Be young and shut up

A blog about student activism.

Privilege denying

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Minimising, trivialising, derailing and concern-trolling? No thanks


I envisage that this blog post is going to piss a lot of people off. If you think I’m being unfair, maybe I am, and if so, I’m sorry. What I am not sorry about, though, is the general sentiment and gist of what I am about to describe.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about why people should ‘shut up and listen’ instead of pontificating about rape. Reading it back now, nothing I said was unfair, except that I am sorry I ignored male rape victims, there may not be as many of them but that doesn’t make it any less horrific.

Other than that, I think I accurately described my own experience of rape, sexual assault and what I call the surrounding ‘rape culture’. (For more on rape culture, read this excellent article, which comes with a trigger warning.)

Since then, I have been absolutely astonished at some people’s ability to ignore, trivialise and minimise my experience, and their false concern over the fact that by talking about rape I am somehow making things worse for myself. To which I say, you don’ know how I feel and I don’t care what you think about my right to assert my voice.

Too many people in the activist community see feminism as a side issue – we say ‘of course I’m a feminist’ but then we don’t bother actually properly integrating women into our groups or addressing issues like a lack of gender equality. (Ethnic diversity, ableism and other forms of discrimination and diversity are equally important but I’ll just focus on feminism and gender equality in this.) Meetings sometimes descend into socialists versus anarchists. We don’t think about the effect what we say and how we say it has on people, and whether or not meetings are accessible to women and other genders – physically as well as mentally, emotionally and politically.

No wonder women and people of other non-male genders don’t want to come to activist-y meetings if they have to act as the feminist police, shout over people to get their voices heard and generally are forced to bulldoze through to get things done.

Healthy debate is one thing. Privilege denying is another. People who claim that their gender, their ethnicity, their able-bodiedness and able-mindedness, their class, and all those many other types of privilege don’t affect their views, their decisions, the way they act and talk to people, are talking complete bullshit. Privilege, as a barrier to good activism, and to understanding oppression, can be overcome if it is confronted, addressed and kept in mind. Ignoring it, as we can see with discredited ideas like colour-blindness, is disastrous.

Confronting someone because they make you feel uncomfortable or guilty is not a good immediate reaction. Confronting them having thought deeply about it, considered everything they have said, and have weighed things up, is fine, if done well.

Admittedly my methods of confronting sexism and gender inequality have not been the best and for that I apologise, not for what I said it but perhaps for the way I sometimes said it. Having said that, too often I feel I have been dismissed out-of-hand because I am seen as something of a bore for raising issues no one wants to talk about, like, ‘Hey, how come the only people speaking in this meeting are white middle class dudes?’ It’s cool for them to talk, but we need to try to be representative.

One smallish meeting I was at, a long time ago, I recall sitting there, three of four men talking to each other very loudly and quickly and there were very few opportunities for anyone else to have their say. This went on for about an hour. It wasn’t just because they’re men, it was also because they knew each other and had similar views. However, that kind of thing simply is unacceptable and it shouldn’t be left to people like me to challenge it, people should also be more self-aware.

Recently I was accused of de-railing a conversation because I brought gender into the discussion. I was told to stop ‘exhausting myself’ by bringing a gendered analysis to everything, that I didn’t know anything about the subject and that basically I was not welcome. Well, I’m sorry for taking into consideration over half the world’s population into a theory.

Then I was accused of not considering that white men might be reading my rape story. Well, it may have been hard to read but at no point did I say that all men were rapists. All I was doing was expressing my disgust at the men who have treated me like an object. If it made you feel uncomfortable you don’t have to immediately become defensive.

Then just a week or so ago a man who claims to be a feminist and came to Reclaim the Night march described a woman as a ‘bitch’ essentially for no reason. When I challenged him he refused to back down and said he would have equally described the person he was talking about as a ‘bitch’ if they were a man. I’m sorry but that is absolute bollocks and he knows it. I find it appalling that he didn’t just apologise. Arrogance of the worst kind.

Some of you might find it hard to have comradeship or siblinghood with me, banging on about feminism all the time, boring the pants off you, but imagine how hard it is for me to have comradeship or siblinghood with others when they consistently trivialise my viewpoint.

Feminism, like I have said about a million times, is a coherent ideology in its own right, not a tack-on. Sure, it mainly seeks to liberate women and other genders, and smash the structures that enslave them. But it does also look at other oppressed groups, and feminist beliefs run through me like a stick of rock, I’m more of a feminist than I am a libertarian socialist, although I am all of them. Feminism is my primary reason for doing activism. It is often the reason I get out of bed in the morning. It is not something you can just sign up to because equality sounds kind of nice. Like other systems of thought activists favour, it deserves serious consideration. It challenges people to change their own behaviours. ‘I’m a feminist’ is not just a nice thing to say to women. It’s a political identification, it’s a mode of thinking – and it’s also about personal behaviour.

Next time you’re about to flippantly talk about rape, make a sexist joke or even just talk over a woman who hardly ever speaks in meetings, please consider the effect that it has.

Finally – everyone is sexist sometimes. Just don’t ignore or deny that fact and, if you think you’ve done something bad, just don’t do it again. I’ll try to handle things better in future. I hope that’s a deal.

For more examples of privilege denying and failure to consider ways in which we oppress, see @privilegedenyin on Twitter and

Disclaimer: I know I’m not the only feminist at meetings but I can only speak for myself.


Written by CakeCakeCakeCakeCake

June 10, 2011 at 1:14 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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