Well, between FEE, Stossel, and the ban bossy campaign, it appears the libertarian world is in a full-blown privilege discussion. I kind of hate that this is like, my deal. What some people know me for. Because everyone is right about the fact that it generally sounds hostile and dismissive to say “check your privilege” to someone who doesn’t already regularly do so.
But sometimes it takes something a little more intense than, “Hey, there’s oppression that exists and is a big deal and you’re probably not super aware of it or concerned with it right now because you’re not really a victim of it due to identity factors such as your sex, gender, education or orientation but other people are super concerned with these oppressions, and part of the reason they’re not listening to your ideas about ways to end these kinds of oppressions is that you don’t seem particularly concerned about oppression that’s not your own,” to get a conversation started.
And I still think that THAT is a conversation worth having. So if I need to be “privilege girl” to help make it happen, awesome. If I had a better way to do it, I would have done it that way. But the sad reality is that I’m just not that smart. Or maybe I’m lazy. Definitely I’m lazy.
Soooo. Beyond the legit criticisms of the phrase, I think many people tend to misunderstand the idea. Many people think that acknowledging privilege means putting people in privilege hierarchies, based on their identities. I can see how this could be offensive to, well, everyone. But I think that’s a misreading of the phrase and hides an important truth. We are all privileged. And we are all oppressed.
It’s very difficult to hold two conflicting ideas in your head at the same time. But let’s try, and we’ll use me as an example. Because this is my blog. And I love me. And because the same misunderstanding is marring the discussion of Ban Bossy.
Let’s talk about the fact that I’m a fairly young and fairly conventionally attractive female who’s doing okay in a fun career for a second. I want to make two points, which seem to conflict, but don’t.
First, to my knowledge, these aspects of my identity have helped me far, far more times and in more ways than they have hurt me.
Second, sexism is still real.
So, the advantages here are many. I suspect I got my first job in part because my boss’ boss thought it would be easier for her, a young woman, to manage another young woman.
I know I get invited to speak at conferences, my short-lived YouTube show got more viewers, my articles get more views, my blog gets more traffic, my Twitter gets more followers, my Facebook gets more friends, all at least in part because I’m a young, pretty lady. I’m marketing ideas here, and it’s hard to do that if no one is paying attention. I’ve had an easier time than most in getting eyeballs on my work in part due to factors mostly outside of my control.
But, that isn’t to say that women aren’t discriminated against as well.
I will likely never know which mentors didn’t choose me, which clubs I wasn’t invited to, which people discounted my opinions because I’m a carrier of a vagina. Or maybe even because they figured (and I’ve been told as such) that my work isn’t good and only gets attention due to how I look.
I do know that as Sheryl Sandberg points out in Lean In, the data shows that women must choose between success and likability in a way that men don’t. Other studies have shown that hiring managers discriminate against women in their childbearing years because they don’t want to lose them. Other studies have shown that women feel pressure to be responsible for the majority of childcare and household duties, disincentivizing their working the long hours necessary to really succeed in a full-time job.
For me, this wasn’t ever much of a problem because I didn’t see likability, childrearing or keeping a nice home as in my wheelhouse anyway. And certainly if I wasn’t hired no one ever told me it was due to discrimination. But if I check my childless, dirty, asshole privilege, I realize that just because I succeeded despite that discrimination, and just because other women CAN too, doesn’t mean it isn’t real and it isn’t a problem.
Because the truth is that being a woman is both a blessing and a curse. And, that it’s not the same for me as it is for other women. I can feel like sexist perception problems never held me back, and they can still be real problems for other women.
And if it’s true that in general, women are held to different standards for likability, or discriminated against in employment, it would follow that that would discourage them from leading and succeeding. I desire for women to have every opportunity and advantage to lead, both for them, and for the world which will benefit from their unencumbered contributions.
So whether I feel like I have succeeded despite my gender, or because of it, has no bearing on whether or not barriers to other women’s success like the likability gap or employment discrimination exist. Again, most people will never know where and when they’ve not had opportunities due to factors outside their control.
In short, I can be genuinely grateful for every advantage, every privilege I have, and they are many. And I can still understand that sexism exists, and I can advocate for a world in which generally speaking, it is no disadvantage in any way to be a woman.
How do we get there? I think becoming aware of things like the likability gap or an impulse toward hiring discrimination or gendered expectations in our own minds is the first step. We must first recognize the problem. Then, let’s work to get better, and teach others to do the same. Let’s all reset our expectations of women, so they are neither incentivized nor disincentivized to work hard or lead outside the home. It’s not going to be easy. There’s only so much we can do, but it’s worth it.
Because this, to me, is freedom. I want to live in a world where arbitrary factors like identity don’t keep people from opportunities to add value. I think sexism is an abhorrent thing, and worthy of voluntary response. But I don’t need to think of myself as a victim to advocate for it.
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