By far one of the most challenging obstacles to building a meaningful dialogue about privilege is the extreme ease with which we’re able to take it for granted. Quick: when was the last time you thought about proprioception? Unless you’re a neurologist, or read a lot of Oliver Sacks, the answer could very well be “never, I guess”. We don’t think about it because we’ve never gone without it. Proprioception, the sense of ownership of one’s body and the ability to know the location of different parts of it, the ability to sense its position in physical space without relying on other sensory cues, is something completely, totally innate; something we can have difficulty even imagining living without. Unless for some reason (stroke, brain damage, etc.) we end up losing it, it’s something we just don’t think or worry about.

Privilege can work similarly. Many of the more prominent types of privilege- along lines of race or sex- are things we are born into and have never really lived without. Even in cases where it is technically possible for the privileged group to “pass” as the unprivileged group, or vice versa, an attempt to pass as other is rarely made by the privileged, except perhaps as a sociological experiment, such as Black Like Me. Passing as the privileged group, though, such as a gay man or lesbian being in the closet, is far more common, but doesn’t add much to the dialogue since they’re not the ones who are able to ignore the issue or take it for granted. They receive constant (often daily) reminders of being on a lower rung of the social ladder.

But for things like race and gender, we have them, we always have them, they’re a part of us. A man never gets to experience what it is to live as female in our society, and so it is all too easy for him to underestimate the degree of sexual discrimination that occurs. How often have you found yourself discussing workplace gender discrimination with a man to hear him say “Well, I’ve never noticed any sexism where I work”. Given that he’s not the party being targeted, of course he’s going to be less likely to notice it.  It becomes all too easy for men or white people to imagine that things like sexism and racism are things of the past… far removed problems that, since they’re unnoticed, must no longer exist.

When the subject of male privilege comes up, in addition to the many cognitive distortions that can get in the way of acknowledging it, like the basic human emotional need to believe we deserve everything we have, men are also limited by their set of lived experiences and observed reality in being able to see that they do indeed possess certain social privileges, and that their lives are in many ways easier than those of others. It becomes difficult to accept that they have any specific advantages over women because they have no basis of comparison. Male life and privilege is the only thing they (directly) know. And even if rationally aware of misogyny, even if they are sincere, genuine feminists and allies (I love you guys!) they’ll still have limitations to really deeply understanding the experience of being on the receiving end of it.

Worsening the issue is that women also lack a basis of comparison. They aren’t fully aware of what male privilege feels like and how it operates. They may themselves believe that certain aspects of sexism are something that men experience too; something that is just a part of life. A woman may think, for example, that the reason people treat her condescendingly at her job is because she’s stupid, not because she’s a woman.

Men and women alike only ever have their own specifically gendered experiences to draw from, and can’t make any direct comparison between how they would be treated as a man versus how they would be treated as a woman. This makes it very difficult to isolate sexism for the purposes of holding it up to examination.

Well… most men and women can’t make any direct comparison.

There are us trans people who have lived as both genders. Back in October, I found in one of Jen’s quickies a fantastic article about the experiences of trans men in the workplace, and how they noticed that they were taken more seriously, were listened to with greater interest, and felt more respected after transition. It made me realize that people who have transitioned are uniquely well positioned to observe the disparity in how our society treats men and women. We have the differing points in our lives as comparison. We have our new lives as experimental group and our memories as the control. It’s not in any way hard science, but it gives us more to go on than most people get, at least in terms of drawing from our own experiences. Hard scientific data is pretty scarce in sociology anyway, but qualitative research and ”soft science” is still a whole lot better than no science, and anecdotal evidence is better than no evidence.

When someone claims “Women have it way easier than guys”, I get to confidently say, “No, we don’t”. And I have something pretty substantial to base that on.

The social dynamics of my transition were admittedly a lot more complex than just being a boy and then being a girl. Along with male privilege, I sacrificed certain aspects of cis privilege as well… those aspects pertaining to living as one’s assigned sex, anyway. I never enjoyed the aspects related to actually identifying as your assigned sex. I also gained a certain sort of provisional, conditional straight privilege… conditional in that I’m still queer, I’m not always regarded as straight, my experiences as a gay man are still a part of me, and I still have to deal with many of the same legal and social hassles. And then there’s my relative passing privilege… the more I pass, the less I deal with discrimination on the basis of being gender variant, but the more I deal with discrimination on the basis of being a woman (and even that’s a huge over-simplification of the enormously complicated subject of passing privilege). There are all kinds of aspects of my social existence and circumstances that have all affected the way transition played out for me and affected my social position.

But nonetheless, male privilege ends up being something very real and very concrete for me. Something specific and palpable, that was there and then it wasn’t. I’m able to point to specific advantages I used to have that I no longer get to enjoy, and specific ways my life is different now as a woman.

They aren’t negligible, either. One is that people used to often assume I was “smart”. I wore tortoise shell glasses and tweed vests and ties and stuff. I had soft features, and spoke with a loquacious verbosity that educed a phantasmagoric perspicacity. People often asked me to fix their computers despite my having a complete lack of any background in computer engineering, programming, IT or anything of the sort. “You know about computers, right?”…”a little, I guess”… “GREAT! Can you help me fix the printer?”… “is the cable hooked up properly?”… “Oh”…

That doesn’t happen any more. While obviously the manner in which I dress has changed, I’m still pretty much trying to present the same kind of self-image. I still shop at similar stores. I’m still doing the quasi-bohemian, clever, cute, indie-ish thing with a teensy dash of punk and goth. And I still wear glasses. But nobody asks me to fix their computers anymore. Now they speak really. Slowly. To. Make Sure. I Understand. All This. Complicated. Guy Stuff. … sweetheart.

There’s also, well, being often evaluated during first impressions on the basis of my appearance itself rather than whatever traits are inferred from my appearance. There’s a lot more comments on it in general. There’s no longer being able to feel safe while walking around after dark. There’s the stuff about taking a backseat in flirting situations. There’s the issue of guys talking down to me, talking over me, interrupting me, and expecting me to do a lot more listening than talking. And don’t even get me started on my experiences with dating.

Basically? There are a lot of differences.

But by far the thing that has been the biggest adjustment, the most prominent issue, the one that has caused me the most stress and emotional difficulty, and has been the biggest surprise and took me most off guard, is learning to live with cat calls and sexual harassment.

I don’t know why I was surprised, really. But I was. Very much so. I had been a guy who was sympathetic to feminism, and knew there were these shitty things that guys do and say. I knew it was a problem for women. I knew it was something I would probably have to deal with.

While transitioning, and preparing to go full-time, I did a great deal of emotional preparation. I knew my life was going to be very different, and likely much, much more difficult. I did a lot of feminist reading, I reflected a lot on what I knew about sexism and women’s experiences, and I spoke to other trans women about their experiences. I contemplated all the potential horrible things I may have had to deal with… stuff like being stared at, being misgendered, having people snicker at me as I passed, overhearing comments like “that’s totally a dude!”, children asking their parents if I’m a boy or a girl, being hassled for using the women’s restroom, or even the truly dark possibilities like being assaulted. And I steeled myself against that.

But I did not expect, or prepare for, what the problems actually ended up being. I’m not sure I even could have prepared myself.

Although my life has not been entirely free of transphobia and cissexism, the majority of discrimination I’ve dealt with has been in the form of misogyny and sexual objectification. And as said, it took me completely off guard. Despite not having been totally ignorant of the existence of sexism, I had had absolutely no idea just how common and ubiquitous sexual harassment and cat calls are. I mean, really… GOD DAMN. Like a lot of guys, I thought it was something that only a few creeps did, and usually only happened to especially pretty young women, and would be something that would only happen every once in awhile. NOT several times a week.

Several times a week, yes. And once four times over the course of a single particularly hot August day when I chose to wear a slinky spaghetti-strap dress without a cardigan or jacket. But immediately upon going full-time, regardless of how I was dressed, sexual harassment became a constant element of my life. Cat calls. Dudes telling me how much of a cutie I am as I pass by. Guys proudly announcing that they’d like to fuck me. Getting a blatant up-down once over look as a man wears a disgusting grin. Being ordered to smile. “Gimme a smile, baby”. I’ll look prettier if I smile. Apparently. Never mind my actual feelings or mood. Being pretty is what counts! Apparently. “YOU! I love YOU most! I would tap that so hard!”… “Hey I’m single if you want a quickie, babe”… etc. etc. etc.

For awhile, I toyed with the idea of just responding by shouting “I HAVE A PENIS!” as loudly as possible, to see if I could make them as uncomfortable as they had just made me. But then I remembered that’s a really good way to get myself killed. Especially given how much sexual harassment and cat calls are based around insecure men feeling the need to assert their masculinity through emotional control and dominance.

These guys are typically all much, much older than me. Like my roommate, who’s in his 50s, who once responded to my thanking him for bumming me a couple smokes with a note slipped under my door soliciting sexual favours in return. He felt the need to clarify that he’s not gay, but maybe a “little bi” in the note… which is kind of stupid because, well, I’m not a guy. I still live with him, as it happens. FML.

But one of the most interesting trends has been repeatedly being mistaken for or solicited as a prostitute. That’s been a barrel of laughs. (I hope I didn’t spill any of that sarcasm on your keyboards). I’ve had a total of seven such occurrences since July, and that’s only the overt ones… leaving out the looks, the more subtle suggestions, and the police cruisers slowing to a crawl behind me.

The first happened pretty much my very first morning full-time in Vancouver. I had just gotten back from a camping trip for trans youth on Galiano Island. It was amazing, and the absolute perfect way to spend my first weekend presenting consistently as female. The evening we got back, a friend of mine from Kelowna stayed the night at my place. The following morning I got up early, and at around 7:30 went out to grab us some coffees from the 7/11 up the street. On my way there, I noticed an elderly Chinese man with very few teeth staring and grinning at me. No big deal, I thought. He probably clocked me, but so what? But on my way out of the 7/11, he was still there, still grinning. And when I got closer to him, he asked how much I charged for a blow-job. After I told him that no, I wasn’t working, he offered me $20. That’s when I became a tad less polite.

Since then, there have been several variations on the theme. The scariest have involved being followed by cars. The strangest was when I was mistaken as a prostitute by a prostitute, who told me I need to dress more feminine and that my boobs weren’t big enough. But all of them have made me feel very diminished, nervous, uncomfortable, sexualized, and very much like I’m less valued as a human being, and instead being evaluated as a product… something that can be bought, used and discarded. And I’m terrified of the possibility that someday a man may not accept my refusal.

I mean no disrespect towards sex workers. That is absolutely their choice. What they do with their bodies is completely up to them, and I absolutely will not judge them negatively for it. It is not the association with sex workers that makes me feel uncomfortable. It’s that the role, the way of being perceived and evaluated, is being applied to me rather than something I have chosen. The sense that the choice is being taken away from me. They will choose how to view me and approach me, and conceive of my body as a sexual object that may be purchased, and there’s really nothing at all I can do about it. My male privilege used to insulate me from that.

I know that not every woman experiences the same degree and frequency of harassment as I do.  I have a friend in Montreal who despite living almost the exact same life as me, save the difference of her being francophone, says that she noticed virtually no harassment or difference in how she was treated after going full-time. I’ve thought a great deal about why it might be that I seem to experience so much more of this than other women. One possibility might be that I spend a lot of time taking public transit and walking. Or maybe because I wasn’t socialized as female, I never learned and internalized the strategies for avoiding male attention, like remembering not to make eye contact with dodgy guys. Or maybe it has to do with living in a fairly rough part of East Vancouver, and spending a fair bit of time in the infamously impoverished and troubled Downtown Eastside. Or maybe it’s precisely because I don’t have a wholly conventional female appearance, and maybe come across as sort of “exotic” or sexily androgynous. Or maybe some of them just clocked me and happen to have a thing for trans girls. Or maybe they’re buying into the “trap” myth, the notion that the reason trans women dress and present as female is in order to attract male attention; yes, Hypothetical Straight Dude, you’re right. It’s all about you. We want you so badly that we reconfigure our entire bodies and identities just to match your desires!

Damn. Did I spill the sarcasm again? Sorry!

But regardless of the fact that I can’t make any hard, definitive statements about the exact reasons I deal with so much harassment, and can’t tell where the issues of being a woman or being trans or being poor begin and end,… regardless of the fact that I can’t draw any meaningful conclusions about the causal relationships involved, or exactly what aspects of my experiences are different now on account of being perceived as female, I can make a very clear distinction between my old life and my current one. And the differences are impossible to ignore, and fit incredibly well with what is already understood about misogyny and the social treatment of gender. The advantages in life that I no longer have sync up almost perfectly with most contemporary feminist understanding of male privilege and what it entails.

So please, take it from someone who has a basis of comparison, who had it but sacrificed it, male privilege is real. Women don’t have it easier. And while we’re pretty much all being hurt by the gender binary, and no one is really benefiting all that much, women are getting the worst of it.

But that loss of privilege? Completely, totally worth it for the ability to finally feel at home in my own skin.

 

And really, I’m not a prostitute.

Natalie

Natalie

Natalie Reed now writes at http://www.freethoughtblogs.com/nataliereed

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146 Comments

  1. Avatar of opcnup
    December 12, 2011 at 9:25 am —

    Yeah I think that the transition the other way is more likely to be an accurate representation. Trans women get their own load of discrimination unrelated to that assigned to women, and much larger than that given to transmen.

  2. Avatar of mcfarlee
    December 12, 2011 at 9:32 am —

    I don’t have anything brilliant to say, other than that was a fascinating read. Thanks for writing it. I’ve tried to explain to my husband what it’s like to go for a jog and see every male stare as a potential threat. I think he thinks I’m a little nuts. I’m not.

  3. Avatar of Janiece
    December 12, 2011 at 9:41 am —

    The best essay I’ve read on privilege in a long, long time. Thank you.

  4. Avatar of dr. dr. professor
    December 12, 2011 at 9:43 am —

    Very interesting. A perspective only one who’s made the transition could have.

  5. Avatar of andiis
    December 12, 2011 at 9:53 am —

    Well you get no disagreement from me!
    It’s your life and you tell it like it is. Not many people can understand the proposition from your perspective. As you say ” male privilege IS real ”
    So I am privileged. I also live in a warm climate with the beach not so far away, and in winter it snows on the mountains 2 hrs away. I live in a democracy where our elected leader ( a woman ) does not need to to travel in a convoy with guys in suits and sunglasses.
    Our Governor General ( a woman ) is loved by all, as is our ( current ) sovereign ( a woman ). It is true : I am a man and I AM privileged. I do not abuse my privilege , and I love my life.
    I have a sense of sorrow for those who feel they do not or cannot love their life.

  6. Avatar of krantzstone
    December 12, 2011 at 9:58 am —

    Great post. As a straight male, I can’t say I really know what it’s like, but even just hearing about it from my sister who gets a lot of unwanted attention (she doesn’t even dress sexy, not that it should matter, I’m just sayin’), I’m sorry you have to put up with that. Hopefully writing like yours will reach people and get them to see that what may seem like harmless flirtation to a straight guy might be construed as scary, predatory, etc. to a woman. I get hit on by guys sometimes but rarely have I felt it was predatory (although some of them have been more forward than I’ve ever been with a woman, and that did make me uncomfortable – being touched above the knee is not something I would ever do to someone I wasn’t very close to, so I didn’t really know how to deal with it when it happened to me).

  7. Avatar of Elyse
    December 12, 2011 at 9:59 am —

    Thank you for writing this, Natalie!

    I’m sorry you have to go through this, but I appreciate you taking about it. It’s an important perspective for both men and women to read.

    For a long time, I believed that catcalls and such were linked to my worth as a human being… too few = I was an ugly piece of shit woman. Too many = I was a skanky piece of shit woman. Somewhere in there was the sweet spot of just right = I’m beautiful = I’m the right kind of woman. Which… wow, that’s fucked up. I was fucked up.

    • Avatar of BeardofPants
      December 12, 2011 at 2:44 pm —

      You learned. Too many women still think their value is measured that way. It’s really sad. :(

      • Avatar of Elyse
        December 12, 2011 at 3:01 pm —

        Sadly, we get email saying things like “You don’t even understand what it’s like to be ugly and not even get imposed upon by creepy men. I do. It’s awful.”

        And the thing is. ugly has nothing to do with it. It’s sad. And ridiculous. And angering.

        • Avatar of BeardofPants
          December 12, 2011 at 4:25 pm —

          It’s really quite horrendous to even fathom that there are people out there who have so little self-worth that they need external validation from a creeper creep who is evaluating them on some arbitrary basis, “has boobs-check, exhibiting sufficiently submissive body language-check, is wearing super-sexy frumpy-grandma cardy-check: PHRROARR BAY-BEE, WANNA SUCK MAH COCK??!”

      • Avatar of Feminace
        December 12, 2011 at 7:26 pm —

        Oh God, I’ve been there. Hell, I’m still there. Ten years ago, I loathed public transportation like poison for all the stares, the weird looks, the sudden unwanted come-ons, the being followed (on foot or in their cars). And yet still a little part of me, in a twisted little way, would be all “At least someone thinks you’re pretty.”

        I got a little older, a lot rounder, and dealing with a lack of front teeth, no come-ons, peace on the bus, and still that little fucked up part of me has the nerve to whine about how I’ve become fucking hideous.

        It’s horrid what we do to ourselves. It really is.

    • Avatar of schwarzwald
      December 13, 2011 at 1:45 am —

      Not to offend, but why place so much of your own self respect in the hands of other people who, at the end of the day, are just sleezy shits?

  8. Avatar of Benny
    December 12, 2011 at 10:03 am —

    Thanks so much for this post. It’s very well written, and a good contrast to my own story (I’m a transman) so when talking about privilege and the experiences of transition I think I’ll point to your post as the contrasting experience.

    Not getting the slow talking “You wouldn’t understand about cars, you’re a girl” thing anymore was such an enormous relief for me. I actually DON’T understand about cars, but now my questions are treated with a lot more respect, and it annoys me to no end that my female partners and friends still have to deal with that BS. Even though I’m on the privileged side of that coin now I still see it happen all the time – an experience that transmen may have that many cismen do not.

    • Avatar of TheNerd
      December 12, 2011 at 2:09 pm —

      I’m genderqueer, and at my most masculine, I only barely manage to pull off “12-year-old boy”. Even still, I am treated with more respect regarding technical things that are out of reach to dainty lady-brains. The ability to do what I want without having my time wasted by mansplaining is a real relief that I never even anticipated benefiting from.
      On a related note: people are seriously rude to youth. Seriously. You do not, as a stranger, get to ask me random personal questions involving my schooling status, who I am related to, how I could possibly know the answer to your question, etc., simply because I appear to be a minor.

  9. Avatar of naomideplume
    December 12, 2011 at 10:14 am —

    Thank you so much for this line:

    “Or maybe because I wasn’t socialized as female, I never learned and internalized the strategies for avoiding male attention, like remembering not to make eye contact with dodgy guys.”

    I’ve never been able to tell my feminist-minded forward thinking male friend why I constantly look at the ground when we walk in the city. I always assumed it was just something I did. Reading your comment made it ‘click’. I’m doing it out of self-preservation. Thanks for giving me the words to explain myself.

    • Avatar of BeardofPants
      December 12, 2011 at 2:47 pm —

      Yeah. I’m terrified of making contact with the wrong kind of person. I moved to San Francisco recently, and that’s only made the fear worse. I honestly feel like I’m gonna get raped every time I walk through the Tenderloin. It feels like a frog march through a ring of cat callers. I’ve patented the fast-walk-hands-on-my-bag-eyes-down technique for just these kinds of situations. If I get lost and pull out my iPhone, I get all kinds of shitty attention. It sucks.

  10. Avatar of anovasjo
    December 12, 2011 at 10:23 am —

    fantastic. Thank you for your post, Natalie. You’ve been such a fantastic addition to the Skepchick lineup, I don’t know how they ever got on without you!

  11. Avatar of Billy Clyde Tuggle
    December 12, 2011 at 10:26 am —

    Great article, Natalie. As a straight male, I’ve only had a couple of instances where I feel like I got a taste of the female perspective. One time, I wandered into a book store that unbeknownst to me turned out to cater to gay clientele. As I was flipping through a book of erotic photos another man came up beside me and gave me this really intense stare. It made me extremely uncomfortable. I also have a gay colleague who I see in the hallway at work from time to time. Perhaps I am projecting, but I’d swear that there is something about how he looks at me that is more than just a friendly glance.

    On the other hand, I work with a lot of women, many of whom I find very attractive, so with the shoe on the other foot I really have to work hard at keeping that attraction compartmentalized so that I don’t let it bias the way I treat them as colleagues while at the same time not denying my sexuality. Articles such as yours and others that I’ve read here on Skepchick have been helpful towards raising my consciousness on this subject.

    Keep the good work coming, Natalie.

    \BCT

  12. Avatar of Sarah
    December 12, 2011 at 10:34 am —

    I thought this was a great article, but I have kind of a stupid question…what do you mean when you say people have “clocked” you? Where I’m from, it means “punching,” and I don’t think that’s what you meant here.

    • Avatar of Vene
      December 12, 2011 at 11:01 am —

      It means they read her as transsexual.

      Excellent post, Natalie. And I love the picture of you with the trap sign.

      • Avatar of Natalie
        December 12, 2011 at 12:57 pm —

        Heh. It was from a “trans liberation march” back during Pride Week. It didn’t go over as well as I’d hoped. :p

        • Avatar of almulhida
          December 12, 2011 at 6:54 pm —

          That wouldn’t surprise me. Of all the slurs I’ve ever heard directed at me, trap is by far the most enraging.

  13. Avatar of gonzblinko
    December 12, 2011 at 10:40 am —

    Before I read this item, I didn’t realize how much I had in common with people who are transgender. My “change” came not from surgery nor choice but, rather, cost me my vision. So, I grew up as a upper income, white, blonde, blue eyed and male but, now in my early fifties, I am profoundly vision impaired and my entire sense of privilege has gone away and I am a far more empathetic person as a result.

    Persons with disability are, according to the United Nations Convention on Human rights and Dignity for People with Disabilities, “the largest and single most oppressed minority in the world.” Years ago, the US Supreme Court even ruled that people with disabilities have fewer constitutional protections than the population at large. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), specifically states that a place of public accommodation (which includes job sites) only needs to provide “reasonable accommodations” which is a much lower bar than any other minority. And, my personal favorite, is that the Internet has few regulations regarding disabilities and even fewer web sites conforming with laws and guidelines on accessibility and nearly no enforcement of the laws seem to make any substantive differences.

    When people with disabilities are left out, we get patronizing statements promising something better in the future and a suggestion that we be grateful for every piece of shit they choose to give us.

    So, I feel from incredible privilege to a point where I don’t even get to enjoy the same freedoms as everyone else in my country. I haven’t the right to free speech because many web sites where I might make a comment blocks people with vision impairment from entering. I can’t even read some major newspapers from around the world because they discriminate against people like me.

    This discrimination clearly exists in in the world of skepticism and lefty politics. FOr instance, I sent a note to Brian Dunning complaining about some relatively minor accessibility issues. His response was not to ask how he could fix his site but, rather, to block me from Twitter (where I made 4 comments and wasn’t being a pest) and his site still has the problem components. Others, Jay Novella from SGU, for instance, told me that accessibility for people with disabilities was a low priority for him and, while I can read and comment on the SGU blog, I cannot participate in their forums. On the political front, The Nation has a web site with accessibility problems and a totally inaccessible iPhone app. I can continue endlessly but these examples should illustrate the issues.

    Needless to say, I endorse this post and want to help in any effort to break down the barriers built by privilege.

    • Avatar of BeardofPants
      December 12, 2011 at 2:51 pm —

      Interesting. I’m hearing impaired, and there’s lots of environments that I get both positively and negatively discriminated against because of it, but until I read your comment on how disabled people are oppressed, I never really even thought of my own experiences as a deaf person. I am somewhat privileged though in that I “pass”. If I don’t hear someone, or I can’t properly interact in a crowded room, people just assume I’m snobby rather than that I can’t hear.

  14. Avatar of SteveT
    December 12, 2011 at 10:45 am —

    Natalie, as usual, I found myself riveted by every word. Thanks for the truly unique and fascinating perspective on gender and privilege. I feel like the scales are starting to fall from my eyes.

    Keep it coming!

  15. Avatar of Katherine Lorraine
    December 12, 2011 at 11:02 am —

    Thank you for the post, Natalie – even though admittedly it makes me all the more terrified of future transition (that combined with nearing 30… gettin’ old…)

    • Avatar of Natalie
      December 12, 2011 at 12:23 pm —

      Just focus on that line near the end:

      Totally. Completely. Worth it. Every single annoying thing…worth it.

      :)

      • Avatar of Katherine Lorraine
        December 12, 2011 at 12:31 pm —

        Still terrifying. I come from super-fundie family.

        • Avatar of Julya
          December 21, 2011 at 7:54 am —

          Hi Katherine,

          I agree, it is totally worth it. Even at an older age.
          Personally I didn’t go into my transition until I was nearing 40 for several reasons. It was never fear of it, but it (for a part) did have to do with my stance in life.
          I don’t know how your family will react to it, that’s a risk that only you can assess, but I found that my parents and siblings have accepted it as my choice and accept me for just those choices made.
          Finally taking this step is considered very brave by many, and inevitable by me. I realize the consequences are different in every society. As Natalie relates the western canadian society, I can relate to Dutch society, and the glimpses I have had in the USA, Australia, India and China as I worked and travelled there.
          I will not complain about how lucky I am for living in the Netherlands and finding little of the discrimination that Natalie spoke about. I know it is there, I know even the tolerance that I am used to has come and gone. And maybe it is the social circles I find myself in that make me lucky.
          What I do consider myself is happy, happy I made this decision, happy that I am myself. I always thought my life was a lie till I became me, myself and lived as I want to live.
          It truly is a liberating feeling.

    • Avatar of Xanthë
      December 13, 2011 at 12:06 am —

      Pssst, Kitty, some of us are closer to 40 and still finding the prospect of transitioning daunting!

      Another great article, Natalie.

  16. Avatar of carolw
    December 12, 2011 at 11:05 am —

    Natalie, thanks for another wonderful post. One of my husband’s gaming buddies is transitioning MTF, so I recommended your blogs to her. Of course, she already knew about you. :)
    Keep up the good work. Your writing is insightful and informative with the perfect amount of snark. I love it.

  17. Avatar of Sunil
    December 12, 2011 at 11:30 am —

    I’m cis male, thank you so much for writing this.

  18. Avatar of Praedico
    December 12, 2011 at 11:44 am —

    Posts like this are why I read Skepchick, and why the other blogs I read most regularly are feminist/LGBT oriented. Besides the highly interesting subject matter, I want to be keep myself aware of my various privileges (white, male, cis and mostly straight) so that I can avoid abusing them, and try to make life a little easier for others that don’t share my privileges. So thank you, Natalie, for writing this; it’s great to hear from somebody that’s experienced both sides.

    Also, I never fail to be shocked by the kind of things guys say to women, cis or trans. It is, I think, the best (or should that be worst?) reminder of the status of women in our society.

    By the way, I know you said not to get you started on your dating experiences, but honestly, I’d be really interested to hear what that’s like for you (or other transwomen and men). But I guess that’s probably not really a skeptical subject.

  19. Avatar of jedibear
    December 12, 2011 at 11:48 am —

    That’s a very interesting perspective, and it’s certainly given me something to think about.

    Here’s what I think I can contribute to the discussion:
    I agree with you that you’re probably getting a fair bit of “noise” from the interaction of the “passing privilege” thing, but that doesn’t invalidate the perspective so much as it’s something that needs to be kept in mind.

    I have further possible confounding factors to consider.

    The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. The rich and the poor, for example, each envy the other in turn because the other does not face their problems.

    Objectively, it’s easy to see that the rich are privileged over the poor and in the same way it’s objectively easy to demonstrate that men generally have it much better than women (no matter how terribly society treats us) but at the same time it’s easy from the perspective of the poor to exaggerate the privileges of the rich and, one supposes, from the perspective of a woman to exaggerate the privileges of a man. Even if you’ve been there because…

    …Nostalgia may color your memories of your previous state. We all remember the past as better than it was, no matter how bad it actually was.

    A further confounding factor is naturally found in the individuality of experience. You might view the “you’re a smart guy, you can fix this” interaction a little differently if you actually were a computer guy who’d sunk thousands of dollars and several years into acquiring those skills and then were regularly expected to fix your friends’ computer problems for free. At a moment’s notice. No matter how many hours it takes.

    • Avatar of Natalie
      December 12, 2011 at 12:27 pm —

      Well… it might be important to note that I don’t MISS living as a man, or feel nostalgic for it. Not in the slightest. And the more time passes, I feel very disconnected from that life, like it was some other person. Some very, very unhappy person.

      I was completely and totally miserable back then, and was self-destructing in some very real, very scary ways. Since transition, I’ve felt happier than I EVER did before. Really. It’s been a fantastic improvement in my life.

      So I’m not really looking back on those memories with rosy-coloured glasses. If anything, I see them as a nightmare I’m enormously grateful to have finally woken up from. But I do remember the social advantages that went along with it, and the great many issues I now have to worry about that used to be things I could ignore or take for granted.

  20. Avatar of Lezgeek
    December 12, 2011 at 11:54 am —

    What an insightful article. I am a fairly androgynous female myself and have noticed disparity as well. When people identify me as male I get treated with more respect than when people (correctly) identify me as female. The worst is when I can tell people don’t know whether I am a man or a woman, then they don’t know how to treat me

  21. Avatar of eclipsicle
    December 12, 2011 at 12:22 pm —

    Thank you! I feel privileged to learn about privilege. I love that Skepchick is bringing these consciousness-raising issues to skepticism. What a great venue to spread these messages. How exciting to feel part of a wave progressing humanity to a place where more people can feel fully human and alive.

  22. Avatar of James Fox
    December 12, 2011 at 1:10 pm —

    Thanks Natalie, I really appreciate your willingness to share your story and perspective; and all the better when the writing is excellent!

  23. Avatar of faith
    December 12, 2011 at 1:21 pm —

    Yay Natalie! Yet another incredibly riveting essay. I used to work in a pretty dodgy neighborhood and would get propositioned as a prostitute pretty frequently on my way to and from the parking lot. I learned a lot working in that neighborhood.

  24. Avatar of erikakharada
    December 12, 2011 at 1:57 pm —

    Excellent post. Thank you so much.

    One thing I thought of while reading this piece was that blatant acts of cissexism/racism/misogyny/homophobia/ablism etc. are visible and easy to combat, but the less blatant ones entrenched in society are a lot harder to pinpoint and bring up for discussion.

    For example — if you belong to a minority, you wouldn’t know if you were passed up for a work position because of your gender/race/etc because in most cases, people won’t tell you.

    I suppose the only ways to combat this type of oppression would be to work from the bottom up to dispel stereotypes about minorities, which is a Herculean task…

  25. Avatar of Christianne
    December 12, 2011 at 2:10 pm —

    I remember the exact moment when I realized that I no longer enjoyed all that wonderful male privilege. It was at a movie, oddly enough. I went to a movie alone, something that I had done dozens, if not hundreds of times before. This occurred maybe three months after I transitioned. It was at the tail end of the movie’s run, so the theater had tucked this showing in the back corner where movies play out the string, an area that was largely unwatched and under-lit. There were four other members of the audience, all men, and me. As we filed out, I realized that I had put myself at risk, something that wasn’t even part of my universe before. Nothing bad had happened to me, fortunately, but I got some dirty looks. It kind of freaked me out. I used to take the privilege of going to movies alone for granted. Now, I don’t. I still do it, but I’m a LOT more careful about it.

    Anyway, good post.

  26. Avatar of Will
    December 12, 2011 at 2:25 pm —

    Thanks for this post, Natalie. <3!

  27. Avatar of benjaminsa
    December 12, 2011 at 2:27 pm —

    Thank you for a great post, it is wonderful having you writing for Skepchick. Looking at the picture of Joey from friends, it is amazing how deep this is embedded in our culture, and how much it is excused and laughed off. You are right, until someone actively points it out, you just don’t notice.

    ps love Oliver Sacks, and was particularly fascinated with Cotard’s syndrome.

  28. Avatar of BeardofPants
    December 12, 2011 at 2:56 pm —

    Natalie, great post. As I said on facebook, I really stood up & took notice after reading that trans in workplace article as well. I think it coincided with a flurry of posts with you. Please know that you’ve positively influenced this one person with your experiences and your POV. Skepchick has seriously become a better place because of you (and they were already pretty rockin’).

    I wish I could devote more time and energy to writing and blogging. I just don’t have the stamina. I’d love to write an article of being a female deaf skeptic.

    • Avatar of Natalie
      December 12, 2011 at 3:49 pm —

      That sounds like it would a terrific article! If you do ever find the time, please send it in. My guess is Rebecca would be more than happy to run it. :)

      • Avatar of BeardofPants
        December 12, 2011 at 4:28 pm —

        Something to aim for. Certainly reading other peoples’ perspectives has helped identify some of my own biases and privileges and hardships. Maybe one day I will sit down and try and untangle what it’s like to be a deaf (who passes) feminist atheist. Right now I’m happy to listen, learn and talk to others and build that upon my own experiences. :)

  29. Avatar of makingtheman
    December 12, 2011 at 3:38 pm —

    Thank you for writing this. It’s so interesting to me as a transman to read the social changes and male privilege from a transwoman’s point of view. I wrote a similar article from my own perspective several months ago if you’d care to read it (I loved that you mentioned the change in expectations over fixing printers!):

    http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/sir-can-you-help-me-with-this/

  30. Avatar of julianfrancisco
    December 12, 2011 at 4:19 pm —

    Just another cis-male hoping to thank you for the article. And I’m glad all the crap hasn’t made you regret the transition.

    • Avatar of Natalie
      December 12, 2011 at 4:50 pm —

      I don’t think anything ever could. Even if I were murdered tomorrow, it would still have been worth it. Just for this one shining period of living an honest, uncompromised, happy life.

      I don’t worship Alan Moore like some people do, but this is one of my favorite pieces of writing ever:

      http://www.shadowgalaxy.net/Vendetta/valerie.html

  31. Avatar of khatsworth
    December 12, 2011 at 4:39 pm —

    Very interesting article. Hi Nathalie!

    It really is odd to see the clash between our experiences. I mean, I can relate on a couple of points (police thinking I’m a prostitute >_> ), but I’d also be curious to find out what exactly makes it that we don’t face the same treatment from men in our daily lives.

    Maybe it lies within the sexuality men perceive us to have? I know I’ve received a few comments in the past that I “look like a lesbian”, whatever that means. Maybe the predatory men don’t see me as a good target because of that? [/theory] Is it maybe related to the personality and vibe we give off?

    It certainly would be interesting to poke at what makes the difference between various women getting harassed more or less, other than their relative closeness to stereotypical beauty norms.

    ~ Your Montreal friend (one of, anyways. :D )

  32. Avatar of Alexandra
    December 12, 2011 at 6:01 pm —

    I agree and sympathize. When I started going out as a woman, I expected a little more attention and (hopefully, I thought at the time) some catcalls. I did not expect men to pull their cars over to lewdly offer me rides while I was walking. I did not expect to be chased by, and almost cornered by, four men in an SUV. I did not expect cab drivers to pull up next to me and belligerently demand oral sex. And I was not dressed provocatively, if that is in question. Not that it would excuse such behavior.

    Gender inequality goes way beyond the paycheck, and it’s not trivial — it’s downright scary. Of course, it won’t stop me from being who I am. I just have to be a little more careful and clever than I thought I would.

    Thank you for sharing the day-to-day perspective. It’s something that needs to be looked at, and you’re in a fairly unique place to speak from experience.

  33. Avatar of daedalus2u
    December 12, 2011 at 6:31 pm —

    I was looking through some old comments I had made and found one on privilege which I have modified slightly. I think the most important and all encompassing type of privilege is ignorant people privilege, IPP. People expressing ignorant people privilege IPP always do feel privileged and essentially always because of their ignorance. I think IPP is the archetypal privilege. All other privilege derives from that.

    Xenophobia derives from not being able to understand someone who is the other and so feels that they are non-human. The fundamental cause of bigotry is ignorance.

    http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/2010/03/physiology-behind-xenophobia.html

    Ignorance is also something that can always be fixed but it requires a willingness on the part of the person who is ignorant to learn. A skeptic is someone who is willing to examine fundamental premises. A denialist is someone who can’t.

    In my above post I mention Steven Colbert’s idea of “truthy”. The most important aspect of truthy is its selfish aspect. It is the emphasis on the absolute prioritization of the feelings and perspective of the person experiencing truthy. People experiencing truthy don’t have the ability to consider other alternatives. They have their own feelings which they have privileged above all else, including physical reality.

    I have Asperger’s, so a lot of non-verbal communication goes right over my head, so I just don’t get a lot of what is going on. I am sure that sometimes people misinterpret my responses as coming from a sense of privilege that I am not aware of and that I am not trying to exhibit.

  34. Avatar of almulhida
    December 12, 2011 at 6:49 pm —

    Thank you for writing this. I’ve always felt that women didn’t quite get what they were missing, though I’m less than happy to hear there’s some truth to it.

    I haven’t gone out as female yet though I’m getting to the point where I need to start thinking about it seriously (the boobs are starting to um, poke out). Good to have some idea of what to expect.

    • Avatar of johnmburt1960
      December 13, 2011 at 12:36 pm —

      Almulhida, a person wearing slacks and a button-down shirt who has visible breasts is presenting as a woman.

      • Avatar of almulhida
        December 13, 2011 at 6:08 pm —

        I’m not sure what this has to do with me, but I don’t even own a pair of slacks or a button down shirt.

  35. Avatar of AstroCJ
    December 12, 2011 at 7:01 pm —

    (Awesome article Natalie!)

    I remember right after going full time one of the first things that happened was a taxi driver tried to rip us off, telling us he’d take us into town only if we paid in advance – with plainly no intent on taking us all the way. That kind of thing just *did not happen* as male.

    I hadn’t realised that two women getting a taxi was so very different from a werman and a woman getting a taxi, and only thank my lucky stars that I didn’t learn this in a much, much worse way.

  36. Avatar of katesears
    December 12, 2011 at 7:10 pm —

    I love your writing Natalie, you always totally make me think. And for me this piece has provoked even more thought of the kind I have been doing since I started reading Skepchick, about male privilege and the discrimination against and harassment of women. Your take on this, with the ‘before and after’ experience spelled out, has brought something home to me in a new way. I’m not sure how to express it, because it seems like a very very trivial nonproblem in comparision to the problems expressed in both your piece here and previous writings by the whole crew of Skepchicks. Thought I’d give it a go tho.

    Basically: I don’t get it. I don’t mean that in the sense that I don’t understand what you’re saying. What I mean is, I don’t get this stuff happening to me (or other women around me), which I suspect means that I don’t *get* it in the other sense either. As a younger woman (I’m talking late teens, early twenties), I used to think that the whole idea of male privilege was an outdated thing, mainly because I personally had never experienced any sort of discrimination because of my gender at all. But through the writings of women like you, and a lot more research which has both shocked and appalled me, I’ve really begun to realise what a huge problem this is.
    I don’t know why I’ve never experienced anything like what you and other women go through regularly (at first I attributed it to where I live – New Zealand – but then I’ve lived in the US and Australia too, and didn’t experience it there either). Maybe because I went to a single sex high school, as do most people in my country? I’m beginning to think maybe I just don’t notice it. Is that even possible? From your descriptions of the difference (especially when I consider that when you presented as male you probably didn’t come across as a typical ‘manly-man’, therefore marking you as a target for more harassment than the average male would get, please correct me if I’m wrong with that assumption), I just don’t see that it would be possible to not notice this.

    Am I so totally oblivious? I mean, I used to get angry at Ani DiFranco songs wondering what the hell she was even whinging about (songs/poems like ‘My IQ’ etc). I mean, as far as I know, I have been wolf whistled at exactly one time in my life, and at that time I was topless and and engaged in pressing my assets against a windowpane for the edification of a group of friends outside (ah, the follies of relative youth…). I have never experienced unwanted come-ons, sexual remarks, lack of opportunity related to being female – anything like that, or any of the other experiences that women, both cis and trans, have outlined above.

    Yeah, great problem to have, I know. Obviously, I am not unhappy about this, because who would want that shit on a regular basis. My problem is I now wonder if I am not completely overlooking something that everyone around me sees, and possibly putting myself in danger or leaving me unable to identify with the experiences of other women because of some sort of lack-of-privilege blindness.

    So, Skepchickians, am I wandering vaguely through life simply not noticing that I’m being discriminated against, or am I just hella lucky? And if it’s the first, what do I do about it, and if it’s the second, what can I do, if anything, to improve things for women who don’t have it so good?

    (I suppose I should add that I’m a cis-gendered woman in my thirties, married, one kid)

    • Avatar of besomyka
      December 12, 2011 at 9:00 pm —

      I suspect you may have a bit of both. It is likely that you are being discriminated against (although, possibly in a way that isn’t offensive to you). For example, I don’t know if your friends ask you to help fix their cars or computers. You may not want to, and so never noticed that everyone around you assumes that you don’t know anything about those things. There’s a whole set of assumptions that people make that might just happen to be true of you.

      You may also be very lucky. I mean, everyone has different experiences, and you may be one of those people that – not through any effort of your own, or effort of those around you – just happened to avoid, thus far, the various indignities discussed.

      Another thing is that, maybe just out of habit, you haven’t gone out on city streets much. If you tend to go out with a group of friends, they can be very insulating. It’s more often the solo or duo groups that get more attention.

      As for the second part, what you can do, I’d say the same thing that everyone does that has privilege. Be aware of it. Accept the experiences of the women and others that what they are saying is real and not a delusion. Be aware when privilege is being asserted, and do what you can to correct those around you if you can.

      Honestly, for your writing, I think you’re aware of all that anyway. having been able to avoid that sort of thing is great! Hopefully that will become an ever more common experience for everyone!

    • Avatar of Anne S
      December 12, 2011 at 9:15 pm —

      I agree with besomyka that it’s likely a combination of luck and just not noticing it (or not recognizing it for what it is). I know that since I’ve spent more time reading and thinking about the ways that women are treated differently than men, I’ve noticed things that I just took for granted before.

      An example of this, and incident that is problematic for a couple of reasons: one afternoon several months ago I was heading down into the subway. There was an older homeless man in a wheel chair begging for change at the top of the stairs. I have my “downtown face” on–that is, I’m not making contact with anyone, I’m very aware of my personal space and belongings, etc–and as I pass this man he says “How about a smile, sweetie?” His asking made first made me realize that I was glaring (but not at anyone, it’s just part of the “downtown face”), and then realize that he was asking the men around me for money. A couple years ago, I might have smiled or at least thought, “Well, all he’s asking for is a smile…” but now I wonder why I’m singled out and asked for a smile instead of asked for money.

      This is not a perfect example (and again I recognize it is problematic in more ways than just that one), but it is an example of something that I wouldn’t have given another thought to previously.

      • Avatar of Otoki
        December 13, 2011 at 4:13 am —

        Oh yes. The obligatory smile. Because heaven forbid a woman NOT SMILE as she goes about her day.

        I was on the bus one time and my regular bus driver (who was always pissy) was doing her usual thing when a dude who got on the bus TOLD HER TO SMILE. I’m surprised he didn’t burst into flames from her look.

        I will attest to the fact that taking public transit and walking a lot definitely increases the chances of street harassment. It’s a lot harder to be harassed when you’re in your own moving bubble (car).

    • Avatar of Dan
      December 13, 2011 at 2:04 am —

      I’m interested in your response here, katesears, because I’ve had a similar experience in regard to being gay. I came out halfway through high school and have not once since then experienced any kind of bullying, harassment, or homophobic reaction (well, aside from one awkward conversation with my grandfather). Oh, and one time an old guy in a bus station raised his eyes a bit when I planted a big kiss on my boyfriend upon his arrival. But aside from that, not a whiff.

      Of course, I realise now that a lot of this has to do with my own kind of “passing” privilege–I’m not especially femme and people don’t usually peg me as gay unless I tell them or make it obvious in some other way. And while I certainly don’t regret my good luck in this regard, I do now recognise that my own privilege did, to an extent, colour my perception and blind me to others’ experiences.

      I’m actually really grateful to Skepchick for regularly addressing these issues in a way that is conducive to thoughtful questioning and discussion, and I’ve learned a great deal about lots of different kinds of privilege (gender, able-ist, etc) because of it. I had some bad experiences with certain activist types years ago, where my honest-but-naive questions were responded to with eye-rolls, condescension, and hostility rather than any kind of well-reasoned answer (which of course tends to give the impression that the respondent can’t actually provide such an snwer, but oh well). Tl;dr – your approach here is great and it works!

      As I side note, discussions of “Why don’t you smile?” are always a little funny to me, as this is something that happened very frequently to my dad, and he complained about it constantly. Sample size of one, I know, but perhaps it’s not always about gender, and just that society at large is uncomfortable with people looking grumpy? He’d always respond with “This is how my face looks; sorry you don’t like it.” You know, if anyone wants to borrow that line.

  37. Avatar of James K
    December 12, 2011 at 11:05 pm —

    Wow Natalie, this was a powerful and enlightening piece.. Thanks you for writing it.

  38. Avatar of feministwhore
    December 12, 2011 at 11:33 pm —

    “I mean no disrespect towards sex workers.”

    None taken here. Great post.

  39. Avatar of theliterator
    December 12, 2011 at 11:54 pm —

    I got linked this by a friend who said it was the most thought provoking thing he’s read in awhile, and while some quotes stood out for me:

    Now they speak really. Slowly. To. Make Sure. I Understand. All This. Complicated. Guy Stuff. … sweetheart.

    and:

    Being ordered to smile. “Gimme a smile, baby”. I’ll look prettier if I smile. Apparently. Never mind my actual feelings or mood. Being pretty is what counts!

    Because they happen to me. On a daily basis. One of these days, I’m going to crack and say, “The reason I’m not smiling is YOU, asshole,” but when I do that, they inevitably blame me for whatever I’m feeling. Which of course is all complicated female-emotion stuff.

    I think part of why my friend linked me was in hopes that I’d say “No, I’ve never experienced that!” because it hurts him to know that people do that sort of stuff around him, but at some point we, as women, need to stand up and say that this is NOT our responsibility. I don’t need to make you feel better for the sexism in my life.

    Until we can decide, wholeheartedly and with no reservations, that it’s not our fault we get harassed, we’ll continue to allow ourselves to apologize for others’ behavior.

    And as long as we apologize for the way we are treated, people will still think it’s okay to treat us that way.

    • Avatar of julianfrancisco
      December 13, 2011 at 2:33 am —

      And as long as we apologize for the way we are treated, people will still think it’s okay to treat us that way. -theliterator

      +1

  40. Avatar of BrettH
    December 13, 2011 at 3:44 am —

    Privilege is a concept that is mostly new to me. I’m a cisgendered white man whose mostly straight, so I realize that I must be the beneficiary of a whole lot of privilege, but it can be hard to see at times. The first time I noticed it was when I was hanging out in Vancouver, BC, and I met a young woman I was very attracted to. I hung around too much, didn’t take hints (because I didn’t notice she’d been giving them), and in general acted like a creep. I’ve regretted how that must have made her feel for years, but what it’s led me to think of two questions and I thought this would be a good place to ask them:

    How do you notice when you’re benefiting from privilege to someone else’s detriment so that you can try to stop (or at least not be an ass about it)

    How do you bring it up when you are being discriminated against (or do you bring it up at all) when you are part of a heavily advantaged class?

    I ask the second question because I’ve had something to me that just fees weird. As a large man, I’m intimidating in the dark. I never, NEVER blame women for being careful around me, but it makes me feel like a bit of a creep when women reach for their pepper-spray as I walk by. I fully admit that them (rightly) feeling at risk is a bigger deal than me feeling (also rightly) like I’m dangerous for no reason, but I never feel like I can complain about it without looking like a misogynist bastard.

    (Sorry if this post is too long, It’s my first post on skepchick. I heard you on Godless Bitches and had to come read all your stuff and comment because you’re awesome)

    • Avatar of besomyka
      December 13, 2011 at 11:53 am —

      Personally, I think just being aware of its existence is the most important thing. There are a lot of situations where there just isn’t anything that can be done, because a lot the effects of privilege are subtle. It manifests as absentmindedness, or a lack of apparent empathy.

      If it were more overt we’d just call it sexism or racism.

      With regards to feeling bad about being a large man and having people assume you’re dangerous, I can offer you hope! The thing is that all these issues, patriarchy and privilege, and sexism, don’t just affect women. We take the brunt of it, for sure (and minorities and the less abled, etc). As you point out, it affects you negatively as well.

      The benefit is that, as these social issues improve for those disadvantaged now, the reaction that you get, and those negatives ALSO begin to go away. The solution is to help shift society in a positive way. Resist the patriarchy. Fight for letting people be themselves without incurring hostility.

      I do have some small suggestions.

      If it’s late and there’s a lone woman in an elevator that you want to use, just say you’ll catch the next one and let it go.

      If you’re walking along a street without many people around, and there’s a woman that you’d normally possibly scare, just cross to the other side and avoid the situation.

      It’s an imposition on you, I know, but it’s the empathetic thing to do. If you care about their feelings, and you’re aware of the effect you have (unjustly so, even!), then it’s the kind and compassionate thing to do.

      You can’t change everyone, but if you’re aware of the problem, then you can change your own behavior when you catch yourself, and that’s no small thing.

    • Avatar of besomyka
      December 13, 2011 at 12:17 pm —

      Poor form with two replies, I know, but there was one other thing I wanted to say.

      One of the things that privilege does is make people blind to the problem to begin with. So that you’re making an effort to be aware of it is the most important thing.

      For what you can do, more generally, is to keep aware, help other people be aware, and call out people – let them know that what they are doing is wrong – when it happens. If you have a friend cat-calling a woman, let him know that what he is doing is inappropriate.

      If a friend makes a sexist, racist, or genderist joke, don’t let him or her off the hook. They may honestly thing they are just being funny, and that you or the other people should just lighten up. They are just being funny.

      But it’s not. It does real harm. If you can, make them aware of why.

  41. Avatar of Setar
    December 13, 2011 at 3:58 am —

    I live near Vancouver and this is making me want to do a mini-documentary where I go out as a woman (I can pass if I grow my hair out again) and do something that I love to do in the summer, that being walk aimlessly around downtown with nothing but my wallet, phone and assorted stuff.

  42. Avatar of SophiaNOTLoren
    December 13, 2011 at 4:57 am —

    I know what this is like, too. One of the biggest things I’ve noticed is in tech stores and hardware stores — as a male-presenting computer geek, I could walk into Best Buy or Radio Shack or the tech department of any other place and find what I needed, or if I wanted help, ask for it, and be done. Now I get nearly blocked from entering by a wall of “Can I help you, miss? I’m sure you need some help with all this confusing computer stuff…”

    In a hardware store, when I walked in as a male-presenting person and was rather clueless about hammers and drills and bits and bolts, I had to work hard to get any help finding what I needed, and I was assumed to know all the “basics” so my questions were answered poorly. Now I get the same wall of “let me help you, dear!” whether I need it or not, and the answers to my questions are dumbed down, delivered in a sugary, patronizing tone — even by other women.

    I’ve gotten used to being mistaken for a prostitute; since the local bus system has made major service cuts, and my most frequent travel routes coincide with some of the area’s “strolls,” I’ve learned to notice and identify a car that’s cruising so that I can keep myself ready for any potential trouble, had men walk up and get in my face demanding to know if I’m “treating,” and I’ve lost track of the times I’ve been told to “Just SMILE, baby!””

    I’m constantly frightened of walking home at night, afraid of what might happen if one of these guys in the car decides he REALLY wants me, and doesn’t just pull away from the cub and keep looking for another girl, what if, what if, what if? Never would have happened when I was a boy. Never even thought about it back then.

  43. Avatar of daedalus2u
    December 13, 2011 at 11:17 am —

    There is a phone ap to deal with sexual harassment on the street.

    http://www.ihollaback.org/

    I think the idea is to have a secure site where when someone is harassed, they can use a cell phone to stream live video to that secure site where it will be recorded with time and location stamps.

  44. Avatar of johnmburt1960
    December 13, 2011 at 12:37 pm —

    “[W]hen was the last time you thought about proprioception? Unless you’re a neurologist, or read a lot of Oliver Sacks, the answer could very well be ‘never, I guess’.”

    OR, if you have ever had problems with proprioception, as for instance from suffering a bout of carpal tunnel syndrome. Temporarily or partially losing something is a great (and a traditional) way to begin the process of examining your unexamined privilege.

    I have just written a YA novel in which a woman who has been driving a Red Cross ambulance in the First World War in drag decides at war’s end that it’s time to drop her disguise, and my own examination of privilege, weak as it has probably been, allowed me to realize that the hardest thing for her would not be awkward explanations or shocked recognition, but being suddenly excluded from the world of men-who-have-been-to-war.

  45. Avatar of
    December 13, 2011 at 3:27 pm —

    “A man never gets to experience what it is to live as female in our society, and so it is all too easy for him to underestimate the degree of sexual discrimination that occurs.”

    True, like how women never understand what it’s like to underestimate other forms of discrimination. But lets wait and see if the author makes that distinction.

    “It becomes all too easy for men or white people to imagine that things like sexism and racism are things of the past… far removed problems that, since they’re unnoticed, must no longer exist.”

    This is a very dishonest statement. It implies that the oppression of colored people by whites, is equal to the oppression of women by men.

    “…men are also limited by their set of lived experiences and observed reality in being able to see that they do indeed possess certain social privileges, and that their lives are in many ways easier than those of others.”

    To say that men have certain privileges is obvious, just like the fact that women have some as well. But to say it makes being a man ‘easier’ is crap. It is probably true that there are one million men who have it easier than you. But there would also be one million men who have it harder than you. Society forces expectations on both genders equally. Two very different expectations, but both expectations nonetheless.

    Suffering isn’t lumped into two categories. You can’t determine the level of suffering endured by women based off a few social trends, whilst ignoring all other social trends that affect men, or benefit women. (aka cherry picking)

    I should also mention that suffering is subjective. It isn’t hard to come to the conclusion that women, just as men, benefit from sexism. And it isn’t so hard to see, that men, just as women, suffer from it.

    Something a feminist would do though, is try to determine who suffers more by focusing on one aspect of social injustice whilst ignoring those who suffer from others all around them. Determining that women suffer more sexual objectification is true but completely misleading. That is one aspect of gender objectification being used to determine all suffering everywhere experienced by men and women.

    • Avatar of Otoki
      December 13, 2011 at 5:46 pm —

      Please don’t descend into Oppression Olympics. Natalie actually makes a few points about intersectionality, especially the fact that being poor or having to take public transit/walk increasing certain chances of harassment (and thus, oppression). When discussing privilege, it is true that males (of any income level, race, body ability, sexuality) will generally never experience first-hand the specific oppressions aimed at women (of any income level, race, body ability, sexuality). It is true that white people (of any income level, gender, body ability, sexuality) will generally never experience first-hand the specific oppressions aimed at people of color. Natalie is not in any way making a value judgment or weighing oppression of different groups (because Oppression Olympics are a complete waste of time and do nothing but derail useful discussion). She is stating a truth, that everyone experiences different privileges and oppressions, and that unless you have experienced said oppressions, you will never REALLY understand what those specific oppressions feel like.

      It doesn’t mean you can’t sympathize. It doesn’t mean you don’t experience other types of oppression. If anything, it is a call for people to AVOID saying things like “Well, as a woman, I can understand how you feel when you experience racism.” Um, not unless you’re a person of color, or were a racial minority elsewhere and experienced oppression because of it. Even in the latter situation, it doesn’t give you an understanding of what a person of color experiences in this country, with its unique history that is different from other countries.

      • Avatar of
        December 13, 2011 at 6:30 pm —

        “Please don’t descend into Oppression Olympics.”

        Oppression Olympics: Competing for the position of most oppressed (a group event)

        Actually, Natalie is the one pushing her position of “most oppressed”, I am stating that one gender is not inherently oppressed over the other.

        “Natalie is not in any way making a value judgment or weighing oppression of different groups”

        Quotes:
        “And while we’re pretty much all being hurt by the gender binary, and no one is really benefiting all that much, women are getting the worst of it.”

        “and that their [men] lives are in many ways easier than those of others. It becomes difficult to accept that they have any specific advantages over women because they have no basis of comparison.”

        Yes, she is.

        “(because Oppression Olympics are a complete waste of time and do nothing but derail useful discussion)”

        I never said men have it worse. In fact, I think I made it clear that my point was that no one gender has it worse. And that each gender has different obstacles to overcome.

        “She is stating a truth, that everyone experiences different privileges and oppressions, and that unless you have experienced said oppressions, you will never REALLY understand what those specific oppressions feel like. ”

        She is also stating a fiction that women have it worse and men have it easier; all seemingly on the basis of sexual objectification.

        • Avatar of Natalie
          December 13, 2011 at 6:54 pm —

          Sexual harassment / objectification is only one particular example I chose too go into more deeply, because it is the one I found most jarring. You’ll notice I also included discussion of condescension, the assumed lack of intelligence in women, the risk of violence associated with going out after dark, etc. I simply didn’t have time to go into absolutely every issue, so I chose to focus on the one that for me, personally, has been particularly difficult to deal with.

          Yes, I am saying that although men and women alike suffer from sexism and gender binaries, that same system also provides greater benefit to men and lesser detriment.

          • Avatar of
            December 13, 2011 at 7:12 pm

            I don’t think we’ll ever agree on anything.

    • Avatar of julianfrancisco
      December 13, 2011 at 5:47 pm —

      “It implies that the oppression of colored people by whites, is equal to the oppression of women by men.”

      No it doesn’t.

      “But to say it makes being a man ‘easier’ is crap”

      Easier to find work, reach higher offie, get promoted, get a raise ectectect

      I would say even without the ectectect it adds up to it being easier being a man.

      “But there would also be one million men who have it harder than you.”

      Likely because she is middle class, white, of sound mind and educated.

      “whilst ignoring all other social trends that affect men, or benefit women.”

      such as?

      “It isn’t hard to come to the conclusion that women, just as men, benefit from sexism.”

      Just like minorities benefit from racism.

      “That is one aspect of gender objectification being used to determine all suffering everywhere experienced by men and women.”

      No, it isn’t. It’s something being shared by Natalie to help illustrate the different expectations people have of men and women and how this one aspect has affected her life.

      You, MikeFromCanada, are the one being dishonest.

      • Avatar of
        December 13, 2011 at 6:15 pm —

        “Easier to find work, reach higher office, get promoted, get a raise ectectect

        I would say even without the ectectect it adds up to it being easier being a man.”

        More likely to be random victim of violence, more likely to be homeless, more likely to commit suicide, more likely to die young. Providing a list of some benefits men receive is stupid. It’s like me saying it’s easier to be women because they get more government aid. It’s completely one-sided because you’re only presenting benefits awarded to men and not women.

        “such as?”

        Well, the ridiculous train of thought I interpreted from the author of this article was, “More women are victims of sexual objectification, so they are objectified more than men.” While completely ignoring that men are objectified in other areas. Such as their wallets/status.

        “Just like minorities benefit from racism.”

        Is this an actual a reply or a sarcastic remark. I can’t tell.

        “No, it isn’t. It’s something being shared by Natalie to help illustrate the different expectations people have of men and women and how this one aspect has affected her life.”

        No, actually, I think she illustrates quite clearly in the first few paragraphs that she thinks women are objectified more than men, and are the greater victims of oppression.

        • Avatar of julianfrancisco
          December 13, 2011 at 7:11 pm —

          “More likely to be random victim of violence”

          But not sexual violence.

          “more likely to commit suicide”

          though not more likely to suffer from depression

          “Providing a list of some benefits men receive is stupid.”

          The point of my list was to illustrate how much easier men have it in gaining positions of power in our society. If you don’t think that’s a problem we might as well end the conversation now.

          • Avatar of
            December 13, 2011 at 7:19 pm

            I don’t think I made my point clear enough. I’m not here to argue what specific things men and women suffer from. I was trying to explain that men and women both have certain benefits and obstacles when it comes to gender, and that determining who “has it worse” is not only wrong, but counter-productive.

          • Avatar of Natalie
            December 13, 2011 at 7:27 pm

            Which is perhaps why MRAs should stop making claims that women’s statements about male privilege are unfounded, or that women have it easier and so forth.

            The primary thing that I’d hope people would take away from this is that it’s very difficult for someone who has only ever experienced living as one gender to make statements about the differences in experiences, and that there are specific cognitive distortions getting in the way of men being able to perceive their privilege. Distortions you yourself are demonstrating.

            If you truly, deeply believe that there is no real meaningful difference in the experience of sexism for a man and for a woman, how about you go and live as a woman for a couple months and then get back to me? Then you can come back and tell me that it isn’t in any way more difficult to live as a woman in this society. THEN I will consider your perspective on this as being truly unbiased.

          • Avatar of
            December 13, 2011 at 11:07 pm

            “Which is perhaps why MRAs should stop making claims that women’s statements about male privilege are unfounded, or that women have it easier and so forth.”

            I’m not an MRA, if that’s what you’re getting at.

            “The primary thing that I’d hope people would take away from this is that it’s very difficult for someone who has only ever experienced living as one gender to make statements about the differences in experiences, and that there are specific cognitive distortions getting in the way of men being able to perceive their privilege. Distortions you yourself are demonstrating.”

            I’m not making statements about the personal differences in experiences. If anything, I’m the only one here saying that everyone’s life is different, and we should not determine which group suffers more. Instead, we should be looking at each individuals personal experience. Clearly you think that men have it easy because they were born with a penis. Your own distortions let you believe that you can spout that nonsense without any proof; other than your own biased opinions. And instead of attacking the points I present, you attack the authority of the writer. Such as, “How would you know? You’re privilege blinds you.”

            If you want to get your point across that will not work.

            And if I were a woman who denied your opinions, what would your reply be? Because there are women I know, and women who write their opinions on the internet who disagree with you. Are they distorted?

            “Then you can come back and tell me that it isn’t in any way more difficult to live as a woman in this society. THEN I will consider your perspective on this as being truly unbiased.”

            How is your opinion unbiased? You clearly showed the desire to be a woman more than a man so much as to become a trans woman. I would say your image of men is extremely biased to a point where you would prefer not to be one.

          • Avatar of Natalie
            December 13, 2011 at 11:23 pm

            Wow, Mike. Wow.

            You’ve clearly misread things pretty badly. I don’t have any hatred or negative feelings towards men whatsoever, I did not express any in this piece, the ultimate point is not about “who suffers more”, obviously I made no claims about “men having it easy because they have a penis”, and my transition was definitely NOT motivated just because I hated men so much I couldn’t bear to be one. You really don’t know what you’re talking about, and I’d appreciate you not making such assumptions. That’s a massive over-simplification, massively inaccurate, completely groundless, quite insulting, and instantly dashes a great deal of my good will towards you and willingness to consider your points.

            Your point about how men also have to deal with various forms of sexism? Yes. You’re right, they do. And I acknowledged that in the article. I also have first hand experience of it, because I lived it. I am, however, able to contrast that kind of sexism against misogynistic sexism. My experiences, as I’ve interpreted them, have made it clear to me that male privilege is a very real thing, and “female privilege” is not.

            That said, I’d prefer not to continue this discussion. I’d also request that you please not keep bringing this “what about the men?” stuff here. You’ve explicitly stated that you have no real interest in this blog beyond disagreeing with us, and to keep coming just for sake of arguing is rather poor manners.

            I’ll let all the lovely commenters handle it from here.

          • Avatar of
            December 13, 2011 at 11:37 pm

            “I don’t have any hatred or negative feelings towards men whatsoever,”

            Never said you did. Who is the one misreading things? All I said is that it is very clear you prefer being a woman over a man.

            I made no claims about “men having it easy because they have a penis”

            Well, you didn’t say ‘penis’ but you definitely said that men have it easier. So what assumptions am I making here?

            “and my transition was definitely NOT motivated just because I hated men so much I couldn’t bear to be one.”

            I never suggested that you hated men so much you didn’t want to be one.

            “You really don’t know what you’re talking about, and I’d appreciate you not making such assumptions. That’s a massive over-simplification, massively inaccurate, completely groundless, quite insulting, and instantly dashes a great deal of my good will towards you and willingness to consider your points.”

            Again, re-read what I said then we will see who is making the assumptions here. I never said you hated men. I said your opinion is not unbiased, because you clearly don’t want to be a man.

            “My experiences, as I’ve interpreted them, have made it clear to me that male privilege is a very real thing, and “female privilege” is not.”

            And I think this is why animosity in our discussions is unavoidable, because there is no way I could agree with you there.

      • Avatar of Natalie
        December 13, 2011 at 6:26 pm —

        Thanks for posting this and responding to Mike.

        But just a quick clarification: I’m not actually middle-class. I’m on welfare (employment is difficult to come by for trans women, especially in a place where we don’t have any legal protections against discrimination). This is actually a point I thought was important in discussing why I experience a greater degree of sexual harassment than other women, in that I don’t have the option of insulating myself in a car whenever I need to go somewhere, nor can I just move to a ritzier neighbourhood like Kitsilano or The West End. Just one example of many of the ways that privileges intersect and complicate one another.

        I do, however, “pass” as middle-class, which makes my life much easier in certain ways than it is for those who are more visibly poor. It’s an odd thing, since logically we shouldn’t be able to make assumptions about someone’s economic situation based on first impressions, but we do. People see the way I dress and speak and carry myself, and for some reason assume I must have money (but not MUCH money). It’s weird.

        • Avatar of julianfrancisco
          December 13, 2011 at 7:17 pm —

          Sorry.

          I should know better than to make those sorts of assumptions. Despite whatever face it might save me I can’t cop to assuming wealth because of the education. Smart white young woman seems to equal smart white middle class young woman for me. :/

          Again, sorry. I really should know better at this point. Good luck on the job search.

    • Avatar of Otoki
      December 13, 2011 at 5:47 pm —

      Oh, and nowhere does Natalie imply that her understanding of oppression via sexual objectification is applicable to “all suffering everywhere experienced by men and women.”.

      • Avatar of
        December 13, 2011 at 6:34 pm —

        “Oh, and nowhere does Natalie imply that her understanding of oppression via sexual objectification is applicable to “all suffering everywhere experienced by men and women.”.”

        Sorry, but that is what I felt she implied from this comment.

        “It becomes all too easy for men or white people to imagine that things like sexism and racism are things of the past… far removed problems that, since they’re unnoticed, must no longer exist.”

        Why is it all too easy for men to imagine sexism is in the past? It implies that they benefited from sexism, it implies that men didn’t suffer from sexism and that women were solely oppressed. Again, that is my interpretation of that statement.

        • Avatar of Natalie
          December 13, 2011 at 6:59 pm —

          Thar comment is not related to “all suffering everywhere” or who may have benefited.

          The ease of believing that sexism is “over” comes from the fact that men are less frequently and overtly targeted by it, and therefore it is less immediately recognizable to them. Hence statements like “I’ve never seen any sexism at work so therefore it isn’t there”.

    • Avatar of sivivolk
      December 13, 2011 at 10:01 pm —

      Hey, manarchists!

      How I don’t miss you guys at all.

      • Avatar of
        December 13, 2011 at 11:11 pm —

        What do you mean when you say, “manarchist”? Is it supposed to be an insult to be a male anarchist?

  46. Avatar of greenstone123
    December 13, 2011 at 6:55 pm —

    Thanks Natalie for these posts. I have learned a lot.

  47. Avatar of strangequark
    December 14, 2011 at 9:43 am —

    My experience as a woman has been from the other end of the spectrum – rather than catcalls and come-ons, I get comments about how ugly I am and how fat I am and how whoever’s with me should get their eyes checked. People lean out of cars to yell at me, or at least, they did. I’m also disabled, and now I usually walk with a stick, and the comments have mostly stopped.

    I’d like to think that it’s because they think saying that kind of thing to a disabled person is just a step too far, but, from experience, it’s more that they see an outward sign of disability and immediately I am removed from the ‘sexual being who needs to know what I think of her as a potential partner’ category and go into ‘person to be pitied’. When I’ve used my wheelchair and have dared to kiss someone in public, people would stop and glare at the person I was with, like they were taking advantage of me or something.

    I’m so glad that you are now comfortable in your skin, although I’m sorry it’s come at such a cost.

  48. Avatar of digger
    December 15, 2011 at 6:19 am —

    I feel Mike’s pain.

    The fact is, articles like this one that make sweeping generalizations about one group’s perceived privledge over another based on personal anecdotes and not statistics, to me, are the worse kind of sensational mind junk.

    But, if we take the information at face value, what are we supposed to take away from this article and how will it make us better people?

    My impression? Well, I’m an American white male. This article makes me feel that I should feel ashamed that I was even born. My existence is only to belittle women, make sexist and racist judgments and sit upon the high throne of society whilst I keep the lessers in shackles and chains of oppression. I’m sorry this article is victimization propaganda.

    At this point I was going to start spatting real statistics about men vs. women on college degrees, salary differentials, offices held, etc… but, I haven’t the patience, the real numbers can be googled. My point, my reason for comment, what I hope folks take away from it….no one has to be a victim and if you feel victimized because of your sex, color, race or belief take a stand against the individual victimizing you but, remember that lashing out against everyone that generally falls into that group of the individual that has victimized you is a…hmmm, this skepchick…I got it, LOGICAL FALLACY.

    • Avatar of anovasjo
      December 15, 2011 at 3:14 pm —

      “I haven’t the patience, the real numbers can be googled”

      Yeah, and here they are:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Male–female_income_disparity_in_the_United_States

    • Avatar of Natalie
      December 15, 2011 at 3:20 pm —

      I don’t know where exactly you’re finding this supposed “lashing out” at men in general.

      If this article makes you feel ashamed and so forth, perhaps you should examine the origins of that, and what exactly you feel accused of, and why you feel those accusations hit close enough to home to cause that kind of response.

    • Avatar of Otoki
      December 15, 2011 at 11:19 pm —

      Examining and being aware of your privileges=/=being ashamed of what you were born into. I am not ashamed of having been born into an educated, not-totally-poor family, nor am I ashamed of being cis-gendered and passable as white. I am, however, aware that those things all give me privileges that people without said qualities do not get to enjoy. So when I read about the experiences of people who, for example, are impoverished, or trans-gendered, or disabled, or not passable as white, I read their experiences while keeping in mind that they are coming from a position of less privilege than myself, and thus are lacking some opportunities and positive experiences I enjoy.

      Pointing out male privilege or white privilege doesn’t mean we think white men should be ashamed of those things. It just means that white men should keep in mind that a black woman’s experiences with sexual harassment, or public transportation, or history classes, may strongly differ from his, and rather than silencing her with “Well, that’s not my experience, so I think you’re wrong” he should maybe just listen and learn from a different person’s unique perspective. Priviledged sub-sets’ narratives are shoved down our throats through our culture, and it’s important to recognize that. You can be a straight white middle or upper class male and be a strong advocate for equality for all, but to do that you have to be aware of how LACK of equality “benefits” you, while preventing the fulfillment of your wishes for an egalitarian world.

    • Avatar of Otoki
      December 15, 2011 at 11:21 pm —

      Also, as another poster showed, the “perceived” privileges are actually strongly backed up by statistics. Anecdotes are useful for illustrating specific types of privilege.

  49. Avatar of
    December 16, 2011 at 2:20 am —

    “Hard scientific data is pretty scarce in sociology anyway”

    There is plenty of sociology and other social science done using “hard scientific data”, as shown in the books Generative Social Science, The Structure and Dynamics of Networks (insofar as it concerns social applications in Chapter 5), parts of Gleichzeitige Ungleichzeitigkeiten: Eine Einführung in die Komplexitätsforschung, Sociology and Complexity Science: A New Field of Inquiry, etc.

    Making Social Sciences More Scientific: The Need for Predictive Models also deserves a mention.

    Social sciences can and should become more than empty polemics, ritual significance testing, and shoehorned regression lines. There is no excuse for social sciences not to be rigorous given that it can and has been done.

    “but qualitative research and ‘soft science’ is still a whole lot better than no science, and anecdotal evidence is better than no evidence.”

    …but not by much. Not by a long shot.

    And the difference between proprioception and privilege is that the former can be more or less rigorously operationalized for the purposes of scientific inquiry, and privilege can’t. Also, proprioception comes from psychology and neuroscience, which are essentially legitimate sciences, whereas privilege comes from critical theory / postmodernist philosophy, which (not to tarnish the field of philosophy as a whole) are crap.

    Ex:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-epistemology/

    Notice how many times the word “privilege” occurs here. I counted actually. 65 times.

  50. Avatar of digger
    December 16, 2011 at 7:07 am —

    I get it, had to read and let it sink in.

    Thank you for the article as it brings awareness that there are still jerks at large. I think that you’re a very courageous person. Good luck in your pursuit of happiness.

  51. Avatar of angelafletcher
    December 16, 2011 at 4:11 pm —

    Fascinating article.

    I’m always intrigued by discussions of privilege and transitioning, because I’m not sure I ever experienced male privilege. By the time I was old enough to be viewed as an adult I was a very feminine “boy” who was often gendered as female, or who was viewed as gay. Either way, people responded accordingly.

    I gained privilege of some sort – passing? gender conformity? – when I transitioned. As for workplace issues, I’ve never had a real job as a boy, so I have nothing to compare with…

  52. Avatar of
    December 16, 2011 at 11:15 pm —

    This is all sort of besides the point because, as I just pointed out, the idea of privilege doesn’t pass scientific muster.

    • Avatar of Buzz Parsec
      December 17, 2011 at 1:01 pm —

      Actually, no, you didn’t. All you did was poison the well and argue from authority (your own.) Just because post-modernists talk a lot about privilege doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, and isn’t a valuable concept for understanding unconscious biases.

      Understanding unconscious biases is one of the fundamental tenets of skepticism.

      • Avatar of Otoki
        December 18, 2011 at 3:14 pm —

        Exactly. Unconscious bias is evident, for example, in many interactions between Christians and Atheists. Christians are privileged in this country because they are a majority and many of their cultural assumptions are promoted as “normal”, which means those who are not in the Christian camp lack the privilege that would give them. The difference between Christianity and many other privileges that tend to be discussed when privilege comes up is that religion is a choice.

      • Avatar of
        December 19, 2011 at 2:42 pm —

        “Actually, no, you didn’t. All you did was poison the well and argue from authority (your own.)”

        What about pointing out that the term “privilege” is poorly operationalized is arguing from authority?

        And my point in linking privilege to postmodernism and critical theory is not to poison the well, rather to point out that it has inherited the tenuous argumentation of these fields, or as the OP called it: “qualitative research, ‘soft science’ … [and] anecdotal evidence” i.e. garbage.

        “Just because post-modernists talk a lot about privilege doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist”

        Maybe so. You operationalize the term “privilege” and then show in a theoretically and empirically rigorous manner that it exists. And no confirmation biasing either; you have to acknowledge that, e.g., women are typically not conscripted into military service. The burden of proof really isn’t on me to show you’re wrong.

        “Understanding unconscious biases is one of the fundamental tenets of skepticism.”

        That may be, but it’s also (putatively) one of the fundamental tenets of e.g. “science studies” and “feminist epistemology”. Guess which camp “privilege” falls into.

        • Avatar of Otoki
          December 19, 2011 at 3:21 pm —

          This tendency to refer to the “soft sciences” and cultural analysis as “garbage” is one of the reasons Skepchick is so important in the skeptical community. Elevatorgate was an example of some in the skeptical community dismissing the claim of another that male privilege was not being properly understood. Not all experiences are neatly quantifiable because when it comes to emotions and the meaning of certain terms to certain individuals, you can’t make a neat graph.

          So does the lack of “hard numbers” mean that we should dismiss someone’s discomfort or feeling of threat of violence when words like nigger, faggot, cunt, bitch, chink, kike are thrown in their faces? Did any of those words cause an emotional reaction for you? Why? Can you quantify that reaction using the hard sciences, or do you have to go into “softer” sciences, like the history of those words, the cultural context of those words in different regions for different demographics, and how you PERSONALLY have had experience with those words?

          Just because something doesn’t fall into STEM doesn’t make it garbage, and when you claim such things you’re promoting ignorance while simultaneously flaunting your privileges: do stories about personal experiences with racism, sexism, classism, ableism strike you as garbage when they try to tie it to a larger systemic/institutionalized pattern? Then maybe you’re coming from a place where you don’t personally experience those things on a daily basis. That’s fine, so long as you’re not dismissing the experiences of those who do and their need to talk about it.

          • Avatar of Natalie
            December 19, 2011 at 3:25 pm

            I read a great article about the over-privileging of STEM and “hard science” today over at Geek Feminism… definitely worth a read. Even mentions the tendency for people, when saying “objective”, to simply mean the “neutral” experiences of people who are white, straight, cis, male, etc. The silly notion that for these people and these people alone, identity does not effect their interpretations…

            http://geekfeminism.org/2011/12/19/re-post-geekery-and-the-humanities/

            In addition to the misuse of the word “objective”, I’d also like to say I’ve been noting a lot of abuse of the word “scientific” lately. “Scientific” does not mean “simple and black and white enough for me to understand and agree with”.

          • Avatar of
            December 19, 2011 at 3:35 pm

            “Not all experiences are neatly quantifiable because when it comes to emotions and the meaning of certain terms to certain individuals, you can’t make a neat graph.”

            And, still, the burden of proof has yet to leave your shoulders.

            “Just because something doesn’t fall into STEM doesn’t make it garbage,”

            When did I ever say that?

            Did you not notice when I said:

            “Social sciences can and should become more than empty polemics, ritual significance testing, and shoehorned regression lines. There is no excuse for social sciences not to be rigorous given that it can and has been done.”

            “Can you quantify that reaction using the hard sciences, or do you have to go into “softer” sciences, like the history of those words, the cultural context of those words in different regions for different demographics, and how you PERSONALLY have had experience with those words?”

            Oddly enough, my BA is in linguistics and I’d like to point out at this juncture that the word “faggot” acquired a derogatory connotation well before it was ever applied to homosexuals; check the OED.

            But that’s neither here nor there.

            “do stories about personal experiences with racism, sexism, classism, ableism strike you as garbage when they try to tie it to a larger systemic/institutionalized pattern?”

            They do when they don’t discharge their burden of proof, yes.

            PS Schelling’s segragation model can show us that apparent institutional discrimination can be something else.

          • Avatar of
            December 19, 2011 at 3:38 pm

            “In addition to the misuse of the word ‘objective’, I’d also like to say I’ve been noting a lot of abuse of the word ‘scientific’ lately. ‘Scientific’ does not mean ‘simple and black and white enough for me to understand and agree with’.”

            So you’ve become a philosopher of science now. Explain to me why I should discard my Lakatos, Thagard, Churchlands, Bunge etc. in favor of your approach.

          • Avatar of
            December 19, 2011 at 3:40 pm

            Tell me, has “privilege” predicted novel facts?

  53. Avatar of Natalie
    December 19, 2011 at 3:53 pm —

    I’m not a “philosopher of science”. I’m a skeptic. That means rigorously questioning implicit biases and assumptions, and constant application of doubt and critical thought… even to science-as-presented, and the ways we speak about science.

    The concept of privilege is a fairly amorphous and subjective one. But the idea that the only terms or concepts we can use are concretely objective ones is absurd. So much for ethics, art, social justice, law, all but the most basic, structural forms of linguistics, etc.

    Privilege is not a predictive model. It’s an explanatory model. It’s a means of discussing apparent social dynamics.

    When analyzing a text in linguistics, how is that done? Primarily through qualitative analysis. Through comparison to alternate forms of language, alternate ways of articulating whatever is therein articulated. By imagining how else it could have been said, and considering what the precise choice of language therefore suggests about the thoughts and assumptions of the writer.

    Analysis of privilege, or social dynamics, works similarly. Qualitative analysis. Comparison of one set of experiences to another, consideration of alternate ways the social situation could have gone, imagining other forms of culture or social structures, considering the precise nature of the social situation and what that suggests about the implicit thoughts and assumptions within a culture about identity X.

    The “proof” of privilege is exactly things like what has been presented here. That a woman, for instance, experiences forms of treatment or discrimination X, Y and Z, and we compare and contrast that to the experiences of men, and the forms of discrimination they face. Through this we can observe a disparity, a social inequity.

    It doesn’t matter from WHERE exactly the inequity arises… whether or not it’s institutionalized discrimination. All that matters is that the inequity exists. That is what is meant by privilege. That certain groups are experiencing a greater set of advantages, benefits, or luxuries than another group. Whether that is the result of overt discrimination or systemic value judgments about aspects of identity (sex, race, sexuality, etc.) is irrelevant.

    • Avatar of Natalie
      December 19, 2011 at 3:58 pm —

      P.S.

      Additionally, sociology has provided a wealth of statistics and data regarding systemic differences between classes of people. Income disparities, access to housing, rates of depression and suicide, access to social services, health risks, etc.

      That is objective data, and does provide “proof”.

      Again, the exact causes of these disparities is irrelevant to the concept of “privilege”. All that matters is that the disparities exist. And that has been concretely proven.

    • Avatar of
      December 19, 2011 at 4:32 pm —

      Example of what I’m talking about re: linguistics:

      http://www.iarpa.gov/solicitations_metaphor.html

      The apparently “soft” field of metaphor is something that the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA’s sibling agency) are interested in and you can tell it’s some serious shit because the intelligence community wants results, useful products, numbers.

      “The Metaphor Program will exploit the fact that metaphors are pervasive in everyday talk and reveal the underlying beliefs and worldviews of members of a culture. In the first phase of the two-phase program, performers will develop automated tools and techniques for recognizing, defining and categorizing linguistic metaphors associated with target concepts and found in large amounts of native-language text. The resulting conceptual metaphors will be validated using empirical social science methods.”

      And, here, a heavily quantitative counterpoint to the discrete symbolic structures approach in theoretical linguistics (Chomsky, formal semantics, etc. … these are not squishy and “soft” but they have their own faults):

      http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?tid=9610&ttype=2

  54. Avatar of
    December 19, 2011 at 4:22 pm —

    “I’m a skeptic.”

    The modern “skeptics” movement tends to have rather little knowledge of science and its ancillary philosophy. (Case in point: JT Eberhard. What are his qualifications exactly?)

    “even to science-as-presented, and the ways we speak about science”

    Yeah, that’s called “science studies”.

    “The concept of privilege is a fairly amorphous and subjective one.”

    Which is why I don’t take it seriously.

    “So much for ethics, art, social justice, law, all but the most basic, structural forms of linguistics, etc.”

    Art is whatever you want to call it; it really has nothing to do with science (and by extension this discussion) except in the most tangential way for our purposes.

    There’s been some movement towards evidence-based ethics and law; see e.g. Thinking and Deciding and Bayesian Networks and, somewhat more tangentially, Probabilistic Inference in Forensic Science. There should be a lot more in fact. Eyewitness testimony and legal culpability are examples of ideas that need to be re-evaluated very seriously.

    “Privilege is not a predictive model. It’s an explanatory model. It’s a means of discussing apparent social dynamics.”

    OK but the burden of proof is on you to show that it does its job well, which is something I’m not convinced of.

    “When analyzing a text in linguistics, how is that done? Primarily through qualitative analysis”

    Uh, no, not necessarily. Not the stuff I was interested in anyway. (And, yes, some linguistics is crap too.) For example, I did formal semantics, which is all about casting natural language in terms of formal logic and model theory. Did some quantitative discourse analysis stuff as well, including corpus research which is by nature heavily quantitative. There was also conceptual metaphor theory which can be investigated in a similar fashion and has been subjected to empirical psycholinguistic (and, if I remember correctly, AI) analysis. Etc….

    At the graduate level, I’m looking to go into computational linguistics/NLP which is as far from “qualitative analysis” as you can get.

    “It doesn’t matter from WHERE exactly the inequity arises… whether or not it’s institutionalized discrimination. All that matters is that the inequity exists.”

    In virtually any imaginable society there’s going to be some kind of inequity by virtue of chance differences in outcomes.

    “That is what is meant by privilege. That certain groups are experiencing a greater set of advantages, benefits, or luxuries than another group.”

    Women aren’t typically drafted into military service and are less likely to die at their jobsites, etc. In fact, women are greatly less likely to die than men in between the ages of 15 and 60 years of age in every country I’ve looked at (stats courtesy the World Health Organization) and are less likely to be victims of violence in general. Then that means there’s such a thing as “female privilege” which of course everyone will balk at, so why not just be intellectually honest and consistent, and scrap the concept outright?

    “Whether that is the result of overt discrimination or systemic value judgments about aspects of identity (sex, race, sexuality, etc.) is irrelevant.”

    What do you intend to do about it short of strictly policing microlevel decisions people make?

  55. Avatar of
    December 19, 2011 at 4:25 pm —

    “Additionally, sociology has provided a wealth of statistics and data regarding systemic differences between classes of people. Income disparities, access to housing, rates of depression and suicide

    Oh yeah:

    http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-in-the-us-statistics-and-prevention/index.shtml#risk

    If you can find stats that favor one group, you can find stats that favor the other.

    “access to social services, health risks, etc.

    That is objective data, and does provide ‘proof’.”

    I don’t think we can have a meaningful discussion about statistics in social sciences unless you’re familiar with the pitfalls of (typically Neyman-Pearson hypothesis testing) statistics as frequently used in the social sciences. Are you?

  56. Avatar of
    December 19, 2011 at 4:50 pm —

    One other thing: making excuses for “privilege” in that it’s “soft science” won’t work, at least not if you’re consistent. The consensus viewpoint on skepchick is that “evolutionary psychology” is a load of garbage:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Askepchick.org+evolutionary+psychology

    Now, EP is in fact a load of fetid, repugnant garbage, but not because it reaches conclusions that feminists find unsavory, but because it is methodologically shitty, relying on specious “soft” reasoning about putative adaptations. The same or at least very similar applies to “privilege”.

    I have been able to reach a consistent viewpoint here because I make decisions about what is or isn’t scientific and truthful based on fundamental epistemological considerations, rather than ideology. Perhaps some of you should try that as well.

  57. Avatar of Natalie
    December 19, 2011 at 6:04 pm —

    Please knock it off with the excessive posting of successive comments.

    We get it. You think the concept of “privilege” is too “soft” and that skepticism should focus itself only on what you consider sufficiently objective, hard science. Your concern is noted.

    • Avatar of
      December 19, 2011 at 6:23 pm —

      “Please knock it off with the excessive posting of successive comments.”

      Why? They’re all legitimate criticism of your viewpoint.

      “We get it. You think the concept of ‘privilege’ is too ‘soft’ and that skepticism should focus itself only on what you consider sufficiently objective, hard science. Your concern is noted.”

      No it isn’t. I think you’re blowing me off. Because odds are I’m going to continue to catch you making the same debunked claims over and over again, rather than you coming out and explicitly saying, “yes, emporsteigend, ‘privilege’ doesn’t predict any novel facts” or “yes, emporsteigend, the fact that skepchick writers reject evo psych for its ‘soft’, tenuous bullshitty reasoning and yet make excuses for ‘privilege’, revealing a strong ideological bias” or “yes, emporsteigend, much of linguistics and other social sciences deal in strong quantitative analysis, leaving the idea that there should be such a thing as ‘soft science’ nowhere to hide”.

      I have yet to see you respond to any of these perfectly well-founded, highly principled claims I’ve made in any substantial detail. So now it’s time to think about unconscious biases and on whose side they lie. Because this is a skeptical blog, after all…

      • Avatar of Natalie
        December 19, 2011 at 6:30 pm —

        Because excessive, successive commenting clutters up and monopolizes the comment thread.

        I don’t owe you any responses or answers. You’ve made your point. Anyone who feels it is sufficiently valid will take it into consideration. Anyone who disagrees won’t. I don’t much feel like getting into a debate with someone who has already rejected some of the principles I consider necessary for a worthwhile discussion on the issue. Thank you for your thoughts.

        • Avatar of
          December 19, 2011 at 6:36 pm —

          “I don’t owe you any responses or answers.”

          But, as far as I can tell from original posts on Skepchick, everyone else owes you the acceptance of some dubious premises by default, and to reject them is insensitive and even morally repugnant.

          “You’ve made your point. Anyone who feels it is sufficiently valid will take it into consideration. Anyone who disagrees won’t.”

          Yes, right, anyone who notices the glaringly obvious contradiction between rejecting EP for its “softness” on the one hand, and making excuses for the “softness” of privilege on the other, will take into consideration! But that effectively means no one because we both know this place is not really about critical thinking at all.

          “I don’t much feel like getting into a debate with someone who has already rejected some of the principles I consider necessary for a worthwhile discussion on the issue.”

          The question is: why should we accept ideas from “gender studies” or for that matter other “X studies” on their face? Well, why should we?

        • Avatar of
          December 19, 2011 at 6:41 pm —

          And a reminder, (prominent!) evolutionary psychologists have claimed among other things that:

          * Rape is an adaptation.
          * Women tend genetically not to be good at math, science, and engineering.
          * Male polyamory is advantageous.

          and even:

          * Black women are objectively less attractive than other women.

          Are you going to call EP for what it is (i.e. bullshit)? Well, are you? If you do so, you condemn privilege in the same stroke because the things that make EP shit make privilege shit as well.

          You just can’t have it both ways.

          • Avatar of anovasjo
            December 19, 2011 at 11:24 pm

            oh fuck off

          • Avatar of Natalie
            December 20, 2011 at 1:09 am

            Anovasjo:

            That kind of thing doesn’t help. I understand your frustration, really, but please don’t engage in open hostility.

            Emporsteigend:

            I can’t speak for everyone, but personally, my problems with Evo Psych have little to do with its nature as “soft science”. It has to do with the fact that it isn’t a useful model or field of inquiry, it lacks substance, its arguments are deeply flawed, it draws faulty conclusions, it works backwards from a pre-existing conclusion and then interprets the “evidence” to accord with that conclusion, and is highly detrimental to our understanding of ourselves.

            It’s not particularly analogous to things like feminism or the social justice movement, except in superficial ways that aren’t relevant to the problems with Evo Psych.

            I was a student of linguistics too, as it happens.

            In retrospect, I think it taught me a great deal about skepticism. It’s very largely about not taking things for granted, working against your intuitions, and unpacking the underlying assumptions and biases in a given idea or thought or way of thinking or looking at something. It’s very much based on a very radical form of critical thinking and doubt. Looking at the structure of our thought itself, through language.

            As an example… the metaphor “time is money” has become completely culturally ingrained. We hardly even notice it when we use it… that is the degree to which this assumption and way of looking at something has become entrenched. “I’m not going to WASTE much more time on this debate”, “I can’t AFFORD to keep up with so many successive comments”, “I SPENT all evening trying to point out that privilege is a useful, explanatory model for actual social phenomena”…

            …this metaphor didn’t appear until the industrial revolution. Before that, we didn’t speak of, or interpret, time in these terms. We therefore conceived of time differently.

            This is the kind of skepticism that I find really thrilling. When we realize that the things we take as a given, or as “common sense”, aren’t. That cognitive distortions are omnipresent, and we need to relentlessly stay on our toes, and never let down our guard to just take something on faith.

            Anyway…

            unfortunately, linguistics and semiotics brush very closely against certain extreme forms of relativism. Concepts and philosophies that imagine that language isn’t something that filters, distorts or structures our conception of the world, but in fact CREATES the world. Things like post-structuralist philosophy, Derrida, extreme post-modern relativism, “death of the author”, “the text is the reality”, the more crazy forms of identity politics, etc.

            I think that perhaps through your close proximity to these things, and the people within them who abuse concepts like privilege, linguistic relativity, philosophy of science, etc. you’ve come to have a very negative view of these things.

            But image I were to say to you, as I’m sure you’ve heard before:

            “Science is just an imperial, Western concept designed to denigrate the experiences of the Other”

            You would roll your eyes, right? Science is a system designed to AVERT bias, to OVERCOME human fallibility and logical fallacy and cognitive distortion and stuff. It’s designed to get to the truth as objectively as possible, and eliminate things like one’s Western, Imperial values as a factor. Science may have partly led to some silly, stupid things in the past… and many scientists have made some pretty bad mistakes… and science has been repeatedly misinterpreted, and repeatedly used as justification for terrible things, but none of those were a result of a problem with science itself. They were, in fact, failures of human beings to live up to the actual rigors and values of science.

            Right?

            And you’d be right.

            You can’t condemn science just because some people have abused the concept. But likewise, you can’t condemn concepts like privilege, or things like gender studies and cultural relativism, just because they too have been abused.

            Anyway…

            as said, we understand your point. I get where you’re coming from. Perhaps your criticisms are good ones. Perhaps not. Perhaps my argument is lacking substance, perhaps I am biased. Perhaps not. Okay?

            I don’t really want to debate you, because I think we’re coming from positions far too removed from one another for it to be in any way a useful or productive conversation, and it seems like you’ve already taken a pretty confrontational tone, which I don’t, personally, enjoy.

            But your points are, as I said, noted.

            Now please, stop hammering at it. Or at least stop doing the successive gigantic posts thing. I get that sometimes one forgets something, or has an afterthought, and wants to throw in a PS. But some of what you’ve been doing is excessive, and it doesn’t make for a very enjoyable comment thread.

            Again, thank you for your thoughts and input.

          • Avatar of Otoki
            December 20, 2011 at 5:07 am

            Well. That was an incredibly frustrating, condescending, dismissive discussion. It just reminds me of why this website and others like it are so fucking important.

          • Avatar of
            December 20, 2011 at 3:28 pm

            “oh fuck off”

            Some real open minds we got here!

            “It has to do with the fact that it isn’t a useful model or field of inquiry, it lacks substance, its arguments are deeply flawed, it draws faulty conclusions, it works backwards from a pre-existing conclusion and then interprets the ‘evidence’ to accord with that conclusion”

            You just listed a whole bunch of problems with “privilege” too.

            “and is highly detrimental to our understanding of ourselves”

            And how is this epistemologically relevant? You’re appealing to consequences of a belief now.

            “But likewise, you can’t condemn concepts like privilege, or things like gender studies and cultural relativism, just because they too have been abused.”

            I don’t care about whether they’ve been “abused”. I care only about their epistemic worth, which I consider to be nil for reasons I have stated clearly.

            For me to accept privilege would require the formulation some multiattribute utility function, applying it equally to *BOTH* men and women and showing that e.g. the effect size in comparing the means of the two groups is substantial enough to consider seriously.

            “I don’t really want to debate you, because I think we’re coming from positions far too removed from one another for it to be in any way a useful or productive conversation, and it seems like you’ve already taken a pretty confrontational tone, which I don’t, personally, enjoy.”

            What’s the problem? This site is full of “pretty confrontational tone[s]“. I haven’t called you names or insulted you.

            “That was an incredibly frustrating, condescending, dismissive discussion.”

            What was condescending about it?

            “It just reminds me of why this website and others like it are so fucking important.”

            What, like geekfeminism, where people are censored outright for disagreeing?

          • Avatar of marmac
            December 21, 2011 at 4:31 pm

            Hi!

            It seems you’ve exhausted everyone else, so I decided to jump in. I’m no gender studies scholar, but I do work in genetics research (with a general background in physical chemistry and neuroscience) and have a healthy personal interest in sociology. You wrote a few statements I found interesting, and decided to go into them one by one.

            So, you claim that “prominent” evo psychs believe the following-
            1. Rape is an adaptation.
            2. Women tend genetically not to be good at math, science, and engineering.
            3. Male polyamory is advantageous.
            4. Black women are objectively less attractive than other women.

            1. The argument that rape is an adaptation is pretty interesting. The general argument is that rape exists as a tool for socially unsuccessful people to pass on their genetic information by force, with the assumption that they’ve been found unfit for mating by their reproductive counterparts.

            A stronger case against it, however, is the prevalence of rape against people of the same gender, the rape of people who are far below or way above fertile age ranges, and the cases of rape that express from socially successful people with power, privilege, and many opportunities to non-violently reproduce.

            2. The term “genetically” here is used incorrectly. There is no way to argue that a group is “genetically” better at a task than another when they constantly reproduce with one another. Suppose a successful mathematician has a daughter and a son- are you arguing that a trait is being passed on by the mathematician that causes the higher amount of fetal estrogen in the daughter to disrupt her logical neurological thought processes? How would that happen? What are the steps in that biological phenomenon? What gene is that located in? If it’s a sex linked trait, why does it only occur with the presence of two X chromosomes and not ignited when there’s only one? Does it have alleles? Was Lisa Randall sent here by aliens?

            Come on, man. A huge study about this JUST came out that showed a correlation between gender equality in mathematical ability with social equality. Like, two months ago. And there was another very interesting one over the summer.

            You should read this- http://www.livescience.com/15823-culture-gender-gap-spatial-abilities.html

            And this- http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101011223927.htm

            Also this- http://womenshistory.about.com/od/sciencemath1/tp/aatpmathwomen.htm

            I want to state that it took less than a minute to find these. It is obvious you are very invested in discussing these issues but not researching them. A lot of important studies get watered down into digestible articles for non-scientists. For free.

            3. Male polyamory is advantageous. And female polyamory is advantageous. Basically, anything that makes us mate as much as possible is advantageous for reproduction. The tip of the penis developed in that little mushroom shape in order to scrape existing semen out of the vagina (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=secrets-of-the-phallus). We have a relatively low fertilization rate, and the more we mate with each other the better it is for the entire species. Think about the female orgasm. Thank about the position of the clitoris outside of the vagina. Women (and men) are designed to be sexual beings- to enjoy sex and have children and mate as much as possible. Allowing only men to be slutty is bad for everyone.

            4. And now the most interesting one! And the one I’m the least qualified to discuss. I will give you a link to a very interesting and well-written website that discusses this in-depth more eloquently than I could. If this is the kind of issue you’re personally interested in, I would suggest going through their other articles as well.

            http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/05/12/marriage-and-the-intersection-of-gender-and-race/

            Alright! That was fun.

            Maggie

          • Avatar of marmac
            December 21, 2011 at 5:22 pm

            And, of course, I forgot to bring this dissection down to my final point-

            Evo Psych is not sociology. It’s not a well-respected corner of psych research. A previous commenter is right in claiming that it seeks to find the evidence for previously-existing conclusions, instead of approaching societal situations with critical analysis.

            I hope my previous comment made this distinction clear.

  58. Avatar of
    December 20, 2011 at 3:32 pm —

    “As an example… the metaphor ‘time is money’ has become completely culturally ingrained. We hardly even notice it when we use it… that is the degree to which this assumption and way of looking at something has become entrenched.”

    I somehow doubt that “time is money” is a concept entirely novel to the industrial era given that even non-human animals exhibit temporal discounting:

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=temporal+discounting+monkeys

    And sorry for the double-posting; this site should have an edit comment function…

  59. Avatar of Otoki
    December 20, 2011 at 8:08 pm —

    Dismissing a theory or discussion because it’s not scientific enough is condescending when we’re discussing something that does not claim to be scientific in its roots or application. EP claims to be scientific. Discussions on privilege generally do not (at least, I have never encountered any discussions on privilege which make such claims). Are discussions about literature a waste of time because they’re not scientific? Are blogs dedicated to publicly showing the gender-specific hate mail female bloggers get a waste of time because it’s not using statistics or hard data? Is it a waste of time to read discussions by WOC about their objections to aspects of the Slutwalks or other feminist issues/movements because both their feelings and the subjects they are addressing are not scientific claims, but socially/culturally analytical pieces written from an anecdotal position?

    I hope the answer to all of the above is “No. I think there is a place for those discussions and they are important and should be had.” However, your posts so far make it seem like you think all of the above is a waste of time because it doesn’t meet rigorous scientific requirements. Most arguments for the over-turning of Jim Crow required not just people admitting that data on violence and financial inequality between white people and black people were a reality, but that this inequality was WRONG. The wrongness of that inequality was not a scientific conclusion. Ethics within science is decided based on the morality the culture it operates within agrees to follow. Slavery used to be considered normal and good. Eugenics used to be considered good for both moral and “scientific” reasons (despite the extreme lack of real science behind it).

    When you come to issues like “Black people are living in poor conditions and are not getting the same opportunities as white people” the purely scientific, logical reaction should be “Ok. Why should I care?” But we have morals and ethics that are based on philosophy and theory, and those things effect what we consider important just as much (if not more) than science does, which is why many of us react to such issues with “That’s awful. What can we do to change it?” Science is, above all, a tool that we use. It is neutral. What we decide to do with it can be good or bad (or a mix of both).

    Science does not operate in a vacuum, no matter how hard scientists may try. Science is happening within the culture in which it operates. As such, a discussion of that culture in non-scientific terms is not a waste of time, garbage, etc. If such discussions claimed to be scientific, I would understand your position, but they do not. This discussion and the OP was never claiming scientific rigorousness in relation to the PERSONAL EXPERIENCES discussed.

    I really don’t see why that’s so hard to grasp.

  60. Avatar of
    December 20, 2011 at 8:47 pm —

    “Dismissing a theory or discussion because it’s not scientific enough is condescending when we’re discussing something that does not claim to be scientific in its roots or application.”

    “Privilege” claims to be a general statement about the natural world and its advocates (including the OP) frequently claim that it has a somehow scientific nature.

    I quote her directly below where she claims that “privilege” is scientific; you can’t ignore it.

    “Eugenics used to be considered good for both moral and ‘scientific’ reasons (despite the extreme lack of real science behind it).”

    Behavioral genetics has come along quite a bit since then (and no I’m not talking about EP); might be time to resurrect that idea.

    “This discussion and the OP was never claiming scientific rigorousness in relation to the PERSONAL EXPERIENCES discussed.”

    Um…

    “Hard scientific data is pretty scarce in sociology anyway, but qualitative research and ‘soft science’ is still a whole lot better than no science, and anecdotal evidence is better than no evidence.”

    ps my personal experience is not enjoying a lot of so-called “privileges”, being harassed on the street frequently, etc.

    Do my worthless anecdotes count now too?

    • Avatar of Natalie
      December 20, 2011 at 8:57 pm —

      What you just quoted was one of several admissions that the post WASN’T hard science, nor could it establish concrete causal relationships.

      • Avatar of
        December 20, 2011 at 9:06 pm —

        “What you just quoted was one of several admissions that the post WASN’T hard science”

        Yeah but you still said it was, in some sense, scientific.

        And that’s very obvious.

        “nor could it establish concrete causal relationships.”

        Great, then I guess I have no reason to heed people who browbeat me about “privilege” any more.

        • Avatar of Otoki
          December 21, 2011 at 12:01 am —

          Well, since you seem to feel that you have no reason to acknowledge your privilege (and everyone has privilege and lack of privilege in different aspects of their lives) why are you even in this discussion? You seem to believe that men don’t have it easier than women in any quantifiable way because you, personally, have been harassed. No one is saying that individuals will experience different things due to their positions in life, but to attempt to claim that men don’t suffer from street harassment any less than women is a pretty ridiculous statement. It just doesn’t seem like you want an honest conversation. And your posts about “time is money” seem very out of place and off topic. Am I missing something here?

          • Avatar of Natalie
            December 21, 2011 at 2:45 am

            To be fair, “time is money” was something I brought up as an example of how linguistics relates to skepticism, qualitative analysis, comparisons of things-as-they-are to things-as-they-could-theoretically-be-instead, etc.

            I don’t get why it needed to be argued, though. Except for the sake of argument itself… which does increasingly appear to be the only real motive here. I.e. yeah, I think you’re right, this doesn’t seem to be an honest discussion at all.

          • Avatar of
            December 21, 2011 at 6:58 pm

            “why are you even in this discussion?”

            To disagree.

            Oh yes, I forget this place is all about 100% Gleichschritt-consensus.

            “You seem to believe that men don’t have it easier than women in any quantifiable way because you, personally, have been harassed.”

            i.e. going off of anecdotes, just like you.

            “I don’t get why it needed to be argued, though.”

            Because you were wrong.

          • Avatar of Natalie
            December 21, 2011 at 7:29 pm

            Okay, look, you need to knock it off with the combative, condescending tone. My patience is up. I’m all for my posts being open to critique, but I’m not open to people monopolizing comment threads and turning them into angry, bullying arguments and treating other readers and commenters in a rude, boorish manner.

            This is your warning. Please take it.

          • Avatar of
            December 21, 2011 at 8:00 pm

            “Okay, look, you need to knock it off with the combative, condescending tone. My patience is up. I’m all for my posts being open to critique, but I’m not open to people monopolizing comment threads and turning them into angry, bullying arguments and treating other readers and commenters in a rude, boorish manner.”

            How exactly is my writing style any worse than the sarcasm, smugness, and unwarranted certitude of many OPs on Skepchick?

            What exactly is “bullying” about saying “you were wrong”? What is “bullying” about calling a spade a spade? Seems like people here can dish it out, but can’t take it in the least.

            “I love Doctor Who, Star Trek and Star Wars, but for my money, Firefly was the best sci-fi show ever”
            “But can you PROVE that?”
            “Um… no?”

            “We can, and SHOULD, be open to learning what we can from subjective analysis, qualitative analysis, and personal experience.”

            Why are you so picky about what anecdotes you accept?

            That’s not a fair comparison.

            You’re talking about a matter of opinion, not a matter of fact.

            Statements about “privilege” are putatively factual generalizations about the natural world; as such, I am fully justified in expecting them to be scientific.

          • Avatar of
            December 21, 2011 at 8:10 pm

            Flubbed order of response, meant:

            “We can, and SHOULD, be open to learning what we can from subjective analysis, qualitative analysis, and personal experience.”

            Why are you so picky about what anecdotes you accept?

            “I love Doctor Who, Star Trek and Star Wars, but for my money, Firefly was the best sci-fi show ever”
            “But can you PROVE that?”
            “Um… no?”

            That’s not a fair comparison.

            You’re talking about a matter of opinion, not a matter of fact.

            Statements about “privilege” are putatively factual generalizations about the natural world; as such, I am fully justified in expecting them to be scientific.

          • Avatar of Natalie
            December 21, 2011 at 8:19 pm

            No, they’re an explanatory model for social dynamics.

            If you can’t see how you’ve been smug, bullying and rude in this comment thread, and can’t adjust your tone accordingly, then I suggest you simply cease posting, because as said, my patience has been expended. I have not yet ever had to trash a comment, put someone on permanent moderation, or ban anyone, and I would REALLY prefer not to be put in that position, but I have no desire to continue offering you a platform for your crotchiness.

        • Avatar of Natalie
          December 21, 2011 at 7:36 pm —

          It was, as said, an admission of not being hard science.

          As

          a) an act of intellectual humility. To not overstep with my claims. To not suggest that because I’ve experienced life as male and as female that I’m capable of making perfectly objective observations about the nature of sexism. Etc.

          and

          b) What I, and others, have been trying to explain to you. We can still learn from things that aren’t purely objective. We can, and SHOULD, be open to learning what we can from subjective analysis, qualitative analysis, and personal experience. It is not as empirical and perfect as hard science and hard data, but it is nonetheless a form of information and a form of learning, and should not be scorned. And sometimes, it becomes very difficult, even impossible, to obtain hard scientific data in regards to certain areas of inquiry. Some are by nature subjective, such as ethics. In these cases, we NEED to be open to learning by means other than precise science, otherwise we learn nothing at all.

          If the only things you are at all open to learning from or discussing are hard, objective data, I fear you’ll end up with an awfully impoverished understanding of the world. And not be much fun at parties.

          “I love Doctor Who, Star Trek and Star Wars, but for my money, Firefly was the best sci-fi show ever”
          “But can you PROVE that?”
          “Um… no?”

          “My boss is such a jerk. He keeps staring at my chest while he talks to me, and makes comments on how I should dress more feminine”
          “But where’s your PROOF that that’s detrimental to workplace productivity?”
          “… yeah…um…see you later, Emp”

  61. Avatar of Otoki
    December 21, 2011 at 12:02 am —

    Upon re-examining this thread, I’m bowing out. I don’t think an honest discussion is being had here. I feel like we’re being trolled, and I’m tired of arguing with someone mansplaining that privilege isn’t a legitimate issue that people deal with.

  62. Avatar of Julya
    December 21, 2011 at 10:07 am —

    I’m surprised by the longwinded comments on science, and arguments on this post. I enjoyed your post Natalie. I personally have not been subject to the subject of your post, though maybe I did learn how to not seek eyecontact, or my social environment is very different from yours.
    My experiences on public transport are…interesting. Yes people look at me a lot, I know I am not ever going to be Agelina Jolie and most likely never will look like a natural woman anyway. That may also be the reason why I take stares and second looks in stride. I realize people see me, then look again to verify if I am female, and then realize I’m transgender.
    When I worked in India I was subject to different stares. Stares that made me very uncomfortable. Maybe I was not in the right place for the company I was in, a rich looking person walking with the suits while he apparently was part of another caste. I tried to react by openly staring him down, but later just ignored him as well.
    Open discrimination does not reach me, and I am well established in my profession to have earned the respect for my specialization (one of the advantages of a late transition)

    Thank you for your post, I view it as it is, a personal view and story about your experiences.

  63. Avatar of Forth Sadler
    August 29, 2012 at 11:08 am —

    I’m not getting a lot of the sleaze but I’m certainly getting differences in attitude from strangers and especially sales people. I recently bought a car and it’s the first time I’ve been car shopping since presenting as a woman. I’ve never been on the receiving end of such a barrage of condescension and unnervingly creepy solicitousness.

    I’m totally loving the duality of experience though. It’s the difference between viewing a flat image and having stereoscopic vision. It provides a *depth* to my view of the culture in which I live that I never had before and even though I’m only barely beginning to process that I’m starting to see the blind spots of both points of view. I suspect what’s going to be interesting is working out where the mutual blindspots are and what they hide.

    And you’re right. Loss of privilege – cis, male and hetero is a scary thing once you realise what you’re actually losing but still worth it. I’m learning to embrace not only my female identity but also my queer and trans identities and value them as part of myself. Keep writing the awesome things.

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