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A Small Matter of Privilege
Note: On December 9, 2012, this was reposted at MA’AM, Men Against Assholes and Misogyny.
Last night, my writing critique group got together for our bi-weekly klatch. It’s a great group. I’ve been with them for twelve years. There’s been some comings and goings over the years, but our core group has been set for a while, and a few of us go back to the beginning.
Every critique group has their process. Ours is very social, so there is lots of gabbing before we get to the critiquing. Last night, among our wide-ranging topics, we touched upon someone who is no longer with us.
It started as “I wonder whatever happened to …” and moved on to “…you know, I don’t miss that guy at all.”
Thing is, he was a bad fit. He didn’t share our goals, either in terms of writing craft or in terms of friendship. That’s fine, of course. We all gave it a try, and after a while he quit coming to our gatherings. He was probably as relieved as we were.
But an interesting point came up during the discussion. The group is currently three women and two men. One of the women said to me and the other fellow, “One thing about that guy is he kinda brought out the misogyny in you two.”
Wait, … what?
Now, at this point, a common response of the (allegedly) enlightened white male in America is to sputter and deny. “I’m not a misogynist!” We’re then supposed to list all the evidence for how we’re not misogynists: we support a woman’s right to choose, we believe in equal pay for equal work, we think Rick Santorum is a medieval douchecanoe and we think those Catholic bishops just need to STFU already. And don’t even get us started on Mitt Romney and the Republican War on Women. (*sputter*)
And we’d be full of shit.
Getting back to the moment above, to my and my fellow male’s credit, neither of us sputtered. I think I may have shown a little shock or dismay, but I didn’t try to defend myself. Because I couldn’t. Not really. The woman added, “Oh, it wasn’t that bad. I just think he made it easier for you guys. You know how privilege can be sometimes.”
That’s the thing. Privilege is insidious.
Mind you, all those defenses I listed above are true of me and of my male friend. We would both describe ourselves as feminists (admitting that the degree to which a man can be a true feminist is open to discussion and that there are those who would argue we can’t really be feminists).
I do believe women are owed the same rights as men. I think the patriarchy is profoundly damaging (for both women and men). Etc.
But the fact remains, one cannot escape one’s privilege so easily. For men, it’s there and we benefit from it whether we agree with it or not. We’re brought up in a culture infused with male privilege (and white privilege, and wealth privilege, and cis privilege, and … and … and …) so deeply that usually we can’t even see it.
But as a self-described feminist, this only makes me all the more responsible for acknowledging those times when I abuse our privilege—unconsciously or not. My friend sat across from me and pointed it out, and I needed to hear it.
And I needed to not sputter and defend myself, but to learn something. The pernicious nature of male privilege makes it all too easy to behave in ways I find appalling, even toward my friends. And if it’s that easy with those I personally know and care about, the danger is greater outside my relationship circles.
I’m glad my friend pointed about my unconscious misogyny, even if I also felt ashamed. And even more glad she felt she could. Too many self-described male feminists would only have sputtered and shut her down.
In light of the topic, I’d like to suggest some reading. Today happens to be the release day for a couple of superb books. Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris features a strong young woman fighting to save, well, everything … and time in running out. Blackbirds is Chuck Wendig’s hard-boiled tale of a strong woman who knows what’s coming next; spoiler: it’s not good news. I highly recommend both.