Thoughts about discussions of privilege, from both sides of the conversation.

08Oct10

Yesterday I spent an incredibly ridiculous amount of time attempting to have a discussion about feminism with someone who, it become obvious as the discussion progressed, did not actually want to discuss feminism, but rather explain to me — feeble minded lady that I am — what feminism is and how feminist discourse should be carried out.

I should know better.  I’ve read Derailing for Dummies time and time again.  I’ve laughed over the sad truth of the contents, and this entire conversation was like filling out a promising Bingo card.  And yet I just let myself get involved in this discussion.

I think it’s harder to avoid getting involved in discourse with derailers when the derailer is someone you know — someone with whom you’d like to foster a mutual understanding.  This is how too many of my pointless discussions come about.  Random people can be infuriating, but are ultimately — for me, at least — easy to dismiss.  But people I know, people with whom I’ve spent years building relationships…I want them to understand.  I want them to at least attempt to see my point of view.  And when discussions devolve to the point where I’m left shaking in anger and frustration, I remind myself not to get involved in the cycle again, but, somehow, the next time around they always drag me in.

I hate that I let this happen.  I hate that the personal nature of these issues makes it impossible for me to just overlook certain behaviors.  I don’t regret discovering the truth in feminism, but I won’t deny that personal relationships were much easier to handle before.

Over time, I have gained the ability to pick my battles, and let certain things slide.  This makes things easier and harder.  It’s easier because it lowers the rate of repetitive conversations in which I engage.  It’s harder because it involves holding my tongue on issues about which I am passionate.

I have a loose formula for making the engage or not to engage decision.  This involves the amount of exposure I will have to a person, how open I think they will be to what I’m attempting to tell them, and whether or not a particular sort of behavior is common in them.  It’s tricky — if I spend a great deal of time with someone, repeated sexism is going to start to get to me; however, if the discussion takes a bad turn, dealing with the possible hostility fostered by it on a daily basis would not be pleasant.

Sometimes engaging is successful.  I try to approach it in non-accusatory ways, although that isn’t always possible.  (Side note, this article by Dan Savage got my father to stop using “pussy” as a derogatory term.  You can never tell what will make things come together for people.)

The original point of this post was actually going to be a discussion on how inappropriate it is for men to attempt to dictate the terms of a conversation about feminism — not because men are bad, or because they don’t have a place in the discussion, but because they are coming at a conversation about their privilege and wanting exercise that privilege within the conversation.  But, I think it might be better if I gave my personal guidelines for having discussions about privilege when I am the privileged person.  I’m white, heterosexual, cisgendered, able-bodied, and middle-class, and I’ve engaged in discussions about all of these things.  I understand that it can be uncomfortable, but I’ve learned that there are a few very important things to keep in mind in these situations.

1.  In most cases, the discussion is not about you personally, nor is the discussion of your privilege meant to make you feel bad about yourself.   It’s meant to make you understand so that you can begin working to change the inequality around you.  If it’s not about you, it’s not about you.

2.  There will be things brought to your attention that you have never seen and do not understand, because you have not experienced them.  In some cases, you will wonder why these are such a big deal.  This is because you have never experienced these things.  Remember that it isn’t your place to comment on the importance of something if you’ve never had to deal with it.

3.  Shut up and listen.  If you think you understand the situation of a marginalized person better than that person can, it’s because you’ve been taught that your outlook on life is superior.  This is because you are privileged.

4.  If someone refers you to a link explaining a concept, do not take it personally.  These people not only deal with these concepts in action every day, it’s also a safe bet that they’ve attempted to explain them to people several times over.  There are resources out there for a reason — if someone is actually taking the time to try to help you learn, read the material they send you.

5.  Realize that they are going to be passionate about this subject.  They are going to take it personally, and you are going to fuck up and say things that piss them off.  Try to understand why, and, once you do, own up to making a mistake.  Plowing forward in an attempt to prove why you were right is not the correct course of action.

Putting yourself aside in order to have these discussions isn’t easy, but it’s also important to examine why it isn’t easy.  A large part of this is because, when it comes to whichever area you are discussing, you are not used to having to put yourself aside.  Society has ingrained in you that you are the correct and rightfully dominant side of the equation, and that listening to the “wrong” side is beneath you.  It ceases to be a conscious decision — you try to dominate because this has become the default course of action.  This isn’t right, of course, but it doesn’t mean you should become a ball of self-loathing when you realize you’ve done it.  Working to change behaviors and the dynamic of relationships is much more useful than self-flagellation.  Apologize, and then move on.  Going on about your own guilt just forces everything to focus on you, which, again, means you are dominating the conversation…and this really isn’t about you.

Self-examination is an integral part of discourse on privilege, and the willingness to honestly engage in it is vital.  If you aren’t capable of doing that yet, do some more research on your own before attempting to break into a discussion.  And always remember that, as an ally inside of the privileged group, your opinion will hold sway with others like you.  It’s a sad truth that men discussing feminism will be taken more seriously than women (and the same holds true for white people and racism and heterosexuals and LGBTQ rights).  If you are truly willing to be a part of the conversation, get educated, ask questions of those willing to give you answers, and don’t be afraid to be a vocal supporter.

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3 Responses to “Thoughts about discussions of privilege, from both sides of the conversation.”

  1. Feminism is the battle for special privileges under the pretense of “equality.”

    Feminists love to tell you what feminism ISN’T. But they fail to explain the fallacy of their flawed, hypocritical, self-serving philosophy, especially as it pertains to the removal of men’s rights. Thankfully men are learning to stand up for themselves once again: http://manhood101.com

  2. 2 Lovekraft

    Hit the nail on the head. One of the major problems we MRAs have is in the level of smugness and ignorance of behalf of the leftist/homosexualist/feminist axis.

  3. I think I may be getting anti-feminist spambots. Interesting.


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