Since I posted “Privilege“, I’ve had a number of discussions with clueless folk about the privilege they do not believe they have or would like to discard because they are tired of being called out on it.
First, I am going to go over some basics in a list that is not comprehensive (please note, I am offering examples of experiences on a systemic level. Just because you, personally, have experienced something different doesn’t actually negate what I am saying below):
Congratulations! You have privilege.
White people: You have privilege. You aren’t immediately flagged as potential trouble in stores and airports. You are more likely to get a job than the more melanin-enabled. People don’t assume you will be lazy, or late, or trouble on the streets. You don’t get extra targeted by cops. There is no such thing as Driving While White. You get to wonder why the brown people are upset about racism in movies and tv, because it’s just entertainment.
Men: You have privilege. You don’t worry about being sexually assaulted if you go out alone. You don’t have to automatically wonder if that guy in the elevator with you is a creep. You get paid more than women. Nobody assumes that you don’t know what you are talking about professionally just based on your gender. You don’t have to sue companies for promotions, universities for tenure, newspapers to be allowed to get out of the researcher/secretary pool. You get to wonder why women get so upset when you approach them on the street.
Rich folk: You have privilege, and everybody knows it. You get to wonder how families can possibly live on only $250,000/year.
Straight people: You have privilege. You don’t have to constantly fight for the legitimacy of your intimate relationships. Your right to marry is not up for a vote. Nobody says things like, “I’m not heterophobic, but…”. You don’t have to wonder if your state will let you adopt a kid, or if you will have any parental rights over the kids you are helping to raise. You don’t get bullied, beat up, maimed, or killed for being openly straight. You get to wonder why the queer folk want to deal with the misery and complications of marriage.
Cisgendered people: You have privilege. You haven’t had to go through an extensive (and expensive) medical, psychological, and emotional process just to feel like your body is your own. You haven’t faced bigotry from every single community around you because your outsides don’t match your insides and you need to do something about it. You don’t get bullied, beat up, maimed, or killed for identifying as a gender that does not match the one on your birth certificate. You get to say stupid shit like, “That’s so weird. I would never put myself through that.”
Educated people: You have privilege. You have never had to have somebody read a document to you because you cannot. You have never faced the embarrassment and shame that our culture heaps on the uneducated. You aren’t stuck in jobs that nobody else wants because you never had the opportunity to finish grade school, let alone high school and college. You have never been without a voice. You get to wonder about and mock all the godawful grammar on the internet. (Approximately one in seven people in the US can’t even read this post I am writing.)
Able-bodied people: You have privilege. The world is basically designed for you. You don’t have to worry about elevators being out, people getting bitchy because you take up more space and time on public transit, or aisles being too narrow. You aren’t limited to specific jobs, specific forms of entertainment, or even specific locations. You get to complain about your inability to use handicapped parking spots.
Tall people: You have privilege. Just kidding! I know it sucks to be able to reach everything.
Second, I am going to make a point I seem to have to make repeatedly, but never seems to get taken to heart:
The lack of one kind of privilege does not cancel out all other forms of privilege.
Grew up poor as shit, but still straight, white, cisgendered male? Guess what? You still have privilege. Grew up poor, brown, gay, and male? Guess what? You still have privilege. Poor, brown, queer, female with an amazing education? You still have privilege.
I can keep going with the combinations until this looks like an LSAT question, but I won’t, because the LSAT sucks. (I get to make that shitty joke because I get to claim educational privilege.)
Third, I am going to expand on what I discussed in “Privilege”:
It’s just something you have.
No, you didn’t ask for privilege. You aren’t necessarily looking for the special treatment you receive because of it. You may not even be conscious of it. That’s all well and good, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have it.
The thing about privilege is that the benefits are automatic and not always visible to the privileged. Which is another way of saying, you don’t notice you aren’t being discriminated against. Men don’t notice that they aren’t on constant alert against being sexually assaulted on the street. Straight people don’t notice that they aren’t being treated differently when with their partners.
When you get called out on your privilege, nobody is telling you to change it. Nobody is telling you that you are a bad person because of it. Nobody is saying that it’s your fault. What you are being told is, people who do not field specific kinds of discrimination have a very different perspective on the world than people who do. What you are being told is, what is an intellectual exercise for you may not be for somebody else.
What you are being told is, take yourself out of your privileged shoes and put them in somebody else’s (let me guess—they don’t fit. Kinda uncomfortable, right? You’d like to take them right back off, right? Yeah. That’s what people are talking about when they call you out on privilege). This goes back to my initial post. Because ultimately you need to recognize that you have it. You should acknowledge it. And while acknowledging it doesn’t change the fact that you have it, it does go a long way toward helping you understand where people are coming from when they say, “Dude. You realize you just spilled a bunch of cold unpleasant privilege into my lap.”
Don’t be afraid of those uncomfortable shoes. Seek them out. Walk in them for a minute, if you can. Marvel at the blisters and bruises. So that when you put yours back on, you can appreciate how well they fit, and how comfortable they are. That, metaphorically, is what you should be doing when your privilege is pointed out to you.
ETA: Since enough people have the need to make this argument, I feel it ought to be addressed. There seems to be a new “solution” to the use of the word “privilege” that seems to have been created by people who are deeply afraid of the word. I have tried to unpack it in this post, but I guess I can’t stop people just reacting to it instead of seeing that. So please let me state: calling discrimination “human rights violations” instead of using the word “privilege” changes absolutely nothing about the above post. All it does is try to shift focus and say, “I don’t have privilege, these people are simply being wronged.” Not only is the use of “human rights violations” a bit overwrought, it doesn’t work that way. People are being wronged, it’s true. But it is on a systemic level, and thus it is what actually creates privilege. The fact that people are suffering from various kinds of discrimination and lack of safety on a systemic level is the very reason that people who do not suffer—on that same systemic level—experience privilege. Taking the focus off of the privileged for these discussions does nothing to change that, it just makes those who are uncomfortable with it and think people who are using it are calling them bad people feel a little better in the moment. My suggestion is that you stop reacting to the word and start really considering what it means in this context.
This morning, I found out about #1reasonwhy. In the last day, many women working in the game industry have been posting on Twitter, each of them sharing their experience as a professional woman working in an industry that, even today in 2012, struggles with sexism and discrimination. Reading their stories was shocking to me, as a woman and as a long time gamer. It made me sad for an industry that I had higher expectations for. But at its core, the AAA game industry suffers from the same assumptions that plague many “old boy’s club” companies: it is a male dominated field that believes they have no reason to market to women, that women can only make “games for women”, and that women don’t enjoy the same things in a game that men do.
This is bullshit.
I am 38 years old, a woman, and a gamer. I’ve been a gamer since I was a child, playing Pac-Man and Frogger. In my teens, I played Dungeons & Dragons and Magic the Gathering. As an adult, I continue to play “tabletop RPGs”, computer and console games. I don’t play Facebook games. I have no interest in them, when I could be shooting aliens in Mass Effect 3 or Gears of War 3. There is this perception that women only play Facebook games, or that only women play them.
This is bullshit.
A good friend of mine plays Facebook games. A lot of people, both men and women, do. A lot of them aren’t “gamers”, and some of them are. Some of them are kids, and some are grandmothers. My friend who plays on Facebook? She got tired of the limitations and asked me, a gamer, what else she could do. Now she plays Diablo 3 on her PC. I guess you could say Facebook games are gateway games that anyone can play, not just women.
The gaming industry is big money. A best-selling console game now makes as much (or more) money as a blockbuster movie does. No one questions whether or not men and women go to those movies. But apparently the gaming industry believes that only men buy their games that sell over 3 million copies in the first week. Many companies believe they don’t need women to design or contribute to these games, because after all, women don’t buy them.
Leaving aside the completely asinine idea that women don’t have anything to offer a game marketed for men, I think the games industry is really missing the boat by ignoring the female gender. In the distant past, maybe games were something largely played by boys and men, but that stereotype is as incorrect as it is outdated. I think the games industry believes that all they need to make is Call of Duty X: The Same as The Last Nine Games. And you know what? That’s a very successful franchise, but it’s my husband’s least favorite first person shooter, because it is the same damn game over and over! Like many gamers I know, male and female, he is appreciative of more.
I am a girl gamer, and personally, I think games could only benefit from having more real input from female designers, writers, developers, artists, you name it! I’m not saying there aren’t men who do these jobs, and do a great job at them. But I am saying that the games industry is depriving their product of something special when they don’t give women the same chance to contribute on every level. This is true for all of the male players, but guess what games industry? WOMEN PLAY GAMES. More than that, we play the so-called AAA console games!
I am a girl gamer, and here are some of the games I have played or currently play: Gears of War 3, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, the entire Mass Effect trilogy, including Mass Effect 3 online multiplayer, the Assassin’s Creed games, the Dragon Age series, Skyrim, Fallout…yes, as you can see I have a “type”, RPG, or roleplaying games. However, I am just really discovering multiplayer online games such as Gears of War 3, and do you want to know why? Because Mass Effect 3, an RPG game that has a recognized female gamer following, took a risk and added an online multiplayer mode. And it was fun! First and third person shooter type games don’t market to women. They should. They should give us characters to care about, a story to enjoy (it doesn’t have to be as big as an RPG story), and female characters to play. I like to play Anya when I play Gears.
I am a girl gamer, and I don’t just share my husband’s Xbox; I have my own damn Xbox. I play my own games. I play games with him. I play games with my male and female real life friends. I play games with male and female players I’ve met online.
I am a girl gamer, and I have friends who are girl gamers. There are enough of us in my own circle of friends that we can have an all-girl team when we play Diablo 3 or Mass Effect 3.
I am a girl gamer, and my husband’s friends text me to play with them as much as they text him, sometimes more.
I am a girl gamer, and often when I play online, there are male gamers who are surprised that I am a girl, that I play, and that I like playing. They ask me how they can get their girlfriends and wives to give it a try, and to answer that, I return to my original point: the game industry needs to wake up and realize they have two genders to make games for and market to.
I am a girl gamer, and I don’t want games about puppies, or shopping, or fashion. I like games where I get to be the heroine and save the universe. I like games where there is a good story, where I care about what happens to the world, the universe, and the characters. I like games where I get to be the badass.
I am a girl gamer, and I like games that have a romantic subplot, or hot male characters to look at, just like men like games with hot female characters. This isn’t necessary for me to enjoy a game, but I think most female gamers and game designers will agree with me when I say it sure doesn’t hurt!
I am a girl gamer, and I like to play online with other gamers. I am learning to be brave and try games I would never have tried before because of the male gamers I play with. Not because of the gaming industry, which doesn’t market these games to me, but because my male gamer friends tell me “If you like X game, you should really try Y, because I think you’d like it.” And sometimes they tell me when I shouldn’t try a game, because they know I won’t enjoy it. Sadly, this happens more often than it should. More often than it would, if female developers were given the same weight as their male counterparts.
I am a girl gamer, and I support female game designers, writers, artists, developers, and more. They should not have to deal with sexism in their field. They should not be condescended to, or minimalized, or ignored. I believe they could bring something special to the gaming industry. I believe they could help make the kind of games that I want to play, that other women want to play, and that men want to play, too.
Wake up, games industry.
In addition to being a gamer geek, Charity Vandehey is a writer, jewelry artist and espresso addict. She’s been writing online in one form or another since 2002. Visit her Etsy store, Byzantium Lotus!
This conversation has been fact checked by Thumper and my left boot.
Lackey: I have put many beautiful women in the binders, each of them filled with little suprises.
Mitt: Many women?
Lackey: Oh yes, many!
Mit: Would you say I have binders full of women?
Mitt: Binders full of women.
Lackey: Oh yes, you have binders of women.
Mitt: Lackey, what is “binders full of women”?
Lackey: Why, El Romney?
Mitt: Well, you told me I have binders full of women. And I just would like to know if you know what “binders full of women” is. I would not like to think that a person would tell someone he has binders full of women, and then find out that that person has no idea what it means to have binders full of women.
Lackey: Forgive me, El Romney. I know that I, Lackey, do not have your superior intellect and education. But could it be that once again, you are angry at China, and are looking to take it out on me?
Okay, I have been observing an incredibly frustrating pattern in conversations relating to privilege, which is that, in short, people who have privilege loathe being told they have it and will bend over backward to try to invalidate any claim they might have to it, as if being sensitive to various issues, or at least not outright misogynist/racist/antisemitic/homophobic/transphobic/etc. somehow removes any inherent privilege, like fancy stain remover.
People will point to some action they have taken in the past to support the rights of some group of people—be it women, minorities, GLBTQ, the socially awkward, whatever—and say, “But I did this thing. So I’m totally not acting privileged, so you should totally shut up and stop attacking me (because criticism totally = attack).” Worse, I’ve seen people say, “Whatever, I don’t know why you are whining. Get over it.” This response is extremely common in discussions about misogyny in comic books and the video game industry, and pretty much always comes from men. Go figure.
So I am going to boil privilege down for you, and for very easy reference. Because privilege is not something you got on you, like dirt. Privilege is not an accessory you can discard when it seems inconvenient. Privilege is not something you can whittle down with actions, like it’s just below your health bar in a video game.
You need to stop thinking about privilege in terms of attitude (although, that’s part of it), action, inaction. Privilege is, if we condense it down to its most fundamental aspect, the ability to walk away from a given struggle and know that your rights will not be affected in the slightest bit by the outcome of that struggle. Privilege is the ability to throw up your hands and say, “I’m done arguing about this,” or, “this can wait for the next election,” or, “Why are we still discussing this— isn’t this settled/aren’t there more important issues in the world?” It’s the ability to say, “I don’t like the criticism I have gotten over my part in this discussion, so I am leaving the discussion entirely.”
I’m going to repeat the primary point, here, just to be as clear as possible: Privilege is the ability to walk away from a given struggle and know that your rights will not be affected in the slightest bit by the outcome of that struggle.
So, folks: stop being bitches about being called out about your privilege. Recognize it for what it is. Make damn sure you understand what it means—about your approach to the world around you, about the issues you have never had to study and fully understand, about the opportunities you take for granted—and own it.