Privilege Comes in Many Packages

After following a link to skepchick (shared with me by Amanda from Pickled Think, she’s on Twitter here), I read a post by Rebecca Watson.

It wasn’t Rebecca’s post in response to Richard Dawkins’ response to her own experience with a creepy guy in a hotel elevator late at night in a foreign country that inspired my own post (seriously, go read her post, his privilege is showing so bad, it’s hard to imagine that he can’t see it). It was the following comment that was posted:

Hi there!

Oooh, thank you for bringing this up again!

I used to be on exactly the WRONG side of this argument. Let me explain why.

I’d considered myself a “feminist”, because I’ve always supported the idea that women should have exactly the same rights as men. I’m a pretty femmy guy myself, for a heterosexual dude, and I’m very comfortable with that. So I’ve always been about Yay Women’s Rights! Woo!

But I’ve always felt like I keep running up against the wrong side of the argument when I get into a discussion about “harassment”. In my opinion, “harassment” has always been clear-cut and well-defined. Harassment is what happens when a guy lays his hands on you and tries to get into your pants by threatening you with demotion or termination at your job. I believed that harassment was what happened on Mad Men. Really sleazy boardroom groping kind of stuff.

Then as we eased into the 21st century, people started getting more “sensitive” to workplace (and other-place) harassment. Now harassment wasn’t just grabbing a woman’s backside in the copy room, it was telling dirty jokes where other people could hear. It was telling a co-worker that her sweater looks nice. I’d always object to this “new” definition of harassment, because some of my dirtiest, most shamelessly suggestive co-workers have always been women.

The response was that I don’t know what the Hell I was talking about, because I’m: 1) Male, 2) Laboring under a veil of Privilege, and 3) Probably a latent rapist. This always struck me as offensive. As I said, I’ve always been a proponent of equality between the sexes, and for me to be viewed as a Schrodinger’s Rapist until proven innocent just seemed to be going a little too far.

Some women that I knew told me to just be quiet and go off in a corner somewhere and read some feminist literature until I wasn’t so damn ignorant. So I resolved NEVER to get into a feminist discussion with anyone, ever ever ever again.

Ooops.

Eventually, quite by accident, I discovered that I WAS ignorant. Not because of my MALE privilege, ohhh no.

I had … um … “nice guy privilege”??

Whenever I’ve been hanging out with my female friends, we cuss, and make sexual innuendos, and flirt, and touch each other all the time. This is because I’m a “nice guy”. I am quiet, and inoffensive, and gentle, and nerdy. I can get away with things that would ordinarily be considered “sexist” and “harassment”, because I just don’t skew as “creepy”.

But recently, I’ve actually had the opportunity to hang around some “REAL MEN”. The kind of guys who have locker room about the women they’d like to bang, and how big their mighty Johnsons are. I knew that this kind of male existed, and I’d always thought that it was just harmless male braggadocio. But these guys were different. They were having a -scary- conversation about women. It was about sex and the hot babes, but the whole tenor of the conversation was much more … aggressive? It wasn’t a conversation about: “That woman is physically appealing to me and I would love it if she would agree to a sexual liaison with me in the future”, but more: “If I thought I could get away with it, I’d hit her over the head with a rock and drag her into an alley”. And it’s not like these were all a bunch of drunken frat boys or anything. To look at them, you’d have though that they were any other group of guys, probably with families and kids of their own.

Okay, so no one SAID that, outright, but I just got the feeling that I’d walked into a much different dynamic than I was used to. I felt downright uncomfortable. I didn’t know that guys like that still existed. When I joke about sex with my nerdy friends, It’s always in good fun. But this was just so much more … “rapey” than I was used to.

Since then, I’ve been more aware of this kind of male. The creepy neanderthal type. I think there are more of those guys than I ever realized.

No, I’m not trying to say that I am some kind of paragon of male respectfulness and politeness. But that I don’t know if there’s a “male privilege” so much as just a general cluelessness. If one of THOSE guys had ME alone on an elevator, I would have been scared, too. :( It’s not like I was being creepy and offensive to women all these years and just didn’t know it. It’s that the creepy harassment guys are much more prevalent than I’d previously thought. I thought that those kind of guys were pretty rare. But apparently they’re everywhere. I never would have believed Rebecca’s “you should be raped” e-mail if I hadn’t recently met exactly that type of guy. (and if she hadn’t copy-pasted it, of course)

So I apologize for any male/nice-guy/cluelessidiot privilege that I might have had, but I GET IT now. Those guys are just CREEPY.

Even if they’re a respected evolutionary biologist. :(

[apologies on the long-winded post]

– Craig

This comment just made me think “Yes! This is exactly it!” Here is my reply to Craig:

Oh my god yes!! I, as a woman, also used to feel that way about sexual harassment, but that was before I read my own feminist literature and a true realization dawned on me.

Sometimes it’s just impossible to see your own privilege until someone or something smacks you hard in the face with it.

I always need to remind myself that even though I’m a fat, queer woman, I still need to check my white middle-class privilege.

As a side note, to those commentors on here who are failing to check their own privilege, as soon as you add ‘but’ to a statement, you have become an apologist and have invalidated everything you previously said.

Until I had read that comment, it had never even occurred to me to think about privilege in other ways, but it makes perfect sense!! Upper-middle class, white, straight, and male may be the privileges that most people are aware of (if they are aware of any at all), though they certainly aren’t the only ones out there. Anything that places you at an advantage over someone else is a privilege.

Any kind of privilege needs to be checked, because until you let yourself become aware of your own privilege, you are blind to the disadvantages of others.

PS. Also one of my first thoughts was that J needs to read this, not really sure what that says… that I think he also has “nice guy privilege” maybe?

PPS. You can see more re Watson vs. Dawkins here (thanks to J for the link).