I am writing this blog entry in response to all the comments I received on facebook when I updated my status to indicate that I was annoyed by heterosexual privilege. Frankly, the comments surprised me but I guess I should not have been. Inherently, when one is in receipt of a societal privilege they may not be aware of it. This appears to be the case. Rather than going into a long drawn out explanation of heterosexual privilege I will refer you to an excellent blog entry written by Teh Portly Dyke. She does an excellent job explaining this and its impact on homosexuals. She also issues a challenge in her entry I encourage you to try it to gain a better understanding of how insidious heterosexual privilege is in our society.
Privilege is everywhere in our society and depending on your class, race, economic status or gender expression you may or may not enjoy privilege. Being Caucasian in our society affords you a great deal of privilege. Our society is geared to make life easier for people who are white. All of our institutions are inherently racist and difficult for people of colour to navigate and receive fair treatment. If you don’t believe me ask a person of colour what their experience is at a bank or worse trying to get welfare or other government services. When I worked in a downtown eastside welfare office in Vancouver there was a great deal of racism dished out to people of colour and particularly aboriginal people.
Class is another area of privilege. I certainly noticed that as a homeowner I am treated very differently by service people than I was when i was a renter. The white woman in Kerrisdale is treated much differently than an Aboriginal woman from the downtown eastside. Many of our judgements about class are rooted in the Protestant work ethic and Protestantism in general. One of the foremost Protestant thinkers, John Calvin, believed that it was predetermined who was going to heaven and who was not. Those people who were successful in life were assumed to be going to heaven and therefore treated differently from those who were impoverished. It was also believed that if those who were not successful ‘just tried a little harder’ they too could be successful. The old adage of ‘pulling up their boot straps’ applied. We may not consciously think this way but these ideas inform our culture and the way we view the world and the people in it.
Gender expression is another area of privilege. Those who fit into society’s binary gender roles of male and female enjoy privilege. There is no question which bathroom to use and you are treated with respect. Those who are gender queer, gender ambiguous or trans have murky waters to navigate. A male to female transsexual for example may be harassed for using the woman’s bathroom. Gender expression seems to invoke violent responses from some people. Many trans people are routinely targeted for abuse by people in our society who are uncomfortable with their gender expression.
It is interesting to talk to people who are different from you and to learn how privilege or the lack thereof impacts their lives. As a white woman I know that I enjoy a fair amount of privilege in our society. I have privileges of class, race and gender. However, somethings work against me. As a fat lesbian woman I have been the target of discrimination and hate although not that often. The group with the most privilege in our society are straight, white men. It is interesting to determine what privilege you enjoy and why you have it. Deconstructing privilege helps us to understand how our society works and how we can work to be allies to those who do not enjoy the same privileges that we do. It takes a great deal of work to look inside and see what is really there – the racist and classist thoughts and to try and understand how they impact our interactions with other people. It is a life-long process and one that is very difficult. Realizing our own racist, classist and gender biases can be uncomfortable. Talking about them and challenging others racist, classist and gender biases is even more difficult. If, as an individual, you are committed to an egalitarian society it starts with you.