people do say it ("We have a black president! We're post-racial!"). Or worse, they'll say that the scales have tipped in the opposite direction and that white men have it worse than people of color, women, etc. I don't think it's a bad idea to point out to kids that these are falsehoods.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:40 PM on May 18, 2012 [16 favorites]


The question is whether our curriculum for children, highlighting heroes of equality like MLK and famous minorities and women--all in the interest of convincing them that people deserve to be treated equally--might have the unintended consequence of convincing them that the job is done.
posted by TreeRooster at 3:41 PM on May 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


But nobody thinks this, on any side of the discussion, so to speak. So I think her premise is badly flawed and the argument she advances is incoherent as a result.

Lots and lots of people assert that America and/or the West in general has real equality of opportunity, and discrepancies in outcomes are due to individual failures, not bias, discrimination, or other systemic issues.
posted by jsturgill at 3:44 PM on May 18, 2012 [35 favorites]



But nobody thinks this, on any side of the discussion, so to speak. So I think her premise is badly flawed and the argument she advances is incoherent as a result.


I guess what I'd say is that many people think that such inequality as there is, is trivial and not really anyone's fault. Witness, everywhere you turn, the privileged totally denying what the marginalized have to say about their daily experience - white folks really do say all the time that "that isn't really racist" or "but he didn't mean it" or "you're being so confrontational that I won't listen", et patati et patata. The inequality that is admitted to exist is set in a context of overall "everything is basically fine and good", like my dad telling me in 1985 that the work of feminism was done and that while it had been all right in the seventies, now the feminists were just going too far.
posted by Frowner at 3:48 PM on May 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


Nope. Not far enough. Not by damn sight.
posted by wobh at 3:51 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is both true and so linked with white privilege that it almost seems weird for this author to just single out men (not that they shouldn't, but that it seems like a piece of the puzzle is missing). I am a teacher and have gotten several essays from young white men about how "affirmative action is racist". I myself believed this at one point in my life. Teaching the myth of equality to ANY privileged group is hurtful. But it serves the privileged's interest in the long run, because the more you can indoctrinate a myth of equality in younger ages, the more defiant people are to the idea that maybe they've had more help than just "working hard in the land of opportunity".

I wish I knew how to fix it. I think it would really require dismantling the "America is the greatest country on Earth" paradigm. I don't think we're ready to do that at all.
posted by nakedmolerats at 3:53 PM on May 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


But nobody thinks this, on any side of the discussion, so to speak.

An example.
posted by ambrosia at 3:54 PM on May 18, 2012


But nobody thinks this, on any side of the discussion, so to speak.

on preview, don't mean to pile on: but yes, they do. I just had an argument with a guy who said that sexism does not exist in white collar America, people are just misinterpreting post-sexist ironic jokes as the real thing. He made the same argument about frats.
posted by jacalata at 3:54 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think we do need to stop teaching boys today about equality issues as if they were boys growing up forty years ago.

For instance, you don't need to focus as much on "Girls can be doctors too!" type messages when it's quite likely the doctor they regularly see is a woman. If you think girls can't be good at sports or cars or something like that, point to someone like Danica Patrick. (Terrible ads aside)

There are more complex issues there when you get into the question of why so many women go into pediatrics but that is outside the scope of basic lessons on equality for a kid.

There are new, unique challenges and problems facing kids today. I think we should teach about why equality is important, but for boys the most difficult goal right now is figuring out how to teach them to graduate college at the same rates as women do now, how to refrain from violence and crime or alcoholism and addiction and stay out of jail, how to handle money responsibly, and how to raise children and run a home when you might not have a wife along to help you. I think teaching boys how to do all this better as a society would promote peace and equality, but they aren't exactly easy tasks. I think the problems boys face are often as invisible as the privilege.

Honestly, I wish we spent more time teaching kids how to live rather than how to work.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:59 PM on May 18, 2012 [68 favorites]


My two girls just aren't interested in playing with my son's toys, my son not interested in playing with theirs. Lord knows I've tried everything to get some gender equality happening, and they know more than most that teaching equality hurts, really hurts.
posted by mattoxic at 4:06 PM on May 18, 2012


As usual, it's the victim's job to empathize with their oppressor. That men don't see the lack of equality is saying they can't empathize and remain locked in their point of view. So it's up to the empathizing oppressed to gently soothe their "hurt."
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:08 PM on May 18, 2012 [13 favorites]


But nobody thinks this, on any side of the discussion, so to speak.

Chiming in to say, yes, they do. My uncle, for one. At Christmas last year, my 8 year old cousin asked the table what feminism was. I explained it. Our uncle immediately brushed it off as unnecessary, since, after all, we all have equal opportunities.

Later that day, when my cousin and her sister were playing with their new toys under the tree, he asked one of them to go get him a beer from the kitchen. When his wife told him it was inappropriate, he said, "What? They're going to have to learn someday."

So, according to his equation, it seems that equal opportunity = girls have to learn how to fetch and carry for men.
posted by ocherdraco at 4:11 PM on May 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


As usual, it's the victim's job to empathize with their oppressor everyones' job to empathize with everyone else.

FTFY.
posted by elsp at 4:12 PM on May 18, 2012 [23 favorites]


Obscure Reference: umm, wow, if you read this essay it's more like "if we want to get people out of their locked point of view we need a sound strategy and our present educational strategies might actually be counterproductive" which is a damn sight further from the sexist and bitter global analysis of men you present.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 4:15 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


What is this, the war against straight white men week on MeFi?

(not a straight white man)
posted by gyc at 4:15 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Metafilter has been all about men today. Men's center, making Justin Bieber a man, Lego men, weak men, and now yet another blog post about how men supposedly have so much trouble understanding the concept of privilege.
posted by John Cohen at 4:21 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Honestly, this comment is probably going to get lots of flak and honestly, it's probably going to be pretty stupid and poorly worded because I am just the worst person to speak for anything, ever, but probably no one else is going to say it.

It's--I don't know if it's time for everyone to let go of it completely, but the currently dominant abstractions in gender politics are approaching the limits of usefulness. It's neither helpful nor progressive to make everything fit into a model of Patriarchy and male privilege when the relationships between genders and all the incredibly complex ways gender colors a person's experience in western society are infinitely more nuanced. Oppression isn't a unilateral thing, and I wish feminism and gender politics were more willing to just address and examine oppression where it happens without feeling like it's necessary to frame everything in terms of a Patriarchy.

I think I get what the article is saying, and I get easily annoyed by any glib attempt to avoid engaging with inequality by just putting a happy face on everything, but I mean. I don't know. I hate this coloring huge non-groups of people with the same brush and trying to make things fit into a single grand, sweeping theory. My annoyance here isn't so much with the article itself, as it is seeing this stuff all the time. I think it diminishes the real lived experiences of a lot of people of both genders.
posted by byanyothername at 4:22 PM on May 18, 2012 [18 favorites]


how to refrain from violence and crime or alcoholism and addiction and stay out of jail,

This is one of the many things that kills me about the falsehood that "women are more emotional than men." Anger is an emotion, and if it's not acknowledged and you're not taught how to deal with it, it is bad for you and bad for society.
posted by KathrynT at 4:26 PM on May 18, 2012 [15 favorites]


"What? They're going to have to learn someday."

Wait, going and fetching a beer for your uncle/dad/grampa is WOMEN'S WORK?

God, I was bein' sissified for years and never even knew it.
posted by chronkite at 4:27 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


We've had a female prime minister, though.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:33 PM on May 18, 2012


I...was wrong.
posted by clockzero at 4:33 PM on May 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


They will not see how the system supports their success above that of others

I'm sorry, come again? As a white male reading this article, I'm still failing to see how "the system" supports my success. Just because most of the wealthiest 1% of America happens to be white males, do you think we get favoritism in promotions? Is there some secret "White Male" conspiracy that works to promote all white males? If so, I clearly missed the initiation ceremony.

I think that a lot of times "White male power" is misunderstood by minorities because they often claim a certain feeling of commonality with each other, so there's the implicit assumption that the "white male" majority feels a similar bond. That's a complete fallacy. To people like the Koch brothers, there's no difference between squashing a white male or a black female who gets in their way. In fact, given the chance, they'd probably prefer to promote a minority candidate over another white male: it helps fulfill affirmative action requirements and giving them bragging rights on how "open-minded" they are.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 4:35 PM on May 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


clockzero: "But nobody thinks this, on any side of the discussion, so to speak. So I think her premise is badly flawed and the argument she advances is incoherent as a result."

From reddit, of course.
posted by mkb at 4:42 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, boy...
posted by jon1270 at 4:45 PM on May 18, 2012


there's the implicit assumption that the "white male" majority feels a similar bond. That's a complete fallacy.

Complete fallacy!
Utter malarky!
Unsupportable nonsense!
Total hogwash!

Why don't you all tell us some more about how the system doesn't favor you.
posted by TypographicalError at 4:48 PM on May 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


wolfdreams01:

No.

Us white males still have it way easier than everyone else, and get, proportionately, far more of the good jobs.

Affirmative Action doesn't work nearly as well as one might hope.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:51 PM on May 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Us white males still have it way easier than everyone else, and get, proportionately, far more of the good jobs.

Which is not to say that the lives of white males are not often very, very hard. Nobody's arguing that. But the grim reality is that the lives of non-whites or non-males, at least in the US, are often even harder.
posted by KathrynT at 4:52 PM on May 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh, weird, clicking directly from a Kate Hart post to a Foz Meadows post. What a strange day of "people Phoebe knows from the YA blogosphere on metafilter."

That said, I agree that I think this post is flawed from the outset in that it presupposes that children are taught by feminist parents that gender struggles are over--because most feminist parents I know are very well aware that this isn't the case. And as for the mainstream, I don't necessarily think that the privileged vantage point was created by parents teaching children about equality but rather by people who have always been privileged co-opting the language of feminism to dismiss it. I realize that might seem like a trifling difference, but I do think it's one.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:53 PM on May 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


(And "Equal Opportunity Employment" really only makes sense if you assume there are equal opportunities prior to employment. There aren't.)
posted by Sys Rq at 4:54 PM on May 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


What is this, the war against straight white men week on MeFi?

(not a straight white man)
posted by gyc at 4:15 PM on May 18 [+] [!]


Yeah, Metafilter has been all about men today. Men's center, making Justin Bieber a man, Lego men, weak men, and now yet another blog post about how men supposedly have so much trouble understanding the concept of privilege.
posted by John Cohen at 4:21 PM on May 18 [+] [!]


Male dominance. We have been saying that for ages. Do you see it now?
posted by travelwithcats at 4:56 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


discovering that you’ve actually been its primary beneficiary is horrifying – like learning that the family fortune comes from blood money.

Poor babies!
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:57 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


So what exactly are you saying here, typo? That female income inequality comes from a male conspiracy? That white males are plotting to disenfranchise black men? Come on, share your "lone gunman" stories - it'll be amusing.

Let me hit you with the clue train - when one small segment of society is the only one allowed to have rights for hundreds (if not thousands) of years while the rest of society is treated as second-class citizens - well yeah, obviously most of the power is going to be clustered in their hands, and even on an equal playing field that sort of competitive advantage will take some time to rectify itself. The "system" doesn't favor white males: it favors the wealthy, and those hundreds of years when blacks were slaves and women couldn't vote obviously resulted in most of the wealthy being white males. However, this is of absolutely no help to the white males who are not among the 1%.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 4:57 PM on May 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm sorry, come again? As a white male reading this article, I'm still failing to see how "the system" supports my success. Just because most of the wealthiest 1% of America happens to be white males, do you think we get favoritism in promotions? Is there some secret "White Male" conspiracy that works to promote all white males? If so, I clearly missed the initiation ceremony.

There is no initiation ceremony. A white male who has been raised in a culture where white males run things will hire white males to run things. I'll be honest and say that all of the long term jobs I have landed have been through friends and family, and most of my friends are white. So if I ever have the opportunity to find someone a job, there's a probability that person will be white — not because I'm -ist in any conscious way, but because I grew up in a largely white community.

I will agree with you that classism is replacing racism, which is not really an improvement, but like it or not, you have a better chance at landing a job than a minority, you have a tiny risk compared to a black male of landing in prison even if you commit a similar crime, and you will likely get paid more at your job than a woman for doing the same work.

Having said that, of course it's not your fault, but those are the facts today. America is still a racist, sexist society. It's improving, but only because in the past people were willing to admit as much.
posted by deanklear at 5:04 PM on May 18, 2012 [14 favorites]


"White male power" is misunderstood by minorities because they often claim a certain feeling of commonality with each other, so there's the implicit assumption that the "white male" majority feels a similar bond. That's a complete fallacy.

I really don't spend a lot of time thinking about what the white male majority feels. I do know that in my lifetime I have been instructed only to wear skirts and heels to work; I have been paid significantly less than male associates with less experience than I have; I have had the experience of being an associate at a law firm assigned to work for a partner who was well-known for not working with women. During my entire tenure at that firm he never gave me or any other female associate a single assignment. Note that total hours billed are taken into account when bonuses and promotions are handed out, so withholding billable hours has a long-term impact. When my mother talks about her days working at the phone company in the 1960's, how she would train a new male hire and then four months later he would be promoted to be her manager, well I feel a certain commonality with that because my personal experiences, even in the 21st century, are sadly consistent with that.

As the same time I have to acknowledge that as a well-educated white woman there's an awful lot I've been spared.

The "system" doesn't favor white males: it favors the wealthy,

As a not-wealthy white male it may seem that way to you. But there is room for sexism, racism and classism in this particular problem.
posted by ambrosia at 5:06 PM on May 18, 2012 [22 favorites]


Again I want to point out boys today aren't boys forty years ago, they will come of age in a time when the trend has been towards equality for decades. Not there, absolutely not there, but they aren't going to see the inequality as much in part because not as much of it is going to exist. You have to teach them to respect people for the sake of respecting them.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:07 PM on May 18, 2012


However, this is of absolutely no help to the white males who are not among the 1%.

There is vast, well-supported, widely-available statistical evidence that says that white males across the wealth spectrum enjoy better outcomes in earnings, better outcomes in the criminal justice system, better outcomes in hiring, better outcomes in the healthcare system, just better outcomes overall, when compared to their non-white/non-male peers.

If you want to make forward progress in understanding this, put your position in terms of a testable hypothesis that, if true, would imply that "the system" does not favor white males. Is there some measure by which you think white males aren't doing better, measured by the median, than any other group?
posted by 0xFCAF at 5:10 PM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


wolfdreams01, so it's just a coincidence that (white) males are the ones doing most of the complaining about how the feminazis have gone too far, and that we don't need any more equality because obviously any remaining inequality in the system is just a minor holdover from the distant past?
posted by sneebler at 5:10 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


That white males are plotting to disenfranchise black men?

Let's read this next bit first, then I'll come back to that.

Let me hit you with the clue train - when one small segment of society is the only one allowed to have rights for hundreds (if not thousands) of years while the rest of society is treated as second-class citizens - well yeah, obviously most of the power is going to be clustered in their hands, and even on an equal playing field that sort of competitive advantage will take some time to rectify itself. The "system" doesn't favor white males: it favors the wealthy, and those hundreds of years when blacks were slaves and women couldn't vote obviously resulted in most of the wealthy being white males.

Now: How do you suppose that happened in the first place? Magic?

How's this for a "clue train": It was, indeed, a conspiracy of white males that made it so. We continue to benefit from it.

Is it your position, wolfdreams01, that this should continue? Or that it has ceased to be an issue?

Either way, you're fucking wrong as shit.

However, this is of absolutely no help to the white males who are not among the 1%.

It really, really, really, really, really, really, really is. Really.

If teaching our kids equality has one drawback, it's that we instill in them this idea that equality is a done deal, when it just plain isn't.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:13 PM on May 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


However, this is of absolutely no help to the white males who are not among the 1%.

If airplanes can fly, how can there be gravity ?

It is possible for two opposite things to be simultaneously true. So even as I have suffered greatly because I was born poor white trash, and started life with a poor white trash understanding of the universe - I did benefit in many ways in many contexts from other things.

Your life is is a system of situational benefits and detriments that interact sometimes in confounding ways.

The universe is not bound by your intuition.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:17 PM on May 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


There has been social and legislative gains on the issues of access to healthcare and equal pay for women. I kind of see that type of thing as a problem that is on the path to correction. We have the solution, it just needs to be hammered home forever to make sure it corrects and never backslides.

I don't see much work on figuring out why women aren't in prison as much as men and how we can fix what is going wrong with the boys there. (Or is the criminal justice system lenient towards women like it is to white people?)

I wish when we were talking about education we could think more in terms of twenty years from now. Kids today aren't the patriarchy or the feminist agenda, and the boys face just as many issues that can lead them to misery as the girls over their lifetimes.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:18 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's thousands of words telling me I'm wearing an invisible backpack.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:34 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


It seems like she understands a phrase like "we live in an equal society" as a description, as if it is parallel to "we live in a red house." I don't think it works that way, I think it is more like expressing a value. Like if you perceive inequality, you can say "You can't do that. We live in an equal society!" Or if someone wants to paint the house blue, you say, "You can't do that! We live in a red house!" It's a statement about Our Way of Life, how things are supposed to be.

I think straight white men deny inequality because they associate the term with legal prohibitions, maybe also institutional rules, which is why something like affirmative action is interpreted as a form of racism. To say that there are cultural rules and norms, and that also creates inequalities is, from their perspective, to redefine the meaning of the word. The main problem with defining inequality in that way is that cultural norms are things you aren't supposed care about, from within the individualist mindset. The thinking is that we white guys also struggle and get flak for trying to get ahead, but if you have real guts and determination, you'll shrug that off and keep going. If you do that, you are virtuous and deserve success.

So for them to accept that inequality stems from social norms, they'd also have to reject individualism. If you asked them, "Do you think inequalities exist in society because people don't have a can-do attitude, they're not entrepreneurial, not creative, they wait for others to give them things instead of going out and getting it for themselves?" they would probably agree. For them, inequality exists between those who have adopted the proper individualistic spirit, and those who haven't, and they think this is a positive thing.

The problem is that individualism is mostly the province of white men, and minorities and women don't have nearly as much latitude in violating social rules as white men do. It's not that the (legal, institutional) rules are necessarily different between race and gender, which is what is implied in Scalzi's "easy mode" essay -- that effectively the rules of the game are different, with fewer enemies and more ammo. It's that the social costs of violating social norms and "being an individual" are far less severe for white men. The cultural rules are the same, but individualism is an exception that only white men have access to.

I experience this most clearly in group conversations of mixed race and gender. Everyone else has to wait their turn, not take up too much time and follow the consensus topic, but as a white man, I can break these rules: interrupt people, change the subject and speak as long as I like. There would be few consequences for me, but if a woman or a black man tried doing that, it would be much different, it would be seen as arrogance where my behavior would be seen as leadership or something. It's not that the rules are different for me, I still feel like I'm breaking them -- but they are bent inconsistently for my benefit, so I don't really get the same consequences. So you get typical white male statements like "Oh you aren't being heard? Just step in and take charge of the conversation!" Which is not something that anyone but white males can really do.

The problem is that people think that there are the rules of the game, and then separately, you can break the rules by being a non-conformist individual if you really have the guts. But in reality, the way you are allowed to break the rules of the game are part of the game. This is my problem with the term "privilege," which implies, I think falsely, that the benefit is in a different set of rules rather than the normalized exception to the rules.

So the correct gaming metaphor is not "easy mode" - it's that white male individualism is like a cheat code that lets you walk through walls, but if a woman or a minority does it, the whole game crashes.
posted by AlsoMike at 5:38 PM on May 18, 2012 [26 favorites]


Hm, this is interesting. The Star Trek universe (bear with me) is portrayed as a very equal society, with no racial strife or gender inequality. Yet, I was watching an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise the other night where a male crewmember is unwittingly impregnated by an alien. The first sign of the pregnancy is the growth of a nipple on his arm. The crewmember is ashamed and implores the captain to keep it a secret - not because it's an alien baby, not because he wasn't more cautious, but because he's a man who is pregnant. The secret slips out, and other crewmembers basically point and giggle.

It really, really disturbed me that the show could not say "hey, here is a thing that happened to this guy, and he's pregnant, and it doesn't affect his masculinity at all" given how egalitarian the ST universe purports to be. It's a good example of what the article is talking about: "people are equal but boys, don't forget that having female characteristics is bad."
posted by desjardins at 5:40 PM on May 18, 2012 [16 favorites]


From the article:

Which is where we come to the inherent problem of telling these same children, once they’ve grown into teens and young adults, that society is equal.

I'm not a teacher, so I don't know; are we telling them this? I mean, I know we tell them that in terms of worth and ability, men and women are inherently equal (at least I hope we do), but do we actually say "male and female equality exists in our society"?

I actually don't remember it coming up, in my long-ago days of history class; we barely touched on suffrage, the civil rights movement, and maybe if there was time, the feminism of the 70s. I don't remember ever being told, definitively, that men and women had achieved parity.

So my next question is, if there are guys out there assuming Equality Is Achieved, on what are they basing this assumption? Is it really what they were told by clueless educators, or is it just something they assume because it's never talked about in polite company and hey, women appear to be working jobs and not getting burned at the stake, so it's all good?
posted by emjaybee at 5:45 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem is that people think that there are the rules of the game, and then separately, you can break the rules by being a non-conformist individual if you really have the guts. But in reality, the way you are allowed to break the rules of the game are part of the game. This is my problem with the term "privilege," which implies, I think falsely, that the benefit is in a different set of rules rather than the normalized exception to the rules.

OK, this actually makes sense - nicely put. I would totally fit into the individualist template you describe, and I define "equality" in the legal sense because I don't care about cultural norms.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 5:48 PM on May 18, 2012


What I forgot to add: the writer seems to be conflating teaching equality as a goal/ethical stance vs. teaching equality as something that has been achieved. There's a huge difference and I'm not convinced we're systematically doing the second one. But again, I haven't been a) male b) in school for a long time.
posted by emjaybee at 5:48 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh, kinda makes me want to go into daycare or elementary education. Keep the future sane, don't enforce social conformity and all that.

Something tells me they aren't looking for biochemists to fill those positions though.
posted by Slackermagee at 5:53 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


What is this, the war against straight white men week on MeFi?

I realize that this post was probably not at all serious, but I think it speaks to the situation perfectly that this is not an unlikely reaction. People who have had an entire lifetime of unexamined privilege in education, housing, employment, etc. look at 3 posts in a week about privilege and might say "Geez, what an anti-white male society we live in! Everybody is always bitching about us!"

3 posts a week amounting to a "war against men". That's how invisible privilege is to walk around with every day.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:53 PM on May 18, 2012 [15 favorites]


When men can tell women what to do with their bodies, that's not equality.

You damn politicians (mostly white male) get out of my uterus.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:55 PM on May 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


I define "equality" in the legal sense because I don't care about cultural norms.

I want to gently point out that it is easier not to care about cultural norms when the cultural penalties for breaking those norms are milder. For women and people of color, ignoring those cultural norms can be much more perilous.
posted by KathrynT at 5:56 PM on May 18, 2012 [27 favorites]


"Is it really what they were told by clueless educators, or is it just something they assume because it's never talked about in polite company and hey, women appear to be working jobs and not getting burned at the stake, so it's all good?"

More like: for the dumbest 80% of my high school graduating class the takeaway from the two week Civil Rights unit in my half-year "American History" class was "wow, good thing all that got sorted out before I was born!"

"I want to gently point out that it is easier not to care about cultural norms when the cultural penalties for breaking those norms are milder. For women and people of color, ignoring those cultural norms can be much more perilous."

Disobeying norms about gender presentation can/has/does lead to the murder of individuals from both genders in this and other societies.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 5:59 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


...is it just something they assume because it's never talked about in polite company and hey, women appear to be working jobs and not getting burned at the stake, so it's all good?

That sounds about right.

That is to say, the "Sure you can vote, Honey, now go get me a beer" guys probably put no more thought into it than that.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 5:59 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


do you think we get favoritism in promotions?

My sister is an accountant at a large firm you've heard of. She got told a couple weeks ago that she is almost certain to get promoted this month, based on numbers etc; but it's not yet certain, because she's female, and the manager talking to her happened to know that the hiring committee in charge of promotions routinely bypasses females. She and the other female in her group up for promotion were told that to increase their chances, they should 'act male' until the decisions were made.
posted by jacalata at 6:00 PM on May 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Disobeying norms about gender presentation can/has/does lead to the murder of individuals from both genders in this and other societies.

That is very true, and I thought of that a split second after I hit "post."

She and the other female in her group up for promotion were told that to increase their chances, they should 'act male' until the decisions were made.

I was directly told by a boss that I would probably not be considered for a permanent position because "some of the people on the team" were "uncomfortable with how unfeminine I was in the lab." When I asked what he meant, he cited projects I had spearheaded, extra work I had taken on, &c. I said "I thought that was the kind of thing that got rewarded around here," and he shrugged and said "It's just easier to take from a man."

(This is the same guy who denied me overtime because "I had to get home and get my beauty sleep to be pretty for my boyfriend." My boyfriend, who worked on the same team, with whom I carpooled, and who had all the overtime he wanted. So I ended up hanging around the office for hours for free.)
posted by KathrynT at 6:07 PM on May 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


Just because most of the wealthiest 1% of America happens to be white males, do you think we get favoritism in promotions?

yes

Is there some secret "White Male" conspiracy that works to promote all white males?

Not in capital letters, no. But there are a bunch of smallish white male conspiracies in the form of Those Guys at various otherwise egalitarian groups who are really good at stirring up a shitstorm whenever the group is about to do something that might benefit people who are not like them.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:08 PM on May 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


do you think we get favoritism in promotions?

There is also still a significant gap in tenure rates for male/female faculty at universities. I know the easy answer is "that's because they have babies", but I rarely hear of people telling men that they need to choose between being a father or a professor.
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:11 PM on May 18, 2012


Hey now, Enterprise was about a pre-utopia Star Trek universe. I think Picard would have handled pregnancy a lot better.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:14 PM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just because most of the wealthiest 1% of America happens to be white males, do you think we get favoritism in promotions?

Well, let's see.

A recent study claims that women need to show a proven track record of great work in order to get promoted, while men need only show the promise of potential for future greatness.

Why Men Still Get More Promotions Than Women

Why Women Rarely Leave Middle Management

That's literally, like, 30 seconds of Goggling.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:16 PM on May 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


Part of this, I think, comes from a perception created today in middle schools and high schools.

In my anecdotal experience, boys and girls are treated pretty equally by teachers in modern academia, or at least much more equally than elsewhere. I'm sure there are myriad exceptions to this, but in general, I think boys growing up in school see the authority figures treat them and the girls pretty much equally (and in some ways favoring the girls, such as trustworthiness.)

But this is such a self-centered time in one's life that the boys don't see all of the other issues girls have to deal with to survive the day. And to a self-centered teenage male brain, girls hold all of the sexual power as well.

Give them the notion of equality and by god of course they'll buy into it. They've seen girls laughing at them, and getting the top grades. Obviously women are treated equally, right?

And then they carry this mindset into the "real world," where they will experience new hardships of adulthood, which are foreign to them and which blind them to the greater hardships felt by others. When they get that job, when they earn that paycheck, they're not going to think about how much easier it was for them to get that job than someone else, because getting that job was hard. They're not going to think about how unlikely it is for them to go to prison, because, in the words of Chris Rock, you're not supposed to go to prison. They're not going to think about the comparable size of their paycheck, because earning it was harder than what came before it, and earn it they did.

They'll carry the sexual resentment with them, though, outside into realms less idealistic about that sort of thing than school was. And they'll perpetuate bias without even consciously knowing it. After all, they earned their place, didn't they? They didn't see any bias coming their way.

It's not just that schools teach "equality," because even there i doubt they really teach that the battle for equality is done. It is that they are also on the forefront of practicing it, as they must be, and that the teens they are teaching aren't getting what the real world is like.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:23 PM on May 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


To people like the Koch brothers, there's no difference between squashing a white male or a black female who gets in their way. In fact, given the chance, they'd probably prefer to promote a minority candidate over another white male: it helps fulfill affirmative action requirements and giving them bragging rights on how "open-minded" they are.
posted by wolfdreams01


Well, lets take a look at a representative group of Koch employees, some newly hired, some on continuing contracts:

Of 242 House Republicans, 23 are women.

Less than 10%-- not terribly balanced.
posted by jamjam at 6:27 PM on May 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


Thanks to all who posted links and responded with the way the world works. I appreciate it. There is always that feeling when these things come up - the balance of knowing someone had no real understanding of how this part of the world indeed works, vs the time it takes to compile and teach and discuss the information. So thanks to those who did.
posted by cashman at 6:31 PM on May 18, 2012


Most discussions about this seem to follow this one simple pattern:

WOMEN: "I know you have some shit to deal with, but compared to what we get thrown at us, you have it so easy, y'all don't even know."

MEN: *disbelief, then denial, then incoherent rage*


I don't know why that happens. I'm not a guy, I have no way to teleport into the Hypothetical Guy Brain and figure it out. But I've seen this everywhere from individual discussions while protesting downtown all the way up to monster threads here on Metafilter.

Here's an example. I was at an Occupy event, and it had gotten late - my car was maybe three blocks away, in a well-lit city parking garage with, theoretically, a security guard in it. My Protest Buddy for the day (one always has a Protest Buddy) would not be having with me going those three blocks myself. She's a woman too. She knew why. So she called a mic check and asked for "a gentleman to please escort miss cmyk down to her car." We got a few volunteers, they conferred amongst themselves, one stepped up, happy to do it. He and I shook hands and exchanged names, then we headed off.

About halfway there, I said, "Man, I'm sorry you have to do this."

He shrugged and said, "The way things are right now, it's dangerous for everybody."

I wanted to say so many things there: I wanted to point out that because of the configuration of my body I am just an object, just a thing to be used and discarded, I have to be aware of that every single moment when I am anywhere even slightly public, familiar or not; how it is my fault if something goes wrong and my fault if I am hurt and my problem dealing with anything that may happen after it. It is entirely on me to scan for threats, assess the environment, keep track of escape patterns. It's like being some kind of spy, but there's no fun with macguffins and fast cars.

I couldn't say a thing. I choked under the weight of it all, and just meekly said, "Yeah. It's tough for everybody."
posted by cmyk at 6:35 PM on May 18, 2012 [14 favorites]


But nobody thinks this, on any side of the discussion, so to speak. So I think her premise is badly flawed and the argument she advances is incoherent as a result.
Yeah, the thing is people do think that. The problem with this stuff is that everyone lives in their little "internet bubble" of like-minded people and never has any idea what the average person thinks about all this.
It seems like she understands a phrase like "we live in an equal society" as a description, as if it is parallel to "we live in a red house." I don't think it works that way, I think it is more like expressing a value.
That seems ridiculous. I think people would be more likely to say something like "Don't do that - society should be equal". Or more likely just "Don't do that, it's sexist"

I think the "privilege" discussion also runs of the rails when you ignore class, parental education, and so on, especially when you're looking at race rather then gender. A median poor white male kid who grows up in a "white trash" lifestyle is probably going to have a difficult life. Maybe less difficult then a black kid who grows up in similar circumstances.

On the other hand, the differential between two rich men of different races is going to be a lot less, and both of them are going to be way better off then either of the poor kids.

With gender, I think if you look at the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder, you could make the case that some men do have it worse in some ways. Someone mentioned the incarceration rate, but the male:female incarceration ratio is pretty high. Looking at the gender stats here A white man is 7 times more likely to be in prison then a white woman, and a black man is 15 times more likely to be in prison then a black woman. A white women is fully 47 times less likely to be in jail then a black man. And a white man is twice as likely as a black woman to be in jail.

I'm betting the vast majority of inmates come from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Some people seem to take the privilege thing as a sharp binary, where any random white dude has "more" of it then any other member of any other race/gender, regardless of socioeconomic background.
posted by delmoi at 6:41 PM on May 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Some people seem to take the privilege thing as a sharp binary, where any random white dude has "more" of it then any other member of any other race/gender, regardless of socioeconomic background.

Yeah, it's slightly unfair that when folks try to dive into that it gets difficult to separate out honest discussion from incoherent rage but the MRA types have really muddied the water for real discussion.

Stuff isn't simple. It is dangerous for men out there too. (but trending less dangerous for everyone, perhaps at the cost of millions of troubled men incarcerated in inhumane prisons as a way to hide the problem rather than solve it?)
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:46 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


In fact, given the chance, they'd probably prefer to promote a minority candidate over another white male:

We can actually check on this as well. Who are the top executives as various Koch businesses?

Here's the leadership of Koch-owned Gorgia-Pacific. Three women out of 28 people. That's 10 percent of their top brass, or 1/5th the number the would represent parity. There's one black man, representing 3.5 percent of the top brass, or one-quarter of what parity would be.

No, they would not prefer to promote minority candidates. The top brass at Georgia Pacific is somewhere in the area of 85 percent white men.

It might be worth seeing if you can actually find out a fact before arguing that something "probably" is the case or not. You might be surprised by what the actual facts are.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:52 PM on May 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Most discussions about this seem to follow this one simple pattern:

WOMEN: "I know you have some shit to deal with, but compared to what we get thrown at us, you have it so easy, y'all don't even know."

MEN: *disbelief, then denial, then incoherent rage*

I don't know why that happens.


For more information on why that happens, consult the link in the post.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:06 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


cmyk, I think the problem with the discussion comes from several angles.

One is misuse of the word "privilege". It does not actually mean "I get to dismiss you and discount your experiences because you're part of an arbitrary group whose membership I define for you". I point that out because apparently a lot of people -- including here -- are working off that definition of the term. And even the real underlying concept has some problems in application; to take a relevant example, offshoots of feminism have quite often and quite probably correctly criticized the mainstream of the movement for focusing with laser-beam intensity on the only axis on which most of the prominent activists are not ludicrously privileged. Feminism has, for quite a long time now, been basically a Thing White (Middle-to-Upper-Middle-Class, College-Educated Western) People Like. Which adds an air of rationalization and disengenuousness to attempts by those same white, middle-to-upper-middle class, college-educated Western people to dismiss or outright disrespect the suffering of others by resorting to insipid metaphors about video-game difficulty settings.

Another is an issue of focus. One decent metaphor I've seen a in a couple places is the idea of the "glass floor"; everybody knows the glass ceiling, but who actually looks the other direction? Turns out that when you look at the absolute bottom rung of society -- people who really can't fall much farther, and who have no hope whatsoever of climbing up to where us comfortable internet denizens are -- you find that, well, they're overwhelmingly men and boys. And the typical responses just fall flat; hopefully nobody's going to listen much if you try to explain that, say, a homeless vet with PTSD and a drug problem really just needs to sit up and understand how privileged he is. Similarly, the "patriarchy hurts men too" argument doesn't do much for those situations; it feels too much like victim-blaming (and with good reason, since that's what it is).

But we don't focus on those people; in fact we rarely ever mention them, because they represent an uncomfortable challenge to a view of society that we've all become very accustomed to. Instead we sweep all that suffering and misery under the rug because, hey, look at that outlier over there! His existence proves how easy the men really have it!

And so we can't have real discussions about things like the widening gender gap in education, or the way we're not only maintaining but actively reinforcing and strengthening traditional gender roles for both men and women, or the homelessness gap, or the way our responses to reports of sexual abuse differ based on the gender of the victim, or any of the myriad other real issues that really exist in reality, because the only responses we get on Metafilter are snarky one-liners about privilege and patriarchy.

Or maybe to put it succinctly: when we talk about outrageous things that happen to women, no-one is surprised that we get outraged about those things. We should get outraged about those things. Why isn't it "when we talk about outrageous things that happen to people, no-one is surprised that we get outraged about those things"? Because we should get outraged about those things.
posted by ubernostrum at 7:49 PM on May 18, 2012 [26 favorites]


It hurts them by making them unconsciously perpetrate biases they’ve been actively taught to despise. It hurts them by making them complicit in the distress of others.

Who exactly does all this persecution? TFA goes on and on about the pervasiveness of bias, while stressing over and over that SWMs really do believe in equality because we see the world as already equal. So, if SWMs don't treat gays differently that straights; don't treat blacks differently than whites; don't treat women differently than men - Yet somehow, the belief in equality acts to perpetuate inequality... How does this supposedly work?
posted by pla at 8:00 PM on May 18, 2012


It is possible to grow up in an environment that is locally, relatively equal. It happened to me, and I can testify that the experience can be blinding.

I grew up in a family where equality between men and women was something that I saw lived out between my mom and dad (or at least they were visibly trying). My family was also anti-racist, and from the stories they told I knew that this was something that my parents and grandparents had tried to live out in their lives. However, I rarely saw them demonstrate what it might mean not to be racist. You see, they were raising me in a hick town in rural Ontario that was astonishingly white. There were no non-white students in my year in public school or in high school. I didn't have the option of being racist toward people because there was almost no one to be racist at.

I take that back. I had one friend who was a year ahead of me who was born in Vietnam. I kind of knew his sister, but she was more my brother's age. I wonder if he thought it was a racism free town. I suspect I know the answer.

I was passionately anti-racist, if in an entirely theoretical way. It was important to me. It felt righteous. I wore a blue hat visiting Gettysburg, and I was strongly of the opinion that it is monstrous for people who are black on the right side of their face to be biased against people who are black on the left. If you'd asked me what my mental image of a black person was I would have told you "starship engineer" without a hint of sarcasm.

I remember being at a grade 8 dance and hearing 911 is a Joke for the first time. I think I remember some of the exact words that went through my head: "911 is not a joke in my town. It's a very reliable service." It was slander. It was bizarre. Why would anyone think paramedics are apathetic and uncaring? My dilemma was that the song was too good not to dance to. I resolved my internal conflict by going out and dancing with a kind of scowling frowny face, a silent protest against the inexplicable inaccuracy of the lyrics. I was kind of a weird kid.

I didn't get it 'till years later. Compton was less real to me than Mordor.

Many thanks to Chuck D and Flavor Flav for giving me my first moment of unsettled half-awareness that my parents had tried to turn our house into a bubble of equality for me to grow up in. In time I came to realize that the bubble extended no further than my house's front door. Forget Gettysburg -- it turns out I have to put my blue hat on before I leave my own driveway. Kindly point me in the right direction because I'm so privilege-blind I often don't know which way to shoot.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:04 PM on May 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


Reading the article, I guess I focused on a different bit than much of this discussion. Possibly because I have two young children, one of each gender, and how we are teaching them about the world is very much on my mind.

Like this:
Asked whether boys can wear make-up, for instance, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume that many, if not most parents would answer that no, they can’t; or that they could, technically, but don’t; or that make-up is just for girls; or even that it’s wrong for boys to do so. And because their question has been answered in accordance with what they see in the world, most children will probably nod and store that information safely away, so that if, some time in the future, they do see a boy or man wearing make-up, they’ll instinctively find it troubling – even though their original question has long since been forgotten. And all of that only concerns gender differences: throw in the additional and equally complex problems of race, nationality, sexual orientation and culture, and you’ve got yourself a maelstrom of youthfully-learned biases.

This, it totally happens. Now, in my house, we can do a bit of damage control. I'm perfectly happy to tell my children that men can wear makeup, wear dresses, have long hair, have earrings, marry other men, or any number of other things. And thanks to my past gothiness and the wonderful diversity of my lovely friends, I can and have pulled out pictures & used folks we know as counter-examples when challenged by disbelieving preschoolers. But of course that's just in the family: the gender messages getting passed by the rest of society, even in our little progressive corner of the Bay Area, are mind-bogglingly reductive and pernicious.

Hell, a few weeks ago I got gender-policed by a random 4th grader while walking through the lunchroom: "Hey, men can't have earrings!". Funny, but also not. Now, the visual stuff is minor, right? Except it isn't--for one thing visual stuff is HUGELY important to kids. For another, it's the tip of the iceberg (or the canary in the coalmine, not sure which) of the larger forces of gender role enforcement that we still have in this society.

So my plea: parents, teachers, folks who have or like to hang with kids, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this stuff, rather than rehashing the "is privilege a useful rhetorical concept" discussion for the umpteenth time this week.
posted by feckless at 8:16 PM on May 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


So given that apparently being a straight white cis male means I am now bound to being constantly reminded how dreadful and awful and privileged I am, despite any positive actions I may personally take to not fit that ancient mould - what's the best way for me to no-longer be a straight white cis male?

Can I cast off my archetypal social group's patriarchal history by, I dunno, getting an operation or something? Would that enable me to leave the club?
posted by Jimbob at 8:16 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


To clarify, my parents' bubble was a godsend and I'm a better person for it. They'd tried to tell me what was lurking outside, but I really couldn't comprehend it until I slowly came to see it for myself.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:17 PM on May 18, 2012


Jimbob: But when you (or someone like you) gets it, it's quite powerful. After all, those in a position of privilege who finally get it are some who are going to break the way for change to happen - they're the ones other people are going to listen to - sad, but true. Being willing to listen without reflexive defensiveness makes a difference - and everyone who gets it that then turns around and thoughtfully tries to apply what they've learned, analyze the society around them - they set an example to many who might not listen otherwise; and those examples are sorely needed. That's a valuable role, and worth so much more than mere guilt.
posted by flex at 8:32 PM on May 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


flex : But when you (or someone like you) gets it, it's quite powerful.

Pssst - You didn't "get it". Jimbob wrote that soooo dripping with sarcasm that it left a puddle behind.

Translation, for the sarcasm-impaired: Given that we, by TFA's own painfully belabored point, truly believe in your ideal end-goal and therefore can't see the problem, would you like us all to just commit suicide en masse and rid the world of straight white males? Or should we merely have some sort of surgery or psychotherapy to remove one of {straight,white,male} from us?
posted by pla at 8:44 PM on May 18, 2012


There's no doubt that white straight male privilege exists. But I'm convinced that it would be useful to involve class too in this discussion.

It's true that Americans often wrongly believe they live in a racially and sexually equal society, but it's even more common to believe that they live in a classless one, and that lie is just as destructive, maybe even more now, since racial and sexual equality at least has some positive development, while class mobility seems to be disappearing.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:47 PM on May 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


Jimbob, there is nothing one can do to not be a member of a privileged group. Individual actions that help to change the society in the long term have to be based on a willingness to spend the time unpacking that invisible backpack (or for male privilege you can read Feminism 101) and then becoming an ally of the non-privileged groups.

At least this is what I found when I blundered into a multicultural group and quickly learned I did not have anything to contribute. If I wanted not to be part of the problem, I had to learn about racism. I've been working at it for quite a while now. I can no longer unsee the difference in treatment routinely accorded people of color in this city. Yes, some of them are rich and famous and some cheat and abuse their own families, friends and neighbors, just like white people do. But two unknown young men, one black, one white walking into a store in this city are not treated equally. Imagine those same two young men being pulled over while driving in this city, one of them knows he might well be killed in the next five minutes while the other is wondering who he can call for bail money.

It's not about renouncing your privilege, it's about making things good for everyone.
posted by Anitanola at 8:48 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I "got it" just fine - my point holds whether Jimbob is being sarcastic or not, which is as I intended.
posted by flex at 8:48 PM on May 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


feckless: One of my best friends has two daughters, the oldest of which is just four or about to be. She is very girly-girl: loves Disney princesses, wears frilly dresses and a tiara, loves to play with dolls. I hope that when she sees me playing with her or drinking fake tea she's just poured me that she sees a guy also and unironically enjoying "her" stuff, cause I also think Jasmine is cool (if also problematic) and I also like Rosita on Sesame Street. I hope she doesn't see a guy condescending to play with her stuff or that I can "play down" but she can't "play up", so to speak. She also goes to Sounders soccer games with us and sees Mom swearing and going nuts when a goal is scored.

I'm not a parent myself, just know a fair few kids these days. I don't really have any answers, I just hope to show by example that she or I can present however we like and it is, or should be, fine.
posted by Errant at 10:00 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was being hyperbolic, but I am honestly interested in what I'm supposed to do since apparently my heritage, not my actual thoughts and actions, are up utmost importance in this issue.

Someone is saying to me "You are the problem! What you *are* is the problem!" so I'm left wondering how I'm expected to not be the problem anymore. I can do all the backpack unpacking I can do, but I'm still the cause of the problem by nature of the original sin of my birth.
posted by Jimbob at 10:08 PM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Someone is saying to me "You are the problem! What you *are* is the problem!" so I'm left wondering how I'm expected to not be the problem anymore.

You're not the problem. You benefit from the problem. And these benefits are mostly going to be invisible to us. We don't, for instance, see when we are not being followed by a security guard because of our skin tone. We don't see when we are not being sexually harassed in the street because of our gender. We don't see when we are not being bullied for our sexuality.

It's why people who don't experience racism think we're in a post-racism society. Because they don't experience it. It's very hard to be sensitized to this, because it will almost always be invisible to us, and so we have to count on other people's description of the world to know that it exists.

Ultimately, it helps to know it is not about you. Nobody is expecting you to realize your privilege and suddenly cause it to end. We are born into this world, and can only effect it to a limited extent. This is not to say there is nothing we can do. We participate in supporting privilege, sometimes without knowing it, and this helps us know.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:30 PM on May 18, 2012 [14 favorites]


So given that apparently being a straight white cis male means I am now bound to being constantly reminded how dreadful and awful and privileged I am, despite any positive actions I may personally take to not fit that ancient mould - what's the best way for me to no-longer be a straight white cis male?

Can I cast off my archetypal social group's patriarchal history by, I dunno, getting an operation or something? Would that enable me to leave the club?

I was being hyperbolic, but I am honestly interested in what I'm supposed to do since apparently my heritage, not my actual thoughts and actions, are up utmost importance in this issue.

Someone is saying to me "You are the problem! What you *are* is the problem!" so I'm left wondering how I'm expected to not be the problem anymore. I can do all the backpack unpacking I can do, but I'm still the cause of the problem by nature of the original sin of my birth.


Well, you know, it's not your fault that you or anybody else has privilege. The vast majority of people in this thread don't appear to be saying that you yourself, as a white man, are an inherently bad PERSON. Where do you see that people are saying that just "being white" is the problem? The original article's point, in fact, was that it's an education system that doesn't teach about privilege and inequality that is deeply problematic.

But, you do choose to part of the problem when you post snippy comments that consciously aim to be overly obtuse about "woe is me, everyone hates on white men what can I do". When that's my first impression of you on an online forum, then I don't think you're being a very good ambassador of "positive actions you're taking to not fit that mold". If you know you have privilege, and you want to take positive actions, then lead off with an honest question - "what can I do about it"?
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:43 PM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think the most powerful thing the average SWM can do is to call out other SWMs on racist, homophobic and sexist behavior. When it goes unchallenged, people assume it's approved. SWMs are more likely to listen to someone in their own group - if a woman or minority brings up the same point, they're "overreacting."
posted by desjardins at 11:07 PM on May 18, 2012 [22 favorites]


She is right.

Equality ought to exist, but it doesn't. It's an error to pretend that it does.

America was never a melting pot. America is a country of surpassing irony. We are able to pretend (that our ideals are our actual condition) to such a degree that we don't even notice the bodies we stack up violating tenets we claim to hold dear.

The luckiest among us can say: I ain't like that anymore. Some of the younger folks get a running start at all this shit, but we fogeys had to get here the hard way.
posted by mule98J at 11:25 PM on May 18, 2012


Fair points, all. I just struggle, because part of my "education" has been to understand that it's a bad thing to put aside entire segments of the human population based on nothing more than the way they came out when they were born, and building a narrative around what "those sorts of people" have done in the past. The concept of "privilege" sometimes just feels to me like a way of getting away with that, and saying "oh but you're allowed to do that when it comes to people who have privilege". I do get the pragmatic reality behind it, though.
posted by Jimbob at 11:29 PM on May 18, 2012


America was never a melting pot.

Again, it depends what group you're in. My Irish ancestors weren't always considered to be white, and now no one gives it a second thought. It's hard to even imagine being discriminated against for being Irish. Im also German and at one point it would have been unthinkable for protestants to marry Catholics. My husband is an improbable mixture of Finnish and Albanian, which probably doesn't occur too often in Europe.

We have a long way to go but let's not pretend we haven't gotten anywhere.
posted by desjardins at 11:45 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


> The concept of "privilege" sometimes just feels to me like a way of getting away with that, and saying "oh but you're allowed to do that when it comes to people who have privilege". I do get the pragmatic reality behind it, though.

Think of it this way: you're not automatically part of the problem if you're straight or white or male. Whether you're privileged or not, you're part of the problem if you're oblivious to privilege: if you are blind to the ways that power imbalances between genders and races and orientations are subtly perpetuated. Because if you don't notice these things, then you'll end up contributing to that perpetuation.

As a corollary, it's far easier to be privilege-oblivous if you're in a privileged class for all the reasons that Bunny Ultramod lists. So if you feel like some people are telling you that you're part of the problem simply by being a straight white male, it's possible that they're just sloppily eliding those two parts together.

(Of course, privilege obliviousness is not just for the privileged. Any woman who says that racecars aren't for little girls is someone who is either OK with the way things are or just doesn't understand what we talk about when we talk about patriarchy. In my eyes, that woman would be part of the problem just as much as the oblivious white dude.)
posted by savetheclocktower at 12:21 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


offshoots of feminism have quite often and quite probably correctly criticized the mainstream of the movement for focusing with laser-beam intensity on the only axis on which most of the prominent activists are not ludicrously privileged. Feminism has, for quite a long time now, been basically a Thing White (Middle-to-Upper-Middle-Class, College-Educated Western) People Like. Which adds an air of rationalization and disengenuousness to attempts by those same white, middle-to-upper-middle class, college-educated Western people to dismiss or outright disrespect the suffering of others by resorting to insipid metaphors about video-game difficulty settings.

I thought Scalzi's post amounted to a comical un-selfaware boot to the head of lower class and/or minority men.
posted by MillMan at 12:42 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought Scalzi's post amounted to a comical un-selfaware boot to the head of lower class and/or minority men.

Well, he's specifically addressing himself to straight white men, so I am not sure how it's a "boot to the head" to non-white men. As to class, he addresses that in his followup:

Money and class are both hugely important and can definitely compensate for quite a lot, which I have of course noted in the entry itself. But they belong in the stats category because wealth and class are not an inherent part of one’s personal nature — and in the US particularly, part of our cultural sorting behavior — in the manner that race, gender and sexuality are (note “inherent” here does not necessarily mean “immutable,” but that’s a conversation I’m not going to go into great detail about right now). You can disagree, of course. But speaking as someone who has been at both the bottom and the top of the wealth and class spectrum here in the US, I think I have enough personal knowledge on the matter to say it belongs where I put it.

What about this strikes you as comical or un-self-aware?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:52 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are there any good resources on identifying privilege for people in privileged positions? I have no doubt there's some things I won't be consciously aware of.
posted by solarion at 1:09 AM on May 19, 2012


But they belong in the stats category because wealth and class are not an inherent part of one’s personal nature — and in the US particularly, part of our cultural sorting behavior

that's just not true - i remember well in my school years how differently lower class students would be treated than higher class students - and that has a real cultural sorting effect - as does the last few decades' worth of economic changes for working class and middle class people

that individuals manage to transcend those sorting effects doesn't mean they don't exist - because most don't transcend them

it's the kind of thing that upward mobility isn't going to reveal to a person - but trust me, downward mobility will
posted by pyramid termite at 1:17 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Think of it this way: you're not automatically part of the problem if you're straight or white or male. Whether you're privileged or not, you're part of the problem if you're oblivious to privilege: if you are blind to the ways that power imbalances between genders and races and orientations are subtly perpetuated. Because if you don't notice these things, then you'll end up contributing to that perpetuation.

I will pause here to point out that this statement is not necessarily representative. Much depends on how far down the rabbit hole of theoretical gender dynamics you really want to go.

An example: Jimbob was (by admission) engaging in hyperbole, but the "is there some sort of operation" question is a really hard one since there's a lot of rather earnest trans hate running around. And not from ignorant bigots, but from people who believe that such medical procedures are morally the equivalent of a black person bleaching his skin to pass as white.

Which is another thing that's so hard about these discussions; even though we all seem to understand what he was getting at there, it's just as possible and just as likely that he could've been really violently attacked for that comment and all that it implies about attitudes toward gender essentialism, etc., and he'd have no way of knowing until a ton of (online) bricks came crashing down on his head.
posted by ubernostrum at 1:43 AM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


(I guess my point there really is that if you want to have real discussion you almost have to have everybody disclose a lot of their beliefs up-front so that you know what to expect and don't end up in one of those cesspools of side debates, and that never happens)
posted by ubernostrum at 1:54 AM on May 19, 2012


it's the kind of thing that upward mobility isn't going to reveal to a person - but trust me, downward mobility will

I agree with you -- I think class is a potent force, and I think it tends to be culturally hereditary, even here in America, where we labor on the myth that we're a society where class is flexible and mobile. I think Scalzi was wrong to leave it out. But I don't think he was being glib about it, and it was a deliberate decision.

Ultimately, I think this is one of the things that trips people up on discussions of privilege. They can look at somebody else's analysis, decide it is incomplete, and then ignore it. Not that this is what you're doing -- I don't mean to suggest that. But it's amazing how often somebody will just walk away from a discussion of privilege because they had it hard, and the way they had it hard isn't being addressed.

And I can understand how frustrating this is. I grew up Jewish, and I took quite a few lumps for it. Its generally completely left out of discussions of privilege, and I can understand why, but it stings when my own experience of being left out of the majority -- and sometimes really set back by that -- isn't part of the discussion. Sometimes its argued it shouldn't even be part of the discussion, because Jews have so successfully integrated themselves into the mainstream, so they get all the benefits of privilege that non-Jews get. And for most of my life, this has been true. But the times it hasn't have really stood out, and so, well, how dare Scalzi address himself to white, straight men when some of us white, straight men still get knocked around like I did?

And that's fine. Analyses of privilege are always going to be incomplete, because privilege is so insidious, and our history is of those in power instituting their qualities into the machine of power, privileging people like them, and we all may benefit from one thing and lose out on another. Blacks can be homophobic. Women can be antisemitic. Poor people can be racist. It's impossible to tease out the million little strands.

I think the key to this is that Scalzi's approach is an "all things being equal" approach. Which is to say, all things being equal, a poor white person and a poor black person are still going to have different experiences, and the poor white person is still going to benefit from the privilege of whiteness. Poor and white is a super-shitty setting, but it's still somewhat easier than poor and black. And there are ways in which this won't work, and examples where it doesn't, but this is just a tendency in America, and more often than not it will be true.

The key to these discussion is not to decide that they are incomplete and therefore can be ignore, but to recognize that they are incomplete and so can be elaborated on. And part of that key is knowing when the discussion is about some privileges, and a discussion of another privilege can wait until another time. Yes, class is really important. And, in a discussion of race, it can be important to recognize how class effects non-white people.

But sometimes people say, hey, wait, we need to talk about class in general! And sometimes they say, Hey, wait, it's not really about racism, it's really about class! And, at that point, people hijack the subject to turn it into their own concerns. Worse still, they say that, and then that's it, because they don't want to talk about it anymore, because they have established that they too suffered, and any discussion of privilege that says they have it and others don't is incomplete, shaming, and not worth their time.

I think Scalzi didn't talk about class because it's a very complicated subject, and tends to derail discussions of race and gender, and because he doesn't understand it that way. And he may be wrong, but I am going to respect the terms of the discussion, if not the reasoning behind it, because there is plenty of opportunity to discuss everything, and he has made race and gender the primary topics of discussion. Out of respect for those topics, I shall try to stick to them, and only discuss class as it directly affects race and gender. I will do this knowing there will be an opportunity to discuss privilege based on class at another time. Because this is MetaFilter, and this sort of subject comes up pretty often.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:59 AM on May 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm lucky to have been in a few situations where I was one of the few or the only straight white male in a crowd/business/neighborhood that consisted of people that were not like me. I felt hostility coming my way but no one ever harmed me or even threatened me. I did not feel welcome and was not greeted with a smile. The hostility baffled me because I was younger and stupid. But I'm lucky because somehow it dawned on me that this hostility and distrust I was feeling is just the status quo for all those people who are not like me. They go almost anywhere and are not made to feel welcome and do not get a simple smile. They are always being watched and judged. I realized that must be exhausting for them because it exhausted me being vigilant and wanting to get away from the hostility as soon as possible. I was stripped of my privileges and I did not like that feeling.
posted by loosemouth at 2:51 AM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry, come again? As a white male reading this article, I'm still failing to see how "the system" supports my success. Just because most of the wealthiest 1% of America happens to be white males, do you think we get favoritism in promotions? Is there some secret "White Male" conspiracy that works to promote all white males? If so, I clearly missed the initiation ceremony.

That's because any discussion of white male privilege also needs to take into account class. You and I as working class people (though perhaps culturally middle class) don't have the privileges that being rich brings with you, but on the other hand we still have a leg up over our female or Black counterparts. On the gripping hand, wealth doesn't quite free you from being judged on your race and gender either, as many a young wealthy Black man can tell you about from riding around in cars that are too good for them.

Class, gender and racial privileges reinforce each other, but gender and racial divisions also help shore up upper class domination over the working classes, as Nick Mamatas discusses.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:03 AM on May 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Sheila Addison's response to John Scalzi's post. Interesting and particularly notable for a good long list of Things You Can Actually Do.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:28 AM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


What I find bizarre about this discussion is how the theory completely trumps the reality.

The people under 50 who are in or soon will be in the 1% of income of the are very disproportionately immigrant and non-white. Anyone who disagrees with this is either ignorant, or thinks that Chinese-Americans are white or Delhi is in the United States.

It is ridiculous to think of gender economic standing on an isolated basis. People who are in the top 1% get married and stay married and have kids .... their standing is best assessed on a family basis. The consensual decision of an ambitious educated couple to have the wife stay home with the kids, or take a no-nights and -weekends career path, is a luxury, it doesn't make her poor, underprivileged or discriminated against. It obviously results in their being fewer women to compete for top jobs, but it is first and foremost driven by choice.
posted by MattD at 5:51 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh, kinda makes me want to go into daycare or elementary education. Keep the future sane, don't enforce social conformity and all that.

This is one of the biggest reasons (the other being that I just happen to like kids) that I work with very young children. As in under the age of 5. Teaching children respect and empathy when they're super little is so much better than trying to fix it when they're older.

It's also - and bear with me, this may not be phrased in *exactly* the right way to avoid being picked apart, but I'll do my best - why I, as a mother, "prefer" boys. This isn't to say that I don't want girls - but rather that in a completely hypothetical universe wherein you can pick the sex of your child, I'd pick boys.

I know a lot of feminist women who feel that it is important to raise feminist daughters, and I don't disagree. For me though, where I'm at is that I feel like it's important for me to raise feminist sons. I want to raise men who understand the system they live in and can make informed choices about how they want to participate in it, rather than blindly going through life unaware of how our society favors them. I want to raise sons who respect women and also understand that our society does not. I want to raise sons who are able to define their own masculinity (or eschew it entirely if they so choose) rather than swallowing the great lies of "real boys don't do that."

Which I guess mirrors a lot of what this article is saying - that men need to learn these things young and teaching them that society is "equal" is a barrier to doing so.

(PS: My actual son? King of stereotypically gendered behavior and he's only 14mos old. As if to say "Oh, MOM. The patriarchy is kind of cute!")
posted by sonika at 5:59 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hell, a few weeks ago I got gender-policed by a random 4th grader while walking through the lunchroom: "Hey, men can't have earrings!".

Oh man. Kids are the WORST (or the best, depending on your view) at gender policing. I've got one up on that: I was told by the five year old girl I was nannying for (it should be noted that she was HUGELY into the Disney Princess thing and wouldn't wear pants, ever) that I looked like a boy because I had brown shoes. Yeah, my giant boobs notwithstanding - I was a boy because I had brown shoes.

This stuff is hard to get right. You want to give the kid the space to entertain new ideas about gender, but you don't want to go so hardline on the other end that they start feeling insecure about their own preferences. This girl, no matter what I would say to her, truly preferred wearing pink dresses. There's no reason for me to tell her that she shouldn't. At the same time, I did need to introduce the idea that wearing pink dresses isn't the only option for presenting as female - which is not the easiest concept to grasp when you're five.

With kids, the gender policing of everyone else is a natural offshoot of their own experiences with gender - they're just starting define themselves and gender is a HUGE part of that. "I am me and I am a girl and girls do [X]." It's a way of differentiating the self from the other and feeling like you "belong" with a set of people who also do [X] things. So to have that system completely abolished is dangerous for a kid's sense of well-being. You have to just keep opening it up gradually, a little bit at a time, for them to understand that the group of people who do [X] things is actually just... people. To do this all at once or to present the idea that gender doesn't exist at all can really erode a kid's confidence that they are who they think they are.
posted by sonika at 6:13 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


And as I was walking away from the computer, I had a small epiphany. For the SWM in this thread asking "So, what can I DO about my privilege?" Here's a really great thing you can DO:

Don't pass it on.

Even if you're not a parent or a teacher, when you spend time with kids, don't reinforce the dominant paradigm. Teach kids to question how things really work. Help kids understand that our society isn't set up fairly. Don't just do lip service to the ideas that "boys can't do [x]" or "all boys are like this." Be a positive role model for your own brand of masculinity and show boys that men aren't all cookie cutter sports hero race car driving firemen. Teach them to respect the women in their lives.

That's what you can DO.
posted by sonika at 6:21 AM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sheila Addison's response to John Scalzi's post. Interesting and particularly notable for a good long list of Things You Can Actually Do.

And of course, her commenters Miss The Point Entirely. *headdesk*
posted by MissySedai at 8:16 AM on May 19, 2012


There are European studies that show better outcomes for women and people from minority groups if job applications are anonymous. (In some European countries listing gender, ethnicity, age, martial status and including pictures is compulsory for job applications). But even names can be a deciding factor, as many studies show, now if it is a 'foreign' sounding name, there is an added layer to it.

A few bits:
UK: 'applicants who appeared to be white had to send nine applications before receiving an invitation to interview or an encouraging telephone call while candidates with the "foreign" sounding names had to send 16 applications before receiving a similar response.'

Sweden: 'As a result, anonymous applications are estimated to increase the probability of being interviewed regardless of gender and ethnic origin, showing an increase of about 8% for both non-western migrant workers and women.'

Germany: 'experienced women, who might otherwise have been passed over because of the likelihood they had children, and people with foreign backgrounds benefited significantly. An earlier study which motivated the pilot project showed that people with Turkish names had a 14 percent lower chance of landing a job interview.'

posted by travelwithcats at 8:36 AM on May 19, 2012


Don't pass it on.

I've told this story here before, but I'll tell it here again: many, many years ago, before my husband and I were married but when we were already a committed couple, we did Christmas with his family. Our niece (4) and nephew (7) had gotten a ton of toys, and one of the nephew's toys was a model space shuttle, with a windscreen with two tiny astronauts visible behind it. It had come to the point on Christmas morning where everyone was playing with everyone else's toys, and my husband (well, boyfriend) was playing with the space shuttle with the niece. She pointed to the windscreen and said "Is one of the astronauts a girl?"

Without hesitation, he said "They're both girls."

I'm not sure whose smile was bigger, mine or my niece's. It was such a tiny thing, but to upset the apple cart of "none or one" that is so common with female representation in TV shows and in children's media. . . it was a big deal. And when my nephew reclaimed the shuttle, he referred to both astronauts as "she" for the rest of the day, and apparently for the rest of the time he played with that toy.
posted by KathrynT at 9:11 AM on May 19, 2012 [18 favorites]


From Sheila Addison's blog post linked above:

If every time the subject of the boxes comes up you want to change the subject to how your corner of the box doesn’t get as much light as you’d want? --
you are part of the problem.


This should not in every case be treated as 'changing the subject' -- it can be a perfectly legitimate additional point to the conversation or defense against the particular claim that your life must be easier (if that is indeed the question) because you are in one respect more privileged than someone else. If you're talking to a white middle class man who was severely bullied throughout his childhood and has lived with serious chronic illness throughout his adulthood, and telling him how easy his life must be in addition to assuming how ignorant he must be of other people's disadvantages, then it may well be you who's badly wrong.

Race and sex may be the modes of privilege that touch the lives the most numbers of people but they are not the only ones and their existence won't absolve you of not acknowledging other ones, nor of assuming ignorance on the part of even the ones who've been dealt all the best cards in life.
posted by Anything at 10:20 AM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Race and sex may be the modes of privilege that touch the lives the most numbers of people but they are not the only ones and their existence won't absolve you of not acknowledging other ones, nor of assuming ignorance on the part of even the ones who've been dealt all the best cards in life.

I don't think anyone is asserting this. At all. And it gets exhausting to constantly see the example trotted out of white men who are disadvantaged in other ways being either a) "misunderstood" and ignored in the discourse of social justice or b) given a free pass because hey, life is hard.

The point is not that white men have it easier, which is what is commonly misunderstood and I see a ton of it in this thread. The point is that society is set up to reward white men over other people. It is not about the lives of each individual - which are, yes, complicated and everyone has to deal with intersectionality of privilege and how nearly every person has some privilege and lacks others (with the notable exception of, oh, Dick Cheney. He's the only one off the top of my head having ALL privileges. Even Mitt Romney isn't a Protestant Christian in the US, so he lacks religious privilege.).

It's not about the individual. Of course individuals matter and how individuals deal with their privilege or lack thereof is significant, but the point is that it's about society. It might help to think of it more as how society functions rather than how individuals are advantaged or not. Our society rewards being white. It rewards being male. This is pretty obvious. That doesn't mean being a white male is easy, it means that you have the potential to be rewarded by society in ways that POC and women don't have access to.

No one is asserting that "all white men have easier lives than all women" and to start arguing against this line of thought that no one has even brought up is a massive derail.
posted by sonika at 12:52 PM on May 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Scalzi has written extensively and eloquently on poverty and class, by the way. Unfortunately, because it is an experience if disempowerment that white men can have, it often become the primary thing they want to talk about, displacing discussions of race and gender.

Having seen this happen more than a few times, as sympathetic as I am to discussions of class (having spent most of my adult life at or below the poverty line), I think the degree to which is consumes the other discussions doesn't really function to forward discussions of privilege, but to dominate them. And, when white men come into discussions of problems facing women and people of color, and instead turn it into a discussion of problems that affect them, this is an example of something ...

What it is will come to me.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:37 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


And, when white men come into discussions of problems facing women and people of color, and instead turn it into a discussion of problems that affect them, this is an example of something ...

Yeah, as seen to the greater detriment of the discussion in that whole Racefail debacle in sf/f circles a few years ago, where you had one or two echt-socialist alter kakkers riding roughshod over the discussion doing everything that people had been complaining about in the name of educating all those ignorant women en people of colour about how important class is.

Which it is, but not every discussion about race, gender or what ever needs to be dominated by it.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:15 PM on May 19, 2012


echt-socialist alter kakkers

Someday I hope to be cool enough to burble this phrase myself.
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:16 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bunny Ultramod, you have it backwards. Since the 1960s, the New Left largely abandoned traditional class issues in exchange for cultural and identity politics. Even when we do talk about class, we are talking almost exclusively about culturalized versions of it -- beer drinking Nascar watchers vs wine snobs who drive Volvos and so on. This is basically what Scalzi does in that link, the sad subjective experience of being poor and nothing about actual economic conditions that create that experience. The middle class like this vision, that we ought to be more tolerant of the poor, so that rich, poor and middle class can live together in harmony. But the point of class politics is to eradicate poverty, not to eradicate bigotry against the poor.

The problem is not that identity politics often fails to include class as one of the cultural groups that are discriminated against, like they just forgot. Identity politics is in itself hostile to the poor because it wants tolerance, not justice. The poor cannot be fully included into the identity politics frame because the majority of them are white and don't experience a whole lot of intolerance. To me, the question "But what about class?" is not asking for another set of identities to tolerate. It is asking why we don't drop tolerance altogether and demand justice instead -- not justice only for the poor, but justice for everyone who experiences injustice.
posted by AlsoMike at 5:19 PM on May 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


the majority of [the poor] are white and don't experience a whole lot of intolerance.

Are you certain of that second clause?
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:03 PM on May 19, 2012


Since the 1960s, the New Left largely abandoned traditional class issues in exchange for cultural and identity politics.

Seeing as this is the second thread on privilege in a week that has been taken over by a discussion of class, and seeing as that happens with great frequency on this site, I'd say you've got it backwards, mate.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:06 PM on May 19, 2012


What I find bizarre about this discussion is how the theory completely trumps the reality.

The people under 50 who are in or soon will be in the 1% of income of the are very disproportionately immigrant and non-white. Anyone who disagrees with this is either ignorant, or thinks that Chinese-Americans are white or Delhi is in the United States.

It is ridiculous to think of gender economic standing on an isolated basis. People who are in the top 1% get married and stay married and have kids .... their standing is best assessed on a family basis. The consensual decision of an ambitious educated couple to have the wife stay home with the kids, or take a no-nights and -weekends career path, is a luxury, it doesn't make her poor, underprivileged or discriminated against. It obviously results in their being fewer women to compete for top jobs, but it is first and foremost driven by choice.

Would you mind actually pointing to something that proves this "reality" that you're describing? If you're going to call people "ignorant" for disagreeing with you, it would be nice if you could actually back up what you're saying with something more than hyperbole.
posted by kylej at 8:50 PM on May 19, 2012


Identity politics is in itself hostile to the poor because it wants tolerance, not justice.

Identity politics is supposed to be about justice. Saying that it's about "tolerance" is doing it wrong. No one wants to be "tolerated." Identity politics SHOULD be about finding ways to talk about and work towards social justice based on the ways that we are all dis/advantaged by society and working within our own privilege to stop the cycles of oppression. ALL of the cycles.

That race/gender are typically the starting points for talking about privilege doesn't mean - at all - that they're the only ones that matter. They're the two most visible to the outside observer - it's pretty hard to look at someone and NOT notice their race or gender. Likewise, if you're in a minority, these are the hardest things to hide and where a lot of issues of "passing" come in. So, it's a really good place to start conversations about systems of privilege because it's *right there.*

It's completely misunderstanding what feminists/anti-racists/etc. are on about to think that if we ended gender and race based discrimination, we'd all just pack up and go home and leave the poor and the disabled and everyone else who is marginalized out on the sidelines because we had some how "finished."
posted by sonika at 5:52 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Race and sex may be the modes of privilege that touch the lives the most numbers of people but they are not the only ones and their existence won't absolve you of not acknowledging other ones, nor of assuming ignorance on the part of even the ones who've been dealt all the best cards in life.
I don't think anyone is asserting this. At all. And it gets exhausting to constantly see the example trotted out of white men who are disadvantaged in other ways being either a) "misunderstood" and ignored in the discourse of social justice or b) given a free pass because hey, life is hard.
Sheila Addison's blog post did precisely this act of dividing between one kind of underprivilege that counts and other kinds that don't, where the red flower in the good soil who just happens to have the wrongs kinds of underprivilege of being shadowed and drowned and eaten by aphids needs nevertheless to devote its life to a list of duties towards all those in the pink flower box.
posted by Anything at 8:05 AM on May 20, 2012


Sheila Addison's blog post did precisely this act of dividing

I didn't read that blog post and was referring to the discussion here. I must have missed where that was posted. (I did, however, RTFA which was the original topic of this post.) If you want to discuss it, can you link to it or point me to where it was linked in thread?
posted by sonika at 8:43 AM on May 20, 2012


Through this comment.
posted by Anything at 10:58 AM on May 20, 2012


Sheila Addison's blog post did precisely this act of dividing between one kind of underprivilege that counts and other kinds that don't, where the red flower in the good soil who just happens to have the wrongs kinds of underprivilege of being shadowed and drowned and eaten by aphids needs nevertheless to devote its life to a list of duties towards all those in the pink flower box.

God, what a hideous, ungenerous misreading of this post. She literally identifies economic privilege in the paragraph following the words "sit down." You have selected one quote out of an entire essay to make your point -- the definition of cherry picking. And Addison does not say your lack of privilege is unimportant -- she says if you refuse to discuss the privilege you do have, but instead make it all about the privilege you don't, you're doing nothing to address the privilege you do have. A good percentage of her recommendations can be applied to any disadvantaged group -- those marginalized by illness or poverty, whether they are white men or not.

There was no line drawn between privilege that counts and privilege that doesn't. You took one quote, out of context, to invent that argument.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:11 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you have instructions for bringing up your particular lack of privilege without it counting as 'making it all about' that lack of privilege?
posted by Anything at 11:30 AM on May 20, 2012


Yes. Bring it up in an appropriate context. Which is to say, when people are talking about white privilege, don't decide the topic is actually class privilege. If the subject of class privilege comes up in that discussion, make certain you don't use it as a pretext to change the discussion from one about race to one about class.

Believe it or not, there are threads about class going on right now. This happens to be a thread about male privilege, mostly, and race privilege, to a secondary extent. If class is to be discussed in this context, it probably should be about how these things affect women (no problem; they are paid less for the same work men do) or people of color (no problem; people of color are typically paid less for the same work whites do.)

White men do suffer in this world. I won't deny it. But one of their privileges is that they get to make discussions about how other people suffer into discussions about how they suffer.

There is plenty of opportunity for that discussion, and it should and must be had. But not when somebody else has the floor.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:50 AM on May 20, 2012


Anything - you may have difficulties in your life, I'm not sure exactly what they are and I am not denying them. However, I can almost guarantee they're not because you're white or male or (if you are) heterosexual. So focus on what they do stem from - I think you mentioned you're disabled? Poor? There are resources and conversations that deal with the lack of privileges in these groups. Those conversations are very valuable! This conversation, however, is about the privileges associated with being male, which you do share through no fault of your own even if your life seems much more difficult in comparison to people around you. Because you are in a difficult situation, I know it's harder to see, but if you were as able-bodied and had the same financial means as those around you - you would reap the benefits of being male.
posted by desjardins at 12:06 PM on May 20, 2012


There is plenty of opportunity for that discussion, and it should and must be had. But not when somebody else has the floor.

The thing is, there's no guarantee that those messages get through, and simplistic language such as 'straight white men = easy mode' combined with a lack of understanding of how life can be difficult in other ways is something that people do take as a license to make assumptions about others based merely on those privileges that they are more aware of.
posted by Anything at 12:26 PM on May 20, 2012


I am not convinced this is an issue in this instance. I suppose it should be addressed when it shows up, but, then, I don't see anybody in this thread having said "white and male are the only privileges that count, and no others matter." Quite the opposite.

If I do see it happening, or somebody points it out to me, you have my assurance I shall address it, and I hope others will do that same. It's one of the ways I can check my own privilege.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:03 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's completely misunderstanding what feminists/anti-racists/etc. are on about to think that if we ended gender and race based discrimination, we'd all just pack up and go home and leave the poor and the disabled and everyone else who is marginalized out on the sidelines because we had some how "finished."

Southern suffragettes argued that giving women the right to vote would ensure white supremacy, so I think it's a mistake to think that simply being a feminist (or socialist, etc.) means solidarity with every other struggle.

But I have no quarrel with people who want to focus on whatever specific set of problems they are interested in and feel that they can make a difference there. The problem is that the very notion of tolerance implicitly privileges a white upper-middle class context. It basically works if you assume that the whole world is like a college campus. The notion of justice is more applicable to everyone, so even if you are focusing on feminist issues, framing it as an issue of justice implicitly helps all struggles.

This does make a difference, and this blog post by Sheila Addison that was linked to earlier in the thread is a perfect example of a white woman taking black woman's call for social justice and weakening it by reformatting as tolerance for white sensibilities. Camara Phyllis Jones says the most important thing we need to do is break down the flower boxes and distribute the soil and fertilizer equally. Addison takes this point to generate a series of things you can do as a privileged red flower in your personal life. But only one suggestion even approaches Jones' priorities, when Addison basically says every two years you should vote for Democrats. This is extremely lukewarm, and shows how the demand for justice gets turned into an opportunity for white navelgazing, all in the name of bringing attention to the issue.

What really drives me up the wall about Addison is this part that introduces her "But what can I do?" suggestions: "If you have privilege... you are not (necessarily) the gardener. You are not (necessarily) in a position to rearrange the whole garden." In Jones' allegory, the gardener is the government, the garden is the economy and other structural features of society, so Addison's basic point here is that you really can't do anything to challenge these things. We can't challenge our government, we can't challenge the distribution of wealth in society, but we can practice saying "not cool dude" when someone says something racist. That might be a good thing to do, but the problem is that Addison only gets there by first taking large scale social change off the table.

The message is you can only control your personal interactions with people, but actually changing society in any significant way is impossible. Maybe if enough people learn to be like you, then it can happen. To me, this is packing up and going home because you are a tolerant person who voted for Obama. Mission accomplished. Practically, nothing has really been achieved, but you have the self-satisfied knowledge that it's no longer your problem.
posted by AlsoMike at 1:49 PM on May 20, 2012


Southern suffragettes argued that giving women the right to vote would ensure white supremacy, so I think it's a mistake to think that simply being a feminist (or socialist, etc.) means solidarity with every other struggle.

When you start your comment about feminism by pointing out a quote that dates back to 1890, and was spoken by one women (born in Wisconsin, died in New York, so your characterization of her as "southern" is also inaccurate), who died 65 years ago, it is very hard to believe that you are arguing in good faith.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:45 PM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think you've sort of radically missed the point there, AlsoMike. Addison is responding to the people who say "so I guess cause I'm straight or white or male I'm the enemy?" with "no, the structure is the enemy". What she's absolutely not saying, and honestly this misreading is such a complete reversal of her actual point that I'm having a genuinely hard time understanding how you've arrived here, is that therefore nothing can be done about it. What? Here's the part you quote, with the next couple lines included:

If you have privilege (and pretty much everybody who can read this has some kind of privilege, because, you know, you are ACCESSING THE INTERNET, hello economic and information privilege), you are not (necessarily) the gardener. You are not (necessarily) in a position to rearrange the whole garden. (Though you never know –do you teach?Hire?Evaluate?Control access?Apportion resources? Maybe you have power you don’t realize…)

She's saying, explicitly, that you may have the power to do something about structural inequality, but that's not an automatic assumption and no one is saying "you're a white guy, it's your fault everything's shitty." If, on the other hand, you use the privilege that isn't your fault to make life shitty for other people, that is your fault. If you think of that as white navelgazing, I guess maybe white people have different navels than I do?
posted by Errant at 6:07 PM on May 20, 2012


Errant, I read her as responding to people who say "I guess I'm privileged, what am I supposed to do?" She does make her point in bold all caps letters: You are the red flowers. So actually changing society is not a possibility, except if you happen to be in a position where you personally can do that. The point of a social justice movement is to organize so we act together politically to change the system, not to rely on individuals to make decisions within the confines of the system.
posted by AlsoMike at 7:22 PM on May 20, 2012


But then if the point is to act together politically and not to rely on individuals to make systemic decisions, if you read her as answering the question "what am I supposed to do about it" with "individually, not much", isn't that basically what you're saying?
posted by Errant at 7:30 PM on May 20, 2012


In no way does she take large-scale social change off the table. She explicitly says "consider devoting some of your time, energy, money, skills, etc. to a group promoting social justice."

She may not be advocating revolutionary change, but she makes suggestions for both individual and collaborative responses to privilege. Her suggestions may not be comprehensive, but, then, she doesn't claim that they are, and because she advocates for one thing but does not explicitly mention another doesn't mean she is advocating against the second thing.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:16 PM on May 21, 2012


She offers 16 detailed suggestions for how to be more tolerant, and 1 tentative, generic suggestion ("consider devoting some of your time...") for social justice. I take this as supporting my point.

Errant, I read her as saying we can only change our individual behavior, we can't change society itself. To me, practicing your apology is not a significant action. With these kinds of solutions, is it any wonder that people don't take it seriously?
posted by AlsoMike at 7:09 PM on May 21, 2012


I take this as supporting my point

Because somebody doesn't say what you think they should doesn't mean they are saying the opposite.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:53 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


This thread is really fascinating. I think you can see exactly what the problem and the myriad ways it manifests itself just by reading every comment here.

One thing I've gotten from this discussion is that the #1 thing you need to do when discussing these issues is take yourself and your personal experiences out of it. Identity is the enemy of analysis.
posted by cell divide at 10:40 AM on May 24, 2012


That is not possible. Your personal experiences are how you learned the concepts you're now discussing. Correct for your bias, yes, but if you think you don't have any it means you've forgotten about it.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:48 PM on May 24, 2012


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