Is it just me or is anyone else getting a bit overwhelmed with all the types of privilege we are now supposed to know we have (or not) and check? (As in ‘check your privilege’.) Thin privilege and white privilege and male privilege and of course, class privilege, which often (though not always) the others almost boil down to: this tapestry is a bit like saying that we are all unique, except that it calls on us to search the term intersectionality and learn what it means and why it matters.
Today I was feeling the wind in my hair for some time, having been forced to take the simple healthy step of going for a walk by the apparently terrible circumstances of having a stressful job. Do I have employment privilege because I am earning, or is it a sign of my underprivilege that I have to sell my labour to survive since I cannot live for free on the Earth which I was born on?
While feeling the wind in my hair I felt feminine, and this experience tapped me in to all the images of flowing hair you see in the movies, and music videos, and glamorous fashion photography. I had short hair for a while and was regularly assumed to be gay, which didn’t cause any problems but certainly made me realise how powerful a metaphor for straight femininity long hair is. I am very glad to be living in a time and place where women can easily choose to have a short haircut and men can, relatively easily, choose to have long hair even if not through a religious tradition, though this is much harder for men working in some contexts than others.
But why do I have to suffer the dilemma that I might be somehow capitalising on a privilege that others do not or cannot share, just because of what grows on my head (and choosing not to cut it off)? For the sake of full disclosure (I just love full disclosure), I can share that I don’t shave any part of my body any more, ever, and the bits I pluck are very small and I am very lazy about it.
While I mull over the pointlessness of my objection to how I am internally feeling about my hair, I realise that I am combining the urge to try and be clever about being bored hearing about privilege with an observation that there is a glaring and huge state of privilege that is rarely called out: feminine privilege. Okay, maybe I do live under a rock and there are raging twitter debates about feminine privilege, but I would rather write this in ignorance that trawl through men’s rights fora to absorb some stale brain-wincing dialogue about how men being expected to change is just cruel and a sign of a world gone mad. Feminine privilege is probably not discussed because of our collective fear of inadvertently encouraging these guys to talk more.
But it is real. All the tropes about men not knowing whether to hold the door open for a woman are insignificant compared to the real, embodied expectations of the opposite sexes that relate to different kinds of dangerous and unhealthy work, the taking of risks and responsibilities, and the endemic risk of violence from men. The taboo against violence against women, however much it is not strong enough yet, is far greater than any taboo that is yet to fully take root as such, against violence against men. Identifying men as the perps of the majority of violence does nothing to protect men from the threat of assault and neither does the extraordinary number of brutal deaths we clock up on screen each year – often of men given little or no identity but violently disposed of to add dramatic tension to a plot. While many men truly benefit from being neutral in society (male privilege), they are portrayed simultaneously, for our entertainment, as appearing in such numbers as to render them almost disposable. Being a woman is hard, and being discriminated against for being a woman is also hard, but there are many aspects of culture where it is a given that women should be treated with respect, just as, at the very same time, there are many aspects of culture where it is still easy to disregard and discriminate against women. The same is true of men, and this is why assigning privilege to adjectives (white, male, female, thin, long haired) is only one awkward step on the road to mutual respect of all regardless of identity markers, aka true human solidarity.
Before I sign off I want to throw another spanner at privilege discussions – because I once had to endure a white Canadian couple visiting the UK who were so expert at their own white settler guilt that a local low-income working class white male anarchist nearly killed them. How we would have secretly been relieved.
My point is that their consecrated guilt determined them to educate other whites in privilege, and cost them their ability to recognise difference when it stared them in the face. And they became self-righteous and patronising. And no-one had a productive conversation. No matter how long it takes us to educate everyone ignorant in the world about their discriminating practices, we are still soon going to need something more sophisticated than identity chastisement to forward our desires to be surrounded, on the whole, by increasingly humane and intelligent companions. What device comes next?