I have had the experience of being told I was overemotional or panicking in a work situation when what I was was losing my temper with somebody who was refusing to do work in a very busy office. Those of you who know me, know it's pretty difficult to mistake when I am angry with someone, and I generally handle it in a fairly polite fashion until I totally lose my lunch.
You know, this does not apply only to women. It applies equally to disenfranchised (disprivileged) persons of all sorts. Anger--the right to get angry and be heard--is one of those white male heterosexual privilege things that supposedly don't exist. As a woman, I have experienced this in terms of being called "shrill" or "panicky" when I was angry.
I have never actually had someone tell me "you're beautiful when you're angry," probably because I'm not beautiful under any circumstances, but that maneuver is the same kind of nonsense. It's disempowering. Your anger--your emotional response to unfairness--does not matter. All that matters is The Male Gaze.
I just understood something today that I never quite managed to understand before, and it's willshetterly's fault. Because he posted this yesterday, and it finally made me understand exactly what white male privilege is. Now, Will is a good guy; he's decent and caring and he tries really hard to be fair and honorable to all persons.
He's also--imho--unbelievably wrong, this time out, and in reading the comments to the post I realized that I can't even begin to explain to him why he's wrong, because his privilege is so bulletproof on this issue. He honestly can't imagine the sort of automatic dismissal that women and people of color experience on a daily basis. It's completely foreign to his experience, what I've experienced as the only woman in an office full of men, where I was also the only person who could maintain the LAN or fix a modem or explain how to use Powerpoint... but somehow, when the (small) company I worked for held staff meetings to discuss the direction of the company, it was expected that I would not be present because I would be covering the phones. (Nevermind that I was doing the same job as a male counterpart and I was about as good at it.)
Yeah, I didn't last there.
So it took the illustration of Will's incomprehension of his own privilege (that the difference in his life if he had been black would have been that any one of those accomplishments would have been made in the face of dismissal; that you walk in with the knowledge that people will be judging you not as an individual but as a representative of everybody "like you;" that you are going to be made constantly aware that you do not fit the default--you are "a black writer," as I am "a woman writer," and Will gets to be "a writer.") to let me understand mine.
And it also made me understand why so many of the well-meaning bearers of privilege (be it white, male, or whatever)--the ones who don't stand on their entitlement--become so very defensive when confronted on it. Some of it is, I think, not wanting to be the bad guy. But that's easy; it comes as a surprise to nobody. Nobody wants to be the bad guy. And it's not about being afraid that the darkies and the bitches are coming to pull us out of our comfy place in The Patriarchy, either, because I think that most reasonable people would agree with Toni Morrison's statement, "If you can only be tall because somebody else is on their knees, you have a serious problem."
But there's more to it than that.
It's because even if you don't want it, you can't put it down. Because it's not something you ask for; it's something that is laid upon you. And if you've never been dismissed simply for who you are, what you look like, what your chromosome arrangement happens to be, it's almost impossible to imagine what that kind of powerlessness feels like.
And it's terrifying. Because one of the benefits of that privilege is not having to know that you are powerless in so many daily situations; not having to pretend you're not angry; not having to bite your lip about the unfairness; not having to find ways to express things politely when they are so unfair and make you so angry you could spit.
So here I am, all full of white privilege I'm not really sure I want, and I have no idea what the hell I ought to do with this stuff.
I suspect, like Freon, it can't be legally disposed of.