Privilege, sexual assault and other issuesBy: Stephen Marsh
A recent discussion on-line reminded me of the time I was groped at a job I once had.
There was nothing pleasant about having my butt grabbed pretty hard by an older, unattractive individual. I found it more than a little disconcerting.
On the good side, I did not feel particularly threatened. I had more status, I was physically a good deal more fit, but … I found myself paralyzed. I could not think of anything I could do about the situation either, other than be terribly distressed. That incident still disquiets me, even though it is in the past. But I thought about it in the context of a discussion of privilege. The link is to a public discussion of the theme, the discussion that I was part of was an LDS oriented closed facebook group, so a link wouldn’t do much.
Now I have serious discomfort with using the term “privilege” to describe what is going on.
To begin with, a privilege is something one does not have a right to and is undeserving of.
As one commenter put it:
-First there is the implication that as a man I do not have a right to walk to my car on my own without fearing for my life or limb. Obviously, I disagree. I very much have a right to go through life unmolested. I sometimes get the distinct impression from feminist bloggers that I should feel ashamed because I do not fear assault when walking to my car.
-Second is an embedded implication that women also do not have the right to walk to their cars without fearing for life or limb. After all, it’s a privilege, not a right. Obviously, that is also foolish. Women just like other human beings have a right to go about their lives unmolested.
I think this is a noxious approach. I think it would be much preferable to speak of it in terms which would describe the fact that women’s rights are being violated. I cannot offer a term but maybe somebody else can.
I am persuaded by a linguist friend of mine (who is also an atheist) that there is value in using the term to open a discussion, but I agree that it is not a good term to frame the discussion with. If nothing else, because the term gets used by almost anyone with a level of unhappiness about how they are treated or a general reflection of inequality. e.g. Checklist of Neurotypical Privilege « Chroanagram (and yes, do consider that I’m male and I have a daughter with Tourette’s — you can do the biology).
As others have pointed out:
And privileges CERTAINLY aren’t things one “does not have a right to.” After all, the very definition of privilege includes a discussion of rights. E.g., “a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most“
In addition, because many of the situations where someone is talking about privilege and related themes resolve around class divides as well. For example, in Texas, the beneficiaries of affirmative action are upper-class individuals who are often a quarter or less Black. The people complaining about it are often lower class, grew up in trailer parks, whites.
Efforts to include class as well as race in affirmative action (e.g. giving affirmative action benefits to historically disadvantaged groups, and to members of those groups still suffering from historical disadvantage) have been roundly rejected by some institutions. In general, a millionaire’s kid, regardless of race, has different issues. Someone who is poor and Black needs help probably more than anyone else. But this is not a matter of “oppression olympics” or comparison.
As someone else stated:
Additionally, privileges intersect. So, when people talk about affirmative action, they are referring to the privileges and oppressions related to race and gender, primarily, not socioeconomic privilege. To say, “In general, a millionaire’s kid, regardless of race, probably does not need help” assumes that there is no such thing as racial privilege or racial oppression and that the only thing that matters is socioeconomic privilege or oppression.
In fact, the two intersect — a well-to-do black or Hispanic person may have socio-economic privilege, but he or she still is oppressed as far as race. He does not have IMMUNITY from being second-guessed because of the color of his skin, ethnic, background, etc., And because you can see skin color a lot quicker than you can see wealth, that still matters
Finally, many of the “privilege” issues are the benefits that go to those who are tall and good looking and socially adept and denied those who are short, ugly and outcast. Kind of like the baby seals are more likely to have someone stand up for them than endangered mosquito populations. Other issues are not.
You can tell, I’m meandering. So, let me recapitulate the points I should have made.
At the heart of many discussions of privilege is the fact that women are more likely to be physically, socially and verbally assaulted than men. When they are assaulted, the assaults are likely to be more common, more consistent and more forceful.
On the internet, discussion of this phenomena has been in old fashioned terms of “privilege” (i.e. that men are the beneficiaries of privilege that makes them blind to the unfair differences and the structures that make women vulnerable).
When such a discussion comes up, some object, some are blind (and remain so during conversations), some use the term to expand the context (claiming that women are privileged, or that white women are part of the group that has white privilege, or that internet users have wealth privileges or …), but some think.
And the reality that they should think about is that people should be free of sexual or other assaults. I have some gay friends who fear physical assault and who map their lives around avoiding it. They should not have to fear that. I know women who fear sexual assault (and who have been assaulted), they should not have to map their lives around avoiding assault. In some areas of the South you had places that had “sunset laws” (and some that did not) and there are people whose lives are still affected by that lingering issue.
Finally, we have spaces on the internet where people should not have to fear assault. Those spaces, should, perhaps, include all of the internet.
What do you think on the issue? How can we address that while still having open and robust communication?
I know, I promised to start writing about how to build Zion, now that I’ve discussed the elements of what makes for stable Utopian efforts and what does not. But I think that on the road to being the pure in heart we need to free our public spaces of violence. What do you think? What would you say?
http://ethesis.blogspot.com/2011/11/privilege-thoughts-and-what-exactly-is.html — my much shorter thoughts in parallel to this essay.
- http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2011/11/harassment-male-privilege-and-jokes-that-women-just-dont-get.html — the post I agreed with.
- http://faultline.org/site/item/how_not_to_be_an_,,,_a_guide_for_men — or, in other words why no one wants your advice …