Right, so ‘white male privilege’ is a bit of a buzzword at the moment, as highlighted in ‘Top 10 ways to be feminist’. I’ve been thinking about it a lot; thinking about the ways I’m privileged (I am white and relatively middle class) and thinking about how I should deal with this privilege I’ve been dealt: make the most of my opportunities, work hard and work hard to help those who weren’t born as lucky as I was.
But last night I thought about it in a different light, and I realised it wasn’t so simple:
A friend was telling me about a group of people from his university who were applying for funding for a group that took robotics into schools and gave the girls a chance to ‘play’ with the robots for a while, away from the boys. He didn’t seem to approve of this; he was labelling it ‘positive discrimination’ and telling me that by offering the girls an advantage, you were taking it away from the boys. He then started talking about privilege denying, saying “but if you point that out you just become a meme and suddenly a ‘privilege denier’.”
When I get into conversations like this, I appear totally unable to process my thoughts at the time. I think I worry about getting too fired up and saying things I don’t really mean and wouldn’t mean in the cold light of day; so I decided to ignore the bit about the privilege and instead point out why I believed it was a good idea: I told him that as I had been in a mixed secondary school, and at times separated from boys, I underst oodthat it is easier to thrive, as a girl, without the seeming ‘threat’ of the boys around you. Not that I was ever particularly quiet, but boys were loud and often came across as aggressive and at that age, you’d naturally step back and let them take charge. Being in a girl only environment, such as the odd PE class (I remember one lesson we played basketball without the boys- easily my favourite lesson of PE ever.) we came out of ourselves, we found our confidence, we explored situations and we could try out being leaders. After I’d explained this, he perhaps afforded me a victory on that one – but overall he still felt that not having an alternative class for boys was a disadvantage for boys.
On the bus home I thought about the privilege denying thing some more, and now I’ve slept on it I’m ready to respond:
Denying privilege doesn’t mean you’re a total douche bag like the guy in the picture: in this instance at least, I think it’s a display of how actually he’s a nice guy. Friend views all human beings as equal, totally and properly, and has always done, so he can’t really see why any division of sexes is necessary. That is completely beautiful, but unfortunately a little naive. So yeah, we are all born equal- and that’s right, but we’re not treated equally and problems begin to develop, that need fixing.
Some of the earliest life lessons we’re taught are the most destructive:
Males are taught from the word ‘go’, that they are always right. To follow their gut instinct, to be strong, have courage in their convictions, be MANLY, GRRRRR!
Females are taught the exact opposite: question everything, look into all available options before jumping for the first thing, and doubt every single aspect of yourself. Be meek and feminine! *eyelash flutter*
And that is male privilege.
It takes a long time to shake these off, or begin to start trying to fight them. I think I was 19 before I woke up to the realisation that actually I wasn’t totally shit. And I found that realisation through feminism, through talking to lots of women, through a relative separation of the sexes.
So, to put it into a simple metaphor:
Men are thriving, confident, healthy creatures.
Women have been broken by the system.
And that is why every so often, you separate the sexes and afford one of them more of your time: because you need to mend this broken viewpoint. It is not because you are being sexist, because you believe boys shouldn’t be allowed to play with robots or because they don’t deserve the same encouragement, it is because in order to offer the same encouragement to all sexes, quite simply, more time needs to be spent ‘fixing’ the girls’ self esteem.
And now I’ve thought about this properly I can see where my white privilege comes into play: I wonder a lot why there needs to be so many ‘equalities and diversities’ things going about, when surely that’s just pointing out a difference between people? Creating an Us v Them world? No. It’s offering them the same chances in life I have been lucky enough to have, and that every human being deserves.
Equality is on the horizon, but it’s going to take a lot of steps to get us there. We can’t just switch the whole system on and off again to fix it up, we have to go bit by bit. And the first step is this, encouragement through separation and giving women, and all other ‘minorities’ some extra time to find that confidence that has been stolen from them.