I also really feel a need to distinguish between areas where you are actually privileged, and areas where other people’s rights are being trampled on. I would say not having to do your share of house work is a male privilege. But not having to be afraid of rape? I’m not comfortable seeing that as privilege – that’s a right.
Defenders of the notion of privilege argue that it is a relative concept.
If one person (or group) is “disprivileged” wrt another group then, by default, that other group is privileged wrt to the first person (or group).
This can be critiqued on several grounds. Firstly it obfuscates the important distinction between suffering an unfair disadvantage, and enjoying an unfair advantage. As Maia says, freedom from the fear of rape is a right. The problem is not that men generally enjoy this right; it’s that women very often do not.
Secondly, because many people understand “privilege” to mean an unfair advantage, as Maia does, the relative definition makes it harder to discuss these issues. It’s like trying to discuss “violence” with Objectivist Libertarians who define the term differently from everyone else
Thirdly, the “relative” definition is not an honest one. It’s sole purpose is to be trotted out in response to criticisms like mine and Maia’s. As soon as the debate moves on from what the word means, it changes back to “unfair advantage”, as evidenced by the “You don’t want to give up your privilege” trope, and the claim that men “benefit”, which only makes sense if privilege is understood so by the person making this comment. (Maia, being female, has the “privilege” of never having to face that one herself, at least with respect to gender.)
And it is that ad hom which exposes the real purpose behind the concept: It’s to frustrate debate, by silencing members of the allegedly privileged group.
Edited for minor wording, linkification, and markup.
Updated (27 September) to add this list of links to the entire ‘Privilege’ series of posts, which I shall keep updated from now on: