Quantifying Privilege

Posted: March 30, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

This morning on my facebook newfeed I came across this image:

Image Description: A flyer says "Check Your Privilege Gender - Man (+50) -Woman (-50) -Genderqueer (-75) -Intersex (-100) Transgender (-300) Race -White (+100) -Asian (-50) -Latino (-50) -Black (-100) -Middle Eastern (-150) -Other (-100) Religion -Christian (+50) -Non-Religious (-10) -Jewish (-20) -Muslim (-50) -Other (-20) Disability  -Able-Bodied (+25) -Disease (-30) -Immobile (-50) -Deaf or Blind (-50) -Autistic (-200) Sexual Orientation -Heterosexual (+50) -Bisexual (-50) -Pansexual (-50) -Asexual (-50) -Homosexual (-150) Status -Plutocrat (+100) -Wealthy (+50) -Middle (+25) -Poor (-25) -Homeless (-250) Appearance -Average Body (+10) -Overweight (-20) -Underweight (-5) -Disfigured (-40) -Tall (+10) -Short (-10) Very Priveleged: 100+ Priveleged: 50-100 Non-Priveleged: -100-0 Very Dis-privelege: >-100

Image Description: A flyer says “Check Your Privilege
Gender
– Man (+50)
-Woman (-50)
-Genderqueer (-75)
-Intersex (-100)
Transgender (-300)
Race
-White (+100)
-Asian (-50)
-Latino (-50)
-Black (-100)
-Middle Eastern (-150)
-Other (-100)
Religion
-Christian (+50)
-Non-Religious (-10)
-Jewish (-20)
-Muslim (-50)
-Other (-20)
Disability
-Able-Bodied (+25)
-Disease (-30)
-Immobile (-50)
-Deaf or Blind (-50)
-Autistic (-200)
Sexual Orientation
-Heterosexual (+50)
-Bisexual (-50)
-Pansexual (-50)
-Asexual (-50)
-Homosexual (-150)
Status
-Plutocrat (+100)
-Wealthy (+50)
-Middle (+25)
-Poor (-25)
-Homeless (-250)
Appearance
-Average Body (+10)
-Overweight (-20)
-Underweight (-5)
-Disfigured (-40)
-Tall (+10)
-Short (-10)
Very Priveleged: 100+
Priveleged: 50-100
Non-Priveleged: -100-0
Very Dis-privelege: >-100”

The more I look at this or think about it the more wrong with it I notice, including the misspelling of privilege. I can’t make out anything on the flyer that indicates who created it. I’m sure they had good intentions to help make people aware of their privileges with it. Though I am skeptical of whether this is even effective for that.

The first issue with this is that privilege and oppression cannot simply be added. My experiences as a queer woman are not simply sexism + heterosexism. Rather the way I experience sexism is as someone who is queer and the way I experience heterosexism is as a woman. Or to put that another way: I don’t experience sexism as straight women do + heterosexism as gay men do. This goes the same for areas of privilege. The way I experience sexism is also impacted by my white privilege as much as by queer oppression.

This is also one reason I’m skeptical of this doing much good for helping people be aware of their privilege as this suggests that my being gay somehow cancels out my white privilege (and then some). That’s not how it works. When it comes to race my privilege is not less just because I lack privilege in things not related to race.

Next up is that a lot of the numbers relatively are off. The first that stood out to me was sexual orientation, bi and pan represent 1/3 the lack of privilege of being gay which is just bullshit. bi and pan folks experience heterosexism/homophobia just like gay folks. Passing privilege is a thing, but not one specific to bi and pan folks- it’s neither inherent to those identities nor limited to them. As a single queer/gay/lesbian* woman I often have an easier time passing as straight if I want than a bi woman in a relationship with another woman. I’m never outed by talking about a current significant other or just being with them.

*I prefer queer as an identifier but will also use gay or lesbian. On a spectrum I fall somewhere closer to totally gay than middle of the road bi. On a kinsey scale about a 5.

And then that being bi or pan is equal to asexual that I personally do not think belongs there at all. Heteroromantic asexual people (those who have/desire hetero relationships but do not desire sex) are not oppressed imo. This also reminds me of the recent Daily Show segment showing past reports from correspondent Jason Jones where he is talking to a man who says that (gay) people shouldn’t have special rights just because of the kind of sex they have. The thing is, sexual orientation is not about the type of sex one has! At most it give you an idea of the gender of people I have sex with. It is a common question of how two women have sex, but the reality is the answer is all sorts of ways! There are many different acts that two women may or may not engage in, they may have very vanilla sex, or very kinky sex. And if it’s kinky, my sexual orientation tells you nothing of if I’m a domme or sub or a switch. It doesn’t tell you what my kinks are or aren’t. Gay sex shouldn’t be extra taboo imo, but being queer is about far more than sex and it’s effect on our lives goes far beyond the bedroom.

Other categories have weird hierarchies int hem as well. Autism is the most oppressed of all disabilities? Who decided that being middle eastern is the most oppressed racial group?

There are also issues with terminology. First off I don’t get the categorization for class, I don’t see anyone identifing as a plutocrat, and wealthy folks will just think they are middle class anyways.

“immobile”, “disease”, “disfigured”- many of these seem like they were chosen by people who are not part of that group. Even though I have diseases, in context I would prefer “chronic illness”, since I think of myself as “ill” not “diseased”- there is definitely a negative connotation to that. I’m not even sure who all is supposed to fall under these categories. There are definitely disabilities that don’t fit any of them.

Then there are the cross group issues. I’d rather speak to those that apply to me, so let me talk about those. First off, short? I’m short at 5’0″ but I am not oppressed by that shortness. Even within the appearance category, it is not comparable to being fat. And fat is nearly equivalent to being poor? I don’t think so. And for me I feel being a woman is a bigger factor in oppression that being queer, though I’m not sure where I’d rank everything. But socio-economic class needs to be higher up there. Of course the problem with ranking is it is personal! To me being a woman feels like it should rate a bigger negative score than being queer but that does not mean another queer woman won’t feel differently from her experiences. And much of this goes as well to the fact that we all typically experience varying degrees/aspects of oppression. My experience being queer is different than someone who was disowned by their family when they came out. My experience being fat is different than someone who has difficulty with chairs in public spaces accommodating their size. Experience with disability varies so fucking widely I wouldn’t even know where to start there. And socio-economic status is incredibly complicated in how we define it and where one falls. By income level I am poor. But that is to some extent ameliorated by other aspects of class privilege like education.

All in all, it’s just kind of a mess. Which tends to be the result whenever anyone tries to quantify or compare privilege.

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Comments
  1. I agree that this chart, while well meaning, is overly simplistic. My parents for example are white Christians living in an Arab nation where open practice of Christianity is illegal. Does that make them privileged or discriminated against?

    While being heterosexual ought to make me privileged, being housebound for the last decade has made any chance of romantic (or even most platonic) relationships impossible while gay, bi and heterosexual friends can all socialise, date, marry or have children, things that may never realistically be possible for me.

    My illness is one that carries much greater stigma and receives far less funding than many other conditions of similar prevalence and severity. That surely makes me under-privileged?! Yet the fact I live in a country with universal healthcare means I am more privileged than people with the same condition living elsewhere in the world.

    We are all most likely privileged in some ways, while lacking privilege in others, and as you say, how do we begin to calculate the extent to which one of these areas cancels out the other?

    • ebay313 says:

      The point is actually that they don’t cancel each other out. Disability does not cancel out straight privilege, which one has even when single. (Even if not in a relationship being straight means having relationships like your desire regularly portrayed as normal in media, characters of your orientation in the media are never considered to represent our entire orientation, not being afraid of being disowned for being open about the gender of people you are attracted to, not having people advocate your murder based on sexual orientation, et cetera.)

      • ebay313 , your point is precisely the one I was trying to make though perhaps it was poorly phrased. If it caused offence I apologise.

        According to such a simplistic scale, I gain 50 points for being straight but lose 80 points for being sick and immobile thereby inferring that somehow my disability more than cancels out the privilege of being heterosexual. As you say however, being unable to pursue relationships due to my disability doesn’t change the fact I live in a society still geared towards heterosexuality any more than being heterosexual makes up for the stigma, physical restriction or economic disadvantage of living with disability. They are independent issues.

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