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I participate in a lot of online forums about polyamory. It's almost impossible to talk about polyamory without eventually talking about OK Cupid, which is arguably one of the best places online for poly folks to meet each other (I met my live-in partner zaiah there). And it's almost impossible to talk about OK Cupid without talking about how often women tend to get harassed on online dating sites. Any online dating sites.

And, it's almost impossible to talk about how often women get harassed, on dating sites or anywhere else, without a whole succession of men trotting up to say "well, I personally don't harass women! Women act like all men are harassers! I'm totally not like that, and I don't understand why women don't talk to me online! I totally deserve to have women talk to me online! If I spend my time writing an email to some woman online I am entitled to a response, even if she doesn't want to date me!"

And, of course, from there it's just a short hop to talking about male privilege, and as soon as that happens, inevitably those same men trot up again to say "this talk of privilege is just a way to try to make me feel guilty!"

And I gotta say: Guilt? Seriously? You think it's about guilt?

Guilt is for things you can control. Feeling guilty over things you can't control, like the race or sex you were born with, is silly.

If you think talking about privilege is about making people feel guilty, you're completely missing the point.

It's about being a decent person.

People who are privileged may still struggle, may not always get what they want, but the whole point is they have a lot of advantages over other people. Advantages they can't see. Advantages they don't know about.

Talking about privilege is about awareness, not guilt. When people don't know about the advantages they have, they act in messed-up ways that show insensitivity to others. Like, for example, telling women who experience harassment on a scale that men can't even understand how they should feel about it, what they should do about it, and why they should, like, totes respond to ME because I'M not like that! I'M not one of those entitled jerks, and therefore I DESERVE a reply!

The purpose of understanding your privilege isn't to make you feel something. Not guilt, not shame, not anything else. It's to help you understand that you have a set of things you take for granted that other people don't have, so that you can change the way you act.

Got nothing to do with feelings at all.

Change the way you act in small ways. Like, not telling women how they should feel about sexual harassment. Like, not telling inner-city blacks that the police are their friends. Like, listening when women talk abut harassment, instead of just saying "oh, you're saying all men are harassers." (Hint: No, they're not.) Or saying something like "well, I just don't see color." (Hint: Not seeing color is something you can only do if you happen to be the privileged color. When you belong to an oppressed minority, you don't get the luxury of not seeing your status.)

Change the way you act in medium ways. Like, if you are a man with a normal social circle, statistically you probably know at least three harassers and at least one rapist. Seriously. So, when you're with a group of your friends and someone makes a racial joke or a rape joke or talks about how women are bitches or whatever, speak up. Remember, if you don't say anything, those harassers and that rapist in your social circle--and yes, they are there, even if you don't know who they are--assume you're on their side and think the way they do.

When people make cracks about sending a woman into the kitchen to make a sandwich, or talk about how they'd sure like to get that hot chick drunk and bend her over the table, speak up. Say it isn't cool.

Yeah, it's uncomfortable to speak up when all your friends are yee-hawing and back-slapping about how absolutely hysterical that rape joke was. Deal with it. The discomfort you face speaking up ain't nothing on the discomfort women face just walking down the goddamn street.

Change the way you act in large ways. Don't vote for political candidates who talk about how only lazy blacks are on welfare or blab about "legitimate rape."

People aren't telling you you're privileged to make you feel guilty. People are telling you you're privileged because privilege is a system and an institution that benefits you and that you participate in without even knowing it. When you know about it, maybe you can stop participating in it. Maybe, if you're brave and willing to pull on your big-boy pants, you can even put yourself on the map against it when the folks around you are participating in it.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 3rd, 2013 12:37 pm (UTC)

OKC hasn't been a good meeting place for me - and yeah, a lot of the email i get is just crude. *sigh* I wish there was a better online site for poly folks to meet each other.
Nov. 3rd, 2013 04:19 pm (UTC)
Well-said! I have absolutely experienced these phenomena on OkCupid and elsewhere. I've also struggled with the idea of privilege from a racial standpoint. (I'm white.) Privilege isn't something you ask for; it' just something you're given at birth. Whining about it, feeling guilt, or denying its existence won't make it go away. If you're a straight, white male (or any of the above), you have an advantage. The question is: what are you going to do with it? You are absolutely right: it's all about behavior. You can choose to exploit your privilege and use it for your own advantage or you can choose to use your power and your voice to make some changes. Thank you for putting this out there.

Also, the idea that I, statistically speaking, know at least 3 harassers and 1 rapist is disturbing, if not overly surprising. As a geek that is active in local fandom, I fear I know more than the average and it's an uncomfortable idea to consider.
Nov. 5th, 2013 07:06 pm (UTC)
Now I have to ask why you think fandom has more harassers and rapists than not--since I went to fandom to get away from harassment.
Nov. 5th, 2013 08:31 pm (UTC)
I don't know the actual statistics. It may not be that there are more harassers in geekdom than in non-geeky circles; I may just be more aware of it in this arena since it's been kind of a Thing over the past year or so. Misogyny, harassment and inappropriate or unwanted sexual attention have been discussed in blog after blog. I've seen it and experienced it at conventions myself. There's a certain percentage of fans that have somehow gotten the idea that if a person wears a corset or anything vaguely revealing (or sometimes not revealing at all) as part of a cosplay or just for fun, it's an invitation to comment, ogle, or grope. Obviously, I don't think that all members of fandom are like this or I wouldn't still be here. Fandom also has some truly amazing people that "get" me and know how to respectfully interact with others.
Nov. 6th, 2013 12:18 am (UTC)
I couldn't say why Tarrestrial thinks it, but fortunately they did. I'd be concerned about it myself because I've seen a pattern of failure in small, marginalized communities where people who got thrown out of scenes that have more clout and different standards of admission get into a smaller community, and find that no one stops them from doing bad things.

If I had to guess at a reason, people who have found a scene that accepts them are reluctant to turn around and throw other people out of it, even if those people are bad. In some cases, people are reluctant to name those involved or discuss the situation for fear of rocking the boat or hurting someone's feelings.

Edited at 2013-11-06 12:18 am (UTC)
Nov. 3rd, 2013 07:39 pm (UTC)
If only most discussions of privilege were this good. Usually there's so much anger the signal is lost in the noise. I've never seen anyone talk about what a white guy should -do- about it before. Ever.
Nov. 3rd, 2013 10:30 pm (UTC)
Feminists that declare that all men are rapists are equally as wrong.
Nov. 10th, 2013 05:37 am (UTC)
Technically true, but very few feminists actually say this. When people use this statement as an argument, it's either a straw man, or a complete misunderstanding of what the vast majority of feminists actually say about rapists.
Nov. 3rd, 2013 10:45 pm (UTC)
mr. veaux,

i have been reading you for a long time. you make a lot of sense and you keep on making sense about a lot of things and i really appreciate you taking the time to put these things into words for us out here.

we are different in may ways but share a fundamental interest in being a decent person and in expending effort to think and to understand how to live in this world with some understanding.

so thanks.

Nov. 4th, 2013 03:42 am (UTC)
Everything about this post is perfect. Thank you for writing this and for being aware enough of your privilege to speak out against it. Hopefully since you're a straight cis white man it'll get through to other straight cis white men.
Nov. 4th, 2013 06:06 am (UTC)
There are so many people I wish I could make read your posts and have them learn something from you.
Nov. 5th, 2013 05:45 pm (UTC)
Excellent piece. I am sharing this on my Facebook page.
Nov. 15th, 2013 10:42 pm (UTC)
This is extremely condescending. "Big boy pants"? I'm very capable of standing up against social injustice (and that I do), but white men aren't the only priveledged ones. Every social group has its advantages and disadvantages, and its very easy to see others as getting a better deal, especially when you're in a different social group. I understand women have hardships due to men, which I don't understand because I'm not a woman, but women also don't understand the hardships men face due to women. Instead of telling men what to change and what to do differently, ask yourself, without bias if possible, what are YOU going to do? I agree, there are some bad men out there, as well as bad women, but I sometimes wonder where the statistics come from that pinpoint so many men as being rapists. I mean, statistically speaking, black males are responsible for most violent crimes. Should I be wary of every black man that comes my way? That would be horrendous. I have a feeling that this won't be posted because I'm disagreeing with OP. Prove me wrong, because I would enjoy healthy dialogue/debate on the issue. Free speech FTW!
Nov. 15th, 2013 11:34 pm (UTC)
I understand women have hardships due to men, which I don't understand because I'm not a woman, but women also don't understand the hardships men face due to women.

That's a diversionary tactic.

Yes, men sometimes face problems that women don't. But it's not on the same scale, nor anywhere near as institutionalized. For example:

In the current US Congress, there are 80 men and 20 women.
At present, there are 22 women and 478 men as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
The two largest and fastest-growing religious institutions in the United States allow no women at all to serve as clergy.
The world currently has 104 female billionaires and 1,122 male billionaires. Of the female billionaires, only one didn't inherit her money.

I could go on, but you get the idea. We live in a society that is overwhelmingly male-dominated. Even the supposed "problems" that men face at the hands of women, such as women being more likely to win custody in child custody cases, is an issue of male power, not female power; the judiciary is overwhelmingly dominated by men, and it is men who decided that raising kids is "women's work."
Feb. 18th, 2014 07:32 am (UTC)
I think it might be a little unfair to simply sweep aside another group's problem (such as men's, in the case of your post here, tacit) with a broad brush like calling it diversionary. In any situation, it's likely that one group or another has a privileged position. Being a white American male is not always the most privileged position, any more than being a black woman from Congo is always the least privileged position. If we're going to have an honest conversation about the topic, we -all- have to look at the situations in which we experience a privileged position, and not allow ourselves to slip into comfortable rhetoric about domination or institutionalization.
Dec. 30th, 2013 03:06 am (UTC)
Related: http://godsbastard.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/we-need-to-talk-about-privilege-251213.html (http://godsbastard.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/we-need-to-talk-about-privilege-251213.html)
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )