The Nature of Privilege

Yesterday my husband and I went to a Renaissance Faire. We had a pretty nice day. We both brought ale mugs with us to go around and have various beverages. My husband didn’t partake in anything alcoholic because he had to drive.

As we were leaving the faire there was a security checkpoint to verify that no one was taking alcohol out of the faire. I was asked to show my mug, which I did. My husband was asked to stop and show his mug. He refused to stop. He kept going. The security guard thought my husband didn’t hear him so he started following him to try and stop him. My husband began running to avoid the security guard, putting me in a really awkward position of trying to defuse things with the guard to avoid having him call the police or doing something to try to detain us.

I was very angry about this afterward. My husband realized I was mad and he told me he was sorry, but he didn’t like people trying to tell him what to do and that the guy tried to grab his arm to keep him from leaving.

I am going to share with you a huge, mind blowing secret. Are you ready for it??

I don’t like being told what to do either.

In what universe does my husband think that somehow every other member of the human race has no problem being told what to do and that somehow he is special? Oh wait, that’s right. He lives a world of aggressive white male privilege.

(I want to clarify here that I am not saying every single white male fits into this mold. I am not making a broad generalization about every single man. Please do not yell at me on Twitter for being sexist.)

My husband lives in a world where he has never had to do anything he didn’t want to do.

My husband is an aggressive driver. He has regularly put me in danger while he engaged in road rage with another driver. Once we were on a street where the road narrowed to one lane. Every driver before him would let one car into the lane and everyone took turns merging. My husband decided not to follow this pattern and another car nearly collided with us on my side of the car. Afterward my husband asked me if I was mad at that guy for nearly hurting me. I wasn’t mad at that guy. I was mad at my husband for putting me in physical danger just to be aggressive and let other people know he was not going to do anything he doesn’t want to do.

He has never spent a moment in his life worrying that someone might shoot him for being aggressive on the road. He has never been troubled when he refuses to follow the same unwritten rules that everyone else abides by. He is a 6’2, relatively young, white, upper middle class male. He has never had another person use their size to physically intimidate him into doing something that he didn’t want to do.

The fact that anyone could have this entitled, privileged attitude absolutely blows my mind. I can’t imaging living in that world.

This is my world:

There is a lobbying group in town that assaults people on the street trying to coerce them into “donating” money. Every time I see one of these groups on the street my heart sinks because I always see one guy scanning the sidewalk until he sees me. He makes a beeline for me because I am small, female, and look like someone who can be overpowered into giving money to this person to make him go away and leave me alone.

I have had teachers back me into corners to better be able to look down on me while they tried to intimidate me by threatening my grades. When I was in eighth grade I had one teacher who let a bunch of students write a skit to be performed on a class trip where I had to pretend to be naked and throw myself at a popular guy who was going to cruelly blow me off and humiliate me. When I told the teacher I didn’t feel like that was appropriate, he asked me if I had a tube top or something I could wear so it would only look like I was naked in front of all of my peers rather than actually being naked. My parents had to take me to an out of state wedding when the trip was scheduled to prevent this from happening.

When I worked in retail I routinely had men try to coerce me into giving them refunds that I could not give because of various policy and legal reasons. A few guys tried aggressively flirting with me to make me give them a refund. Several guys threatened to speak to my manager to get me fired if I didn’t make them happy. The worst imposition I had in retail was when an old man came up to me, handed me two containers of sexual lubricant, and asked me which one I liked better and asked me which would be better for masturbation.

Getting out of retail didn’t mean the end of this kind of humiliation. At one of my last real jobs I had a team lead lock me in a room and yell at me for an hour because I spoke to a manager about the fact that he told me to work over a hundred hours off the clock without telling anyone and to bill them to the company while I was out of the country.

How do you explain to someone who has never been physically intimidated how upsetting it can be? At my last job at a start-up, I observed my CEO and CTO aggressively approaching women to get them to try our app. I told them that women don’t really like being approached by tall, scary, aggressive guys. They didn’t get it. They couldn’t see how uncomfortable they were making these women and they refused to try to think of a better way to approach women to use our app.

My husband has trouble understanding why it is so difficult for me to find a normal job. Programmers are in short supply! Why can’t you just walk into a company and get a job? You must be incompetent.

It isn’t about that. The same attitude that my husband has when he runs past the security guard is the attitude that my teacher, manager, and lobbyist have. They feel like they have the right to force me to do something I can’t or don’t want to do, and their privilege to abuse me is indirectly imposing on my husband’s privilege to have a wife who can go to work and earn a decent salary without fear of being exploited, abused, or being inappropriately fired and having my professional reputation annihilated. Everything we do affects everyone else. His privilege is indirectly hurting him through me, but he can’t see it that way because it is hurting him rather than helping him.

Privilege is the ability to feel you have the absolute right to never feel imposed upon by anyone. Privilege is being able to piss someone off because you can and to have absolutely no worries that this person will come after you and cause you physical violence or endanger your livelihood.

I know that I am a relatively privileged person myself. I got to take a few years off from work to go back to school. I get to do a lot of things that most people don’t by nature of being a white, educated, middle class female. I don’t want to give up my privilege, but I never forget that I only get to do what I do because a lot of other people do not. I appreciate my privilege and I try not to abuse it or assume that others haven’t done what I did because I “did it all on my own”. A lot of other people and societal forces converged to let me do what I do and I never forget that.

The security guard at the faire didn’t try to detain us or call the police. However, I had to deal with an angry, aggressive man that I didn’t want to or have to because my husband chose to force me to do the thing he didn’t want to do. He’s right, he lives in a world where he doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to do without fear of being shot, attacked, or harassed. I just wish that he cared enough about me to not force me into a situation where I have to be afraid of being attacked or hurt in his place. To be fair, he also probably wishes I cared enough about him to get off my ass and get a normal job like everyone else does instead of delving into esoteric technology and writing. Hey, maybe I am the one who is privileged.