Skepticism

Privilege: A Free-Verse Poem

By Elly, cross-posted from Teen Skepchick:

This is a poem I wrote in the wee hours of the morning at work. It was originally posted to my personal blog Metaphorical Penis (links to an explanation of the blog name). It has a personal meaning to me, and hopefully is written in such a way that someone out there can relate. Note: There is a brief moment of adult language, so please be aware of that.

 

You carry your privilege around
like I carrry the world
Except it’s more like wings than a weight.
It lifts you up above the rest of us, placing you on your pedestal
From where you’d presume to rule the world.
The stuff that swings between your legs
gives you automatic rights to privacy and “equality”.
The way you want to dress and who you want to fuck
fall in line with The Man’s expectations
(I bet you’re friends. Do you work out together?)
And that creamy skin certainly doesn’t hurt.
You’ve never felt the gnaw of hunger or the sting of a slap
You grew up in plenty.
It’s easy to ignore the problems around you
from inside your bubble on top of your pedestal.
You’ve never been questioned, so you assume you’re right
I don’t understand how you can feign to claim so much intelligence
While finding contentment in your ignorance.
The information is there, at your fingertips
24/7
But you’d rather use word-of-mouth or your poor judgment
To come to your conclusions.
It’s easy to cry “hypocrite” when you don’t understand the discussion
and it’s easy to be a literalist when you’re frozen in time.
Look up the words
Learn the new definitions
Zoom out and take a look at the culture.
When you watch the suffering and injustice, then ask me
Why I care?
When you deny participation and claim innocence?
It boggles my mind that you defend the atrocious
or brush it off as “irrelevant”
But I’m sure it’s easy not to care when you’ve never been challenged
Since no one can reach you
on your pedestal.

 

Image from http://www.joegerstandt.com/2012/03/got-privilege/

Mindy

Mindy is an attorney and Managing Editor of Teen Skepchick. She hates the law and loves stars. You can follow her on Twitter and on Google+.

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24 Comments

    1. Yes, I read this earlier today and it’s amazing! It’s really well written, with some really clever rhymes.

      Is the thought process you describe one that you actually experienced, or were you looking at it from another perspective?

      1. It’s semi-real, but nowhere near that level of harshness on my part if at all. In other words, I’ve always been a ‘hey, equality is the only option’ kind of feminist where largely I wasn’t ever consciously thinking about gender issues (save for getting girls/women into science as that’s part of what I do at work [though it doesn’t come up a lot in my current role…its a tangential aspect]).

        But I had never heard of ‘privilege’ until Rebecca Watson did her quite reasonable ‘guys don’t do that’ video which led to jaw dropping responses from men which led to women pointing to privilege which led me to think, “well, I don’t know if privilege has anything…” as I clicked on a link that explained what privilege means in this context and it was a wonderful moment of “ah! I get it!”

        Several years ago I bought a miata and being cisgendered and not a ‘car person’ I didn’t think anything of it. A few months later I started experiencing young men in large trucks yelling ‘faggot’ with enraged voices and extended middle fingers. Now the first time it happened I was scared for a minute or so, until the truck had gone on its way, and once I calmed back down it hit me, “that is the threat of violence that gay men (and nearly every other minority) have to live with every day from white hetero men (and I live only 50 miles from San Francisco).” Finding out about privilege a few years later answered for me what that revelation was…it had a name…I had become aware of one aspect of my privilege. And now I’ve been fascinated with the idea of privilege, looking for it in my and others’ thought processes, etc.

        Anyway long story short (too late), so you’re poem made me think of all that and I merged my genuine moments of “whoa!” with the vitriol spewing from minds of men outraged that sexual harassment is being discussed in the hope that one day they’ll get it…if not by reading your poem then hopefully somewhere else and the sooner the better. :)

  1. Great poem, and good points.

    Something I have to wonder; what does this say for men who don’t have all what’s said here? That they missed out on the “privilage”?

    It makes me think if there is something more than just being born male. That is goes beyond what’s between one’s legs.
    I think it’s how one is raised and what their values are.

    1. I think, hypothesize, that it’s largely a cultural issue especially after reading Sex At Dawn. I don’t want to believe/know-as-fact that it is inherent in humanity to treat one gender as property/lesser in order to elevate the other. The evidence sure seems to point towards societies that value equality are better off (happier, less crime, etc.) than societies that enforce gender inequality. Which just makes me giddy. Now if only we (speaking as an U.S. citizen towards U.S. society) can move our society to a gender equality state of being then we can effectively address all the other issues of being human in a technological post-industrial age.

      Teaching empathy and that it’s okay to be wrong are key to this. Empathy allows us to desire to put ourselves in the shoes of the ‘other’ and see things from their perspective (a key ingredient to seeing past one’s privilege) and okay-to-be-wrong allows us to reassess our position in order to align it to what is true and factual without feeling shame (shame that allows for emotionally resisting new information that goes against what we think is true).

      Heh, but I may be wrong and I’m open to new information :)

    2. “I think it’s how one is raised and what their values are.”

      It’s a little more complicated than that. It also has a lot to do with the society and culture in which they live.

      And, yep, it’s not JUST about what’s between your legs. Culture and society has a lot to do with it. And women can benefit from the patriarchy as much as men. Michelle Bachmann is a good example. She benefits and supports the patriarchy, and is white and straight and rich and christian. She has oodles of privilege, and she’s not aware of it which makes it even worse.

      1. Very true, and good point about Michelle Bachmann.
        I think Sarah Palin is another example.

        It does make me wonder what, then, makes members of the atheist community act the same as members of the theists that are very much part of the patriarchy.

        Also makes me wonder how I avoided such a mentality.
        Lack of privalages, maybe?

        1. Are you male? If so, you do have privilege. Being aware of privilege does not mean lack of privilege.

          As a white woman who can pass as straight and blend in most places (I can blend in as “chrsitian” as well), I have privilege as well.

          1. Yes, I am male.
            And now, I am a bit confused.

            I was thinking of privilage in terms of what is given in the poem.
            The reason I think I didn’t have privilage is because much of what’s mentioned doesn’t apply.
            That, and in contrast to what the poem says, I’ve known the sting of many slaps in my life, not to mention not having grown up with plenty.

            Perhaps if I had a clearer definition of what is generally meant by “privilage” that I’d understand it better.

            Thus far, the only perception I have is that of a generally feeling of superiority and acting like an asshat. :)
            Which seems to apply to males and females alike.

          2. ….really? You think privileged just boils down to acting like an entitled jerk? Or growing up poor?

            Yikes.

            That’s … concerning. You’ll probably want to do some actual research.

            Also, this is only one poem. It’s a great poem and explains very well a part of what privilege is about, but it’s certainly not the entire picture.

            For the record, I’m not saying that means you’re a terrible guy who believes he is superior to everyone else.

            That’s not really what it’s about.

            The fact that you’ll likely get paid more than a woman in your same field? That’s privilege. The fact that you don’t have to worry about people regulating your personal choices about your body, even up to including your right to birth control? That’s privilege.

            A specific example of something I experienced that is pretty minor but gives you an idea of how different my world is as a woman: One time, I had a flat and my male friend followed me to Discount Tire because I didn’t want to get stranded.

            Every time the tire guy asked a question, I would respond. Yet tire guy kept asking my mail friend questions. Even after I said, “MY care” a couple of times. I had to step in front of my friend, at which point I totally saw a light-bulb go off above his head. Then he started talking to me. He wasn’t even mean about it, and it was clear he had no idea what he had been doing.

            After my friend was like, “I have never in all my life experienced that. That was weird.”

            Also?

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Male_privilege

            Good place to start, though I suggest doing more research.

        2. It does make me wonder what, then, makes members of the atheist community act the same as members of the theists that are very much part of the patriarchy.

          And to answer this: Even atheists and skeptics benefit from privilege and a lot of people aren’t willing to give that up.

    3. I have read further down, and do realize that you picked up on the fact that this poem also addresses abuse and money, but I feel it’s necessary to say that this isn’t just about male privilege. It’s also about a specific person, so bear that in mind.

      I mean to call attention to several different types of privilege: cis, male, white, hetero, having money. I guess not being abused growing up isn’t exactly privilege, but it certainly does alter your perspective in big ways.

      This is the type of person that not only has all that privilege, but simply refuses to listen to new information that might prove them wrong. Or, refuses to educate themselves in a way that would show them how closed-minded and “superior” they are.

    1. Referring to your post; that was actually a BIG help.
      Many thanks.

      I mainly didn’t think of those as privilage because of the many difficulties I’ve had in life that don’t seem to fit the “profile”.

      For example, after serving six years in the military, I was unable to get a civilian job, even after going to a technical school. The only reason I feel I got the current job I hold is because my cousin is a manager at the store. Would’ve worked at his store, but the owners realized we were related, so I got a different one.
      I could list other difficulties, but the list is too long, and much would sound like complaining. And I don’t think this is the place to air dirty laundry.

      Interesting you mention that incident at Discount Tire; I work next door to one, at a Jiffy Lube.
      Regarding that, being male had to be an advantage in getting a job there, as you mention. And I hypothesize that the few women technicians that work at Jiffy Lube get less hours than males.

      Despite whatever privilages I have in life, I would give it all up for the privilage I percieve others on Skepchick have; the ability to socialize and have an impact on communities.

      1. Yeah, veterans have it particularly tough in our country, and I’m not sure being a man really helps much when it comes to certain things. Male veterans have a weird stigma, almost. There is also this constant hum of “support your troops!!” but our actions never do seem to match that demand, do they?

        Anyway, you’re very welcome. :)

  2. Privilege sucks unless you have it and then it’s so great that you take it for granted.

    I’m white, straight, male, and American. The picture of privilege. The only time I’ve come close to the other side of the coin was in the military. Stay with me on this flash back.

    The year 1999, two years into the Clinton affirmitive action for the military initiative. I was a junior noncomm stationed in Korea so in theory I would be unaffected by the affirmitive action policy as promotion points for gender and race would only be a consideration for senior noncomms and officers.

    However, I felt the sting of losing my privilege pretty quickly. The CSM’s name- Cabrerra, 1SG’s name- Martinez and Platoon SGT’s name – Hernandez. So…on any given weekend you could find most Smiths, Johnsons and Wrights on shit details and those of a Latin or hispanic origin dressed in jerseys that read “La Gente” at large barbeques decorated with Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican and Spanish flags. The La Gente occupied most of the off post bars and were very territorial so the safest thing for white soldiers to do was to stay in the barracks drinking beer and watching the Big Lebowski over and over and over.

    Needless to say I did not get promoted that year and life was pretty much a hell on Earth. I sympathize with those who feel that they have little or no privilege but, since I’ve had a taste of what it is like to go without you can bet that I would and will do everything in my power to retain the privilege I and my offspring currently have and keep it from being given to any other group of people.

    1. The way you ended that statement makes it sound like you’d actively oppress another group to maintain your privilege. That may not be your intent, but it really did sound a bit hostile.

  3. Oppress wouldn’t be the right word. Given my experience above, in the future I will try to safeguard my privilege and actively oppose attempts by others that would try to take it away. In an ideal world equality would be the way of life and it’s unfortunate that we haven’t evolved far enough yet to make that a reality. This blog has done a world of eye opening for me and I have all of the writers and commentators to thank for that, even the ones who put me in my place. You have made me feel that I can sympathize with the activists and their pursuits on this blog, that I can identify my privilege, my sexism and my unreasonable phobias and I can use that to improve on the way I work and communicate with people on a daily basis but, I fall a good bit short of becoming an activist as well.

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