This is a post about privilege. YAY!
For once, I’m not actually attacking the idea vehemently. It sounds weird after the recent issues where there has been so much painful misuse of the idea of privilege, where people have been using the idea to create complex and semantic arguments entirely divorced from reality. We in the asexual community have seen the idea of privilege thoroughly misused, reasoned backwards and used to oppress, and I now feel slightly Cassandraic. But it’s difficult to tell if the terrible and judgemental semantics are a necessary part of privilege or just a necessary part of the internet. When all that is cropped away, I really like the idea because it helps explain oppression to the majority culture in terms they can accept. If certain people hadn’t been ignorant hypocrites (or, potentially, trolls), the ‘privilege’ theory that they love so much would have been screaming out at them; “Maybe, if we’re creating accounts just to harrass people, if we’re screaming down a community, most of whom we profess to support, without listening to how they define themselves and how they allow each other to identify, if we’re taking traumatic events in these people’s lives and taking the ability to tell their own stories away from them and re-interpreting these events to support our judgements- maybe we should stop and think for a little bit about whether we’re actually the privileged ones here.” With a genuine understanding of privilege, used as a medicine and not a weapon, the signs were pretty big.
Privilege, when it works, is about accepting that minority cultures will know their own experiences better than you, and that you should let them speak and really listen. It also carries a built-in system for accepting your mistakes- there have been times I’ve been criticised, I’d have probably lashed out and attacked if I hadn’t internalised, to some extent, the model which tells you to go “I’m being attacked. I’m gonna sit back, listen, think, and acknowledge if there’s any privilege going on.”
Where I’ve got more uncomfortable with privilege since this debarcle is the idea that the model of privilege doesn’t allow any deviation from its rules. It’s played often as a zero-sum game- either you are privileged class or you are unprivileged class. The people who see this as unnecessarily reductionist tend not to weaken this statement, but modify it with lots of different types of privilege. A heteroromantic asexual might have hetero privilege, modified by their lack of sexual privilege, modified by their passing privilege, modified by their lack of visibility privilege.
So I’m going to go out and say it: According to the systemic model of ‘privilege’, if applied to the real world, asexual people have SOME privileges over sexual people. People of ethnic minorities have SOME privileges over white people. Queer people have SOME privileges over straight people. These privileges may often only occur as long as you play up to stereotypes, or they may be privileges that exist because of there being dedicated communities that the majority culture has no equivalent for. If there is any way being the minority is better than being the majority, that’s a systemic advantage ie. a privilege.
(Of course, the standard academic argument against this is that the systemic advantage must also play into dominance and power structures within society. That strikes me as the equivalent of the idea that a sexual dysfunction sufferer ‘must experience distress’. It sounds like a helpful addendum, but it actually becomes the whole of the definition to the point where privilege becomes ‘that thing the powerful have’ more than ‘a systemic advantage’, especially since people tend to look at privilege to decide who is dominant and who is oppressed, making the arguments pretty circular.)
On to the main point of this post (don’t worry, it’s short). A link to this landed in my feed today (I always sound like a horse when I say that). Criminally, I’ve not read Ozymandias very much, but I know she’s good friends with two of the only blogs I still frequent that are about primarily feminism and gender studies- The Pervocracy and Figleaf’s Real Adult Sex. Notably, they all have quite graphic content. I think this is because they’re what you might want to call ‘third wave’, and that tends to be tied in with sexual liberation.
A lot of the other feminism blogs started to feel like not-awesome-spaces. I’ve been afraid to say this, I’ve almost been afraid to acknowledge it, because it sounds like a lot of MRA crap, but a proportion of the feminist internet nowadays doesn’t feel like an especially safe space for men.
I’m not talking about any really direct hostility. I’m not talking about there being a class of people whose lived experiences are denied and ridiculed, whose needs are reacted to with hostility. Not today.
The feeling is subtler than that, so subtle that I only really noticed when I started to read Holly and Figleaf regularly, and felt incredibly happy because I never felt like I was being told I wasn’t a human being. They write a whole lot of amazing things, some of which I disagree with, some of which has me giving my computer screen a standing ovation, but throughout the entire time I’ve been reading them, they’ve never made me feel like I, as a man, am not a person. Both writers believe at the core and at every layer up to the surface that men are real people. Yes, this presumption of inhumanity is probably something that many women experience regularly in non-feminist spaces, but, no, its not, therefore, something we should place on men when we finally have the chance. Two professions of inhumanity do not help anything.
Its an impossible claim to prove, and I know this is easy to scorn, but you’re going to have to believe me (even though I’m in the dominant culture- you’re going to have to respect my narrative) when I say that I catch my heart rising in an updraft of joy every time they don’t fall for the same reductionism that I’ve come to expect, every time they fail to meet the expectations I hold for my humanity in feminist spaces. And then, as I analyse the joy, an incredible sorrow that I’ve come to expect so little.