This is a slight edit of a response to Damion’s post about the #FTBullies saga, which references “audience privilege”, pointing out that someone who has a large audience or following is in a position of great advantage over relatively obscure dissenters, and implying that for them to criticise those dissenters aggressively (“punching down”) is an abuse of power and an example of unchecked privilege.
PZ Myers is the bully in this scenario, because he treats those he disagrees with with unnecessary harshness. Never mind that the people complaining about this have been much less vocal when it comes to his similarly harsh treatment of creationist nut-jobs, my concern is more is whether any such advantage can be cast as privilege. Is the advantage held by PZ (audience size) in the same class as ‘male privilege’? Personally I don’t think so, at least not in the social-justice sense.
In most societies by default a man is assumed to be smarter, more confident, better at comedy etc, than a woman (all else being equal). This assumption is a privilege we grant him just for being a man; he doesn’t need to work or fight for it. Respected, rational people like Hitchens have presented rationales for why this makes sense from an evolutionary psychology perspective (eg he asserted women simply aren’t funny because they don’t need to be to impress a man).
But while PZ was born with a penis (we can assume), he wasn’t born with an audience. For this he has worked hard, being the most prolific blogger I can think of, as well as doing interviews, conferences etc. Being a white male probably made it easier for him to gather his audience, and I’m sure he would readily admit this, but my point is that ‘privilege’ as discussed in social-justice circles is more about what you take for granted, specifically because it is granted, ie you never had to work for it.
As a guy, I get to post largely what I like, where I like and experience remarkably little blowback. And then very occasionally I might say something in a certain forum that offends someone because it’s a bit politically incorrect, and I get some grief over it (eg recently on Twitter I’ve been crtiticized for using ‘bitching’ and defending ‘hysterical’). I find it incredibly irksome when this happens, because I feel like I’m being judged unfairly; like assumptions are being made about me just because I’m male. And maybe they are.
And then I realize that that’s probably what it’s like for a woman, except they have to put up with that shit every day. The only time I have to even think about my gender is in a discussion about gender. Women have to deal with it all the time. Even when people like you it sucks to be a woman with an opinion, because there are so many men who think their sexual attention is a compliment in itself. As an exasperated Kate Beaton pointed out a while back:
dear internet, you are well meaning, but I’d like to make a point.
when you tell a female creator you like her work so much you want to marry her and have her babies, you’re not doing anyone any favors
first of all, as cute as it sounds in your head, it’s a shitty, disrespectful ‘compliment.’ No one makes comics looking for sexual attention
secondly, by doing so you invite others to critique that person’s works based on their looks, which is uncomfortable, sexist and unfair.
Checking your privilege (and sometimes having it checked for you if you are so thick as to pretend there is no such thing) is not about giving up the advantages you’ve been granted, but reminding yourself that you lucked out and maybe should work a little bit harder to find some empathy for those that didn’t. In the skeptic community, that means recognising that it’s harder for women to get taken seriously than it is for men. It means recognising that it’s more threatening to talk about ‘cunt kicking’ than it is to talk about ‘cock punching’. It means not demanding documentary proof that significant numbers of women have experienced sexual harassment before instituting a policy that would itself help provide such documentation. It means calling out the dipshits who demand that Rebecca Watson be kicked off the SGU because she’s not a proper ‘qualified’ skeptic while conveniently ignoring those other ‘unqualified’ people on the show who happen to have penises.
- White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh – One of the best articles I’ve read about privilege (in this case racial, but the mechanism is much the same). It’s a great thing to cut-n-paste to that crazy racist uncle you probably have forwarding you emails about Obama’s free ride to the top.
- How to Make a Rape Joke by Lindy West – Should be compulsory reading for all those idiots who think women need to just lighten up already and learn how to take a joke.