Tag Archives: Privilege

Youth are Leading

I’ve struggled writing this piece. In fact, I started it about five times. Each time, my intro sounded lame. Then I would try a different approach. And then that would feel disingenuous or half-cocked, or again, lame. Realizing I wasn’t going to whip this off, I decided to examine why the subject of youth leadership was difficult for me to write about. The only thing I could come up with was that I wasn’t as in tune with youth as I thought I was. It’s like I suddenly realized I was kind of, well, old-er-ish. Or if not that, I realized that I’d turned the corner from “everyone is my contemporary or older”, to “my god, the young folk have taken over…and it is a good thing indeed.”

Following Breadcrumbs of the Young

I think I first realized this when I began following Instagram profiles of young people (I feel at times that I should be using the term “youngins” to point to my ignorance, and I also feel that I should put a disclaimer in here: I’m not quite sure if “profiles” is the right term…Instagram sites? Feeds? See how I am just reinforcing my old-er-ish status here?) What I mean to say is, I followed quite a few young people before realizing that they were young people. I followed because I was interested in what they had to say, the way I follow my contemporaries, or older writers, performers, and politicians because I was and am interested in what they have to say. I was following these feminist profiles/feeds, that had lovely, thoughtful, and brilliant posts. As is the way with social media, these profiles lead me to follow others. Before I knew it, I was reading, and feeling a wee bit like a creeper, the feed of a 15-year-old who is, quite frankly, my new role model. And the thing is, she is exceptional, but seemingly not so much beyond her contemporaries. Believe me, my natural suspicion made me try to find some fault (beyond her obvious class and race privilege, but crikey, she’s even aware and acknowledges those!) She’s part of a clever cohort of young leaders who are bringing their brands of feminist leadership to the fore. I feel this way about pretty much every young woman I know and meet nowadays.

A New, New Wave

By the way, the 15-year-old that I follow is actress Rowan Blanchard. But, I didn’t know she was an actress until I Googled her name for this piece (or 15 for that matter, although I knew she was young). I’d been reading her posts for a few years before learning she was a Disney star. Seriously. A Disney kid. A few weeks ago, she posted this on her definition of feminism (it isn’t her writing, but she borrowed it): “These days, I feel as though feminism must interrogate gender itself with an awareness of its myriad social intersections. What does it mean to be a woman, and why? Who gets to decide what a woman is? If one woman is different from another woman, then what unites them as women? White, cis gender women have an institutional history as so-called feminists—but their liberation has proven tenuous, irrelevant, or violent to millions of other women. When experience can vary so radically from woman to woman, is there any point in pursuing a single definition of feminism?”

Wow.

Dullard History

When I was 15, I’m pretty sure I had what could be described as a somewhat protofeminist consciousness, to coin a term for my own semi-conscious mind and circumstances. I had an insular Catholic upbringing, in a parish community with the most infamous sexual predator priest in 20th Century southwestern Ontario. I think those circumstances and others helped me follow the breadcrumbs to full-on feminism. But it took me years of epiphanies and banging my head against the wall to learn what Rowan Blanchard knows already. Earlier this month, she posted a photo of her holding a #girlpossible campaign poster that said: “Equality is possible when…we recognize our privileges and use them to help other people.”

Okay, minor aside here, the #girlpossible campaign is a Barneys NY, department store nod to the United Nations International Day of the Girl. And yes, Barneys is a place where those dripping with privilege do their conspicuous consumption (confession: I may have purchased a Le Labo body cream at Barneys at some point in my life) but hey, the campaign is a lot more of something than nothing. And Rowan’s post was a world more self-aware than some of the other posts ( the “Anything is possible when you…map a plan to achieve your goals” post, or billionaire daughter and entrepreneur Hannah Bronfman’s contribution: “Anything is possible when…you work hard enough.” Sigh, she means well.) I think awareness is one of the most impressive things about many young feminist leaders today. Most have a firm understanding of intersectionality and an equally firm commitment to using their positions and privilege to change the world and level the playing field.

Using Power to Change

I don’t remember this being a big thing when I was young. It’s likely that I was just oblivious and unaware. There were probably more of the smaller gestures of solidarity and leadership that made it possible to live life and not be suffocated. I thought about this recently while working on a children’s book on Jazz Jennings, the young transgender activist and reality television star. Holy crikey, here is a young person who has their head on straight (and loving, decent family supports). Her main focus for coming out in public was to help other trans kids who don’t have her supports and privilege. But she and Rowan are high profile examples. I’m also impressed by the young feminists who surround me who make the quieter gestures. They too are leaders, and they are in every community. They act as Big Sisters (or Little Sisters who teach far more than they learn), they join community groups with an intent to do something for someone else, they start school fundraisers, and they read books and spread ideas about feminist activism through small everyday gestures. They wow me, educate me, and make me proud.

 

Privilege,

 

WHAT DOES PRIVILEGE MEAN TO YOU?

By Ellen Rodger
I know I’m getting all “pop culture” here, but did anybody follow the Nicki Minaj/Taylor Swift Twitter exchange a few weeks ago? It started when Minaj noted that the MTV Video Music Awards nominations video of the year didn’t include her video Anaconda but perhaps would have if Minaj were a different “kind” of artist. What s
he meant is that her video celebrates “thicker” bodies, black bodies, and an overt female sexuality—and giving that a nod would play with the established standards of what is acceptable, lovely, and therefore “normal”.

The tweet wasn’t addressed to anyone in particular (beyond those who enforce and reward normative standards), but Minaj’s friend and fellow musician, Taylor Swift, whose video Bad Blood was nominated, took it as a personal insult. Swift tweeted: I’ve done nothing but love & support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot. Minaj was taken aback, but responded thusly: “Huh? U must not be reading my tweets. Didn’t say a word about u. I love u just as much. But u should speak on this.” The “u should speak on this” is an equivalent to “check your privilege.” In turn, Swift responded, in a sweet (if unknowingly condescending manner): “If I win, please come up with me!! You’re invited to any stage I’m ever on.” This is where Swift missed the boat, because she didn’t see her privilege and particularly didn’t see it fitting her systematically.

To me, this pop culture exchange, carried out on the public gossip arena of social media, is a perfect example of how privilege is intersectional but yet too often, that intersectionality is contested or ignored (as in it is a personal issue and not a systemic or societal issue). Swift is a young, talented, successful, wealthy, white, heterosexual musician. As a woman, she has had t
o work hard to earn respect in her industry. She understands that sexism and oppression affect her directly. What she doesn’t get is that in other areas of her life, she sits in a place of great privilege and her privileges (white, heterosexual, wealthy, etc.) trump others. It may not trump male privilege, but it does give her power.

“For the most part, she uses that power to support other women.”

So yeah, good for her. But the internalized domination is still there. When you assume others share your reality, you act as if your perspective is universal. It makes it difficult to see what someone who does not share your reality sees (or not entirely anyway, Minaj for example, is talented, wealthy successful, heterosexual, and black—her race lens is going to be different than Swift’s).

Minaj is rejecting the internalized oppression of pop culture and society that says thin white bodies are lovely and should be seen and admired in music videos. And she’s asking Swift, who like her, has economic privilege and the ability to say what she wants without being sanctioned, to speak to this—to say there is room for more than one or two standards in video awards nominations. For Swift, like most of us, it is easier to notice the oppression she has personally experienced (“maybe one of the men took your slot”) than the privileges she experiences. Often, those privileges are not recognized as such and are attributed to “hard work”, or talent and perseverance alone.

It is hard to acknowledge privilege. In my own life, I can recognize many of my privileges but it is difficult to see how they shift and how my history plays into a system that isn’t quite monolithic. That’s where intersectionality comes in. I’m a woman. But I am more than that. I am white, heterosexual, gender conforming, and able bodied. I grew up within (and ultimately rejected) an all-encompassing religious structure. That too influences and plays with my privilege. I’m not poor, although I have at various times in my life, struggled with income variances, and this has given me palpable understanding of the fear and anxiety of an insufficient income. I am healthy both physically and mentally but I am aware that these are variables that can and do change privilege—and quickly. I’ve never been a target of racism. I can go out in the street and talk to a stranger and not worry about them judging my sexuality (or fear a possible violent reaction to it). My privilege—my unearned advantages in life, even those that aren’t discriminatory, are many. I hope however, they don’t entirely prevent me from trying to understand power, how I benefit from it, where I have an easier ride.

The tricky part is determining what I can do to erase the systems of oppression that back privilege.

 

 

 

Question of the Month – Privilege

We had a really great and thought provoking bloggers meeting for August. We were talking about homelessness and poverty, and how hard it is for some people to understand and grasp why this happens to people. We also discussed how anyone can suddenly find themselves laid off, struggling to pay the bills, and ultimately, homeless. This lead us to our August theme of privilege. What is privilege and how does it impact homelessness and poverty? These are hard questions to answer and opinions differ from person to person.

Our question of the month for our bloggers is: “What does privilege mean to you?” and Marilyn and Ellen have shared their answers with us.

Marilyn:

mar

The word “privilege” means many different things to me. But the first thought that comes to mind, is that privilege is usually reserved for Very Important People. VIP usually descends from wealthy families that make sure their legacy lives on, in style. A lot of VIP is born into a world of extravagance and connections with other VIP. They grow up with  a feeling of entitlement because they’ve lived in a world of luxury or prominence. They live in a world where having everything is normal, not a miracle. They are guaranteed a life of security and high-placed positions in society while still in the womb. It’s a world of excess and good times. It’s a world where money is the answer to every problem. Sometimes regular working-class people are given privileges by VIP because they have curried their favour somehow. If you are a good, loyal worker sometimes VIP will bestow gifts or perks upon their employees as a token of their appreciation. Privilege to me means never having to count out change to buy milk for your kids. Privilege to me means always having more than enough to make it in this world. It means having all the advantages in life that this world has to offer.

Ellen:

I know I’m getting all “pop culture” here, but did anybody follow the Nicki Minaj/Taylor Swift Twitter exchange a few weeks ago? It started when Minaj noted that the MTV Video Music Awards nominations video of the year didn’t include her video Anaconda but perhaps would have if Minaj were a different “kind” of artist. What she meant is that her video celebrates “thicker” bodies, black bodies, and an overt female sexuality—and giving that a nod would play with the established standards of what is acceptable, lovely, and therefore “normal”. The tweet wasn’t addressed to anyone in particular (beyond those who enforce and reward normative standards), but Minaj’s friend and fellow musician, Taylor Swift, whose video Bad Blood was nominated, took it as a personal insult. Swift tweeted: “I’ve done nothing but love & support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot.” Minaj was taken aback, but responded thusly: “Huh? U must not be reading my tweets. Didn’t say a word about u. I love u just as much. But u should speak on this.” The “u should speak on this” is an equivalent to “check your privilege.” In turn, Swift responded, in a sweet (if unknowingly condescending manner): “If I win, please come up with me!! You’re invited to any stage I’m ever on.” This is where Swift missed the boat, because she didn’t see her privilege and particularly didn’t see it fitting her systematically.

To me, this pop culture exchange, carried out on the public gossip arena of social media, is a perfect example of how privilege is intersectional but yet too often, that intersectionality is contested or ignored (as in it is a personal issue and not a systemic or societal issue). Swift is a young, talented, successful, wealthy, white, heterosexual musician. As a woman, she has had to work hard to earn respect in her industry. She understands that sexism and oppression affect her directly. What she doesn’t get is that in other areas of her life, she sits in a place of great privilege and her privileges (white, heterosexual, wealthy, etc.) trump others. It may not trump male privilege, but it does give her power. For the most part, she uses that power to support other women. So yeah, good for her. But the internalized domination is still there. When you assume others share your reality, you act as if your perspective is universal. It makes it difficult to see what someone who does not share your reality sees (or not entirely anyway, Minaj for example, is talented, wealthy successful, heterosexual, and black—her race lens is going to be different than Swift’s). Minaj is rejecting the internalized oppression of pop culture and society that says thin white bodies are lovely and should be seen and admired in music videos. And she’s asking Swift, who like her, has economic privilege and the ability to say what she wants without being sanctioned, to speak to this—to say there is room for more than one or two standards in video awards nominations. For Swift, like most of us, it is easier to notice the oppression she has personally experienced (“maybe one of the men took your slot”) than the privileges she experiences. Often, those privileges are not recognized as such and are attributed to “hard work”, or talent and perseverance alone.

It is hard to acknowledge privilege. In my own life, I can recognize many of my privileges but it is difficult to see how they shift and how my history plays into a system that isn’t quite monolithic. That’s where intersectionality comes in. I’m a woman. But I am more than that. I am white, heterosexual, gender conforming, and able bodied. I grew up within (and ultimately rejected) an all-encompassing religious structure. That too influences and plays with my privilege. I’m not poor, although I have at various times in my life, struggled with income variances, and this has given me palpable understanding of the fear and anxiety of an insufficient income. I am healthy both physically and mentally but I am aware that these are variables that can and do change privilege—and quickly. I’ve never been a target of racism. I can go out in the street and talk to a stranger and not worry about them judging my sexuality (or fear a possible violent reaction to it). My privilege—my unearned advantages in life, even those that aren’t discriminatory, are many. I hope however, they don’t entirely prevent me from trying to understand power, how I benefit from it, where I have an easier ride. The tricky part is determining what I can do to erase the systems of oppression that back privilege.

______________________________________________________________

We’d like to know, what does privilege mean to YOU?