I am engaged actively in a number of struggles with which even some of my more adversarial readers at my blog, Lousy Canuck, must sympathize. I cater specifically to a few niche audiences by virtue of who I am — I am an atheist, and feel that public policy should be made only with regard to real science rather than personal beliefs. I am a skeptic, and feel that people who sell anti-scientific nonsense should be chastised for stealing money from the underprivileged who fall for their chicanery. I am a feminist, and part of my feminist leanings involves understanding that all women are fully human, and that almost all objections to reproductive rights stem from religious or pseudoscientific beliefs and are in direct contradiction with the scientific facts at hand. I am a humanist, where I believe each human being has the same net inherent worth and their caste in society matters less than the merit of their opinions. I am a science-booster, in that I believe wholeheartedly that empirical, testable, reproducible studies of how this universe actually works is the only way to model our decisions, and that any view that is held in contradiction with the established facts that come from said study should be excised from the public discourse. The running theme here is that if you can’t prove it, you shouldn’t make any decisions by it.
I am also a white male. That’s right, I’m swinging pale pipe.
This means I have at least two major positions of privilege over many of my compatriots in all of these various fights, and that my privilege causes my words to be amplified while others’ meritorious positions are muted. In addition, I am cisgender, where my societally-expected gender comports with the physical sex I was born with; and my heterosexuality is likewise considered “the norm” in society, and I am therefore privileged by virtue of happening to be part of a majority where the minorities are often silenced, excluded or ignored, whether purposefully or not. I often don’t realize I have these privileges — the fact slides neatly into the shadows behind my thoughts, and it’s simply forgotten. As a result, sometimes in trying to help on one front, I’m unintentionally doing damage on another.
There have been a number of blogsplosions recently around the topic of privilege, and about what is a proportionate response to someone being unaware of the privilege they’re both claiming and abusing. Most recently, there’s been a good deal of discussion around Rebecca Watson, shortly after doing a speech about how much it sucks to be objectified at every single con she goes to. This male privilege — the “right to flirt” — and the over-the-top response to Rebecca’s request that people stop doing shit like this are good examples of privilege run amok.
They are not the only, nor most accessible examples of this sort of thing, though. Sometimes privilege asserts itself in much more insidious ways, like how men’s words are valued much higher than women’s, even when they’re saying the same thing. For example, recently I wrote a post calling attention to my dear friend Stephanie Zvan’s insights in the case of Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa and his grossly insufficient study claiming black women are objectively less attractive than women of other races. The flaws in his study are numerous enough to call into question whether Kanazawa was employing selection bias to reinforce his own beliefs. I thought Stephanie had nailed the folks that came to his defense quite neatly, so I wrote my post as a summary of the “story so far” and heavily linked Stephanie’s post. To be clear, neither of us would have any problem with the study if it had actual data to back it up, via a sound methodology.
Within a few hours, I had outstripped the view count of Stephanie’s original post by far. My post differed from hers in one important respect: being in the positions of privilege that I am, I was willing to take what Stephanie had merely documented and lay it all on the table in stating outright that the people who came to Kanazawa’s defense were making a generalized defense of racism through both their prior works and their letter in his defense. I received many more pageviews for my inflammatory summary than she received for her well-researched piece, and very few of the viewers actually bothered to click through to see what I was talking about — my summary proved sufficient, evidently, for these readers.
The obvious reason for this disparity in viewers is because I used an extremely inflammatory title which was forceful and potentially slanderous (if I didn’t have the facts to back me up). Hers was something of a soft-sell. Both of us received the same approximate levels of amplification by approximately the same people, but I got far more hits, even though pushing traffic to her was the entire point of my own post.
The less obvious but far more important reason is our genders. Could she have titled her post the way I did, with the same effect? I suspect not. Even if she was somehow pre-assured that she would not receive any disproportional fallout from doing so, the very act of being forceful while also being in possession of lady-bits would undercut her message and she would be dismissed as “shrill”, or as merely upset that women were being objectified at all. She was caught in the trap of forceful = shrill, and soft = ignored. In other words, I got more viewers on my linking post than she did primarily because I am a man, and she is a woman. She gets for her trouble all the grief. The content of my own — if there was any content to speak of — was not sufficient to justify the traffic I got and she didn’t.
Putting both of us on the same platform, as we have by moving to Freethought Blogs this past September, has done much to even the score. With both of us on the same platform, with both of us competing for the same eyes, the relative merit of her posts have come through and she averages a good deal more traffic than I do. By joining a community intent on improving diversity, we both benefit from huge traffic boosts that come with entering a new ecosystem, and that new ecosystem becomes that much more a meritocracy by virtue of the diversity of voices available. It is still not equal, though. I still get special treatment for being a male — I am thanked for adding my voice to the discourse and advocating for women despite being a male, advocating for gays despite being heterosexual, and advocating for blacks despite being white. Meanwhile, the unprivileged groups often toil in obscurity while people like myself often feel like we have to shrink from undeserved extra praise just for speaking out against our own privilege.
In every one of the movements in which I’m a participant, we honestly and truly need more diversity and equality than we see when only white men are read or otherwise taken seriously. I am a white male, and I am unashamed of either of these properties; I am happy to lend my weight to the discussion of these issues, as they affect us all. I have more “pull” than a woman intent on fighting the same causes I did, and unjustifiably. When a man does his damnedest to point you to the women who are making a difference, don’t just take the man’s word for it, go read the woman’s words too. Especially when the woman’s words have the actual content.
If you have a position of privilege (and I know many of my blogging readers are both white and male), there’s something you can do to combat the disparity inherent in these conversations. Point it out when you see arguments from privilege, unapologetically and as pointedly as you can. Own when you yourself have taken advantage of privilege, and be aware that you might have done so completely unintentionally. Take responsibility when this happens, and do what you can to limit the damage — especially if that damage could potentially silence a necessary voice without whom these discussions would be significantly poorer. It’s incumbent upon you, readers, to change. Yours is the only set of actions you can direct with 100% confidence.
Jason Thibeault works in the Canadian computer industry, toiling away at his “day” job which rarely limits itself to daylight hours, and occasionally providing freelance tech support in exchange for cold hard cash on the side. In his spare time, he is a blogger, a video game addict, and very, very opinionated. Alhough he’s started and unceremoniously dropped more short-lived writing projects prior to that than he can remember, he has been writing continuously on his blog since 2008.