January 27, 2013 2 Comments
The current situation
We’ve recently been faced with our failings, as medical professionals, in the care of people who are LGBT*I. If you do a Twitter search under the #transdocfail, you’ll see how privilege and prejudice are colouring our interactions with people who need our help- and who are more at risk of mental illness and suicide than the general population.
As mental health professionals, its important to take action, but we sometimes feel confused about what that looks like, particularly if we feel we haven’t got anywhere or anyway of discussing it frankly. We often fear doing anything, in case we “get it wrong”, even though we recognise how important the issues are.
In the media, there are frequently blazing rows as some of the oppressive attitudes that people face are brought into the light- it’s been particularly clear of late in respect of trans* people.
There is a lot of current feminist discourse as the second wave feminists are giving way to the newer generation of feminists who approach issues with a mindset focused around intersectional analysis. This produces a tension between feminisms, where some people see their ideas threatened as people “call them out” on their privilege. Western, white, middle-class feminism has been traditionally seen as offering less for minority groups such as Women of Colour, or trans* women, so challenging ideas that hold us back from being a more inclusive movement can only be a good thing. Can’t it?
A good definition is found on the geek feminism wiki: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Privilege
Privilege is a concept used in anti-racist, anti-sexist, and similar anti-oppression movements.
Anti-oppressionists use “privilege” to describe a set of perceived advantages (or lack of disadvantages) enjoyed by a majority group, who are usually unaware of the privilege they possess. It is a term of art that may not align particularly well with the general-use word “privilege” or the programming term “privilege”.
A privileged person is not necessarily prejudiced (sexist, racist, etc) as an individual, but may be part of a broader pattern of *-ism even though unaware of it.
…Many people, when asked to check their privilege, respond with “So? Am I meant to feel guilty? I didn’t choose to be white/male/whatever.”
Possessing “privilege” in the anti-oppression meaning is not intended to imply that life is objectively easy, just that on that particular axis of experience it is likelier to have been easier than a person similarly situated but without that particular privilege.
A person who experiences lack of privilege on more than one axis is said to experience intersectionality.
I really haven’t got any more to add to that definition I think it explains it all very well.
My recent privilege
One of my privileges is that I’m a cis-woman. This means that I’m happy to identify as the gender that I was assigned at birth: I had genitals that strongly indicated I was a girl: my parents raised me as a girl: I grew up into a woman without ever sensing that perhaps I was a boy and the rest of the world had got my gender identity wrong. This is a privilege, when compared to people who identify outside the gender binary, or strongly with a gender that they have not been assigned. These people are called trans*
Feminists have found it hard to understand the trans* experience, and whilst I am appalled at some of the actions of people describing themselves as feminists, I have always considered myself to be more inclusive in my feminism. As the famous Tiger Beatdown post says,
My feminism is intersectional or it is bulls*it
Recently, I was called out on my privilege and unconscious cis-sexism. I’ve Storified it as an example, so that I remember in future how words that I use (and hashtags!) can hurt, and to be more mindful of my privilege.
The Storify can be found here: http://storify.com/claireOT2/checking-my-privilege-a-recent-example