Some people just don’t understand privilege
And it pisses me off
Yesterday, I fell victim to the sidebar of ever-lasting Tab articles, clicking on one entitled, “People who piss me off, part 1: white Cambridge feminists and guys who lie about their face on Grindr”.
I am a white feminist. But I clicked on this article because there are a fair share of “white feminists” – at Cambridge and elsewhere – that piss me off, too. Specifically, the people that piss me off – usually cisgender women from privileged economic backgrounds – do so because they lack any sort of perspective their privileged place in the world.
If you go to Cambridge University and you think you aren’t privileged, you clearly aren’t aware of the world around you. You are privileged in that your CV will carry the name of a university that alone can get you a job.You are privileged in that you have running water and electricity. You are privileged in that your room has proper heating (even if it’s only sometimes).
I am not trying to trivialize privilege. Some of you are privileged not because of your college’s ability to provide adequate heating, but because of your race. Or gender. Or sex. Or sexuality. Or so many other physical, psychological, social, or economic factors about you. You are the intersection of these things.
The core of intersectionality is understanding how systems of oppression interact. As a white woman, I benefit from white power structures – but also experience oppression from misogynistic structures.
Systems of oppression do not interact exclusively or independently; a person can be both oppressed and oppressor, and often times, a beneficiary of a system that also oppresses them in other, discrete ways.
I’m an American postgraduate student. I’m not upper middle class. I didn’t have a nanny or go on vacation or have my own bedroom growing up. I had turn down my spot at Cambridge and reapply because I couldn’t afford it. Where’s my privilege?
The thing is, that’s not white privilege. That’s socioeconomic privilege. My white privilege is that I have never been followed in a store to make sure I didn’t steal anything. I can find people of my race in movies, magazines, politics, and Cambridge lecture halls. I do not have to deal with microagressions at my university. When a police officer pointed a gun at my head (true story, but it was America after all), he didn’t pull the trigger.
And how have I been oppressed as a woman?
I have been catcalled, objectified, told that my worth was my appearance from before I could understand words. Once, I confronted a catcaller, and he threatened me. With a knife. I’ve been sexually harassed in hostile work environments. On multiple occasions, men have tried to coerce me into their cars and have followed me home.
I have been raped, and struggle with PTSD, which has led to anxiety attacks and depression. And I am told by men, on a daily basis, that my problems are insignificant, that I am ‘overreacting’ and ‘complaining’, that I have never experienced ‘real oppression’.
If I was going to make a list of everyone who pisses me off, it would look a little like this: rape apologists, men who shout things at me in the street, men who shout things at me on the internet, people who wear racist Halloween costumes, politicians who try to legislate women’s bodies, people who use homophobic or transphobic language and call it ‘banter’, people who think that ‘affirmative consent’ is too much of a hassle, people who start sentences with “I’m not a racist, but…”, people who deny asexuality or bisexuality or any sexuality, a responder on a Tab comment of mine who said that only soldiers can get PTSD, feminists who don’t think about race, feminists who impose Western ideals on the developing world, feminists who only believe cisgender women are women, feminists who belittle women who choose to be stay-at-home mums or choose to wear burqas…
The truth is, so, so, so many people piss me off. But I don’t want to talk about them. I am sick of talking about them.
Instead, I want continue this discussion about intersectionality and invite other voices/identities to write to the Tab.
As Cambridge students, we have privilege. I cannot speak to your experience beyond that. I cannot know the experience of a black man or black woman or trans* woman.
But I can try to the best of my ability to listen, and to not diminish others’ experiences or conflate those experiences with my own. I continually educate myself and the people around me, and actively criticise racist, homophobic, ableist, transphobic structures that I encounter.
Even the oppression that we ourselves do not experience – and sometimes even benefit from – needs to be dismantled. We stand together, or we fall apart.