Privilege is something I’m still learning about. I’ve done some research (do yours here: 'Male Privilege Checklist', 'White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack', and 'On privilege and what we can do about it') and I will do more. In the meantime, I wanted to share my recent experience of asking someone else to check their privilege. I was inspired by their response…
I was listening to a lecture on classism as part of a professional training course. The lecturer discussed how some systems we might expect to increase social mobility actually perpetuate social stratification. So far, so feminist.
The other theme covered was professional responsibility. As participants in these systems that perpetuate inequalities, it was our responsibility as professionals to be constantly reflecting on and critiquing them. How else would they evolve?
I was really enjoying this lecture/ impressed with the lecturer/ inspired to fight classism. At that point, we were asked to chat about something in pairs for a couple of minutes. During this time the lecturer approached my partner and me since we were sitting towards the front. When he resumed the lecture he decided to share what we had been saying with the group:
“I was just speaking with these girls [gesturing] and they said…”
He said what? That’s right. Us girl-fessionals had said something interesting.
I cringed. I wondered whether anyone else in the lecture theatre was cringing too. Then it struck me. Relatively recently, before I began feministing, this language probably wouldn’t even have registered with me. But was definitely registering now. Didn’t I as a 25-year-old woman, in a lecture on social justice and professional responsibility, have the right to be referred to as an adult?
I have no idea what was said during the rest of the lecture since I spent it in will I/won’t I internal dilemma mode. When it was over, I found myself uncharacteristically approaching the lecturer.
“Could I talk to you about something?”
“I noticed that when you referred to my friend and myself there you called us girls.”
“Oh [pause] I’m sorry. I didn’t even realise. I’m usually so aware of these things. Sorry.”
“That’s fine. Thank you.”
As I walked back up the steps, I realised that I now respected the lecturer more than I had before the incident. Because he listened to what I had to say. Because when he was challenged on his privilege he accepted it and apologised. I think this is a really good example of privilege checking. Of course, the man was a self-proclaimed social justice advocate…
This goes to show that most/many people, including feminists/activists, have some privilege(s) that they fail to be aware of some of the time. If you’re one of them, and I definitely am, you are going to offend people. How should you respond if you get called out? See above example.
- Emma Regan is a former co-ordinator of the Irish Feminist Network.
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