Part two of a series, evidently. Told you I had more to say.
So you’re white. So you’re a man. So you’re well-to-do. That surely doesn’t make you evil! … OR DOES IT!?!?
People honestly don’t seem to understand what it means to say that there’s a privilege problem in the skeptical community, it seems. Nor what it means if they’re one of the lucky
few majority who have this privilege. Nor what to do when someone calls you out on it. Nor pretty well any aspect of actually understanding the situation and its implications that might allow for normal social interaction on a daily basis without blowing up half the damn blogosphere every time someone points out a behaviour that’s damaging the way Rebecca Watson just did. I’m assuming inadvertently, since she’s pretty damn good at building networks, and she’s well-respected in skeptical and atheist communities enough for this to matter.
I mean, hell, all it took to touch off this particular firestorm was Rebecca complaining that a guy ignored one, if not two direct statements of intent in order to flirt with her — in one of the most socially awkward ways imaginable, indicating he was wholly oblivious of the implications of his environment — to provide the powderkeg. It took someone like Stef McGraw, a public figure as a member of a leadership organization at her school, completely missing the point of Rebecca’s complaint and doing so in public on her organization’s blog, to provide the fuse. Rebecca daring to rebut in public at a conference in which Stef was attending lit the match. Everything that’s happened since has been people of all stripes sticking their noses into the conversation as though it merited more than the back-and-forth that Rebecca could have damn well handled on her own. The explosion happened through three incidents, and everything else has been people picking through the rubble either trying to score rhetorical points or trying to triage the injured parties. (I said parties. I don’t mean Rebecca specifically.)
People including me, a white male taking advantage of his privilege to be heard on this one.
You see, privilege is when you are a member of a non-marginalized group in a region — like, say, being white and male and Christian in North America. Not only do the marginalized people get explicitly marginalized, there are some creeping and insidious ways that the privileged group gets advantages that they themselves might not be aware of. For instance, a man might get the benefit of the doubt when he approaches someone somewhere at some time and invites them for coffee. When that someone is a woman, and that somewhere and somewhen is an elevator at 4 AM, and that invitation for coffee is a thinly veiled invitation for sexual congress, the woman might get a little freaked out. People everywhere and of both sexes scramble to excuse the man, especially since he did nothing wrong, and therefore the woman is freaked out for nothing.
Except one of the ways privilege works is that the people with the privilege often try to solve the problems inherent in the power dynamic by suggesting that the underprivileged protect themselves. You know, because the onus of responsibility is on them to keep from being abused. How many times have you, as a man, been told to avoid dark alleys or elevators or going out in the middle of the night because you might be raped? How much rape avoidance do you have to practice? Sure, you have some small amount of necessity to avoid these areas because you might be mugged, but not statistically more than a woman might, even though women are on average physically less capable or less willing or more acculturated to simply not fight back. Males don’t have to practice avoidance the way a woman does. And a woman does because we excuse behaviour that indicates predatory isolation techniques in men, whether they cause any actual offense or not afterward.
I’ve already written a post for a secret project in which I discuss how I (only slightly, she’ll say) hurt my dear friend inadvertently by using too many of my own words, rather than simply pushing traffic to her words instead. I’ll happily include the post in this series when said secret project is fully operational, but until then, suffice it to say that as a guy, I have the ability to post more inflammatory things with less flack from the audience, and I automatically get more hits whether my words merit them or not. I recognize and acknowledge this privilege, and I accept it, and I’m even willing to apply this privilege to noble ends, especially if it means eroding at the privilege in general to provide the less-privileged with an equal shot in this world.
I have privilege, in being white and in being male. This does not make me a racist, nor a sexist, especially where I recognize that my position does actually give me societal advantages that I don’t necessarily deserve. It doesn’t make you a racist or a sexist either. But lashing out at someone who simply wants to point out where someone is taking advantage of a privilege — in this case, the privilege to flirt despite clear signs of pre-rejection — that’s just wrong.
It’s wrong because you, as the forum troll that makes comments like these or these, sense that some “right” is being taken away from you, but you don’t even know what it is. You assume that Rebecca advocated that the man in the elevator was a rapist — never mind all the rape avoidance techniques these women have been taught to employ as members of the unprivileged that include this exact scenario, and that she never took it beyond a complaint of the behaviour being generally creepy. You assume that people who support Rebecca are man-haters who want men to never flirt again, but you ignore the fact that they simply want you to pay more attention to them before diving into the sexual come-ons, especially right after you got done talking about how uncool those cold-opens are. You assume that anyone who disagrees with you on any minor picayune point is from “another tribe”, a different in-group, and therefore worth derision and total lack of respect. And once you’ve made up your mind on anything, come hell or high water you’re sticking to your guns.
Those of us who appreciate a little bit of reality in our discourse might simply recognize that when a woman says “don’t do this specific thing”, you probably shouldn’t do that specific thing. If not simply with her, then at least let it give you pause and search for indicators that the behaviour is acceptable with your next target. Flirting with women in elevators is fine. If you’ve known them for longer than thirty seconds, and respect if they tell you to back off, anyway.
Like all things, interpersonal relations are nuanced. Stop trying to make this a binary issue, because it’s not.
By the way, Jen at Blag Hag says much the same thing specifically about Dawkins. Yeah, he’s not a misogynist either. He’s just misusing his privilege to tell someone that their complaint is useless, just because it’s a “first world problem” so to speak. This is, of course, misguided. But don’t dare tell him so while including the word “fuck”.