Privilege and the Woes of the Straight White Male

Privilege are aspects of your birth or life situation that you don’t control, but give you benefits compared to others. It is a privilege to be straight, for example, because it is slightly harder to be gay in a culture where a sizable number of bigots hold a degree of power. It is a privilege to be white, and male, and able bodied, and western, and affluent, and Christian, and intelligent and not too young, and not too old. Because the alternatives for each of these make life marginally harder. We can measure these privileges statistically. We know they exist. There are many more.

I’m frustrated how quickly discussions about privilege derail. Some people just don’t get it. They claim to, but they don’t.

Witness comments on any blog post talking about male privilege, and you’ll see endless whiny men talking trying to talk about anything other than gender. They’ll thrash about talking about the privilege of money, social class, education, physical beauty. Things that plenty of men lack.

This is annoying and dangerous, because we can’t then have a sensible discussion about any privilege, and so we can’t act strongly to do something about them. It is a pointless game of whack-a-mole.

The whiny men aren’t even wrong (most of them, at least). Yes, being female in an industrial western nation is not the worst fate that life can bestow on you.

But so what? That doesn’t mean male privilege isn’t real, and a big problem, and a persistent source of lower opportunity, and worthy of honestly facing without changing the subject or waving your dick around.

So, if you’re male, and a discussion about male privilege comes up, you’re a dick if you try to change the subject. You’re a dick if you compare it unfavorably to any other kind of privilege. You’re a dick if you suggest (as Richard Dawkins did of Rebecca Watson last year) that the concerns being raised are trivial compared to the plight of some other under-privileged group.

Don’t be a dick. I promise we’ll talk patiently about your favorite under-privilege soon, but not here, not now.

1 Comment

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One response to “Privilege and the Woes of the Straight White Male

  1. Sabio had a post on privilege just a while ago too. Privilege easily breeds that feeling of entitlement.

    In political terms, voluntarily handing over power (like after democratic elections) isn’t a very natural, easy thing to do. It hasn’t actually decreased the bickering or whining, but it has made the process of regime change arguably more stable.

    We kind of get to witness that change on the social level now too. Instead of being able to simply repress it physically or violently, or just ignore it, the only recourse of those in power is to complain loudly about it.

    At some point in our progress, maybe the only recourse available will be to, heaven forbid, actually face up to this kind of thing. 🙂

    I like the whack-a-mole comment. That should be recognized as a rhetorical strategy for debates and arguments. Kind of like how people say, “You’re inventing a straw-man!” they could also say, “You’re playing whack-a-mole!”

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