Privilege, Schmivilege: The Case for All of Us to Just Shut The Fuck Up, Already


Things were great around here. THEY WERE PERFECT. Greg and Erik and I had formed a most excellent power trio here at HOT TRASH Worldwide Headquarters and the future was looking bright. Real bright. I even managed to spend like, a whole half hour today not crying and shame-eating to numb the bone-deep pain of existence. Yeah, things were THAT good. 

But then Beyonce had to drop an album the same week that The Phoenix took on the subject of male privilege, and now I’m super irritated. I realize that with the way things are going in this country - lunatic MRA/Red Pill Redditors with large guns and mommy issues along with an alarming amount of personal information about ourselves available to creeps on the Internet - I suppose I look forward to being doxxed or SWATted or some shit, because how dare a lady speak up about a thing.

Fuck it:

Let’s talk about privilege, male and otherwise.

As some of you may already be aware, I am a ladyperson. I possess both the physical parts associated with ladypeople, as well as the mind and emotions of a ladyperson. I’m lucky that way, that I was born with both my real gender and sexuality (what’s in my heart and mind) and my perceived gender and sexuality (what that heart and mind come packaged in and how I was then conditioned by my family to behave) in sync with each other. That’s where my privilege starts, right there: my inners and outers matching with little to no deliberate intervention by me.

Let’s continue with my natural-born privilege - I am (mostly) attracted to cisgendered men. What I mean by that is that while one magical night with Fight Club-era Helena Bonham Carter in that dingy old prom dress is something that I think about more often than I would care to admit, on a deeper level I’m sort of looking for my own personal Louis CK. That’s right, you heard me, I’d eff the ess out of Louis CK and then buy a house with him and get like 19 dogs and one surly cat. Gross? Sure. But fully acceptable by our contemporary societal expectations of cisgendered ladypeople. Nobody is fucking LEGISLATING against me wanting to bang LCK (though maybe they should? JOKES, get out of my vag, Congress).

Lastly, but probably most relevant to, you know, basic fucking SURVIVAL in this country and most other countries, is the fact that I am white. European white, the fanciest kind of white. Not moneyed Mayflower American “meet me out on the tenny courts at 2, Claire” white, but very, very white. Middle class. Blonde, blue eyed. I was a cheerleader for chrissakes. My brother was on the soccer team. WHITE.

So why would I know anything at all about privilege, other than the hazy notion that it has served me my whole life and that no matter what my struggles are, I always had my whiteness as a safety net. If I were - for instance - a transgender black woman, all of the opportunities I’ve had, all of the chances I’ve gotten and good will that’s come my way, it is entirely likely that much of it would not have been available to me. Even if my intellect and cognitive and emotional capacities were just transferred into a black person’s body (let’s imagine this sci fi style) and I waltzed into work black all of a sudden, would my coworkers treat me differently? That’s just how it happens. And I have no concrete concept of how it would feel to be greeted with even low-grade racism at a super liberal workplace.**

The other fact is, I have no idea what it would be like GENERALLY. I have no idea what it is like to be Korean, Pakistani, Israeli, Puerto Rican, Burundian, Syrian, and on and on and on. I ONLY know what it is like to be a white American. So when someone is communicating about their experiences with discrimination, the only thing I have the right to do is listen, learn and offer my compassion to them. Because it really doesn’t matter what I think. I’ve got the upper hand. It’s the same thing as listening to your boss complain to you about how hard she works - she has no fucking clue how hard YOU work and how it enrages you that she always takes credit for the reports you put together and how you know she takes naps in the conference room, so you can’t take a word she says seriously, and beyond that you respect her less for not making any effort to understand your plight.

AND SO, when I see dumb bullshit after dumb bullshit written by white men about Beyonce’s Lemonade***, or read about a white man’s thoughts on white male privilege*, I just have to walk away. In the case of Lemonade, it just strikes me that when a white man makes an album (let’s use, oh, how about goon-faced, inexplicably popular, second-tier-Fraggle-come-to-life Ed Sheeran for this super fun example), it is rare to have every content machine on the Internet go bananas crying racism and misandry (or misogyny) and all that crap, picking apart every little word, hunting for a hook on which to hang their moral outrage hat. But it’s Beyonce, who is a black woman, and she’s got the brass ovaries (and financial cushion, real talk) to write her heart (and, let's be plain, like 45 other writers' hearts including Father John Misty? Uh, ok) and explore her heritage and show solidarity with BLM and the mothers of black victims of police brutality and take the men in her life to task for their indiscretions and just make whatever art she needs to make, and all of a sudden it’s like I AM OFFENDED HOW COULD BEYONCE DO THIS TO ME - NAY... TO AMERICA!!! but seriously, she’s not doing anything to you. Maybe this album isn’t for you. Maybe there is a community of black women out there who relate to this content on a deeper level than you that you've never even considered because you've never been required to do so; that's privilege in action. I love Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of…” album and I also distinctly remember the rumor that Lauryn Hill said that her music isn’t for white people. That’s fine by me, I don’t need every album I love to be 100% relatable or specifically for me, because I'm used to not having everything made for me. That rumor was probably started by people threatened by her femaleness and her blackness and her making albums for black women and not for, you know, white dudes. White dudes who get everything. Who are used to having everything made for them.

And, historically, that’s the position people of other races have been in in this country since time immemorial. “Fitting in” to white culture because it’s what’s available and frankly, it keeps you safe.  Meanwhile, having their culture and art systematically appropriated by white people who then claim it as our own.

White people are so used to our privilege that we get offended when something isn’t tailor made for us. How about that.

But let’s extrapolate that: when we take race out of the mix and it comes down to male privilege, oh BOY do I have a lot to say. In my mind, male privilege comes down to one thing only - awareness. I recently had a conversation with a woman musician who told me that she is insecure about playing out because she’s afraid that she’s not “good enough.”

And, not to disparage men, because i do like them generally and most of my friends are men anyway, but seriously, I’ve seen enough local bands across this fine land to know that concerns about not being “good enough” are NOT something holding back a good percentage of the male players out there. AGAIN, real talk, you guys.

Women are taught to focus on the feelings of others first. Men are taught to focus on themselves.

I don’t honestly think it’s going to change in any significant way in our lifetime. I have developed a keen sense of humor to carve out space for that in my life. When I meet a new person in a business setting and he walks up to the man who is my peer or reports to me and shakes his hand without even acknowledging my presence, I have a whole arsenal of jokes filed away to simultaneously let him know that he’s bullshit and I’m in charge. But because I’m a woman, and I think of others first, all of those jokes are also carefully designed to diffuse tension.

Hey men, have you ever had to figure out how to do that and deploy it almost daily in unexpected situations?

I long ago figured out how to wear leather jackets and combat boots and walk hunched over like I’m so tough so that men won’t harass me on the street, I figured out that certain male bosses or coworkers would respond more favorably to my requests or work if I wore mascara and a dress to work that day, I figured out that my parents put more time and energy into my brother’s young life because as the boy he was the star of the show, I learned how to diffuse or just go along with sexual harassment at the workplace in order to “not make waves” and I learned how to cope with the crushing guilt, self-hatred and white hot anger in the aftermath of sexual assault, because I found out the hard way that no matter how well you protect yourself or how well you think you know how men will behave, they have all the power and some of them are vicious predators. Let me repeat that: men have all the power. Yes, I’m a feminist, I believe in equal rights for all people and I believe that in most cases, women are capable of everything that men are, if not more. But if I’m being honest with my position in life, I am ultimately vulnerable because of my gender, and I’ve spent my life trying to find ways to convince myself I’m not, and to convince men that I'm not fucking making it up. WE ARE NOT MAKING IT UP. THIS IS REAL.

That is the hand dealt to women and other vulnerable populations in this country like gay men and queer and transgender citizens. Sorry guys, I just don’t care what you think. If you want to make a point about male privilege, shut the fuck up for once and just listen. Stop waiting for your turn to respond, conjuring up an insult and a comeback before you even hear a point being made. Let yourself just be in a role of 100% support and compassion, if only for five minutes - women have been doing this for generations, it is not impossible.

I suppose I don’t really have a point other than just, like, stop trying to know everything. None of us are the last word on anything. I think there are a small handful of very skilled/gifted writers out there who can address these highly sensitive, complex and nuanced issues with any real depth (and before you start coming after me with pitchforks, I am already well aware that I am not one of them). With the democratization of media, pretty much any old asshole can write and be heard by many - I’m living proof of that. I suppose I just wonder if all of us should have public opinions on such big topics. I get that it’s not about the album or the topic of male privilege in the case of my two examples here; it’s mostly about driving readership at media outlets, for better or for worse, and being careless with your editorial in the name of driving traffic feels gross and has unintended ill effects. Get those clicks, content drones, say some misogynist shit and make it rain those sweet sweet advertising dollars! 

But, my god: pipe down, dudes. Let the women speak whether you like what they’re saying or not. It’s fine, you’re fine. You’ll always be in charge, we fucking get it already. Your dick doesn’t shrink three sizes every time Beyonce says “surfbort.” But when you write things like “As Susan talks, I find myself wondering about...” it’s like, NO. Just tell us what Susan says and stop making it about you. Take the camera off of Theon’s face and show us Sansa’s face as she is experiencing HER rape. Listen to Anita Hill. Listen to Monica Lewinsky. Listen to Bill Cosby’s victims. Let Beyonce’s words speak for her. LISTEN for crying out loud. This is the real weapon of male privilege, the willful and determined need to broadcast without dialogue, the choice to be unaware. And I’d love to see it die out like 93% of the coral reefs on our planet have due to global warming.    

Seriously though, none of this matters, right? I mean we'll be like totally Waterworlding it in a decade anyway.



*I am not trying to start another war with The Phoenix, for the record. When I was 21 and graduated from my writing program at New York University, I was fortunate enough to get a full time corporate writing job with a very strong-handed but empathetic and available editor who mentored me for years, pulling apart everything I wrote to point out hypocrisies, poor judgment, bad syntax, waffling, etc. I don’t think The Phoenix has a depth chart of experience to balance out the young writers on staff there, but I don’t think that is the fault of the writers, either. You would not BELIEVE the shit I wrote when I was in my early 20’s (actually, given what I write here, you probably would believe it - SPOILER ALERT, it was all terrible and I hate myself). I am so fucking relieved that the Internet was in its infancy then and I had the good sense to avoid making a Geocities page with all of my terrible angsty thoughts and shitty self-absorbed poetry. Yikes. Please don't look up my old Myspace page, whatever you do. And I do owe it to my mentors for participating in the grueling process of molding me into a professional writer. ANYWAY, The person in charge at The Phoenix probably should have been more heavy handed in editing the cover story on male privilege last week, or maybe given that assignment to a woman - because its heart was in the right place, but with such a tricky subject onto which the writer projects his opinions, you need to be super careful or else you end up like SB Nation.

**The people I work with are rad and aren’t racists and are actually pretty supportive and great to me considering I’m the only woman working there. I’m just trying to make a point that everyone is at least a little bit racist. We’re in Maine, let’s get real here.  

*** Lemonade is so good.