A particular word has been in social feeds, the news and on my mind lately: privilege. You see it everywhere (because it is everywhere), but what does it mean? Privilege is a fluid concept and an unfortunately, an invisible one to many. This term can be applied differently to each person and group of people and will have variations between each. The more I try to understand and acknowledge my personal privileges, the more I need to work to make fewer assumptions of others’ privileges.
Like many subjects of importance, the harder I try to understand, the trickier it seems to be. But that’s the process.
Privilege has become especially apparent for me as I’ve pursued a more active part in social justice; my particular area of interest being feminism. I’ve come to realize just how much the feminist movement covers, the vast subsets of feminism and how intertwined it is with racism, homophobia, trans rights and beyond. Take the wage gap alone: according to White House statistics, a full-time working woman earns 78 cents for every dollar her male counterpart earns. Once you break that down by race and not just gender, you’ll find that there are further disparities. AAUW statistics show Latina women make 54 cents for every dollar white men make and black women make 63 percent of what white men make.
This goes beyond statistics and economic inequality. Historically, minority women, queer women and trans women have been actively excluded from parts of the feminist movement. Even now, much of the feminism the mainstream media covers, or the movements that pick up traction are focused on the needs of upper-middle class, white, heterosexual, cis-gender women. Simply put, “White Feminism” is a more comfortable, less aggressive form of feminism for news outlets to cover. That way it’s not a “race issue” “class issue” and a “women’s issue” – because of course, that would be too much to admit (or cover in a news plug).
Before I continue, let me address that my white, middle class, heterosexual privilege means a lot of the systematic oppression I am able to see and educate myself about has not actually touched me personally. This skews my own perception and allows me to be included in a system that leaves others out.
I don’t believe in silencing those mainstream voices. But I will object to them when they intentionally discourage inclusion due to ignorance or blatant racism, homophobia, transphobia or body shaming.
It should be additionally noted that myself and other white, heterosexual women do not belong in all parts of the feminist movement. I understand that although I can offer myself as an ally, I cannot pretend to understand the experiences of queer people, minorities or other intersecting identities and demographics and do not want to muffle their voices with my own.
So, the question becomes, (and this is something I struggle with) “how do I involve myself in these intersecting movements against misogyny, racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia and body shaming without projecting my narrow experiences and perceptions onto others?” In fact, I would encourage all women who consider themselves feminists to analyze their own perspectives and see how they can educate themselves to better practice an inclusive form of feminism.
“Privilege conceals itself from those who have it, and it’s a lot easier to focus on the ways that we are marginalized or oppressed. But without an intersectional lens, our movements cannot be truly anti-oppressive because it is not, in fact, possible to tease apart the oppressions that people are experiencing. Racism for women of color cannot be separated from their gendered oppression. A Trans person with a disability cannot choose which part of their identity is most in need of liberation.”
This is significant because it shows how the invisibility of privilege for those who have it causes a severe rift within the larger feminist movement because it creates a deceptive view of the world for feminists who feel that being a woman is the only oppression they and all other women have to endure. Then fighting the “good feminist fight” becomes the most important goal as opposed to just one of the issues needing to be fought for by women.
It’s each individual’s job to educate themselves on all aspects and perspectives within their own movements and passions. As for me, I will continue to practice the words of the wise Flavia Dzodan as she said, “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”
The below Ted Talk taught me a lot about privilege and perspective in feminism, I highly recommend it!