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    Categories: Feminism

Sacrificing Privilege

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

View Comments

  • "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?

  • "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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • "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...

      • 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.

        • 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.

          • 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.

          • 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

          • "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?

          • 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.

          • 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.

        • "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?

  • "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...

  • 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.

  • "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?

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

      • "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.

        • 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"

        • 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?

          • 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.

          • 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.

          • "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.

          • 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.

          • "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.

          • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.