There’s a thing you can do as a white woman-assumed person in the kyriarchy that helps you survive, maybe even flourish, and gains you a bit of your own privilege in the system. It’s a sort of cutesy, non-threatening ditsy act. Made all the better if the menz would describe you as “whip smart”, but only in that non-threatening academic way.
Do you know what I’m talking about? If you’re a white woman* there’s a good chance you’ve done it – probably even subconsciously – how young are we when we first learn that helplessness protects us and gives us advantages?
If you’re a man, you’ve probably observed it, maybe you’ve even liked it. Maybe you’ve felt manipulated by it.
If you’re still not sure what I’m talking about, think about the manic pixie dream-girl trope.
Recently I’ve been following a person on facebook who posts a lot about systems of oppression and intersectional feminism and wanting to tear things down and xe has criticised “Beckies” for employing these kinds of tactics to center themselves in shared spaces, gathering and hoarding attention for themselves.
I’ve not commented for a few reasons: It’s not a space where my voice should be loud and forward; I’m not entirely sure I agree with everything said, but I feel like my quibbles will derail a conversation and space that’s valuable for people who are very different from me (see first point); I’m still learning and if something said by someone with less privilege than me makes me feel uncomfortable, then I want to sit with that for a while rather than shouting about it in their space.
But I do feel a bit defensive and resentful, so here in my space I think I might talk about it a bit.
First of all, I think it’s missing a really important viewpoint – the white women* who do this do it as a survival technique. We are also trying to eke out whatever scraps of privilege we can in systems that are designed to punish anyone who threatens the status quo and the default power of men. Playing along with that in order to survive and make progress is actually understandable.
Now I get that it does absolutely nothing to dismantle those systems and that it means we’re complicit in our own infantalisation and maintaining that status quo, but I think we’re blaming the wrong people here!
It reminds me of when bus-drivers were striking and people were cranky about their demands for a pay-rise because teachers, nurses, police, etc. were equally badly paid and it would be changing the relative differences there. I remember thinking “The bus drivers are not the bad guys here! It’s not them we want to take the money from to make our situation better, it’s the 1%ers – bankers, developers, politicians and CEOs earning 7-8 figure salaries.
This strikes me as a similar thing. If all attention and gifts of perceived power didn’t come from and gravitate to men (and in particular cis-het-white-men) then we wouldn’t be arguing over who got the biggest share of scraps.
But then again, I’m probably wrong. Because I have no lived experience as a person of colour or an indiginous person in stolen lands. And maybe white privilege is actually the biggest system that needs to be torn down, way more so than male privilege. I think there’s little doubt that they’re the big two anyway.
And things are definitely different in a country like Ireland. It’s not that we don’t have racism, but we have way more individual than institutional racism. I’m sure if you give us a couple of generations we’ll get there with systems to disadvantage people of colour. Right now, I kind of love how much of an influx of people from different countries and of different skin tones we’ve had in a short amount of time. It didn’t happen until we were already an established modern country and it makes me feel hopeful that maybe we’re mature enough to actually get it right and be an example of a truly equal society.
Yeah, my privilege is definitely showing there. If I wasn’t white I’d probably have already lived through too much shit to come out with statements like that.
(*) I’m using woman as a short-hand for anyone who’s not a cis-man here, because “non-cis man” is a phrase that I keep reading as “trans man” as if those are the only two options out there. Stupid binary-socialised brain. I’m tempted to use some logic or set notation like (man)’ or ~man but how small is the set of people who’ll read that correctly? Terminology is fraught and difficult, but I reserve the right to get it a bit wrong in my own space while I’m still learning.