“The Pains of Privilege”

"Oooooh NO!.........*cough* *gasp*.....we....we are out of....potato chips." (Note: This is a Gustave Dore entitled "Jephthah's Daughter and her companions." I kid you not. It's like he knew us....Mormon style [Mormon 8:35]))

“Oooooh NO!………*cough* *gasp*…..we….we are out of….potato chips.” (Note: This is a Gustave Dore entitled “Jephthah’s Daughter and her companions.” I kid you not. It’s like he knew us….Mormon style [Mormon 8:35].

I would just like to point out that my favorite person in the whole picture ,above, is the woman who looks like she is zoned out and drooling in the right hand foreground.  It looks like a study group.

So, there I was…in a parking lot of a shady looking Taco Bell in Salt Lake City, with two cars that needed to get home.  And, as if often the case, there was only one of me.

How did I get there?

I’ll get to it.

A while ago  fairly-well-established-reader Austin said something along the lines that people who oppress others also suffer…and I agree, but I think such a point has huge limitations.  Nevertheless, I promised I would talk about it.  Here I go with “JD writes what she thinks for 60 minutes!”

  • I was there, in the Taco Bell parking lot because I just driven my car down to go look at a new car.  I liked the car, bought it from him, got the title, and was then stuck with two cars.  He was nice and said that he could just keep the new car at his house until I could come pick it up  with someone with me.  As he drove away from me, I (and this is me, we’re talking about!) panicked.  I called him up on my cell and told him to bring the car back.  I had just given him all the money for the car, and now he was taking both the money, and the car.  He brought the car back and left.  I had too cars. I ended up having to drive the down to Salt Lake twice, almost miss a visit from my sister, and go through tons of phone stress with insurance companies in order to get both cars down to Provo….where parking was also a nightmare.
  • Oh, and did I mention that the seller was a young, Hispanic male?
  • I have to acknowledge that had the seller been an upper-middle-class white male, I probably would have trusted him and let him keep the car.  Because of deeply embedded prejudices, I SUFFERED great inconvenience- loss of time, money and energy.
  • As a white American I often feel great inconvenience as a result of my white privilege.  I trust minorities less.  I feel fear ( and this is ME we’re talking about) when I’m with groups of minorities and I am uncomfortable talking about race.  There are inconveniences I experience as a result of being a white person in a culture which grants whites the superior position.  For example…getting stuck in SLC with two cars and no clear way home.
  • I sometimes think about the inconvenience that males might experience as a result of their invisible male privilege.  For example, it must actually be pretty exhausting to always accomodate for women who you ( and they, to be honest) have been conditioned not to trust with things like carrying things, or fixing things, or dealing with financial things.  I mean, it is wasted energy and convenience to have to require that males always attend women’s meetings and camp-outs in church.  What would happen in a world where you could really, in the back of your mind, trust that your wife, sister, mother or girlfriend would be just fine if their car broke down, or if they needed to move, or if they needed to work with finances or “really complicated math.”  Even I, a pretty hard-core feminist, have to make an honest effort to no immediately assume that women aren’t as good at certain things.
  • BUT!  BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT!….our inconvenience as privileged white Americans or (if you are male) males is so insubstantial compared to the oppressed groups that if you try to pretend that you deserve some sort of pity or compensation for it…I’m going to look at you like you just fell from the crazy tree.  I might also make fun of you behind your back on my blog.
  • I hear a lot of people talk about the “pains of privilege” or how hard it must be for those from a privileged group.
  • Look, citizens, I’m came from an upper-class white family of some prestige.  My parents hold “dinner parties” and “ladies’ lunches.” We go to freaking balls.  People salute my Dad and open his door whenever he, or the family walks into a room.  Our car gets saluted every time we enter the base.  My family has it’s own designated parking spaces at the local grocery stores and shopping centers and libraries.  My family has lived in neighborhoods where the freaking Walmart has valet parking.  I’m a white, upper-middle class American and I grew up with privilege, but I was taught that this was privilege that I HAD NOT EARNED, and that, as a result I had higher standards of behavior to live up to and that I was not, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, to walk around pretending that I had earned it, or take any sort of advantage of my position.  There really was no worse crime in our house than making other people uncomfortable.  I remember getting in trouble for not behaving sufficiently grateful for a birthday present that I had already received.  I was 7.  There was never really any excuse for bad behavior, because I understood that I been given every advantage possible.  Little princes and princesses who whined that they started drinking and smoking weed because they felt to “suffocated” and “oppressed” in their positions or privilege are some of the plumpest fruits of the crazy tree.  No, you’re not suffocated or oppressed.  You are a white upper-middle class American.  The only angst you might have is your lack of actual angst.
  • Some people might call the “inconvenience” of higher expectations to be a “pain of privilege.”  No it’s not, for crying out loud.  It is an attempt to negate, and even out the privilege that exists.  To try to lower privilege so that it cannot be abused is not a loss, because the privilege was unearned in the first place.
  • “Pain of privilege” is a false concept which leads to all sorts of weird ideas.  I hear people everywhere talking about how “unfair” affirmative action is, how “hard” the life of a white Mormon male is, how wronged they feel because their family’s might get taxed more to support the health care of others.  Get over it.  I mean, BYU is starting to feel like a place where all the fruit of the crazy tree decided to roll.
  • There is no such thing as the “pain of privilege.”  Only the inconvenience one might have from the negative consequences of your own pompous actions, or the inconvenience you might feel having some of your privileges neutralized.
  • I’m not a communist. I don’t think that we should make everyone financially the same.  I do think that we should try , as best we can, to neutralize unwarranted unfairness in race, inherited social prestige and gender issues.
  • Some people say, when they hear me talk about racie issues,  that I’m “suffering from white-guilt.”  Really?  I feel like I’m benefiting from a huge white-privilege reality check.
  • Sexism/racism is not the same as violence or cruelty or saying mean things.  Saying “I never beat my wife or call her names.  I’m not sexist.” is like saying “I’ve never lived in Nauvoo, so I’m not Mormon.” Mormonism is not manifest by location, and sexism is not manifest by violence or cruelty.  I mean, many Mormons used to live in Nauvoo, and some still do…but that is not what makes someone Mormon.  Many sexists are violent, but that is not what makes someone sexist.
  • Sexism is a system of advantage based on sex.  You are sexist if you benefit from and support this system.
  • Think of society as a pear-shaped population, with the socially elite, wealthy, privileged at the top, and a wide population of others at the bottom.  In school where I teach, we can identify the bullies pretty easily.  They come from the social area right before the pear tapers out.  The kids at the very top are 99 percent of the time, NOT the perpetrator’s of cruelty or bullying.  They are so high up there, that they have really nothing to fear.  Their superiority is self-evident.  The kids right on the cusp are always afraid of losing their position and so are the oppressors of the lower social classes to ensure power. You can even watch as a kid slips down the social ladder, and gradually becomes more and more of a bully. I have seen it in my own class.  Yesterday, a sweet little girl who had fallen out of her clique, punched a little boy (lower on the social spectrum) in the face on the playground.
  • This can also be seen in racial American History.  The lynchers and the violent and the bullies were usually poor whites.  The upper-classes were not.  This is also true for gender dynamics.  The people who say really stupid things, beat and abuse their wives and really support old cultural reasons for oppressing women are generally in the lower social classes.  BUT, since racism is a system of advantage based on race, BOTH the upper and lower classes could be equally racist.  The lower classes are sometimes  just, IN ADDITION insecure and violent as a result of precarious social state.
  • The upper, more confident, social classes, in contrast,  are renowned for treating women well andeven (gasp) putting them on a pedistal…if anything because good treatment of women is a distinguisher between the classes.
  • In fact, the reason that most upper-class people value seeing a man open a door for a woman isn’t so much about the treatment of women as a result of thousands of years of oppression yadda yadda yadda….but because it immediately identifies that man as a member of the upper classes- since all these rules of behavior are something that are taught to them from birth.
  • In fact, when I am dating someone, I don’t care about the door thing, but when they meet my parents or some of my friends, I prefer that they open  my door in front of them to signal that he is educated, classy and all the positive things associated with upper social classes ( note….social classes are actually not about money, but about education and modes of behavior….though there is a correlation ).
  • BUT  both the upper and lower class men in this scenario are equally sexist, since they both support the sexist system…but the lower-class man is, in addition, more crude and violent because he is lower on the social ladder and is more insecure in his power.  You can get an upper-class person to become crude and violent…by challenging their authority and making their position feel endangered.  Think Rose’s creepy fiancé in Titanic. (Here’s a little jam for ya.)
  • So, in the end, what I’m really trying to say is something that we get taught as teachers.  That the kids who act out against other kids are the kids who feel badly about themselves and have low self-esteems.
  • We are encouraged to catch this while they are in the younger grades, and teach them more effective ways of dealing with their fear and anger and ignorance.  Despite what you have been told, teachers, or adults, or anyone else is not responsible for making sure you feel like a million bucks every day.  No one can protect you from feeling like you are losing power and authority sometimes.  What we can do is teach you not to take it out on others.  In fact, the very act of treating other’s badly, makes the children feel worse about themselves and so they treat others badly some more to compensate.  If not caught early, by the fourth and fifth grades these students begin to solidify this behavior as a cognitively embedded coping mechanism. It becomes a compulsive behavior for coping with unpleasant feelings…which is almost impossible to erase.
  • So nutshell, sexist/rasism is present and can be equally present in both the privileged and the less privileged.  It is this same SEXISM/RACISM which, when people are placed under stress, can result in violence and cruelty.   Many who have not thought this through very well conclude that the way to stop violence against women/minorities is to make white people/males as comfortable as possible so that they never have stress to take out on anyone.
  • They cite studies that show when the economy is good and people feel “happy” , violence against women and minorities goes down.  BUT, here’s the thing… YOU CAN’T PROTECT PEOPLE FROM BAD ECONOMIES OR FROM FEELING LESS THAN STELLAR.  IT IS GOING TO HAPPEN.  WE ARE GROWN-UPS.  WE SHOULD BE ABLE TO DEAL WITH IT WITHOUT ABUSING OR BEATING EACH OTHER UP.
  • The problem is not solved by preventing the trigger, but by preventing the gun.  Since we are humans who cannot be saved from discomfort, guilt and occasional financial or social stress, we should fight sexism/racism, not unhappiness.  The violence, abuse and bad behavior happens when sexism/racism meets stress.  Defeat the sexism/racism and you will defeat the abuse.
  • Not to suggest that racism/sexism is not just as bad when it is not manifest in violence.  The structural and psychological damage racism/sexism does is abuse by itself, with or without a closed fist.
  • SO, this is what I’m getting down to.  I know a lot of my friends found this article enlightening and interesting.
  • I screamed. I really did.
  • Now, I’m going to try to explain my thinking here.  FIRST….men are NOT the victims of pornography.  Women are.  I mean, it almost sounded like an Onion article.  “Men create study to prove that the best way to deal with pornography is….not to make people feel bad about viewing pornography.”
  • Sure, just as racist abuse is proven to be perpetrated by people who feel badly about themselves, and these people, in the twisted cycle that is bad behavior, feel bad about themselves more for abusing people.
  • So how did the civil rights movement tackle this knowledge ( yes, civil rights lawyers really did have information about how violent, abusive, racist behavior comes from unhappy white people who have ingrained it to a compulsive level.  They cited it in Brown v. Board.)?  I will give you a shocking clue.  They didn’t fight racism with a big billboard campaign aimed at making white people feel better about themselves.  In case you haven’t noticed (and really, maybe you haven’t) THE WHOLE WORLD is a billboard making white people feel better about themselves. The world is geared towards you, and you have many privileges you did not earn.  Sure, you might feel unhappy sometimes, but that happens to all people, regardless of race. And if some of your unhappiness comes from guilt about how you treat minorities badly….then whose fault is that?  Words do not even begin to express how not bad for us poor white people I feel.
  • Looks dudes, I’m sorry that you have ingrained the objectification of women, who are disempowered in this way, as a coping mechanism to deal with feeling bad about yourself until it has become a compulsive behavior.  Really.  I do.
  • But, sometimes we are all going to feel bad about ourselves.  And sometimes, white, or black or male or female, we deserve it.  And whenever we oppress a disempowered group to make ourselves feel better…we may be inconvenienced, but we suffer NOT AT ALL compared to the disempowered group that we just objectified and oppressed.
  • Their struggle comes first.  Their protection comes first.  Their self-esteems come first.
  • And the problem is not going to be solved by making you feel better about the bad things you do.  I’m not saying that you should literally beat yourself about it, or descend into self-loathing which prevents any improvement.
  • But no one is going to be able to prevent you from feeling guilty and bad about the things we do for the rest of your life.  And most especially (!) do not put that responsibility on the people you hurt.  It is not your girlfriend or wife’s job to keep you from feeling bad about yourself while you hurt her.  She comes first.  You are the active perpetrator.  She is not hurting you.
  • Instead of focusing on solving the problem through improving the self esteems of oppressors, we should solve the problem by taking down sexism and the mind-sets that lead to the problem in the first place.
  • For those of you are have developed a compulsive behavior which you recognize as bad because it feeds off of the objectification of women, and are trying to deal with it in a healthy way ( including seeking professional help, or spiritual help, or personal time or whatever to release yourself from deep self-loathing or other things which prevent improvement.)——- my battle is not with you.
  • But I think that if we focus on solving pornography by trying to prevent any pain from happening to men ( who hurt women), and by preventing people from thinking negatively about pornography addiction,  it will be bad.  We will have a world of women desperately catering to men’s happiness, blaming themselves for being oppressed and trying to say rosy things about pornography all the time so that men don’t feel bad.  It sounds like a mixture between The Twilight Zone and Hell, actually. I’ve been there.
  • I have a beef, not with your compulsive pronography use, BUT  how the heck you started off thinking that that was good way to deal with your emotions in the first place?   I mean, somewhere in the world, two 13 year old boys are sitting together right now and having  conversation something like this (?)
  • “Joey!  You know what would be a great way to get over all our negative emotions and insecurities? ” “I don’t know, Mike? What?”  “Objectifying, infantilizing and fetishizing women!” “Ya!  They are lower on the social heirachy than us, and since I was not raised to consider them people, technically “no one” is getting hurt by this, that I can think of…since I don’t think about them much, except in the context of benefiting me.” “Ya!  This couldn’t backfire on us in any way in the future!  Let’s go!  Man, I feel more grown up, and empowered by objectifying an oppressed group for my own beneift, already!  I’ve seen other men in my life say that this is a sign of becoming a man!”

And I don’t think that watching their Mom’s obsess about keeping their husbands happy and guilt free, while everyone around them says that pornography is not soooo bad, is going to help them much.

Let alone the little girls down the street, who will grow up learning ,from the men and boys around them, that their value lies in their bodies.  But no one has been thinking about them much, have they?

Certainly no one has published a study about improving their self-esteems or how pornography effects them….have they?  Or do we just not find that as interesting, or important. And why?

SIIIIIDE NOTE:  Real quick.  Equal does not mean the same.  Men are NOT victims of sexual objectification in society.  As a result, women who view pornography are not held to the same standard as men who view pornography ( Remember? Higher status, higher standards).  Women are not oppressors who have traditionally objectified men, and men do not suffer the weight of thousands of years of sexual objectification.  While I think that we should all avoid objectifying each other as much as possible, I’m gonna say that women who look at porn are not as culturally guilty as men are and that they do less harm.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to ““The Pains of Privilege”

  1. C.

    “I was taught that this was privilege that I HAD NOT EARNED, and that, as a result I had higher standards of behavior to live up to and that I was not, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, to walk around pretending that I had earned it, or take any sort of advantage of my position.”

    A-FREAKING-MEN.

    As for the rest, did you see the article on “standards night?”

    http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Standards-Night-Is-Substandard-Teaching-Sexuality-to-the-Young-Women?offset=0&max=1

  2. jddaughter

    So, here’s an allegory of what I’m trying to say. Imagine two big clouds. One is sexism ( which is a toxic cloud), and one is social/economic stress and personal guilt (which is a naturally occurring cloud). Whenever the clouds come together sparks of violence, abuse and objectification of women occur. In some places, where it it occurs frequently enough, people become dependent on the sparks. A group of Scientists are standing around watching the clouds come together. They conclude that it they can get rid of the “social/economic stress and personal guilt” cloud, there will be no more sparks. Problem solved. But wait….they and everyone invests tons and tons of time trying to rid the world of generally harmless, naturally occuring clouds. It can’t be done. The clouds keep coming, tons of money and time and effort is wasted, and the sparks keep happening. In the meantime, they’ve had to deal with those darn unnatural toxic clouds of sexism messing with everyone. And I would like to know why we are spending so much time and effort trying to get rid of the naturally occuring “stress and guilt” cloud, when we could be getting rid of toxic sexist cloud….and prevent sparks of abuse and objectification that way?

  3. I guess I have to respond 🙂

    I agree about the race stuff. I agree about the pornography stuff. However, I shared the article about porn that made you scream (maybe other friends of yours did too, I don’t know) so I’ll explain why I felt it was a useful perspective. I think I understood it in a somewhat different way than you did, and I hope we can hash that out and find an amicable common understanding of what it was saying and whether we agree with it or not.

    First off, I, unlike the article’s author, will say that watching any amount of pornography is a bad thing. His goal is to help men (and women too, as applicable) get their addictions under control, to whatever level they are comfortable with. Yes, I wish everyone was uncomfortable with pornography, period, in any degree. The author of the article isn’t in that camp and is basically trying to serve his clients and help them get to where they want to be with porn viewing. To what degree that is wrong or immoral (and it is) was not my concern in sharing the article.

    Mormon guys, without exception, feel terrible about looking at porn. They know they’re doing something very wrong and something that God hates. (They might not understand the ‘why’ very well, which centers on the objectification and abuse of women, but at least they know it’s bad.) Now, it turns out that when trying to overcome an addiction, as this and other research shows, attaching feelings of self-hatred to engaging in the activity is extremely counter-productive. It’s not that one shouldn’t think porn is bad, but rather one should remember that is is bad AND accept that it’s a challenge, and that on their journey to be free of it there will inevitably* be setbacks and relapses. When those happen, hating yourself is the worst thing you can do. Of course, you should recognize that it’s wrong and re-commit to do better. It’s not a unilateral “don’t feel bad about looking at porn” but rather a “don’t hate yourself for looking at porn, but do take effective steps to get rid of it because you know it’s an evil thing.”

    I thought this paragraph from the end of the article was a great summary: “As participants learned to accept the urge, to watch it rise and fall mindfully, to embrace themselves in a kinder and less judgmental way, and to pivot toward valued actions, something remarkable happened. Viewing became far less frequent, but what was remarkable was how that happened. People softened. Religious obsessions went down but positive commitments went up. Obsessive thinking was relieved and with it worry that unbidden thoughts alone cause harm. People became more accepting of their emotions and less entangled with their thoughts. And they were more able to act in accord with their values as a positive goal, carrying difficult thoughts and feelings with them in a more compassionate way.” They accepted the urge not in order to give in to it or say it was fine, but in the sense that they knew it was there, that it would come and that it could go. Rather than fighting to keep any erotic thought out of their heads, they would say “Hey, I figured you’d come back. I’m going into the other room of my brain as long as you stick around. Soon hopefully you’ll get the hint and stop coming around so much.”

    This approach helps people make positive steps towards ending pornography addiction, which helps women. Sad though it may be, the default approach (IT’S AWFUL AND EVIL AND YOU DID IT!!! YOU DID IT!!! ERGO YOU ARE EVIL AND AWFUL!!! STOP DOING IT!!!!) has a terrible success rate.

    I see this as similar to the Alcoholics’ Anonymous approach–one day at a time. Accepting that you have a problem. Progress. Getting better. The goal is the same–quitting completely, but without judgment for people who struggle. And it works. It helps people stop drinking, and it helps people stop looking at porn.

    It’s not that you should try not to let your conscience ever be offended, it’s that you should keep that conscience-stinging feeling from overwhelming you and instead, harness it and use it to make positive steps.

    OK, I have tried to express myself clearly, but I’m not sure I succeeded. If what I said is terribly (or in any degree) sexist, I certainly don’t mean it to be, and will listen to your explanation of why you feel it is. It is hard to see one’s own deficiencies, and I will appreciate any help you can give me on that count.

    I don’t want to be misunderstood on this point though: I know pornography is an extremely evil, wicked, and harmful practice because of what it does to women. Because of that knowledge, I wholeheartedly want to help men stop viewing it. The general theory outlined in that article–not hating yourself but still acting to root out bad influences in your life, a manageable middle road–is what I believe to be the most effective way to achieve that goal of the elimination for the market for pornography, a goal that I know you share. If this method is not strong enough or effective enough, I would love to hear your thoughts on how men might get rid of this influence in their lives.

    *Technically, just 99.999% of the time

  4. jddaughter

    Austin, very well defended.
    And of course I have no idea how to stop compulsive behavior. If I did…I’d be rich….or very sued by the porn industry.

    But I do think that education is a huge key. I think most people go into pornography without much thought of the women they are hurting, or the way it makes them think about women.

    • I agree. It’s very easy because of the way society is set up to see porn as a problem that only hurts men, and it’s much too easy to overlook the much much much more significant damage it does to women both directly and indirectly. Education along those lines is vital. Let’s all work on that!

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