Saturday, August 13, 2011

Privilege and Gender

In our training, we had to walk a privilege line. For those who don't know what this is, a privilege line is when you all stand in a straight line, side to side. A leader will ask questions and, if your answer is yes, the leader will ask you to either step backward or forward. For example, a question that would have you step forward would be, "Did your parents graduate from college?" A question that would have you step back would be something like, "Were you ever denied employment due to your perceived race/religion/sexual orientation/etc?" It was interesting because I saw that there were areas where I wasn't privileged and where I was.

I am privileged in the sense that I was born white, with no disabilities. I am privileged in the sense that my companion is male and, as such, we face no harassment for expressing love to each other. I grew up with two parents, who, while they have not finished college, made sure that I could go and emphasized education in our house. My parents made sure that we did not go hungry, that we always knew they loved us, and did everything to ensure we could become the best people we could be. I've never encountered serious persecution for my religious beliefs or cultural practice.

However, I had to step back quite a few times. One, I am a woman. As a young girl, I DID hear people criticize my desires for a career, asking about if I wanted a family. I developed early, I did face sexual harassment in school and I have been lucky to escape situations that could have ended in a horrible manner (trust me, peeps, I know I'm lucky, and I know others aren't). Further, I've known many women who were raped or forced to do things they didn't want to do. I know my companion gets nervous when I have to go home at night and is pretty apprehensive about my choice of work. I know I'll likely get paid less and I came of age to see politicians debating about whether my own health care is either a luxury or a right, and I'm not even talking about abortion. I learned it's normal to trivialize violence against women and teen pregnancy because, "she should have kept her legs closed/worn different clothes/yada yada." I learned it was normal to hate other women for physical beauty and to hate myself for the way I looked. I learned that having morals made me a prude while questioning them made me a whore. I learned that my cycle makes me unfit to be a world leader. I learned that I could get what I want by flashing my boobs or putting out.

Further, I learned that, while being a woman already deemed me unfit, being a woman of color, a woman of different sexual preference, who has a disability or anything like that, marks one as inferior in our society. We cry about sex trafficked girls in Russia but our own sex trafficked American girls (usually African American) are listed as prostitutes and sent to prison when they can't even consent to sex. Latina women are sexualized in the media all the time and are portrayed much like the Irish used to, constantly having kids and such. Lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered women (especially the last one) are marked for violence. Women all over lighten their skin, relax their hair and dye it various shades of blonde and red because they can't even see themselves as beautiful. Muslim girlfriends of mine, from all backgrounds, have faced everything from verbal harassment to physical and sexual violence simply because people fear their faith. Magazines sexualize girls as young as ten, yes, TEN and clothing companies think it's cute to write sexual innuendos on clothing made for three-year-old girls (just ask my aunt about that one). We rarely even hear about disabilities, there weren't even any questions about it, that's how little they're included.

Being a woman is already one strike against me. My privilege in other areas means I have an even greater responsibility to fight. We are all equal. Why should I be judged for anything other than either my merits or my character?

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