Monday, January 2, 2012

My Privilege

Today I want to write about my privilege. I have no doubts about the fact that I possess it, but I've been thinking about it a fair amount this afternoon and feel like putting words to blog would be an interesting exercise.

Mad Adam as a Man

As a male, I encounter certain kinds of privilege. The first and foremost one to me is the fact that I generally overstate my intellect. I've been lead to believe (although I've been generally blind to it) that women are significantly less encouraged from displaying and exercising their thinking minds. I'm the opposite, my entire life I've had people constantly telling me how smart I was because I could recall something or beat a person using a calculator on simple math problems. This kind of privilege carries immense benefit to me - encouragement drove me to sharpen my mind and learn and think. The downside to this privilege is that I developed a self-image that was entirely based around my thoughts that crested during high school. To say that I was narcissistic, condescending, and asocial would be an understatement. My privilege would save me again, however, as I pushed myself early on in university and ended up surrounding myself with people who were far smarter than I am and put me in my place. Somewhat.

I'm also pretty embedded in nerd-culture. I spent years roleplaying on online games, I had an anime phase, Robert Jordan phase, the list goes on. Throughout all of this, never was my geeky credentials called into question because of my gender. Regrettably, I participated in or turned a blind eye to others calling out girls in the community. In one of my more shameful moments, I even remember getting angry about an incident wherein I was "treating a gamer girl like a human" in the hopes of her liking me. She treated me like another human being and I was incensed that she didn't worship me because of "equitable" treatment. So much for people telling me how smart I am.

I face advantages at work. Although my workplace is majority women, being a male still comes with a position of power. Most of the upper tier management is male, making it easier for me to form bonds with them. We tried to form a co-ed softball team. I don't really like softball, but I figured I would show up for the purpose of company spirit and all that. We had to cancel the team because we couldn't come up with enough females to form the team up. In hindsight, it was doomed from the beginning because most of the people who did show up were part of the ol' boys network, and the (majority in the workplace) women, on an individual level, simply weren't interested in a softball team. The downside to male privilege in the workplace is that I'm often called to do menial work. If people need things moved, or lifted, I'm one of the few male workers there and consequently am called to do it, no matter what I'm working on. However, my doing this is in reality an opportunity, because people see me doing both "male" and "female" work and see me as flexible and dependable. Somehow my doing work that's socially considered "female" around the workplace is superior to women doing work that's socially considered "male". Another example of male privilege.

My family also exhibits interesting examples of male privilege as directly concerns me. Thanksgiving dinner, as just one example, is prepared by the women. I am free to help out, and I do more years than I don't, but every woman in the house is confined to the kitchen/dining room while the boys hang out and watch TV or play video games or whatever suits their fancy. It seems to me like a silly example of male privilege, but the silliness is really only an example of how deeply ingrained these anachronistic traditions are.

Mad Adam as a Caucasian
Being Caucasian is another good example of my privilege. These are harder for me to see, simply because the issue of racial privilege interests me less than that of gendered privilege. Some aren't hard to see, however, so I'll list them here.

Foremost comes my cultural choices. Being white, it's more socially acceptable for me to belong to damn near any subculture. I can be a geek, a frat boy, a sopisticate, a gangsterish thug, the world is my oyster. I suppose income is a big deciding factor here, as well, but there is no doubt in my mind that black kids feel a lot more pressure to gravitate towards thug culture than towards many others. Just look at the role models available - white kids have had people like Bill Nye, every president (OK, so the last one is only half-white, still counts), Leonardo DaVinci, George Washington, most of the Power Rangers, and so on. Heck, even Legos generally appear to be Caucasian.  Black kids have what - Flava Flave? There have been numerous positive black role models throughout history, but none of them get the press that the white role models do. The black role models who get press are the thug types, which leads to my assertion of my own privilege. Being white, people don't just assume that I'm a thug. On a similar note, language is another valuable one, this one more of a privilege over Hispanics. It's expected of dominant Spanish-speakers to learn English, but not the other way around. There isn't an ironclad reason for this, save that white people have most of the money and don't care to reprint forms and signs in bilingual format. I can't even sympathize with someone who understands little English and is trying to make it in the US.

This one goes for my privilege as a male as well, but I don't suffer nearly as much as underprivileged groups concerning the behavior of my peers. If a white male dopes up on crack, people don't look at me and think "I bet he's done crack or at least knows someone who does it". This benefit of the doubt helps me find gainful employment, relate to people (of all races and genders), or do virtually anything where the quick judgment of my character by people who don't know me plays a role.

Mad Adam as Heterosexual

My existence, for one, isn't seen as being the bane of masculinity. Nobody is likely ever going to seriously use "that's straight" as an derogatory term. Similarly, if I dress well, it's because I have a good fashion sense, not simply as a result of my sexual orientation. Similarly, when my living space isn't tidied up it doesn't surprise people because people don't automatically expect me to be an anal-retentive domestic decorator, which far too often seems to be attached to gay men. People also don't assume that I have STDs, I am trusted to give blood, which, while I don't particularly enjoy giving blood, seems to be a pretty significant message, that society doesn't think of me as likely having deadly diseases due to my orientation.

The way I interact with my peers is also construed differently, in a gender-normative way that generally works to my benefit. I probably experience less trust around women, but I experience vastly more trust from my male peers. I recall once having a gay friend crash at my apartment as he was "between employment" and had been kicked out. I was fine with him staying for at least a month, maybe two (after which he'd need to start paying rent) but my roommate at the time wanted him out ASAP. My roommate at that time was not somebody I thought of as being homophobic, but the more I paid attention, the more I realized he was. I protested a little, but ultimately I wasn't going to force my gay friend on my roommate if either party was uncomfortable with it. That same roommate would, I'm sure, take me in in a heartbeat should I ever need the assistance. Even were I entreating a female friend as my gay friend asked of me, I don't think she (or most potential roommates) would think of me so negatively, since, being part of the status quo, I'm given more benefit of the doubt.

I'm also allowed to participate in virtually any religion I should want to. Although I don't see religion as a particularly good thing, it is certainly a privilege that affects my life. I suspect that someday I may marry someone, if it were another man I would definitely have trouble with the marriage. I would encounter resistance from my family, from a location and minister to perform the ceremony, and legal issues with my marriage, such as whether or not it's even considered valid. Even if I lived in a state where it was valid, I may end up traveling to (or through!) a state where my marriage is not considered valid and it would thus be ignored.

Whew. I was just about to do a section on income, but trying to sniff out my privilege without the help of a guide is getting exhausting. Maybe another day.

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