My white male privilege and the need to seek out discomfort
Thursday, November 20th, 2014
The term white male privilege isn’t an insult. You’d never know that though if you were just to read comments on any post that uses the term to talk about street harassment, rape culture, the status of women or just the way the world operates in general. There’s an assumption made by quite a few that when women share their stories of harassment or sexual assault or difficulties finding equality in the workplace they’re doing so with a specific target on the young white man. But nobody is saying we’re terrible people. Nobody is telling us to give up our jobs and our homes. White male privilege simply means we’re given advantages that people who aren’t white males don’t have in the same quantity.
What is insulting is that while most of us live oblivious to the opportunities available to us that aren’t as available to other groups, there are many more who reap the benefits of white male privilege who would rather try and convince those around them that it doesn’t exist than use the privilege to make things better for those around them.
You see these people aggressively shrugging off responsibility every time “feminists try to take away the rights of men.” Look through the comments on the NYC street harassment video or on catcaller videos from earlier this year—women who call out inexcusable behaviour are yelled at for doing so. I’ve seen them come in droves myself after writing about sexism in sport and about women pilots. I’ve been yelled at on my site, on my Facebook pages and on Twitter. I’ve accepted it all because it’s their right to criticize. Rights are something we white males have in droves. They will tell you that they’re a white male who was fired because their employer needed more women in the workplace. They’ll tell you they were shamed by women on the street simply for having tried to pay them a compliment.
There are also the people like me who will admit its existence but are intimidated, anxious and overwhelmed by threat of confrontation. I’m a 35-year-old cisgendered, white man married to a beautiful woman with two young girls. I have a good job, I have a house. I am able bodied. I’ve been trying to read more about intersectionality lately and have discovered that outside of mental health issues, I face very little opression. Very few of the challenges I face every day are of the preconceived version.
Having a voice that rightly or wrongly gets listened to with less skepticism means there’s responsibility to use that voice. And the only way to do that is to keep talking until our voices don’t stand out any more than anyone else’s.
The easy route—the one I’ve been taking for all those years, is to stay the course, or to at best write some stories and put them on my site for people to read. Doing so means I don’t have to push my own comfort level too far. I can say I’ve tried to make a difference with my words having shared stories about the empowerment of women and about how sexist some men have been to my daughters already. I can publish the comments that come my way and successfully push them to the back of my mind by promptly forgetting about them. If I keep taking the easy route, I can internalize the moments when a friend talks about how great the ass is on our server and explain it away as them “not knowing better” when they use phrases like “that’s so gay,” or “that’s the most retarded thing I’ve ever heard.”
My daughters, themselves still very privileged, don’t need me to be that way. They need to see my partner and I setting an example for them that we need to use our privilege to make the voices of those without it heard. I need to put myself in uncomfortable positions and be aware of the privilege I have. I need to: