Why do we have privileges

Part 4: We are all the same, we have no privileges here!

What happened so far: So far we have dealt with the definition of terms, lines of argument and objectification [htu-info archive]. This time it's about privileges: what are they, who has them, how do you deal with them?

What are privileges?
When privileges are discussed, it is about advantages or the valuation that a person has over others in a social environment without having done anything for them. Conversely, this means a disadvantage for other people.

But people cannot simply be differentiated into “privileged” and “not privileged”. For example, a person may be privileged by their own skin color and sexuality, but at the same time may not have other privileges due to social status or a physical handicap. Different privileges work together and overlap, making it difficult to tell what effect a particular privilege will have.

In our society, white, straight men are often privileged. The effect is subtle. You usually don't have to fight to be heard or taken seriously in a group. Your competence on any topic is often only questioned when mistakes become obvious. In comparison, other groups of people, including people who appear strange, homosexuals or women, are disadvantaged because less competence is attributed to them.

Privilege is when you have advantages because of your belonging to a certain group. Male privilege does not mean that all men have an advantage over all women. “Male privilege” means: if all circumstances except gender are the same for two people (same education, class, skin color, ...), men tend to have an advantage over women.

How do I know that I have privileges?
It is difficult to recognize your own privileges, because how you are seen and treated by others quickly forms your personal minimum standard. This means that privileges that you enjoy compared to others are invisible to you.

You could think about what you can do yourself, but what others may not be able to do. Privilege checklists help with this. Points to be checked are, for example: "In almost every film, book or comic, an identification figure, usually as the main character, is offered." or “Being able to take to the streets in casual, everyday and business clothes without having to fear that strangers will whistle intrusively, shout inappropriate comments or even touch various parts of the body in public spaces.” [Sample checklists]

Non-white women are also checked by the police more than average and have to put up with allegations of initiating sexual services (prostitution). Such overlaps and combinations of discrimination are called “intersectionality”.

What does that have to do with sexism now?
In our society men are more privileged than women. This shows up in many different situations, some examples are:

  • Not to be buried in the street.
  • Not being told unsolicited what others (or don't) like about your appearance.
  • Be perceived as competent, especially when it comes to technical expertise
  • Taking care of one's own children is not perceived as normal, but as a heroic act
  • Working and therefore not being at home with the children is not seen as negative.
  • Not wanting to have children of your own is no reason not to be seen as non-male.
  • Less often to be reduced to one's own appearance.
  • To have a person with whom you can identify in almost every film / book / video game.
  • Gender is not used as an insult. ("You girl!")
  • Don't get rape threats for doing things that others don't like.

Some of these privileges can be traced back to sexist stereotypes that men and women suffer from. In contrast to men, women are pushed into roles in which they are less independent and have fewer rights of self-determination.

A single comment or incident is often not bad for privileged people: “That was just a joke” is often heard in response to addressing sexist behavior (see previous article in the series). But as is so often the case here, too: the dose makes the poison. Getting the suggestion on a regular basis that a woman is working or researching in the wrong field, is not seen as competent and is perceived as the secretary rather than the project manager - all of this creates a misogynistic climate. This climate contributes to the fact that women leave technical fields in large numbers. [LA Times - Why are women leaving the tech industry in droves?]

Privilege often manifests itself in the form of structural sexism. While the inferior position of women compared to men has long been enshrined in law, sexism nowadays mostly happens unconsciously.

How do I deal with privileges?
If you find that you “enjoy” privileges, you don't have to be ashamed - you can't help it if other people attribute more competence or freedom of action to you than others. There is nothing you can do about having a privilege, either. However, you can be aware of this yourself and make others aware of this unequal treatment. In a discussion, you can point out that other participants have not yet had their say or that a statement has already been made by another person (who is apparently less competent than others). When asked for help with something where others might as well help, you can refer them to them. Discuss privileges in your social environment; listen to people who talk about unequal treatment.

"The most radical thing you can do to support women on the internet: Believe them." [Anita Sarkeesian, XOXO Festival]