Privilege Is One Hell Of A Drug…

…it makes people comfortable to the point where they aren’t aware they are privileged, it allows people to exert their privilege to claim the concept of privilege is nonsense, and can lead those who are allies and aware of their privilege to abuse it.

While I disagree with a lot of what Louise Mensch says in this piece on feminism and checking one’s privilege (especially the casual dismissals of ‘cis’ and ‘intersectionality’ as being essentially too unnecessarily complicated and boring for words)  it’s the reaction to it which I find infuriating. And unsurprisingly, it’s mainly from the exact people who do need to check their privilege but naturally lack anything remotely resembling self-awareness, such a Labour MP Tom Harris (who responded with mockery), and Independent columnist John Rentoul (who responded by adding ‘check your privilege’ to a list of banned phrases in a manner that made me want to reach through the screen and punch him).

The worst offender was the Telegraph’ Dan Hodges (who claims to be a Blairite but really plays the same role for a right-wing media outlet that ‘Democrats’ Pat Caddell and Kirsten Powers do on Fox News in the US), who was self-admittedly completely unaware of what was meant by ‘check your privilege’  up to this point, proceeded to write a glib, snarky, staggeringly ignorant post mocking the whole concept of privilege and concluding, after having missed the point as badly as John Terry missed this penalty,  boasting that he’d go out of his way to act like a complete arse to spite the Privilege Police.

Apparently, if any of us wish to comment on a particular issue we have to first “check our privilege”. It’s like a sort of moral entry exam. Before expressing a point of view we must first establish our bona fides. So for example, if you want to talk about an issue such as welfare reform, you have to consider whether you are middle-class or not. If you are, then sadly you fail the test. You can’t comment. Or if you do comment, then your point of view is in some way invalidated.

Ah yes, the ‘they’re trying to shut us up’ fallacy, the close relation of ‘I’m the real victim here!’ ploy. Here Hodges’ ignorance of what feminists/minority groups mean by this is glaring. No, Mr Hodges, we’re not telling to you shut up. We’re not telling your opinion is invalid. Nor are we telling you what to think about subjects that don’t affect you. We are asking, very nicely, to bear the experiences of the people it does affect in mind and compare them to your own when formulating that opinion. That’s what allies are – people who do not belong to a specific group but support their aims, empathise with them and recognise that they can use their privilege for good by helping combat the issues the group faces without hijacking their struggle  (as in the case of anti-racism crusader Tim Wise).

Sufficiently briefed, I sat down to give myself a comprehensive privilege MOT. White: tick. Male: tick. Middle-class: tick. Public school education: fail. Able-bodied: tick (well, half a tick. I’ve only got one eye. But you get two for a reason). Heterosexual: tick, (though never say never).

OK, Dan, I’m going to sit you down and explain what exactly privilege is as you are no more informed now than you were when you first asked what CYP is: it is not merely being a member of a certain demographic, as you seem to think with this list: it is the consequences (or rather lack of) and benefits which come with being part of said demographic. It’s not an insult, nor do we hate you for being privileged, it’s merely stating a fact. Privilege is being paid more on average because of your gender. Privilege is not having religious institutions and assorted groups dub you subhuman and campaign to deny you rights because of your sexuality. Privilege is not being thought more likely to commit a crime purely due to your skin colour and being stopped by the police for this reason. Privilege is being able to write a facetious lot of tripe about a serious hindrance to progress in a national newspaper read by thousands.

For a start, how do we actually define privilege? Let’s go back to the example I gave about welfare. Who really holds the privilege in this debate? Is it someone like me, who has never taken a penny of welfare, except to make regular withdrawals from the bank of mum and dad.?

Why, yes, it is!

Or is it those who are actually subsisting on, and benefiting from, welfare themselves? Who, in this case, actually enters the debate from a position of self-interest? Shouldn’t it be those Shameless types who we all know are merely idling and scrounging and swinging the lead, who should be giving their own privilege the run down?

From your lofty perch as someone who’s never been on welfare, you make allusions to lazy, greedy people sponging off the state. Privilege in action which Hodges’ exhaustive and failproof Privilege MOT somehow didn’t register. We’ve had mansplaining, we’ve had whitesplaining, and now with Hodges’ piece we’ve got douchesplaining. Have a seat, sir.

To come back to the Mensch piece which kicked this whole thing off, I noted that in it she claimed it was inspired by Laurie Penny of the New Statesman and a an average Jo and feminist activist on Twitter, whose handle is @jonanamary.  I’ve taken issue with  a well-known person singling out a relative nobody for criticism (implicitly or explicitly) before, so this did not sit easy with me. And then this happened:

 

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It turns out that the reply scheduled was going to be from the other person mentioned in Mensch’s post, Laurie Penny – who already has a platform to respond and is on a level playing field. @Jonanamary, the unknown tweeter, still has no means of replying to criticism directed at her in the Guardian, which will be read by thousands of people.

I myself have experienced something similar – I once called out the Telegraph’s James Delingpole for his blatant racism towards Barack Obama on Twitter, and found myself the subject of his ire in a post following this on his blog.  Now, I have a very small blog which I only update when something really gets my goat and only a modest amount of Twitter followers, so there’ s an immediately obvious imbalance of power here.  My personal attitude towards this was one of contempt – really, a blogger for a national newspaper punching this far below his weight? – and satisfaction at having irked this bullying poltroon enough for him to single me out in his defensive response. But the fact remains, like Mensch with Joanamary, Delingpole had a platform (and a large one at that) from which he could denounce me, while I did not.

What’s the word for being in a position of having more influence, strength and power than another person?

Oh yeah. Privilege.

 

 

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Being A Comedian Is Not A Licence To Be A Jerk

Tricky Ricky

So, I logged on to Twitter this morning and saw that Ricky Gervais had appeared to have poked a hornet’s nest with a stick again. Nothing unusual there, I thought – he’s always coming out with jokes designed to outrage people (that’s his shtick he shares with his fellow outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins). What did stop me short though was that one tweeter had objected strongly – and in strong language – to a joke about self-harming, having been a self-harmer herself.

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And Gervais had retweeted her without comment, or responding to her. What followed for the unfortunate critic was several hours of non-stop vitriolic abuse. Gervais, hours after the fact, deleted the retweet that had kicked it all off. He then deleted the passive-aggressive abusive subtweets he’d aimed at her, but alas for Ricky, the mighty Print Screen button has been the downfall of many an ass-covering attempt:


It’s pretty clear from those tweets that not only did Gervais know what the result of him retweeting her would be, he didn’t care.

Finally, hours too late, he instructed his pack of wolves to leave the poor woman alone –

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This was utter bullshit. Gervais’ actions were the equivalent of throwing chum in shark-infested waters. He knew what would happen. He knew his followers would rip her to shreds. Because he’s done it beforeand bragged about retweeting people who insult or criticise him and siccing his 4 million followers on them. Now, here’s where some point out well, these people are abusing him, they want him to see their nasty or critical tweet, so they’re getting what they deserve. Except for that number I mentioned above: 4 million followers. One retweet from Gervais and these nobodies on Twitter attract the instant ire of at least hundreds of rabid fans, who proceed to fill their mentions columns with particularly poisonous bile. As a comedian, Gervais should have a thick skin. In addition there are the options of blocking or ignoring the tweeter. This is not an equal power dynamic. Gervais gets one uncomplimentary tweet from them, they get hundreds of people abusing them back. It is cowardly. In other words, it is also bullying. And bear in mind this is a man who’s considered ‘edgy’ and ‘brave’ for mocking Hollywood moguls at an awards ceremony.

Moving on then – in other news, Ricky Gervais is teaming up with Katie Price to end…online bullying of people with special needs.

You’ll appreciate the extreme irony already, but the irony intensifies and becomes more bitter when you discover what he, Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington did to Victoria Wright, a woman with facial disfigurements which they cruelly mocked on the Ricky Gervais Show. It happened 10 years ago, but this kind of cruelty scars people, especially those who receive it regularly in a world that’s not kind to those who are different. Victoria tells her story here.

So, it’s great you want to end the bullying of the vulnerable Ricky, but first I suggest you look up the saying ‘physician, heal thyself’.

Rufus Hound? More Like Rufus Dog

In the same 24 hour period, another British comedian, Rufus Hound, displayed a deeply unsavoury side in a tweet to former Tory MP Louise Mensch:

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Charming.

Whether you agree with Mensch’s politics/approach to feminism or not (and she has plenty of detractors) this is beyond the pale. Hound pathetically attempted to justify this misogynist slur in a long equally misogynist tweet saying how in his experience, it wasn’t sexist. Oh and how suggesting a woman’s blowing her boss only in a figurative sense is totally not sexist. Yeah, you’re not a woman, Rufus – you don’t to be the arbiter of what is or isn’t considered misogynist, OK? And let me tell you now – the tweet was definitely sexist, and in that follow-up tweet you took an industrial digger and tunnelled all the way to Mansplainersville.

Which brings me to a wider pattern I’m noticing among modern-day comedians. I enjoy black comedy and edgy humour that cuts close to the bone, but there’s an increasingly nasty undertone or basis to a lot of jokes and skits these days. And judging from these comedians’ behaviour off-stage, it’s less to do with them trying to be provocateurs than the kind of person they really are. Ricky Gervais exemplifies this – we have two clear-cut examples of him bullying two women who are ill-equipped to deal with it, and it’s not a coincidence that the conceit behind his highly successful series An Idiot Abroad is he and his mate putting another of his mates in increasingly uncomfortable situations. The difference of course is Karl Pilkington’s in on the joke, but part of the humour (aside from Karl’s reactions, thoughts and sayings) is derived from him making someone uncomfortable.

So if you need an outlet for your unpleasantness, comedians, restrict it to your stage or show. Otherwise it’s just human bear-baiting.

The Narrow-Mindedness of Andrew Sullivan

Here’s what Andrew Sullivan believes: if you are gay and a public figure, as the late Sally Ride was, your country needs you to expose your private life to public viewing and be Jesus for LGBT people. Not to do so makes you a moral draft dodger, for you ‘had a chance to expand young [LGBT people’s] hope and esteem’ and didn’t (so all those gay suicides are on you, bucko).  To paraphrase Batman,  it’s not who you are underneath, but which gender you do that defines you. Oh yeah, and any paper that doesn’t make a dead gay person’s sexuality front and centre is forcing gay people back in the closet. Or something.

This isn’t the first time Sullivan’s worked himself into a lather about a public figure’s sexual orientation. When Elena Kagan was nominated for a SCOTUS seat and was up for confirmation, Sully decided, based on the following, that, that Kagan was secretly a lesbian:

[W]e have been told by many that she is gay … and no one will ask directly if this is true and no one in the administration will tell us definitively.

In a word, this is preposterous – a function of liberal cowardice and conservative discomfort. It should mean nothing either way. Since the issue of this tiny minority – and the right of the huge majority to determine its rights and equality – is a live issue for the court in the next generation, and since it would be bizarre to argue that a Justice’s sexual orientation will not in some way affect his or her judgment of the issue, it is only logical that this question should be clarified.

So, several anonymous sources saying Kagan is totally batting for the other team meant she has a question to answer. What the fuck is this, high school? And note Sully’s claim that a SCOTUS’ sexuality would be a key issue because it would affect his or her judgement – is exactly the same argument put forth by the anti-gay right against Judge Vaughn Walker, who was revealed to be gay, when he struck down Prop 8 (more on this convergence with the homophobes below). Additionally, it’s telling that in both cases it’s been women on the receiving end of Andrew’s ire regarding what they did or did not do for LGBT people. So when Sullivan writes dishonest, generalising shit like this:

And one often over-looked aspect of this is the long-standing discomfort of some in the feminist movement with lesbians in their midst. Feminists often “inned” lesbian pioneers, or the lesbians closeted themselves. This was not because they were in a reactionary movement; it was because they were in a progressive movement that did not want to be “tarred” with the lesbian image.

….bear in mind there is some serious projection going on here.

Now, I don’t deny we feminists work hard at getting our hate on. We hate men, we hate women who fancy men (traitors!), we hate women who…don’t fancy men, we make Rush Limbaugh’s dick shrivel up: our crimes are indeed legion. But here’s a pro-tip: the reason there are few prominent lesbians in the gay rights movement isn’t that the feminist movement’s uncomfortable with lesbians, it’s that there’s a lot of gay men uncomfortable with women.

So let’s get down to the fundamental question here. Is defining LGBT people by their sexual orientation good or bad? Put it this way, do we define straight people by the fact they’re straight? Nope. The only group that doesn’t get tarred with this ‘your minority status defines you’ brush  is, surprise, surprise, white straight men. So, if you insist on a public figure’s sexuality being a big deal, you’re basically acknowledging an inherent inequality, and enabling that inequality. Because in the main, the people who look at a gay person and think their sexuality is the most important thing about them are the homophobic crowd that think the pornos they watch are documentaries of the average gay person’s daily life. Look at the Richard Grenell affair – the guy is a neocon and was an aide to John “No Such Thing As Too Many Wars” Bolton, but the Religious Wrong was blinded by Fifty Shades of Gay and so Captain Courageous Romney…let him resign. Sullivan attacked both Romney and the Religious Right for this, and rightfully so. It’s a shame he can’t get the plank out of his own eye when it comes to defining LGBT people.