Tag Archives: privilege

No Fucks Privilege

When it comes to appearance, I find increasingly that I have no more fucks to give about what other people think of me. This is something I’ve largely been able to do for myself – so it’s worth talking about because in theory anyone might gift themselves with this.

However, I’m conscious of the ways in which it is also a privilege. It doesn’t really matter how anyone else reads me. My safety does not depend on passing most of the time. Granted, as a tall, furry woman who might dress a bit masculine at times, I could end up on the wrong end of the people who think they can read trans status in someone else’s body. But I’m not, and I would be in a very different position to a trans woman if that happened to me.

I’m non-binary, but I don’t need anyone else to read me that way. My body is overtly female-presenting and I’m not going to make myself miserable fighting that to try and fit what someone else might think non-binary should look like. I look like me, it will do. But, I’m not looking for a partner, I don’t need to make it clear to the casual gaze what sort of person I am. I have advantages of age and a large friend network and also not needing anyone to see me in this regard. There are people who know. It is enough. I have no doubt there are people for whom this wouldn’t work at all. I have privilege.

I don’t think I read as poor – and I’m in an odd inbetween place with that anyway. I’m white and I sound educated and this will inform how people read me, and will inform it in my favour. So if I have no more fucks to give about how people read me, I also have every reason to think I can get away with that. My dress style tends towards the eccentric, not the sexual. I uphold the right of anyone regardless of age, gender, orientation or body shape to present as sexually attractive if they want to, and that everyone should be safe when doing that. In practice, to present as anything other than straight white male and sexual is risky and can be read in ways that are dangerous to you.

There are things intrinsic to being human that mean we want validation from other people. It’s very natural. We all want to be seen and approved of. Many of us are not seen. Many of us face disapproval. It helps being older. It helps being emotionally secure. It helps enormously that I am unlikely to be in much danger from how people read me. Apart from the way rapists read female-presenting people, but that’s not about anything I can control. That’s not about how I present, that’s about the decision to read sexually, and to assume entitlement to other people’s bodies.

If you can bless yourself with no fucks to give privilege, do it. Do it now. And the rest of the time, let’s see what we can do to help people who need to feel more understood when having their appearance read by others, and who need more room and more safety than they currently get.


Conforming to group identities

For a group identity to make any sense, there have to be edges that define it. There are many questions we should be asking of those edges in any groups we encounter.

Who gets to define the boundaries? Usually it will be the people with the most power and privilege. Sometimes it will be people outside of the group itself. When this happens, it is often to silence or dismiss people who are inconvenient to a majority, or to a dominant world view. The way in which non-Zionist Jews are excluded when non-Jewish people talk (ominously, I feel) about The Jews at the moment is a case in point, and a deeply unsettling one.

What happens to people who are pushed out? Do any options exist for them? To be unable to stay in a local community space because it’s full of sexist dinosaurs is horrible, but probably liveable with. To be unable to access medical support because your provider won’t deal with trans people, is a disaster.

What happens to people who cannot fit in the boundaries? Are they punished for this? Are they pushed out further if they don’t go along with the group narrative? How much diversity does the group tolerate? How much conformity is demanded? Who gets to decide who should be conforming to what, and how do they wield that power? Who gets to control the narrative of the group identity?

There is power in defining the narrative. It is also an opportunity that is available to the most powerful. People who have least power are most likely to be pushed to the edges by people who have the most power. What happens when someone from outside the group takes on an identity to try and distort the boundaries and norms of the group? This does seem to happen online, and happens for political reasons.

How do we hold our edges? What are we protecting and what are we willing to make room for? What do we do when we’re pushed to the margins, and what do we do if we see someone else being pushed out? When is that justified, and when does it need resisting? These are not questions with simple answers, but ones to keep asking any time we engage in group dynamics.


Seeking discomfort

One of the hardest things to do is wilfully challenge the ways in which you are comfortable. Yesterday’s blog – Seeking comfort brought up a comment about white poverty in the southern states of America, “Why do people so often assume that to be white means to have a privileged life?” I’ve been in this conversation quite a few times before. It makes people uncomfortable.

Privilege is relative, and not an absolute condition, you can have privilege in some ways and be massively disadvantaged in others. You can be dirt poor and better off than someone else who is dirt poor and of a minority religion, sexual identity or racial background. It’s not that white privilege means we white people all have it easy, it means there are people who, by dint of skin colour, have it harder than us. In just the same way, having straight privilege, or male privilege, or cis privilege or being mentally and physically well does mean you live a charmed life. It means you have a certain set of advantages that you may be taking for granted.

If you’ve never looked at how your life may advantage you in some ways, it tends to be an uncomfortable process. If you are invested in the idea of your disadvantage, it can be really uncomfortable looking at how realistic this is. There’s a lot of difference between being poor in a peaceful country that has a social safety net and being poor in a famine or a war zone. And of course there are some vocal young men out there on social media keen to get across the idea that middle class straight white boys are the most persecuted minority in the world. If you think being able to flag up how persecuted you are creates some kind of social advantage, of course you’ll want to persuade people you are the ‘real’ victim. That kind of behaviour can only come from a place of not understanding what it means to be disadvantaged.

Having our stories challenged is never comfortable. We all exist in contexts that involve other people, culture, history… we are all still implicated in what colonialism has done around the world and what capitalism does, and the exploitation and abuse these things involve. It isn’t comfortable. It’s much more comfortable to pretend you don’t benefit from the things you benefit from. It’s much easier not to look at how you fit in the bigger picture.

Being able to resist such discomfort by refusing to engage with it, is the biggest privilege there is. Being able to deny your position in your culture and history is a place of power. Those who are trapped by culture and history don’t get to pretend it isn’t happening to them and have that be an effective solution.

Willingness to be uncomfortable is necessary for change. If we aren’t willing to be uncomfortable, we won’t work for fairness, or justice or equality. And if we’re making other people uncomfortable, it’s important to ask are we doing that by doubling down on what’s already hard for them, or are we doing it by pointing out where things might be better for them than they’ve acknowledged. If people are living in a state of discomfort, the right answer is to try and ease that where we can. If people are comfortable and oblivious to how much they have – they urgently need to feel uncomfortable. Most of us fall somewhere in between, advantaged in some ways and disadvantaged in others and better off when we can see how that works.


I’ve experienced oppression and that means…

One of the reliable mistakes well meaning people make is to assume that knowledge of one thing means understanding of another: I have endured sexism so I understand racism. I have endured workplace bullying so I understand domestic abuse. I’m a lesbian so I understand the problems of gay men. And so on and so forth. Less well meaning people take it a step further: I have experienced sexual oppression and therefore I cannot be racist. I have been a victim of abuse so I cannot be a bully. It’s easy to see how we get there, and the consequences are unhelpful through to harmful.

One of the things this does is let us not consider where we may be going wrong. A lifetime of dealing with sexual discrimination gives you pretty much no insight into the mechanics of race. If you are a white woman, a lifetime of sexual discrimination does not actually mean you are incapable of racism. The uncomfortable truth is that to be white is to be part of a system that upholds racial discrimination. If you want to change that, you have to find ways to be active about it. Imagining reasons it does not apply to you doesn’t help anyone.

Granted, experiences of oppression can give one group the scope to empathise with the sufferings of another group. That can be a productive base for mutual support. But it can also be a way of erasing the differences in power that exist. It can be a way of minimising your role in the other group’s problems. Sometimes it can leave people feeling entitled to speak for, and speak over those they claim to be helping. Speaking for other people is something to do with caution, because so often it turns out to be speaking over. Believing that you are qualified to speak for someone else is an impulse that needs scrutiny.

Suffering does not make you incapable of being an ass-hat. Experience of discrimination does not make you incapable of discriminating against others. Experiencing challenges does not mean that in some situations you don’t also have privilege. Thinking about this may be uncomfortable. You may feel a knee-jerk defensive reaction that wants to say ‘no, because I…’ and it’s ok to feel that if it’s what you’ve got. Feel it, sit with it, unpick it, understand it. Look at where those protective feelings come from. Do it privately where no one else can see. Own what you find there. It’s not an easy process, but if you do this quietly and alone, everyone benefits.


Contemplating privilege

Often, prompts to consider personal privilege come at awkward times. A person who feels got at and on the defensive is unlikely to want to do any serious soul searching. It is more productive to do it quietly and privately, when you aren’t in the middle of a difficult conversation.

We can’t ask people who have less privilege than us to educate us about how things work and what we need to do to improve. It’s simply not fair, or viable. Not least because one of the most reliable sources of privilege is being in the majority, whereas it is minority people who often experience prejudice and discrimination. Privilege means having some resources and opportunities at your disposal and one of the ways we can use that well is to harness it for some self-examination.

The point of doing this is not to feel guilt. The point is to understand. If those of us with privileges do not understand what we’ve got, we will keep adding to existing problems. We will uphold the idea that we are ‘normal’ and that people without the same privileges are ‘other’. We will feel entitled to what we have, rather than seeing the ways in which we are fortunate. When we really think about our own advantages and how we come to have them, we have to acknowledge the role of luck and circumstance. It opens the door to seeing that often, the more privilege you have, the less you did to earn it. It remains the case that your best shot at being a wealthy person, is to be born into an affluent family.

What advantages you? What improves your lot unfairly? Consider your class background, your race, your level of education (which probably has a lot to do with your class background and race). Consider your health, which underpins your ability to work and earn. Think about what you grew up with, which doors opened easily for you, and what it is that you take for granted. Be willing to feel uncomfortable. There is nothing wrong with feeling uncomfortable.

When you can lay out your privileges, you can move from feeling entitled, to feeling gratitude. This can be a very powerful shift. Rather than feeling you are owed, you will see the ways in which you are blessed. Most of us are blessed in some ways. If you are reading this from a screen, you have blessings in your life.

You may during this process also see where you are not privileged. It is possible to be both. Your race may give you privilege where your ill health gives you disadvantages, for example. Be realistic about how these things impact on you. Avoid seeing it as a competition.

Imagine what would happen if you lost your privileges. Do you imagine that this means being pulled down to an unhappy level? Or do you see it as elevating other people so they have the same rights and opportunities as you? If you believe in scarcity, you may see improving the lot of others as necessarily reducing your share of the good stuff. If you run into such thoughts, scrutinise them. If we are raising people up, no one is disadvantaged.

It’s important to look at any ideas we have that may underpin a desire to stay privileged. Do we think we are better and deserve more? Or do we fear we are not, and that we will be outclassed if barriers are removed for others? Do we just not want to have to change to accommodate other people’s needs? Are we invested in the idea of our own normality? Do we think people are responsible for their own problems; do we blame their choices, past lives, karma, ancestry, intelligence…? Do we think they are just making a fuss and not trying hard enough? If you feel resistance to levelling the playing field, ask what you are afraid will happen. Interrogate your beliefs.

Check your privilege. Do it quietly while no one is watching. Sit with it. Ask it questions. Imagine how life would look without it. Ask yourself how you benefit from inequality. Ask yourself what you can change. Recognise what you have, and practice gratitude, not entitlement.


How green is your loaf?

Every day in the UK, 20 million slices of bread are thrown away. That’s a terrifying amount of food waste and means that an average person here throws out more than half of a loaf of bread each month. I first ran into this statistic a few weeks ago and stopped to look at what happens in my own household. We buy a lot of reduced to clear food, so the things we bring home have a shorter life expectancy. We don’t have a fridge. Even so, we are definitely under average in the bread waste.

Some of the problem is, without a doubt, the bread itself. Buy a good quality loaf, and it may dry out as it gets old. You can toast it, or make bread pudding, or use it in cooking in some way and nothing is wasted. Cheaper loaves are much more likely to grow mould as they age – usually green, hence the title of the post. Once bread is mouldy, you can’t use it.

Timing is clearly important. There are three of us in the household, we can get through a loaf in a few days. For a single person, this is clearly less feasible. Obviously there are other bread products that can be bought in smaller quantities, but clearly not everyone chooses that, and these are not cheaper options, often. For a single person with little money, a very cheap loaf that ends up partly in the bin may still be the better financial choice, and that points at a great many things wrong with our society. People who can’t afford to eat well may be forced economically to make bad environmental choices.

Food waste is an area in which individual action can make a difference. Even so it’s important to remember that the option on individual action often comes with an element of financial privilege, and that we need better choices from government and business as well.


Plastic and privilege

I’m always in favour of people being the change they want to see in the world. I think it’s an important place to start with any kind of activism. If you believe it, you live it. However, often there’s a massive privilege aspect to being able to walk your talk.

If you don’t need plastic straws – and most of us don’t – then giving up straws to save the planet isn’t that big a deal. It’s a small sacrifice. However, for disabled people who need straws for drinking, for whom paper isn’t durable enough and washable straws are problematic, giving up straws isn’t so simple. Of course most of us should do without them, but making life difficult for the disabled is not the answer here.

If you’ve got plenty of money, then buying loose veg and going to your farmer’s market is easy. You may have to drive to get there and to carry your plastic-free goods home and you’ll want a big fridge to keep them in. How green is it? And if we berate the people who can’t afford to do that, is that going to help save the world? If all a person can afford is the 45p bag of carrots, and doesn’t have a car to drive them home in and can’t afford to run a fridge to keep them in… complaining about the bag seems to be the wrong place to focus attention.

If being green is a game for the well to do, in between flights to nice places for holidays, then it’s pretty meaningless. As poverty is a real barrier to living a greener life, there has to be political change. There has to be change that makes it easier and more affordable to be green.

There’s usually some bright spark on hand to say that the poor should try harder. That it isn’t so difficult to do this and that and save money here and there and really, you don’t need the things you think you need. The reality of living in poverty is that it is mentally and emotionally exhausting. It’s hard getting good food every day when money is tight. And when you have to watch every penny and cost up everything it takes a toll, and yes, a few pence here and there on the cost of things can make a difference. It’s easy for people who live in comfort to talk about what they think everyone else should be doing, but that’s not good activism. And no, the farmer’s market is not affordable, and no, not everyone can grow their own veg.

It is certainly true that if everyone acted differently, a lot of environmental issues could quickly be solved. Inspiring, enabling and uplifiting people so that they can live more sustainable lives, is a good thing. Blaming those who are least able to make changes, is not cool. And if you’re jetting off to other countries a few times a year, I’m not convinced that your organic fruit is much of an offset. Green living as an affectation doesn’t fix anything, and it can serve to entrench injustice and blaming the victims of an unjust society.

Do what you can to make changes in your own life. Share things that work – especially things that really are low cost. Go after the people with the power to make changes, not the people with least power who are easiest to harass. Remember that if it’s easy to be greener, there’s privilege at play – wealth, opportunity, resources, skills, education, energy, and so forth. Seeing what personal advantages you have that enable you to be green is a good place to start if you want to tackle the issue of why other people aren’t doing so well. We need to lift each other into more sustainable ways of living, and we need to ask most of those who have most.

 


Reflections on transgender and feminist conflict

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months reading the thoughts of good people who are very supportive of trans rights, good people who are themselves trans, and good people who are very wary about some things around transgender politics, and people on all sides who are downright shitty. I’ve taken my time over piling in, because I’m not trans, and I don’t identify with anti-trans feminists. I find I feel significant sympathies for people on both sides, and significant unease with people on both sides. Usually not the same people.

My starting point is that everyone involved, regardless of their position and opinion, is entitled to have their basic human rights upheld. This means being free from violence and the threat of violence. I am dismayed and disorientated by the violence, and threat of violence coming from all sides. I don’t think it’s ok to punch 60 year old women, however abhorrent you find their opinion. I am also aware that the anti-trans feelings out there can only add to the considerable violence trans folk already experience.

I see online that lesbians who are not comfortable with women who have penises, are being labelled as transphobic. This troubles me greatly. The freedom to love who we love is vital. The freedom to express that as we choose is vital. The right to say no, to any person, for any reason, is vital. I can’t see how not being attracted to someone’s body is phobic. We do not label straight people phobic for not being attracted to same sex people. Every time I go outside I encounter lots of people to whom I feel no attraction. We all of us, as a basic human right, need to be allowed not to have to fake being attracted to people. Being pressured into having sex with someone you do not want to have sex with, is rape.

So, here’s a theory. There are women who have started out with bodies that do not represent them. They identify with, sympathise with, empathise with other women. They want to be recognised as women too. I don’t see any reason to have a problem with this. I know a number of transwomen who I feel very comfortable with and who I have no difficulty identifying as women. Some of them are more feminine than I am, as a cis woman with some gender fluid stuff living in my head.

However, there are also men who want to move into female spaces, bringing all their male privilege with them. Men who want to make women do things for them, and who want women to put them first, and treat them as special, and let them be in charge. Men who feel entitled to tell women who and what they should be attracted to. If a man enters a female space acting from a place of male privilege, I don’t care what he looks like or how he has, or has not modified his body, I’m going to treat him as an entitled man forcing himself into female space. I’ve encountered a bit of this in person, too. It was not a good experience. Anyone who wants to be recognised as a woman cannot at the same time expect to keep their male privilege.

Equally, feminists raising issues about how some men may use trans inclusion to enable predation and violence against women is a thing I take seriously. Female safety is something I take seriously. But, a line is crossed if in the name of feminism, you start trying to deny human rights to someone who is transgender. That’s not what feminism is for. We need to be clear about the differences between human rights, and issues of entitlement if we’re going to figure this stuff out.


No Seasonal Pagan Shaming

Winter. For some of us, it’s a bloody awful time of year. Every year, without fail I see at least one piece online (usually more) that talks about celebrating winter in a way that is not especially kind to people who can’t. There are a lot of people who can’t. If you can joyfully celebrate the cold and dark half of the year – lovely. Have fun with that. It’s important to remember that there are very good reasons why other people can’t – it’s not that we’re lazy, or not trying hard enough, or fair weather Pagans, or failing at Paganism.

The shorter, darker days can really pile it on for people who suffer depression. Gloom and loss of energy make it a lot harder to get out to things or to feel like dealing with people. We may need to hibernate, not celebrate. We may not want to bring our gloom to your celebration.

For those of us with issues around mobility and balance, the mud, ice and frost is a nightmare. Outside becomes a treacherous place. Not everyone can skip along the frosty pavements like Legolas on the side of a mountain. For some of us, the fear of falling includes the fear of damaging an already fragile body. For older and more delicate people, a broken hip can be the beginning of the end and is not something to take lightly.

Celebrating the warm snugness of home and hearth is all well and good, but not everyone can afford it. If winter means choosing between heating and eating, there is nothing much to celebrate, and no resource to spare for joining in with other people’s celebrations. Poverty isn’t always visible or self announcing, people won’t always tell you they can’t afford to have the lights on at night.

Celebrating outside requires warm winter clothes, decent boots, a waterproof coat. Not everyone has or can afford that kind of kit. Not everyone can drive to the wild places in their four by four to go communing with nature whilst wearing their ski gear. It’s really tough going outside and getting cold when you can’t come home and get warm and dry in a reliable way. It’s harder, too, if you’re not eating properly. Cold and hungry are not a good combination, and there’s nothing like being cold for making you hungry. Not everyone has the luxury of a spare pair of outdoor shoes to wear if they get a pair soaked in ritual.

Not everyone loves the winter. Not everyone can. Some of us won’t survive it, killed by the cold and by lack of good food, by illnesses we could not fight off. Some of us will be injured by the conditions and some of us may never get over that. So, if you see someone Pagan-shaming over how people respond to the winter remind them that not everyone has the luxury of being able to celebrate. Not everyone is privileged enough to find winter easy.


Privilege and Pain

How do we make sense of each other’s pain? If someone is suffering, all we know is what we can see, what we’ve experienced and what we imagine. We guess, we judge, we decide whether to take them seriously or not. We call for an ambulance, or we tell them not to make a fuss.

I’ve seen rather too many statistics say that women’s pain is taken less seriously than men’s. I’ve also seen plenty to suggest that fat people in pain are taken less seriously than thin people. Black people may also find it harder to get taken seriously than white people. When it comes to the business of other people’s pain, we bring our prejudices to the table and judge accordingly. People who are wealthy and deemed important will have the slightest health issue jumped on – perhaps because they can pay people to do just that. The rest of us will have to make our case, and may be met with suspicion and disbelief.

As a child I was told I had a very low pain threshold. The implication was that I made too much fuss about things that hurt me – cuts, bruises, splinters etc. As an adult dealing with children, I’ve seen far greater reactions over far less. Not least because children have little to compare a hurt to, and are far more shocked by it. Often it’s the shock they most need you to help them with. There’s a balance to strike between helping a child keep their experiences in perspective, and comforting them.

Into adult life, it is often the people with least experience of pain who make the most fuss about it. The people for whom pain is not normal, are the people most keen to avoid it. I recall being told that a person just couldn’t go for a run unprepared, they would hurt themselves. Well yes, they might make their muscles sore, certainly. I don’t run often, because the jolting hurts my body too much, but when I’ve had a go, I’ve been in pain before I started. It must make it hard for an observer to make sense of me. I walk for transport, I do long walks, I dance when I can – it doesn’t mean I don’t hurt, it’s just that I choose not to be ruled by that hurt.

There are many conditions that mean living with pain. You choose how much you can do and what you can take, or what you’re obliged to take in order to work.  With the safety net ever harder to access, people who don’t know you may make superficial judgements about your pain and thus your right to time to rest and heal. Some things can be recovered from if people are allowed to rest and heal. Some things are more readily managed without piling on the economic pressure. The question now isn’t whether you should work, it’s whether you can. A person who is in constant physical pain can indeed work. I do so. I don’t think anyone should be obliged to, though.

I don’t look like I’m in pain. I’m not pulling dramatic faces or making sad noises, I don’t limp or have a sling, I only use a stick for longer walks over more challenging terrain. And like a great many other people in similar circumstances, I can’t prove to anyone how much my body hurts. This means we are easy to dismiss. If we’re inconvenient, we can be ignored. If we can’t do something we can be told off for not trying, not pulling our weight. It is really easy to deny, ignore and denigrate someone whose pain does not manifest in ways you can easily observe.

And then there are the people who feel I should deal with my pain in the manner of their prescribing. If I don’t, I’m not taking it seriously, not trying hard enough. Or I was lying in the first place. It can be frustrating to say the least, and I don’t have to take as much of this as some people will. As far as I can see, there’s a definite parallel between who gets to have their pain taken seriously, and who has other kinds of privileges going on. It all seems to fall out along the same lines, and that stands some thinking about.