Creative Destruction

September 26, 2006

More on Privilege

Filed under: Blogosphere,Debate,Feminist Issues — Daran @ 1:55 pm

Maia makes a sagacious point in a comment over on Alas.

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:

“Privilege” and “Disadvantage” as sexist framing devices
Do white men really benefit from privilege?
More on Privilege
Selective Service – Privilege part 4

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7 Comments »

  1. Excellent accessment of the poor framing of the “privilege” checklists.

    Comment by toysoldier — September 26, 2006 @ 3:20 pm | Reply

  2. Don’t forget my favorite (sarcasm) comment: “Check your privilege.”

    This, which setms from the same concepts as the privilege lists, is essentially an unrebuttable statement.

    If you disagree that you need to check your privilege, you are being privileged and thus not worthy of respect.

    If you disagree and claim that you have ALREADY checked your privilege, you are being privileged and thus not worthy of respect.

    If you agree with the statement, you are expected to demonstrate that agreement by backing down or otherwise revising your argument.

    The response “I checked my privilege and I still make this argument” is not allowed.

    The statement is a nifty ad hom that also handily sidesteps the actual point being responded to. It assumes a priori that no person who was aware of their privilege would make such a remark. Thus, it allows folks to ignore arguments because of who makes them.

    Comment by Sailorman — September 27, 2006 @ 12:47 pm | Reply

  3. Sure. Different wording: same dynamic.

    You two are going to enjoy my next two posts on this subject. 🙂

    Comment by Daran — September 27, 2006 @ 2:32 pm | Reply

  4. […] “Privilege” and “Disadvantage” as sexist framing devices Do white men really benefit from privilege? More on Privilege Selective Service – Privilege part 4   […]

    Pingback by “Privilege” and “Disadvantage” as sexist framing devices. « Creative Destruction — September 27, 2006 @ 3:36 pm | Reply

  5. […] and “Disadvantage” as sexist framing devices Do white men really benefit from privilege? More on Privilege Selective Service – Privilege part 4   […]

    Pingback by Do white men really benefit from ‘privilege’? « Creative Destruction — September 27, 2006 @ 3:41 pm | Reply

  6. Hey, I read this post and your previous one on privlege…

    I agree wiht you in essence–I think there *IS* a key distinction between actual privileges and merely the absence of discrimination. I would argue that there ARE genuine cases of male privilege, though.

    For instance, if you have a wife, it will often be assumed that your wife will do a number of thgins for you, like cooking, or cleaning. If, as a result of societal prejudices, your wife does indeed cook your meals, isn’t that a privilege?

    In any case, I appreciate the distinction, but don’t see how it undermines the greater point that men are much better off, regardless of how you name it. In short, it’s a good critique of some sloppy though, but hardly a ringing indictment of the feminist edifice.

    Comment by Malachi — September 28, 2006 @ 7:39 pm | Reply

  7. For instance, if you have a wife, it will often be assumed that your wife will do a number of thgins for you, like cooking, or cleaning. If, as a result of societal prejudices, your wife does indeed cook your meals, isn’t that a privilege?

    Reverse the premise. Would the same be true? Would it not be fair to label it a privilege as well?

    In any case, I appreciate the distinction, but don’t see how it undermines the greater point that men are much better off, regardless of how you name it.

    While this may simply be arguing semantics, having one’s life devalued is not better than having one’s life valued. The greater isssue it the persistent notion that a group must have it worse than the other and never entertaining the possibility that both groups are disadvantaged but in different ways.

    Comment by toysoldier — September 28, 2006 @ 7:57 pm | Reply


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