Privilege, Sexist Privilege, and Counter-Privilege

So, having tipped my hat on this post in the comments, I should really get around to publishing it. Feminists use the term “privilege” to describe the advantages men have over women because of sexist attitudes that dominate society. It can also be generalised to apply to any such advantage- there’s male privilege, white privilege, straight privilege, the privilege of being an english-speaker, cis-gendered privilege… I could keep going, but it’d be boring.

Privilege is particularly destructive because generally, people feel they are entitled to it. It becomes a normal part of life. People wanting to do perfectly reasonable things- like keep their own names, or keep their jobs and be a parent, or earn as much as anyone else who does the same job, are seen as somehow trying to take something they don’t deserve.

There’s also what I personally think of as sexist privilege. (or racist privilege, or whatever…) This is an advantage that an oppressed segment of the population gets for perpetuating that oppression- women get doors opened for them if they’re properly submissive, they are treated as if they’re incapable and need protection, we react more passionately when they are threatened than if a man is on the assumption that she cannot defend herself, and so on. This is what feminists tend to focus on when they are challenged with the idea of female privilege- and rightly so, as most female advantage does fall into this category. It’s actually important to start phasing out this type of sexist privilege as we get closer to equal rights, as the assumptions are

But there’s also counter-privilege. Counter-privilege is an advantage an oppressed minority gets that furthers their own interests- for instance, women’s-only clubs and institutions are an example of female/feminist counter-privilege. So are scholarships for women. In terms of racism, this is also known as affirmative action. Our Maori seats in parliament are also a type of counter-privilege. Counter-privilege is very important in immediately relieving the symptoms of oppression and helping reverse the trend. It’s a practical solution to problems, and as we address actual privilege, support for counter-privilege tends to diminish.

But there are times when counter-privilege is unnecessary. For example, why exclude men from a club or business that is tailored to accommodate women? If men are comfortable and supportive of such an environment, and don’t want to change it, then it’s just as sexist to exclude them as it to exclude women from traditionally male environments. Including men in this sort of environment actually stops it being counter-privilege, too.

Avoiding unnecessary counter-privilege is also really important in fighting backlash. When we have a more elegant solution available than counter-privilege, using it avoids claims that we want to advantage women, or Maori, or whoever, instead of just making them equal and independent citizens.

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3 Responses

  1. Just a note to spammers: Starting your comment out in a way that relates to the post I’ve made won’t get you through the spam filter. I’m manually approving everyone’s first post, so do not waste your time. Your link won’t ever appear on the blog.

  2. until we end the stereotype that women who drink too much are responsible for their own rapes, i think its perfectly necessary to have a club that caters and admits only women. i would gladly go to such a place if it were in my town.

    that’s one of the reasons I like lesbian bars…i am not inviting strange men to hit on me just because i’m out having fun. and yet, even in lesbian clubs sometimes guys will harass women. men are too conditioned to harass women, it even happens on public transit when women are just trying to get somewhere, so it would be very nice to at least have a destination where we wouldn’t have to worry about that.

    • Right, areas where women feel like they’ll be harassed with unwanted pick-up attempts are a good example of an area where it would be useful to have some pushback. (ie. please stop trying to pick up people who clearly don’t want your attention)

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