January 13, 2010

Of Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sindelókë @ 2:29 am

Today I’m feeling 101-y, I guess, so let’s talk about privilege.

It’s a weird word, isn’t it? A common one in my circles, it’s one of the most basic, everyday concepts in social activism, we have lots of unhelpful snarky little phrases we like to use like “check your privilege” and a lot of our dialog conventions are built around a mutual agreement (or at least a mutual attempt at agreement) on who has privilege when and how to compensate for that. But nonetheless fairly weird, opaque even if you’ve never used it before or aren’t part of those circles. It’s also, the way we use it, very much a cultural marker – like “Tolkienesque” or “Hall-of-famer” or “heteronormative,” you can feel fairly assured that a large number of people will immediately stop listening and stop taking you seriously the moment you use it.

The fact that people are stupid isn’t news, however. And actually that’s kind of why the concept of privilege is important – because privilege isn’t about being stupid. It’s not a bad thing, or a good thing, or something with a moral or value judgement of any kind attached to it. Having privilege isn’t something you can usually change, but that’s okay, because it’s not something you should be ashamed of, or feel bad about. Being told you have privilege, or that you’re privileged, isn’t an insult. It’s a reminder! The key to privilege isn’t worrying about having it, or trying to deny it, or apologize for it, or get rid of it. It’s just paying attention to it, and knowing what it means for you and the people around you. Having privilege is like having big feet. No one hates you for having big feet! They just want you to remember to be careful where you walk.

At this point maybe I should actually start talking about what privilege is, huh?

Well, we’re right here online, so let’s start with the Google definition. As per standard for googledefs, it’s hardly comprehensive, but entirely adequate for our purposes here, particularly the second entry:

If you talk about privilege, you are talking about the power and advantage that only a small group of people have, usually because of their wealth or their high social class.

This is the basic heart of the idea. Privilege is an edge… a set of opportunities, benefits and advantages that some people get and others don’t. For example, if it’s raining in the morning, and you get up, get dressed, climb into the nice warm car in your garage, drive to the closed parking lot at work, and walk into the adjacent building, you don’t get wet. If you go outside and wait at the bus stop, then walk between busses for your transfer, then walk from the bus stop to work, you do get wet. Not getting wet, then, is a privilege afforded you by car and garage ownership. So far, so straightforward, right?

Some examples of social privilege work exactly the same way, and they’re the easy ones to understand. For instance, a young black male driver is much, much more likely to get pulled over by the cops in America than an old white woman. Getting pulled over less, then – being given the benefit of the doubt by an authority figure – is in this case, a privilege of being white. (I’m not getting into the gender factor here, intersectionality is a whole different post.)

Okay, again, so far so straightforward. And thus far, there’s not much to be done about it, right? You’re not going to, as a white person, make a point of getting pulled over more often, and nobody’s asking you to. (Well, I’m not, at least.) So if someone says “check your privilege,” if I tell you to watch where you’re putting your feet, what the hell does that mean?

Well. This is where things get a bit tricky to understand. Because most examples of social privilege aren’t that straightforward. Let’s take, for example, a basic bit of male privilege:

A man has the privilege of walking past a group of strange women without worrying about being catcalled, or leered at, or having sexual suggestions tossed at him.

A pretty common male response to this point is “that’s a privilege? I would love if a group of women did that to me.”

And that response, right there, is a perfect shining example of male privilege.

To explain how and why, I am going to throw a lengthy metaphor at you. In fact, it may even qualify as parable. Bear with me, because if it makes everything crystal clear, it will be worth the time.

Imagine, if you will, a small house, built someplace cool-ish but not cold, perhaps somewhere in Ohio, and inhabited by a dog and a lizard. The dog is a big dog, something shaggy and nordic, like a Husky or Lapphund – a sled dog, built for the snow. The lizard is small, a little gecko best adapted to living in a muggy rainforest somewhere. Neither have ever lived anywhere else, nor met any other creature; for the purposes of this exercise, this small house is the entirety of their universe.

The dog, much as you might expect, turns on the air conditioning. Really cranks it up, all the time – this dog was bred for hunting moose on the tundra, even the winter here in Ohio is a little warm for his taste. If he can get the house to fifty (that’s ten C, for all you weirdo metric users out there), he’s almost happy.

The gecko can’t do much to control the temperature – she’s got tiny little fingers, she can’t really work the thermostat or turn the dials on the A/C. Sometimes, when there’s an incandescent light nearby, she can curl up near it and pick up some heat that way, but for the most part, most of the time, she just has to live with what the dog chooses. This is, of course, much too cold for her – she’s a gecko. Not only does she have no fur, she’s cold-blooded! The temperature makes her sluggish and sick, and it permeates her entire universe. Maybe here and there she can find small spaces of warmth, but if she ever wants to actually do anything, to eat or watch TV or talk to the dog, she has to move through the cold house.

Now, remember, she’s never known anything else. This is just how the world is – cold and painful and unhealthy for her, even dangerous, and she copes as she knows how. But maybe some small part of her thinks, “hey, it shouldn’t be like this,” some tiny growing seed of rebellion that says who she is right next to a lamp is who she should be all the time. And she and the dog are partners, in a sense, right? They live in this house together, they affect each other, all they’ve got is each other. So one day, she sees the dog messing with the A/C again, and she says, “hey. Dog. Listen, it makes me really cold when you do that.”

The dog kind of looks at her, and shrugs, and keeps turning the dial.

This is not because the dog is a jerk.

This is because the dog has no fucking clue what the lizard even just said.

Consider: he’s a nordic dog in a temperate climate. The word “cold” is completely meaningless to him. He’s never been cold in his entire life. He lives in an environment that is perfectly suited to him, completely aligned with his comfort level, a world he grew up with the tools to survive and control, built right in to the way he was born.

So the lizard tries to explain it to him. She says, “well, hey, how would you like it if I turned the temperature down on you?”

The dog goes, “uh… sounds good to me.”

What she really means, of course, is “how would you like it if I made you cold.” But she can’t make him cold. She doesn’t have the tools, or the power, their shared world is not built in a way that allows it – she simply is not physically capable of doing the same harm to him that he’s doing to her. She could make him feel pain, probably, I’m sure she could stab him with a toothpick or put something nasty in his food or something, but this specific form of pain, he will never, ever understand – it’s not something that can be inflicted on him, given the nature of the world they live in and the way it’s slanted in his favor in this instance. So he doesn’t get what she’s saying to him, and keeps hurting her.

Most privilege is like this.

A straight cisgendered male American, because of who he is and the culture he lives in, does not and cannot feel the stress, creepiness, and outright threat behind a catcall the way a woman can. His upbringing has given him fur and paws big enough to turn the dials and plopped him down in temperate Ohio. When she says “you don’t have to put up with being leered at,” what she means is, “you don’t ever have to be wary of sexual interest.” That’s male privilege. Not so much that something doesn’t happen to men, but that it will never carry the same weight, even if it does.

So what does this mean? And what are we asking you to do, when we say “check your privilege” or “your privilege is showing”?

Well, quite simply, we want you to understand when you have fur. And, by extension, when that means you should listen. See, the dog’s not an asshole just for turning down the temperature. As far as he knows, that’s fine, right? He genuinely cannot feel the pain it causes, he doesn’t even know about it. No one thinks he’s a bad person for totally accidentally doing harm.

Here’s where he becomes an asshole: the minute the gecko says, “look, you’re hurting me,” and he says, “what? No, I’m not. This ‘cold’ stuff doesn’t even exist, I should know, I’ve never felt it. You’re imagining it. It’s not there. It’s fine because of fur, because of paws, because look, you can curl up around this lamp, because sometimes my water dish is too tepid and I just shut up and cope, obviously temperature isn’t this big deal you make it, and you’ve never had to deal with mange anyway, my life is just as hard.”

And then the dog just ignores it. Because he can. That’s the privilege that comes with having fur, with being a dog in Ohio. He doesn’t have to think about it. He doesn’t have to live daily with the cold. He has no idea what he’s talking about, and he will never, ever be forced to learn. He can keep making the lizard miserable until the day they both die, and he will never suffer for it beyond the mild annoyance of her complaining. And she, meanwhile, gets to try not to freeze to death.

So, quite simply: don’t be that dog. If you’re straight and a queer person says “do not title your book ‘Beautiful Cocksucker,’ that’s stupid and offensive,” listen and believe him. If you’re white and a black person says “really, now, we’re all getting a little tired of that What These People Need Is A Honky trope, please write a better movie,” listen and believe her. If you’re male and a woman says “this maquette is a perfect example of why women don’t read comics,” listen and believe her. Maybe you don’t see anything wrong with it, maybe you think it’s oh-so-perfect to your artistic vision, maybe it seems like an oversensitive big deal over nothing to you. WELL OF COURSE IT DOES, YOU HAVE FUR. Nevertheless, just because you personally can’t feel that hurt, doesn’t mean it’s not real. All it means is you have privilege.

That’s not a bad thing. You can’t help being born with fur. Every single one of us has some kind of privilege over somebody. What matters is whether we’re aware of it, and what we choose to do with it, and that we not use it to dismiss the valid and real concerns of the people who don’t share our particular brand.

EDIT: Title changed as per valid points and excellent suggestions by commenters.


  1. I don’t have much to say to this except “Bravo!” This is very well written, and a lot of people probably need this and in oh so many ways, I am one of those people. Thank you.

    Comment by magus_69 — January 13, 2010 @ 3:40 am | Reply

    • I really enjoyed this, and say Yes, YES…it is like having acceptance and knowing that yes we all bring with us all our own baggage. Not always do we understand or know of someone’s privilege. We need to accept it and respect it! Thanks for writing this piece.

      Comment by Cindy Cesaitis — November 24, 2013 @ 3:33 pm | Reply

  2. Excellent post! I have a feeling this will be useful in the future when trying to explain privilege.

    (Though I feel compelled to point out that moose live in forested areas, not the tundra. You’re thinking of caribou. =P )

    Comment by Maddy — January 13, 2010 @ 11:07 am | Reply

  3. Very well put. Thank you.

    Comment by Lia — January 16, 2010 @ 8:05 pm | Reply

  4. A very well written article, and one that, sadly still, needs to be written and read by many a people in the face of movies like Avatar, district 9, or the whole Girl Comics idiocy over at Marvel.

    Comment by JamieJ — January 17, 2010 @ 9:42 am | Reply

    • District 9? Really? I’ve never heard anybody complain about District 9. What was the problem? Not trolling, just curious.

      Comment by JB — July 5, 2011 @ 6:14 pm | Reply

      • Nigeria asked theaters to stop screening the film and asked for an apology because all the Nigerians in the film were evil violent gangsters or prostitutes. I mean, aside from the one wailing witch doctor who urged them to be cannibals. has details and is a good summary, with quotes from a strong essay about it that I no longer see posted in full.

        I tried to watch it but stopped in the middle, I found it so sickening. Yes, despite the sympathetic portrayal of the one scientist alien and his son.

        Comment by Netmouse — July 6, 2011 @ 11:04 am

      • First of all I have to say that this is an excellent post. Thank you

        As for the movie, which I thought was an excellent one, I never saw it as putting down the Nigerians or Nigeria. I more saw it as a portrait of human intolerance, ignorance and how some of them make profit no matter how much misery they cause.

        They could have staged the story in nearly any other country in the world and it would have made little difference. Maybe they should have just staged it in a fictional country, but honestly, I dont think it would have made any real difference.

        Now that I also read the two lings you posted I have to disagree with the assessment of the movie too, however, I can see how one can follow that line of argumentation.

        I see it more as the aliens representing repressed and suppressed people and the humans, in this case Nigerians, represent all humans.

        I actually strongly sympathize with the aliens and see them as neither filthy nor barbaric nor any of the attributes that were given to them in the post. They make do with what they have access to and try to make the best of it. Considering that humans only give them crap to work with …

        Anyway, thanks Sindelókë for such an insightful post. :)

        Comment by UncommonSense — July 9, 2011 @ 2:08 pm

      • Netmouse, the problem wasn’t that there were despicable Nigerian characters, it was that ALL the Nigerian characters were despicable. There were sympathetic and unsympathetic aliens. Sympathetic and unsympathetic South Africans. But every last Nigerian character in the movie was, as noted above, “evil violent gangsters or prostitutes[…] aside from the one wailing witch doctor who urged them to be cannibals”.

        The Nigerian’s weren’t just the human aspect, and not all of the humans were Nigerian. They were identified as a disparate cultural group within the movie, and that group was uniformly portrayed as evil.

        Comment by Rick — July 12, 2011 @ 11:13 pm

      • UncommonSense, your non-Nigerian fur may be sheltering you a bit.

        Comment by Kali Ravel — September 6, 2011 @ 4:02 pm

  5. Great post. I’m going to mention it in my women’s study class, because we’re having a great discussion of privilege right now.

    Comment by nevermore999 — January 29, 2010 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

  6. It occurs to me that the one place in the house where the temperature would best suit the gekko is under the dog’s fur.

    It’s an obvious opportunity to extend the metaphor, but extending metaphors is always a dangerous business.

    Comment by 01d55 — January 29, 2010 @ 6:12 pm | Reply

    • Another place in the house that would be warm is the kitchen!

      Comment by Monkey11 — July 4, 2011 @ 1:02 am | Reply

      • Man, isn’t enforcing assigned gender roles hilarious?

        Comment by JB — July 5, 2011 @ 6:15 pm

    • Glad Im not the only one who sees this is the case, however given the nature of this metaphor if the author ever mentioned that fact, they would end up shifting the story in such a position that the gecko (who is regarded as the female in this metaphor) would end up looking submissive as it takes hostel underneath the dog’s fur.

      This would most likely cause the metaphor to appear sexist to many women, and absolutely fine to most men (as we see no problem with the story).

      Comment by Critically-analysing — November 23, 2011 @ 1:26 am | Reply

      • Actually, this extension could be useful for discussion.

        The fact is, we do live in a system that makes it easier for women to be with someone privileged. There is a wage gap, meaning a household without a man will be earning slightly less. There is a degree of defense (though not complete) from threatening sexuality that can be earned by walking with a man, and a man can confront catcallers with most likely more success and less danger to himself. And that’s before we get into the societal pressure, the social roles and gender pressure towards marriage, that says “get in that fur or be shamed”.

        So sheltering under the fur is what this world encourages her to do. But it’s not right that she has to do that.

        Comment by Timothy — January 29, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

  7. Saw this in a friend’s tweet today, and it’s quite good. Thanks for it!

    Comment by Jack — September 2, 2010 @ 2:35 pm | Reply

  8. Good article, but I’m mostly writing to tell you how painfully small the text is on your page! Ouch. Fortunately I can enlarge in the browser, but you might want to check the default font size. It is pretty painfully small.

    Comment by Peter — September 2, 2010 @ 7:19 pm | Reply

    • Haha, sorry, years and years late in responding, but thank you for that heads-up, I’ll fix it.

      Comment by Sindelókë — December 13, 2010 @ 9:44 pm | Reply

  9. OK, finished reading (after increasing text size for my apparently poor eyesight).

    Very nicely written.

    For me the problem comes down to lack of empathy.

    A friend of mine (the kind of friend who stays up all night talking about philosophy) in college concluded that people who have never experienced deep pain, sadness or depression in life lack an empathy that makes it difficult to break that barrier of understanding. It was our personal experience that those who had experienced such pain at least sometimes were much better equiped to have empathy for others.

    Comment by Peter — September 2, 2010 @ 7:28 pm | Reply

    • yes! I was thinking “Is the author going to mention empathy now?” and then it was over. (Not a failing… keeping the article short is probably the right approach in this case).

      What you and your friend observed is true in my experience too. I think it is also why children who have been abused in some way get really good at reading and reacting to emotion on the faces of others.

      Comment by Greg Connor — July 7, 2011 @ 6:47 pm | Reply

      • “I think it is also why children who have been abused in some way get really good at reading and reacting to emotion on the faces of others.”

        Children who have experienced abuse NEED to have learned how to read emotions in others — survival depends on avoiding abuse as much as possible, and you can only avoid abuse effectively if you can accurately read the mood of the abuser and take timely & appropriate steps to defuse or get away whenever it is possible.

        People who do not ever have to fear the reactions of other people can be — and tend to be — happily oblivious to the details of the emotions those people display. There is no necessity for it, after all.

        Comment by Luna — July 7, 2011 @ 7:36 pm

      • If I was the paranoid type I might presume you are calling for all white male boys to be abused so as to make them more sensitive and empathic. But of course no one would suggest such a thing.

        Comment by Michael B. — July 29, 2011 @ 1:24 am

      • I hope that was an attempt at being droll, Michael B., because it’s a little frightening to me that anyone would take away your interpretation from a factual statement regarding child abuse. Besides, male children who are abused in childhood are more likely to become abusers later in life (who lack empathy) than victims. It’s just the way our culture works.

        Comment by Anonymous — July 29, 2011 @ 6:28 pm

      • Uh. Wow. No no no. Boys who are abused are NOT more likely to become abusers later in life, that is ridiculous victim-blaming. The vast majority of abused children do not grow up to become abusers themselves, period. The numbers of abused kids are staggering (something like 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually assaulted, for instance, to say nothing of physical abuse) and most of these do not become rapists, and most rapists were NOT abused as children, whatever “this culture” told you about that. Check your facts before you further marginalize survivors.

        Comment by Flint — September 22, 2011 @ 7:23 pm

      • I chose to reply exactly here because Michael B. gave a great example of my only difference with the message of this well written and accurate blog. It is important that, as members of an expanding community, we are open to considering and even attempting to understand the perceptions of others regarding our interactions. I am not a very social individual but I am far from alone in the portion of the world in which I inhabit, so I must consider the impact that my interactions within it have. I have noticed many times in conversations, reading blog posts and comments, or any other form of interaction between two or more individuals where one of those individuals completely misunderstands the meaning of the others message, or at times simply injects their own meanings into the others message and confronts them about what it is they said. We should all be considerate of others, understanding that we all perceive the world around us differently, but do not allow yourself to become hostage to an individuals inaccurate perception of your message. Michael B., you wrongfully perceived the message that was clearly stated, and therein lies the problem that I have with “…listen and believe her/him.” I am afraid that it isn’t that simple. People are very easy to offend these days, even when there is nothing to be offended about.

        Comment by Mr. Smith — June 8, 2012 @ 4:21 pm

    • EVERYONE on earth has felt misery, pain, depression, sadness etc in their lives. That doesn’t build empathy though. If one can overcome those “pains” it could lead to a more “privileged” mindset. And really, feeling “privileged” is only a mindset of its own. One can go through life feeling like the underdog or the top dog, lots of that comes from how one is raised.
      Financially, I am a nothing, but we live like we are millionaires. It all has to do with the feeling of privilege. What pisses me off more than anything are the scum living on taxpayers money who think they are the privileged and they show NO respect for anyone. They can’t even acknowledge that anyone but them exist. Times a’comin’ once their checks don’t arrive and they go on a warpath they will get their comeuppance.

      Comment by ChuckNTexas — July 28, 2014 @ 12:51 am | Reply

      • You’re white, aren’t you, Chuck? Do you know how much harder it can be for a black man than a white man or white woman to hail a taxi? That isn’t their mindset. That’s reality.

        Comment by Chris — July 28, 2014 @ 1:15 am

  10. […] that, or their vast banks of unexamined privilege have piled up to the extent that they have utterly obscured the sight of reality. They still think […]

    Pingback by Small Beds and Large Bears » Blog Archive » What not to ask about what to wear — October 27, 2010 @ 4:07 pm | Reply

  11. This is AWESOME. Thank you for that parable, I just know I’m going to be quoting it often to all those who don’t get what I’m talking about when I mention privilege. This has got to be the best explanation I’ve ever read. BRAVO!

    Comment by adequatemom — March 14, 2011 @ 2:49 pm | Reply

  12. It would be great if “check your privilege” was used the way your describe it, but the way I see it used most often is more like “I have less privilege than you, therefore I’m right or my perspective is true and yours isn’t”.

    Furthermore privilege must be understood as a collection of experiences, not as a collection of possible experiences. It would be idiotic for Oprah Winfrey to go to a white male homeless person sleeping under the bridge and tell him “well you’re lucky for your white privilege and your male privilege because those make you more likely to be president and rich and you have to dealt with less harassment”.

    The problem the way people use privilege is that they confuse statistics with individuals. You can find plenty of statistics that show that men, as a group, are more powerful, but to extend that and say that every single man is more powerful than every single woman, is just wrong… yet this is exactly what happens when you hold that every single man has male privilege and every single woman is oppressed.

    Comment by Alex — March 15, 2011 @ 4:47 am | Reply

    • Alex, I think you misunderstand. Whiteness and maleness ARE privileges, as are thinness, good health, heterosexuality, wealth, functional families, sanity, etc. Having privileges doesn’t mean that you end up at the top, it just means you start out closer than you would have without them.

      No one is saying “being male and white means you live a privileged existence” (with “privileged existence” being success or wealth) they are saying that maleness and whiteness are THEMSELVES privileges. Does that make more sense?

      Comment by Elizabeth — May 27, 2011 @ 2:52 pm | Reply

      • It’s not so simple as to just say that whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality etc. are privileges – that’s mostly true but it depends entirely on context. One of the other posts below here talks about accusations of paedophilia for men who want to work with children. I have a friend who’s had to turn down promotions because they’ve been offered to him as positive discrimination – he’s gay.

        The privilege of minorities certainly can be and often is overstated, but that’s not to say it doesn’t exist. It’s not so clear-cut as “x group is privileged in society”

        (also, thanks to the author for the parable)

        Comment by Thomas — May 28, 2011 @ 2:41 am

      • Thank you for writing a well reasoned post on a topic that all to frequently degenerates into flame wars. I feel that you are missing something in Alex’s point. Namely, Alex is talking about what happens, you are talking about what should happen, and then you accuse Alex of missing the point. What I think is going on is that many activists are missing the point that it is possible to be a decent human being, and even understand some things, while having some level of privilege. I have dealt with some activists who seem to think my point of view is effectively irrelevant because I possess the privileges you mentioned above, and that furthermore I can’t have any interesting thoughts because I am looking at things through the lens of said privilege. So in essence, yes people do say that, even if you don’t. And when that point is used to ignore the opinions of those who have privilege, well, a recent study showed that white people in the modern US feel that multiculturalism doesn’t represent them, and that they further felt that anti white bias was on the rise. A study on the use of language associated with the word “multiculturalism” found, indeed, a distinct lack of “white” or “caucasian” relative to other racial groups being mentioned. What this does is alienate potential supporters.

        Comment by Keller Scholl — May 28, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

      • Actually, those things – maleness, whiteness, thin-ness, healthiness, etc – are *not* privileges. They are attributes. Those attributes may have social or financial or legal or whatever privileges associated with them in certain cultures/contexts but that doesn’t make them privileges in themselves.

        e.g. Being thin comes with certain privileges in modern western societies, but it’s the cultural attitude towards a person being thin or not that define the privilege, NOT the physical fact of being thin or fat.

        Comment by cas — July 8, 2011 @ 3:38 am

      • Oh, the ‘my friend was positively discriminated against!’ card, how I love it. It’s funny but as a lesbian with lots of gay friends I have never ever in my whole life met _anyone_ who has experienced positive discrimination due to being non-heterosexual, and yet when I speak to straight (I’m assuming here, sorry) people they _always_ seem to know someone…

        Anyway! That’s not what I was going to comment about. What I was going to say kind of tied into what Alex said, or at least what I think he was trying to say (maybe). And that’s that my big problem with privilege is not what it is, or whether it exists, or whether it’s useful – I think there’s no argument when it comes to this.

        But I do have a problem with the fact that over and over again, I see ‘the P word’ used as a stick to beat a person with, an excuse to shut down a conversation, a reason to abuse someone verbally even if they seem to be trying their best, a way to make a person permanently the ‘lesser partner’ in a conversation because their privilege means that they should be sitting, listening, lapping up your wisdom and frankly it’s not as though they are going to have _anything_ useful or insightful to say because they have privilege and _can’t possibly have a useful angle on this_.

        I hear a lot of excuses for this, and I know all about derailment and have absolutely had those sorts of unhealthy, unproductive conversations where they other party is using the “But if you don’t talk to me how will I learn?” card to get away with saying all sorts of unhelpful bollocks. But I’m not just talking about those people. I’m talking about guys I know who are intelligent, thoughtful feminists, one of whom basically cannot involve himself in internet debate without taking abuse despite the fact that he is well aware of what privilege is and will only ever ask for clarification, and another who hates the word privilege with a passion because it is only ever used to tell him he’s an idiot.

        Privilege should not be the stick. Privilege is a concept that is supposed to help you to find an equilibrium with someone, from both sides. Privilege is something that helps those toward the bottom of the heap talk to and understand those near the top, and vice-versa, not a wholesale excuse to abuse those at the top for being there.

        Of course the ultimate aim here is for everyone to understand their privilege and for the world to improve as a result. But taking someone who is used to being on top without even ever having to think about it, and making the experience of understanding the plight of those who’re discriminated against actively unpleasant for them by abusing and subjugating them, making them the lesser partner, the stupid one, in every conversation, is exactly the wrong way to do it. It’s sort of like taking a child and saying “I know you’ve had crunchy nut cornflakes all your life but you should really be eating porridge because it’s so much better for you, also, I’ve put the porridge under the table; you don’t have to eat it but if you do you have to eat it there.” Who’s going to eat their porridge in that situation? I wouldn’t.

        So I guess my point is that I feel like we are having a lot of conversations and blog posts these days where we try to explain what privilege is, and we try to present to those in possession of privilege (which will of course be everyone reading this post) an argument for why they should listen, and learn, and be respectful. But we never talk about the responsible use of this word, this concept, on the part of those who wield it. We just throw it to those who’re oppressed (still, of course, many who’re reading the post) like a free weapon, a tool that allows us to feel vindicated when we want to abuse and patronise people who were simply lucky enough to be born white, or with a penis, or attracted to the opposite sex, unless they choose to grovel before us and hang on every word we say.

        Now, I’m sure nearly everyone reading this would immediately leap on it and say “Oh, of course, but _I_ don’t do that. _I_ don’t work that way!” But almost every single time I see a conversation on the net where the word ‘privilege’ used, _someone_ is using it as the stick.

        Comment by marrog — July 18, 2011 @ 4:10 am

    • It’s certainly true that people have more or less power depending on the situation. What you’re describing in your Oprah vs homeless white man example is where class seems to have more effect than race, and depending on the situation, it can, but note that depends on someone’s class being * recognizable* by having the trappings of it, and having access to their resources. If Oprah was dressed just like the homeless white man, with no makeup or jewelry, then she would be in more danger (from both other homeless people and the police) than that man, because of her race. As you say, the likelihood that she would get in that situation is low. But the point is, the privilege that makes that white man safer and less likely to be harassed is inherent in the way his race and gender are viewed and vulnerable (or not) in society, and are not dependent on his class.

      The most appropriate comparison isn’t between Oprah and the homeless white man under a bridge, it’s between the homeless white man under the bridge who still has his freedom and the black man who used to be homeless who is in jail or prison on false charges because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time (perhaps he was under that same bridge when the cops came looking). (Did you know that 1 out of every 4 black men in the US will end up in jail or prison at some point in their lives? One in _four_.) And if your first thought is that at least in prison he’s fed and dry, your second thought should be, “but I have fur, and I have no idea what it’s really like to be locked up.” There _are_ people in this country who are less privileged than that homeless white man. Lots of them. The argument that he doesn’t experience white privilege because he’s down and out — because other people who are not white are richer than him — sounds logical on the face of it, but it isn’t true.

      Comment by Netmouse — July 6, 2011 @ 11:30 am | Reply

      • Ok, this is just silly:
        You do know that many of the homeless want to get locked up, don’t you? Yes, 3 hots and a cot are what some people dream about, and so unless you are being raped, being incarcarated is not always worse than being homeless.

        Your Oprah point is untrue as well. Men of all races have more to fear from the police than women. I’m afraid Oprah would be safer due to her sex – not of course that it’s her fault – it’s just the way things are. Men bare the brunt of police brutality far more than women.

        Comment by Clarence — August 3, 2011 @ 8:50 am

      • I agree the incarseration ratings are high and race has become a target for some cops, however considering the situation with many african-americans, the high price of education and low educational standards of the United States can result in a greater degree of black males (and females) to become drug addicted, and join a gang in order to survive their harsh environment. Because if this they end up getting caught and going to prison, if you check the prison ratings, the majority (I think 70% but dont hold me to that) are african-american males, the 2nd highest number is latin-americans and thirdly Caucasians. This means police would be aware of the situation pertaining to african americans and the level of crimes committed, so strictly speaking, if a store front has been robbed, and the suspects are a white male and a black male, the black male would instantly (most likely, depends on the cop really) be considered the primary suspect.

        This is the sad truth, which is why America needs to strike back at it’s government and have education become free or lower the limitations.

        Comment by Critically-analysing — November 23, 2011 @ 1:34 am

    • I would say self-identified notions of victimhood based on race, gender and sexual orientation are privileges. They also absolve you from having to take responsibility for your self.

      Comment by jwoop66 — July 24, 2014 @ 10:19 pm | Reply

      • Wow. Just, wow. It never ceases to amaze me to see just how clueless some people can be.

        Comment by Chris — July 31, 2014 @ 9:49 pm

      • You’re a white Christian cismale with no physical handicaps, aren’t you? Mental handicaps remain to be seen, though.

        Comment by Chris — July 25, 2014 @ 1:20 am

      • LOL – I absolutely LOVE the quality of rebuttal here. Take what you want, and simply label the rest “bullshit”. Or just call someone a name. High level stuff that.

        Reminds me, way back in the 1960s, I was having an argument about politics with a friend. I gave an argument in which some of Plato’s thoughts played a central role. My friend’s response was “But Plato was a queer, wasn’t he.” The fact he was gay totally negated everything he had proposed. Kind of like being a white non-challenged cisgendered male, eh? And for anything else he didn’t like, he was just said it was “bullshit”. Kind of like “the rest of what you said is bullshit”.

        Must have taken the advanced intellectual debate/argument courses. Or perhaps simply a bigot.

        LOL – this has to be a joke. And a bad joke at that. LOL

        Comment by NulliusInVerba — July 25, 2014 @ 2:43 am

      • 1) That doesn’t answer my question. 2) Depending on the argument, Plato’s sexuality might have been relevant.

        Comment by Chris — July 25, 2014 @ 10:04 am

  13. This is a stunningly well-written explanation of privilege, and I am really looking forward to starting conversations with it. Thank you!

    Comment by Gnoumenon — March 16, 2011 @ 3:39 pm | Reply

  14. Nice jab at the metric system. Check your privilege.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 27, 2011 @ 1:20 pm | Reply

    • haha! I might argue that being non metric is not a privilege. I often find myself questioning why US standard exists and why we use it in the USA.

      Comment by AphelionZ — May 27, 2011 @ 8:57 pm | Reply

      • I think that the metric system might actually gain dominance in the USA if people actually used the name for the system they currently use: the imperial system.

        That name should already give you an idea of where the standards came from and why the US originally used them. They still use them almost entirely because of tradition, I think, and if people realize that it’s a relic of colonialism and empire-building (something made a lot clearer by using its name) then they might have a reduced knee-jerk reaction to the metric system. Or they might just make up an entirely new measurement system just to be stubborn. Of course scientists all use the metric system already in the US, in order to deal with the international community, and will likely continue to do so regardless.

        To bring things back to the main topic, I think more Americans need to realize the actual content of ‘American privilege’. Many Americans realize that they are privileged by having good access to clean water, available (if expensive) healthcare, primary education, a (relatively) functional legal system and so on, but these are actually parts of the privilege of living in the democratic west. All these things are also true in most of Europe as well as Canada and Australia, except that healthcare is often publicly funded. I think ‘American privilege’ is actually a lot more subtle, and as a Canadian (who is therefore also very privileged of course) I can demonstrate my point by giving a few minor examples of differences between the way things are in the US and the way things are in Canada.

        In Canada, we get a lot of American TV. As such, whenever I hear somebody say “the nation” I need to ask who made the program I’m watching? Do they mean Canada or the United States? I see a lot of ads for “America’s #1 doodad” in addition to the many for “Canada’s #1 gewgaw”, because many companies can’t be bothered to make a different version of an ad for their 30 million Canadian viewers.

        Moving slightly away from TV, I know more about American politics than I do about Canadian politics. I have some knowledge of the details of first amendment supreme court decisions, but I haven’t even read the charter of rights and freedoms (although now that I point this out, I might go do this soon). This is not because I’m particularly interested in American politics, in fact it’s because I haven’t paid specific attention to politics at all, so American politics is mostly what I’ve been exposed to (also I like the Daily show, so it is really my fault). Canada uses the metric system, but we all have to know a fair amount of the imperial system as well because we interact so frequently with the US. Most Canadian drivers know distances both in kilometers and in miles, though our road signs all use kilometers. I am embarrassed to report that I know my height in feet and inches but not in centimeters (like almost every Canadian I’ve met).

        When I’ve been in the US, I noticed that the weather map stops at the US borders. Sometimes everything outside the US borders is a single uniform background, sometimes the land is delineated, but I’ve never seen an American weather broadcast which actually shows weather over Canada or Mexico when discussing the weather in the US.

        I would imagine that some of these are unique to Canada (as the United States is our only land border), but some are likely more widespread across the English-speaking world, which brings me to the core of what I think of as American privilege: Americans, unless they explicitly try to, never have to think about the laws and customs of any other country on the planet, and in some cases don’t even have to realize in more than the most superficial way that other countries actually exist.

        Comment by Yiab — July 6, 2011 @ 11:47 am

      • The Imperial System is used because it makes sense to everyday people, as opposed to scientists.

        Everything divides into twos or fours or eights: it means you can split up whatever you are working with without precise equipment. The metric system is more accurate, and so appropriate for science, whereas Imperial is easier to use and approximate with.

        My 2 cents

        Comment by Anonymous — October 31, 2012 @ 1:54 pm

  15. This is a good post; like Alex in comment #12, I wish people used privilege in the way described here. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been my experience.

    Elizabeth’s reply to Alex sadly demonstrates this very well: “No one is saying “being male and white means you live a privileged existence” (with “privileged existence” being success or wealth) they are saying that maleness and whiteness are THEMSELVES privileges.”

    This, I think, contradicts the well-written original post. Let’s go back to the husky/lizard example. Being a husky is not a privilege. Huskies, and lizards, are adapted for situations. Those situations create privilege for those animals, but only in those situations. In a different situation, it might be the lizard turning the central-heating up to bask in warmth, while the husky sweats, while it’s the lizard who is unaware of the concept of sweltering.

    Back to humans. Maleness is not a privilege. Maleness has a set of privileges associated with it. So does femaleness. In different situations, different privileges apply. Depending on the situation, as a male or as a female, you may experiencing positives or negatives.

    (You can, if you like, argue that the sum total of male privileges is greater than the sum total of female privileges, but a) I’ll respectfully have to disagree with you, and b) either way, that neither negates the female privileges nor refutes the point that privileges are situational.

    Where it breaks down further is that, many people may go through life never encountering the situations that would instantiate those privileges, in which case, can they be truly said to have them? If the husky spends its entire lifetime in a desert, is it privileged by its fur?

    Or, in the case of the homeless man under the bridge: perhaps society did grant him privileges as a male, which he squandered and thus ended up under the bridge; or perhaps he was failed by the education system, or internalised misandric beliefs about boys that became a self-fulfilling prophecy — is he still a “privileged male”?

    Yes, this is a threefour paragraph parenthetical. What?)

    The real problem I have with the discourse of privilege is that — at least, in my experience — it seems to be used to justify making assumptions that otherwise would be considered prejudiced. This may not be innate to the privilege concept itself, but still, it’s unfortunately common. From the post above:

    “A man has the privilege of walking past a group of strange women without worrying about being catcalled, or leered at, or having sexual suggestions tossed at him.”

    It’s interesting this was the example chosen for the article — you see, I don’t consider myself privileged that way; but this isn’t because I’m being a husky going “Cold? What cold?”. It’s because, it turns out, as a male, I do get catcalled by groups of strange women. I totally understand why women find this disturbing, because I find it disturbing. It’s not flattering, it’s creepy and threatening.

    So here’s the problem: I’m supposedly privileged by my gender to not have to suffer this, but:

    1. I do, in fact, suffer this;
    2. If I disagree with the apparent privilege, it’s always assumed that it’s because I am “unaware of my privilege” at best, or (depending on the ferocity of the person I’m discussing with) just plain ignorant, or even that I am misogynistic;
    3. As a male, others in society (male or female) take an “oh, just ‘man up’!” attitude, which I suspect they mostly would not to a female;
    4. Plus, of course, I am repeatedly told by the media (or blogs) that this is something that only men do to women, a falsehood that creates stereotype threat and alienation.

    So, the original statement “A man has the privilege of […]” is a sexist assumption. It’s not true; and it’s to hang a chain of further sexist assumptions.

    Some men, clearly, do have this privilege. Some women do, too — I know some women who don’t give a crap about this. Likewise, although many women do suffer from this, so do some men. It might be — in fact, probably is — true that a man is less likely to have to worry about this than a woman does, at this moment in time, in the society in which we find ourselves, but that’s a) merely a cultural artefact, , and b) a statistical skew, not an Absolute Truth(tm), and statistical “advantages” are not advantages if you don’t win the statistical lottery. They might “advance” a category of people in theory, but in practice only advantage some of the individuals in that category — and my personal belief is that human rights are not a game where the aim is to make “your team” win.

    Fiiiinally, and this is just something about the nomenclature that annoys me rather than anything to do with the theory itself: “privilege” is often used to describe things that I believe should be considered rights, not privileges. Outside of a narrow academic context, privileges are usually considered “extras”, granted and revoked, not baseline rights. But a black person has the fundamental right to go about their business without being harassed without due cause. And if, in our society, this turns out not to be the case, this should be considered a shameful abuse of those rights, rather than a privilege they haven’t been granted. It’s a subtle but important difference of framing.

    Comment by CL — May 27, 2011 @ 6:51 pm | Reply

    • A homeless man living under a bridge is less likely to be raped than a woman in the same situation. There are more shelter spaces for homeless men than homeless women.

      An example of female privilege might be the case of victims of domestic violence. There are more shelters for abuse victims who are women, and women who claim domestic violence are believed far more often than men who claim to be victims of domestic violence. Of course this comes after DECADES of education on the subject, and laws meant to force the authorities to take domestic violence seriously. Fifty years ago, it was the common assumption that she must have done something to have her husband beat her so, and she should suck it up and deal.

      Comment by tychabrahe — July 3, 2011 @ 11:13 am | Reply

      • Incidentally, there being *more* shelter space available for women who suffer abuse than men is only a “privilege” for women insofar as it exceeds the extent to which women are disproportionately subjected TO abuse.

        Conversely, the same may be true of shelter space issues for the homeless. I have no idea what the population statistics and shelter spaces for men/women without permanent homes look like.

        Comment by Anonymous — July 9, 2011 @ 4:48 pm

    • CL, Dude. I’m male and I wish I could say good argument. But I can’t. You’ve basically said ‘good post, but here are All The Reasons YOU ARE WRONG’

      You’re splitting hairs in an attempt to destabilize the original argument. You’ve used the classic ‘I’m a man and I don’t like x either’ implying that basically inequality doesn’t exist.

      You’ve delved into intersectionality, and thrown a whole bunch of highly specific examples around. I too used to think it was clever to point out that most western women are better off than most men in poorer countries. But I’ve stopped doing that. I think most women realize that. What most women also realize, however, is that those globally disadvantaged men, have locally disadvantaged women right next to them.

      As John Stuart Mill said in ‘On the Inequality of Women’, even an enslaved man or one of little standing can at lord it over one women in his own small domain. That point was made in the 19th century, by a man.

      A few things have changed since then, but you seem hell bent on ignoring the vast majority of the history of sexual inequality, calling the current situation “a) merely a cultural artefact, , and b) a statistical skew”.

      You sound supportive and sensitive, like you’ve really only got a few small problems with the original argument. But as I see it, you haven’t accepted, fundamentally, the basic axioms in the original argument, or for that matter, of feminism itself.

      In other words, you persist in feeling victimized as a straight, white male by the media, society and women. While there are aspects of the new gender regime that still need ironing out, by and large things are heading in the right direction.

      Boys are doing less well in school, yes. Men kill themselves in larger numbers, and don’t live as long, yes. But overall, we still have the upper hand right now. Wealth and social class is major factors in inequality today, but they are not being discussed today. And as the author said, having a privilege is ok, you don’t have to give it away or feel bad about it, you just have to be aware of it.

      If you are a man threatened and creeped out by female catcalls, well I will concede that to you. But it doesn’t change the thrust of the first argument.

      Move on, man.


      Sam Ellis

      Comment by Sam Ellis — July 5, 2011 @ 9:34 pm | Reply

      • Bravo, Sam. I could not have said it better.

        Comment by Anya — November 10, 2011 @ 1:26 am

      • Further, I feel that what this poster missed was that while he may feel creeped out by women’s catcalls (I don’t personally know any women who do that, but I’ll concede that it must happen sometimes), he doesn’t have the same reaction as a woman would because he’s not likely concerned about a real threat. Most women would have a very hard time and a very small likelihood of overpowering and/or raping most men, but for women, the possibility of the same is very real. Most men would say “But I didn’t plan on raping her, I just thought her legs looked good in that skirt. . . ” Sure, but we still have that thought in our minds because it does happen, and *could* happen. That man might just be thinking that my legs looked good in the skirt, but one of these days there might be a real sociopath in the group who’s catcalling and is today that day? Men don’t need to think this way and so they don’t honestly understand. They may *try,* and kudos to them for it, but it’s very difficult to honestly get it if one doesn’t need to.

        Comment by Anonymous — May 17, 2012 @ 3:08 pm

      • Thank you for the love. Seeing the light was a long and painful process, but we all gotta learn sometime. Even some of my thicker male friends have made progress.

        Comment by worldwearywaiter — May 18, 2012 @ 12:59 am

  16. Check the privilege of this article.

    Women catcall men every day, but because they have been stereotyped as the more fragile (helpless… innocent… weaker…) gender, they will never be called a predator. They do not and cannot know what it feels like to have their motives constantly questioned and their character in constant disrepute.

    This article tries to teach a lesson in equality by taking an easy shot at a cartoonish stereotype of the male gender. The incredible irony of this might even be funny… that is: if I thought the author was aware of it.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 27, 2011 @ 11:11 pm | Reply

    • Talk to any woman who’s been called a slut because of what she wears, or because of the number of sexual partners she has or is supposed to have. Ask that woman if she knows what it “feel[s] like to have [her] motives constantly questioned and [her] character in constant disrepute.” Guess what–she does know.

      Comment by Try Thinking — May 28, 2011 @ 12:15 am | Reply

      • No, she doesn’t.

        She doesn’t know what it’s like to be thought of as a pedophile and a predator simply for wishing to work with kids in the education system or other fields.

        Women don’t have that problem, as they have privilege.

        Of course, most women deny that female privilege exists, even when there is such obvious evidence as women getting better treatment in all aspects of the legal system simply for being women.

        Don’t ask me for citations, you will just look like a fool if you try to deny it.

        Comment by Cel — May 28, 2011 @ 1:45 am

      • A woman who wears revealing clothing is trying to advertise her sexual availibility to all comers.

        A woman who has many sexual partners deserves to be judged by men for three very valid reasons. Here they are:
        a) The higher a woman’s partner count, the greater the chances of a divorce.
        A woman with 15+ partner is pretty much a lock to get divorced within 10 years, with rates as high as 80%. Even a, by modern standards, “good” girl with 3 partner has a 2 in 5 chance of divorce within 10 years. Upon divorce, in almost all Western jurisdictions, women get primary custody and men get to pay child support and live in poverty. Thus, marrying a slut is signing up to live in a tiny apartment and have half your income diverted towards a child you rarely get to see. Any questions?

        b) The higher a woman’s partner count, the greater her chance of having an incurable viral STD, like cancer causing genital warts or HSV-2, or having had a bacterial disease like chlamydia that damages her reproductive abilties (making her more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy,for example).

        c) A woman who has taken a ride on every pony in the metaphorical “cock carousel” has very little self control, as she has clearly been willing to sleep with any man who holds her fancy, rather than restrain herself and thus increase her value. She thus has shown herself to have poor self-control abilities, a character flaw.

        So there ya go, three very valid reasons for men to avoid sluts.

        Comment by Peter — May 28, 2011 @ 3:44 am

      • This is in response to Peter’s statistics:

        You’ve got to be kidding. Please tell me you have the same opinion on men who sleep with a lot of women. What are these claims based on, exactly? What other factors in these women’s lives were NOT accounted for in this plethora of reliable, scientific evidence you’ve apparently put forth?

        “The higher a woman’s partner count, the greater her chance of having an incurable viral STD…”
        are you serious? Would you really choose Dream Girl #1 who has never visited a gyno in her life because she’s only slept with one or two men over Dream Girl #2 who has slept with ten or more but is confident in her disease-free status because she sees the doc regularly and uses protection every time?

        “A woman who has taken a ride on every pony in the metaphorical ‘cock carousel’ has very little self control, as she has clearly been willing to sleep with any man who holds her fancy, rather than restrain herself and thus increase her value.”
        This is just an offensive string of bull. Value is subjective, good sir. Not all women sleep with a lot of men because they just can’t seem to control themselves. Maybe they are in perfect control, and enjoy it, “it” of course being the freedom of sexual expression. That doesn’t mean she’s slept with just any man who holds her fancy. How can you assume that over a certain number of partners, a woman has “caved” into every dude who’s come along wanting a lay? There are a lot of people in the world….

        And I shouldn’t even have to state that women who dress provocatively are NOT just trying to advertise their sexual availability. I know plenty of very devoted married women who wear much more revealing clothing than I’d feel comfortable in. One “slutty dresser” I knew in college was saving herself for marriage. Meaning: virgin. Could you believe that, Peter? It’s a matter of style and taste. Agree or disagree, but don’t kid yourself in assuming that the rest of the world adheres to your moral dress code.

        Comment by apple shampoo — May 28, 2011 @ 6:19 am

      • Cel-

        Women are not thought of as pedophiles and predators (even when they are) because women are thought of as “supposed to be” taking care of children. This does broader work at disadvantaging women (e.g. “women’s work” and the pay gap, etc.), and only benefits them in niche circumstances.

        Women get better treatment in the legal system in custody cases for the above reason, and in other cases because they are infantalized and not considered as even being capable of really fully autonomously doing wrong. Again, this does broader work (imaging women as having a general lack of agency and authority in general, including sexually, as in, “no” means “yes”), and only benefits women in niche circumstances.

        Any stats you could give about women in the legal system only reinforce how these stereotypes permeate our society, and actually clearly point out how women are treated with the same attitude outside of the legal system… To their overwhelming disadvantage. Making women en masse poorer and more frequently raped than men (among many other things) is not made up for by giving some women child custody or lighter sentences.

        Comment by RachRach — July 5, 2011 @ 11:48 pm

      • RachRach: In other words, you have preemptively decided that no matter what evidence has been or ever will be thrown at you that goes against _any_ belief you may have, that you will disregard “any stats”. You will take any statement and say that it supports your own. If one person says “yes” and another says “no”, they both prove that you are right on whatever topic. I’m not going to waste my time agreeing or disagreeing with your point, so you can just assume that I think whatever you want to assume – you’ve already made it clear that you do that, anyway. Just like those crazy religious nuts who yell and scream on corners about how you’re going to hell when, for all they know, you might sit next to them in the same bloody church every weekend. My gripe here isn’t with your position, it’s with your straight up acknowledgement that you will _always_ be right. How any can any of us be taken seriously, when so many others act like that? How can we ask for someone to honestly listen to us and take in to consideration any alternative view, when all they have to do is point at people like you to “prove” their point that anyone with your view is in absolute denial of whatever they may say? It’s not only important for others to check their “privilege”, but also, if you want a framed debate where they might actually listen(?), know when you are lacking it. Otherwise, how can they see the difference?

        This isn’t very compelling: “Hey, be reasonable and listen to what I have to say…You WILL change your mind because no matter what you say, I am RIGHT and you a WRONG. I’m willing to let you tell me your side of the story…until to you say anything that I disagree with or don’t want to hear. Then, you need to STFU and wait for me to prove you wrong”.

        Nobody can be taken seriously when they start out with the caveat of, “Any statement is either false, or supports my argument”.

        Comment by Ben — July 18, 2011 @ 12:35 pm

  17. Two primary reasons why this parable is flawed:

    First, the narrator’s perspective is an omniscient one – it understands both the difficulties of the dog and the needs of the lizard, and alleges to give this objectively. This is a subtle ideological move, generally performed by whichever discourse is seeking to dissemble its actual (contingent) position in a structure of power relations. What is the blind spot of the narrator here? Clearly the narrator can’t claim to have full knowledge of both the subjectivities of the dog and the lizard, or else it would shift itself into precisely the position of the dog, which assumes universality of its subject position.

    Second, why is the presumption that the lizard knows why it wants what it wants and why the dog behaves the way it does, but not the other way around? This rhetoric is continued throughout the post, and the assumption is that whichever minority is being oppressed understands both its own mentality and that of its oppressor. This is a pretty radical colonization and denial of the absolute otherness of an Other, not to mention a startling assumption of self-presence. Is it really incontrovertibly demonstrated that the reason these women dislike cat-calls is entirely clear to these women? I don’t think so.

    This narrative’s attempt to problematize epistemology (which looks a lot like a non-reciprocal version of Levinas’ ethics) has, in addition to false objectivity (a “view from nowhere”, if you will, that traditionally represented the interests of white men, and in feminist movements the white upper-middle class academia) the added problem that it can’t adjudicate (at least on its own) between perceptions of privilege and discrimination and actual privilege and discrimination. To wit: white people now believe that they are victims of racism more often than blacks: Using this parable, blacks would have to accept that claim, no?

    As a second, and perhaps more illuminating example: the author of this post writes off the male counter-claim (“I would love to be whistled at”) as merely an epistemological blind spot and misses the fact that for many men, living in a system of gender relations in which they are not an object of sexual desire is disappointing or discouraging – in a similar vein, I doubt that women are epistemologically capable of knowing what it means to not be desired in a sexual manner, to not carry a valence of sexual attraction, which is the case for perhaps 90% of men.
    The author overlooks this, of course, because the author is claiming to be objective and have no viewpoint while writing from the viewpoint of the lizard.

    Comment by LoneLobo — May 28, 2011 @ 6:19 am | Reply

    • you have a point.. i agree to an extent, but your comment suffers from overanalysis.

      isn’t the point of the parable to illustrate what privilege is.. nothing more, nothing less? of course, the lizard probably has privilege in some ways, but that ultimately doesn’t matter when the point of the parable is merely to illustrate the complex, abstract concept of privilege. it accomplishes this very well and stands on its own.

      that said, of course the author would choose to apply it to the sorts of privilege encountered in daily life, sorts that are meaningful to him/herself. they’re meant to be separate. how can you decry the parable itself as “flawed” based on an external application (other aspects of the post)? the roles of the lizard and dog are not absolute. ALL of us, at some point in life, take on BOTH roles. that is to say… ALL of us have privilege in some ways, and lack privilege in others.

      Comment by k — May 28, 2011 @ 7:45 am | Reply

      • “isn’t the point of the parable to illustrate what privilege is.. nothing more, nothing less? ”

        Yes, it is, and my point is that the parable illustrates a large flaw in this type of thinking (what I called a flawed or non-reciprocal version of Levinas’ ethics) that is immanent to it. I believe you are assuming that my claim is that both parties have some sort of privilege at different points. This is not the case – I accept that claim as obvious. It’s rather a critique of the underlying claims of an absolute inability to know how the other party thinks and feels, which thus creates a logical contradiction in the assertion that one party is “privileged” – because that assertion would require objective knowledge of the other party’s subjective condition, which, as the parable demonstrates, is unknowable.

        Thus, my point was not that “the lizard probably has privilege in some ways”, but rather that the concept of privilege as elaborated in a necessarily limited epistemology (the dog cannot know how the lizard perceives things, translated into a more abstract: the Other is absolutely Other) means that 1.), as a relatively trivial contradiction, it is impossible for the lizard to claim that the dog is unable to know what the lizard perceives, because that would require knowledge by the lizard of the dog’s thinking and 2.) this is a negative ethics that doesn’t allow one to make any substantial statements about which claims of privilege or oppression are true or false, because one party can always claim: “But you don’t know what a burden this is for me to always be a dog with a warm coat!”

        The latter is, I think, the primary objection, and it’s what I was trying to get at with the link to the subjective perceptions of racism by whites. If one begins from the assumption that one can never have complete knowledge of the subjectivity of another (as the parable claims), then one can never assert with any degree of certainty that the other has privilege. This would require knowledge of the other’s subjective perception of the situation. Thus, if the lizard (or anyone else) were to assert that the dog has privilege in this situation, the dog could respond “No, I also suffer at 50 degrees, but I’ve kept it this warm out of consideration for my friend the lizard. Were I to make it warmer, I would be in unspeakable agony – you don’t know what it’s like to have such warm fur” or “Ah, but it’s already so traumatizing for me just to share a house with a lizard at all, so I need the temperature to remain sane, you can’t know what it’s like to be forced to share a house when one would rather live alone” or even “Ah, it’s a terrible burden to be responsible for maintaining the temperature in this house; you can’t imagine what it’s like to be expected to move around all day, do things, be the active member of the house, etc.” and there would be no criterion for judging which claim was superior.

        Why? Because the ability to judge which claim of privilege would require access to both levels of suffering, either in the form of a lizard that also understood how dogs think or an omniscient observer that understood how both animals thought. Who are we to say that the dog wouldn’t suffer even more in a warm house? Thus, the sort of thinking illustrated by the parable eliminates the ability to make judgments valid for more than one person. To show the implications of this in a real world frame: one might say “Ah, heterosexual Saudi Arabian men have such a great deal of privilege – they have almost total control over women’s lives, are often violent, don’t treat them as equals, etc.” to which said Saudi male could respond “Ah, but you don’t know what a burden it is to be responsible for upholding my belief system, nor how important to me my traditions are – changing them would be an unspeakable mental anguish for myself and result in the loss of a unique culture. Truly women are privileged for not having to worry about driving or voting” or perhaps “Yes, but if I were constantly exposed to women dressed in contemporary American fashion, it would be a terrible agony to me, violating my religious convictions, my cultural beliefs, my personal morals, etc. and then women would have privilege over me.”

        Indeed, there’s a host of evidence saying that this is precisely the case in Saudi Arabia. To wit:

        “Journalist Maha Akeel is a frequent critic of her country’s patriarchal customs. Nonetheless, she agrees that Westerners criticize what they do not understand. “Look, we are not asking for … women’s rights according to Western values or lifestyles … We want things according to what Islam says. Look at our history, our role models.”

        “In 2006, a government poll found that over 80 percent of Saudi women do not think women should drive or work with men.[4] A Gallup poll found that most Saudi women do not think women should be allowed to hold political office; ”

        Now, by what standard, according to the notion of privilege laid out in this parable, would you be prepared to make a judgment on whether or not males or females enjoy privilege in Saudi society? You would have to argue that many Saudi women are in fact misled about what constitutes privilege or don’t really mean what they say. Anyone who attempts to say that Saudi males enjoy a tremendous degree of privilege in this society would be claiming to know about the subjective states of both Saudi men and women, which would be in contradiction to the claim in the parable.

        Comment by LoneLobo — May 28, 2011 @ 9:15 am

      • I realized the first response was far too long. To put it quite simply:

        The parable is self-refuting because it both claims to offer knowledge of the subjective states of the dog and the lizard, then claims that precisely the reason privilege is incomprehensible to many dogs is because this sort of knowledge is impossible. That’s a big contradiction.

        The practical effects on the parable are obvious: we have no way of knowing if the dog would not suffer equally by any change in temperature, or even if the dog also currently suffers as much or more than the lizard in the situation he is in. Thus, it is impossible to establish who has privilege in a situation, because that would require one of them or a third party knowing what both of them feel (which the parable says is impossible). It’s a logical contradiction. So the parable may be a fine illustration of the concept of privilege, but what it reveals is that this concept is severely flawed.

        Comment by LoneLobo — May 28, 2011 @ 10:00 am

      • Of course it is possible for people to be aware of their own privilege, that’s the point of the post. It just takes some work. One might not ever be able to experience being under-privileged, but they can definitely emphasise and even educate others about it.

        Comment by Erin — May 29, 2011 @ 4:29 am

    • Listen, one thing. No the Lizard does not share some absolute knowledge of the Dog’s subjective existence, but he does have a better grasp on it than vice versa. Why? Because he lives in the Dog’s world, interacting with all of the structures that benefit the Dog and impede the Lizard.
      This is like saying that any minority can’t possibly understand the majority world because they aren’t the majority, when the majority dominates almost every aspect of our shared culture and society except in the tiny niches said minority may have carved out as places to share their common aspect.
      This minority, which doesn’t actually have to be a minority for this to be true, usually understands the dominant group better because they have to, they are constantly exposed to it and subjected to and often to exist on its terms.
      The Other is not unfathomable, there is no “absolute otherness” in play here. We observe each other constantly, and part of the process of rectifying privilege is actually paying attention to the realness of the other persons experience, and that they may not have the option to conduct themselves on the same terms as you.

      Comment by lauraT — June 4, 2011 @ 6:31 pm | Reply

      • But the gecko has no concept of “too warm”. So if the dog says “But then it is too warm”, the gecko will reply with: “What is this too warm you are speaking of? I have never felt it. It doesn’t exist!”. This problem, if it indeed exists, cuts both ways.

        And in truth you don’t have an impartial, omniscient observer. How do you get from the gecko’s perception to objective reality? How can you be sure that the gecko doesn’t just not grok its own privilege or misunderstands the shared context?

        Is the fact that I was conscripted when I was 18 because I am a man in my society (context) a sign of female privilege, or of my privilege to defend my country from outside aggression? Here, we don’t have to get the issue into objective reality – it is a matter of law, but it is still possible to find contexts in which it is not clear who is privileged.

        But there are more subtly cases; who is privileged in a situation where dogecko-offspring custody is in reality (if not in dogecko-law) always awarded to geckos? Is it dog privilege of not being hindered by dogecko offspring? This is entirely contextual, and whose context trumps whose? And why? This don’t seem to be trivial problems.

        I’m sorry if this is all a bit convoluted, I am very tired, but I just don’t understand how this privilege is supposed to be defined and how it can ever be applied correctly with any certainty.

        Oh, and on the minority issue: The minority has a perception of Objective Reality(tm) that is subjective, and I mean that in the slightest possible sense (I don’t mean to introduce dualism at some point). It could be that Perception p(OR,minority) better approximates p(OR,majority), but how do you know that they are not both wildly incorrect?

        Comment by N — July 5, 2011 @ 6:47 pm

      • “It could be that Perception p(OR,minority) better approximates p(OR,majority), but how do you know that they are not both wildly incorrect?” should read

        “It could be that Perception p(minority) better approximates OR than p(majority), but how do you know that they are not both wildly incorrect?”

        I apologise for the mistake. Good night.

        Comment by N — July 5, 2011 @ 6:59 pm

    • Thank you for taking on the incredibly tedious and unrewarding task of pointing out what I’m amazed is not glaringly obvious to all :)

      This kind of flawed reasoning goes unchallenged all too often.

      Comment by Anonymous — July 7, 2011 @ 7:10 am | Reply

    • LOVE your reply. I think it’s flawless.

      Comment by GrrW — July 25, 2011 @ 4:32 pm | Reply

    • “Second, why is the presumption that the lizard knows why it wants what it wants and why the dog behaves the way it does, but not the other way around? This rhetoric is continued throughout the post, and the assumption is that whichever minority is being oppressed understands both its own mentality and that of its oppressor.”

      I don’t see this happening in the text. In Sindelókë’s metaphor, the lizard certainly does _not_ know why the dog behaves the way it does; if the lizard did know, it would not attempt to explain its position to the dog by saying “How would you like it if I turned the temperature down on you?”

      “the author of this post writes off the male counter-claim (“I would love to be whistled at”) as merely an epistemological blind spot and misses the fact that for many men, living in a system of gender relations in which they are not an object of sexual desire is disappointing or discouraging”

      Not at all. Sindelókë acknowledges that some men really might like to be catcalled, just like the dog _really would like_ the lizard to find a way to turn the temperature down further in the house. It is not an epistemological blind spot for the dog to recognize that it would enjoy a cooler environment than the 50 degrees it manages–the blindspot is in projecting this sense over other people to which it does not apply.

      Comment by Anonymous — September 7, 2011 @ 4:34 pm | Reply

    • 1) Way to miss the message of an analogy through intentionally obfuscating over-analysis, Professor.

      2) The whole point of the dog’s desired temperature not being given equal weight to the gecko’s is that: a) the dog might suffer discomfort, but it won’t suffer nearly the level of harm that the gecko would; b) the dog controls the temperature, the gecko is already being forced to see things the dog’s way. Furthermore, a compromise could be reached, but the dog doesn’t care. Maybe the gecko wouldn’t care if the roles had been the other way around, but that’s beside the point: this isn’t an abstract discussion about abstract concepts existing in a valueless vacuum. The gecko may have acted the same, but now it knows what it’s like to be powerless. It would know how to empathise, were the tables suddenly turned. The dog has no frame of reference. This is where the problem lies.

      3) The threat of sexual violence by someone physically more powerful than you is of equal seriousness to someone not thinking you look nice? What. The. ****. Is wrong with you? If you’d just written “EVERYBODY LOOK AT MY MASSIVE PRIVILEGE”, we’d have got the point. You’d have conveyed the same message without having to take the time to write all these many paragraphs of mind-numbing hogwash, and I would have felt happy not feeling the need to respond to you. I can’t believe I just wasted my time typing out this response.

      Comment by Pumpkin — April 20, 2012 @ 2:04 am | Reply

      • Pumpkin cannot restrain her (i am assuming) vitriol. The Threat of sexual violence in the case of any particular man is exceedingly small, no matter how many women are sexually abused (not raped) over the course of their entire lives. So the fear is not rational (I am not saying it is not understandable – I have a tinge of fear when I encounter much bigger men also).

        But this point in number 3) is purposefully missing the point. Men do not want to be cat-called to reassure them that they “look nice”. the reference was to the fact that 90% + men want to be the object of sexual desire, and they are not. To flesh out what I think the original argument was, they feel worthless because they do not possess an attribute that they highly value. That is a form of pain that I imagine only a few women understand, especially those who are worried about being “objectified.”

        More importantly it goes to the point about whose pain is more valid? I have no problem with a woman feeling fear because I am bigger: that is natural. For that fear to take her over, when statistically, the chance that _I_ will attack and rape her in this instance is infinitesimally small, is simply not rational. I hope she would be able to overcome it, and if she has been abused in the past, then I sympathize much more, but I cannot be other than I am. By being bigger, I will always hold some terror, no matter how considerate and respectful. In my mind that is a problem that she will have to deal with, perhaps by therapy. I cannot not be bigger because some people have been raped.

        Comment by Ben C — October 31, 2012 @ 2:30 pm

      • This is a response to Ben:

        ” …they feel worthless because they do not possess an attribute that they highly value. That is a form of pain that I imagine only a few women understand…”

        What the hell? You believe women never want to be something they aren’t? That women never want to be skinnier, smarter, able to play a musical instrument, etc.? That they never think “If only I had x attribute, my life would be perfect, so-and-so would want to date me, etc.”? Those feelings are a pretty much universal part of the human experience, and certainly not exclusive to men. And I am pretty sure it’s not true that ~90% of men are not desired sexually. Only 4% of adults in the US have never had sex. And just because a woman has some suitors doesn’t mean that the people she is attracted to will be attracted to her, and that’s the important part. You basically said “Girls are pretty, so they must never have to feel unattractive” which is blatantly false and has a terrible premise.

        “By being bigger, I will always hold some terror, no matter how considerate and respectful. In my mind that is a problem that she will have to deal with, perhaps by therapy.”

        No one is saying you have to stop being bigger than she is, or apologize for it. They are just asking you to be aware, to understand why someone would feel that way. From your post it seems like you do know, you are just intentionally deciding not to care, which frankly is a dick move. If you see why a woman might be afraid in the presence of strange men, why do you relegate it to “a problem she will have to deal with”? Why not be more understanding?

        Comment by valkyrie456 — November 27, 2013 @ 8:00 am

  18. This doesn’t nullify the point of your article, but the claim that couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like to be wary of sexual interest is false. If you ever want to explain that feeling to a guy, tell him to imagine he’s in prison being catcalled at by a group of larger men. It doesn’t happen as often to guys, but we’re certainly capable of understanding the concept.

    Comment by Lendrick — May 28, 2011 @ 11:14 am | Reply

    • That isn’t a bad point in principle, but this is a category error I think. I can understand very well why being catcalled is a problem. But again, there is a problem that I tried to get people to see (or tell me where I went wrong) on PZ’s blog as well: You have to differing interpretations of what just happened, and neither side can a priori know what the other side is thinking. While it is strange for me to think, as a catcalling man, “She will feel appreciated!”, I find it similarly strange to think “Oh no, he will rape me!”, and that is precisely what the talk on PZ’s degenerated to. We need to find a way to objectify the situation somehow, and I think saying that you have to listen to the gecko isn’t the way to go about that (if it becomes a work order), because then you will find yourself confronted with the fact that dogs are not clairvoyant.

      As a sidenote: If any of you read the escalating debate on Pharyngula, do you think that “Team RW”, to use a term someone coined, fairly portrayed what had happened before the threads were closed? As with other issues, I find myself again in the position of someone whose perception differs, and that troubles me.

      Comment by N — July 5, 2011 @ 6:57 pm | Reply

    • The difference is that if a straight man thinks a gay man is hitting on him, he can brutally murder him and get off on the gay panic defense. If a woman reacts vehemently to a straight man hitting on her, she is labeled as over-reacting.

      Comment by Kei — July 6, 2011 @ 4:05 am | Reply

  19. Hey OP, you do know that creatures adapted for colder climates suffer in warmer ones the same way heat-lovers suffer in the cold, right? If Mr. Tundra Dog turned down the thermostat he might die of heat stroke, dehydration, or something like that.

    Not saying the basic gist of this little parable is necessarily wrong, but you might want to rethink using one based off of our animal friends.

    Comment by Wanderer — May 29, 2011 @ 5:56 am | Reply

    • Ideal temperature for a gecko box is about 85-90 F/30-32 C. You can take a Samoyed for a walk in that weather and all it’ll need is a long drink of water when it gets home. Nordic/spitz types get lazy in hot places, but it’s not dangerous for them to even be outside for twenty minutes the way it is for a gecko to be out in the snow.

      Comment by Sindelókë — June 6, 2011 @ 4:59 pm | Reply

      • I’ve not owned either dogs or geckos, so I’ll accede to your expertise on the matter. I concede your point in that regard; thank you for your response.

        That said, though, 50 degrees isn’t exactly tundra weather…does it really affect geckos that much worse than heat effects Nordic/spritz types? Again, I’ve not owned either, so I am curious.

        Comment by — June 8, 2011 @ 5:46 pm

      • (Trying to respond to blurf here, not sure if it’s going to work with the comment stacking and the point fits with all of the above.)

        The difference is that the dog, being warm-blooded, has internal processes that help it to adapt to its surrounding environs and maintain its constant body temperature. The lizard, on the other hand, isn’t just adapted to warmer climes, she’s also cold-blooded; she doesn’t have inner workings that keep her body at or around 98.6 (or the doggie equivalent thereof), and her body temperature is dependent on her surroundings. If we were comparing the dog with a lemur, or a similar rainforest mammal, or even a bird, you might have a point, but if people are trying to claim that an endotherm is going to have the same sensitivity to temperature as an exotherm, I think we might have a problem here.

        More specifically addressing blurf’s question, according to the second link I found when I Googled gecko torpor, gold geckos apparently get sick at below 70 F. I don’t want to think about what that means at 50.

        Comment by Ravyn — July 6, 2011 @ 12:20 am

  20. […] On the difference between Good Dogs and Dogs That Need a Newspaper Smack. « Sindelókë. […]

    Pingback by On the difference between Good Dogs and Dogs That Need a Newspaper Smack. « Sindelókë « TBA — May 30, 2011 @ 11:47 pm | Reply

  21. This is a delightful read.

    First I must say that life as a man in this age is getting harder.
    I was in an abusive relationship, yes my Fiance beat me till I was bruised. Thats just an extension of my low self esteem and her fear of loss caused by her lack of love from her family.
    Although women still earn less, you tell me the last time a man got into a night club wearing thongs and a singlet? Women dress any way they want and get to go anywhere. If we chose this its ‘offensive’. (personal experience) I completely agree with the fellow whom states that men fear working with children etc. I fear working with people going through puberty because mothers just love to watch their children fall victim to predators. But they fail to see these growing beings testing their sexuality on the older generation. Pageant kids? Do not get me started. Girls as young as 12 wearing make up and mini skirts? WRONG!
    And we are trained to grow fur, you are trained to strip yourselves of it. My privilege is to choose to make my own decisions. Which is also my right. Sexual role reversal is Very common in larger populations. As women are encouraged to be more independent. They have a job, car, mortgage and do not seek a man as they all have 10 inch purple things in their top drawer( do you know how many women have a 10 inch thing in their purple drawer, A LOT!!! the ones i know and ask do anyways.). They get the jobs men would have gotten and now men are coming off second best at times because its been ‘proven’ at some point in history that women have better brains for mulitasking…. one example…crashing while text/driving. lol. yay for generalisastions.

    Men catcalling women is going to happen if the woman is attractive. Roles reversed, I see many of my female friends checking out dudes bums, packages, muscles and face.
    We are what we learn, if you are exposed to a different opinion and ignore it you are a fool. If you are unwise to options, you are ignorant, western society is always about segregation and blame rather than love and respect. I blame the government, society and tv. Get off your computer people. The power you use to make it run causes mining and that causes raw waste to be put into our food which causes skin irritation and headaches. We can only make the best of this world with what we know, and seek to know. Self betterment Is a privelage and right that too few seek.

    Comment by Kaptain — July 3, 2011 @ 7:15 am | Reply

    • Wow, what?

      You absolutely don’t have the right to “choose your choice” no matter what. If you chose to murder someone or burn down a building to collect insurance, clearly that would not be your right. A lot of things that fall under the umbrella of sexual harassment are illegal; you don’t have a right to grope people or masturbate in public for example. Even when something isn’t illegal, that doesn’t mean it’s ethical or kind behavior. Treating people poorly and generally behaving like a jerk might be a legal right, but it’s not a moral one. The rest of sexual harassment falls under that category. You can do those things anyway, I guess, but defending your legal right to be a jerk isn’t really something to get all puffed up about.

      I have lots of “10-inch purple things”, although I don’t think any are 10 inches and only one is purple. I also have a boyfriend I’m crazy about and who sees more action than all of the toys put together. If you and your man friends are having problems attracting women, it might be because you’re disgusting them all with your terrible behavior. I know that the times I’ve been least interested in dating, it was because of bad experiences with guys like you. The gadgets I had on hand and the amount of money I made didn’t factor into it at all, because as most sane people know, men are more than just dicks and wallets. I guess in the good old days, when women were reliant on men for survival, a guy like you could still behave like pond scum and find someone willing to put up with him. Now you might actually have to meet a (rather low) minimum standard of decency. Oh no, how awful.

      Comment by the reality fairy — October 6, 2011 @ 1:03 am | Reply

  22. This is excellent, but still a bit painful to read: I don’t think the author realises that this is happening both ways to both genders.

    Comment by Someone — July 3, 2011 @ 10:09 pm | Reply

    • I don’t the above commenter realises that he is talking about his ass. And that’s coming from a fellow male.

      Comment by Sam Ellis — July 6, 2011 @ 10:58 pm | Reply

    • Ummm, no. I see there’s a lot of mansplaining in comments. A lot.

      Comment by Dominique Millette — November 20, 2011 @ 10:32 pm | Reply

      • I just thought it might be helpful when castigating a man for his ignorance, to point out that I am also a dude. That way he can see that a fellow dude can follow the logic, and that I’m not attacking him based on his gender. The point of this post, as I see it, is to shift male attitudes on this particular point, Who better than another man to say ‘mate, I accepted this a long time ago, get on with your life’.

        Comment by worldwearywaiter — May 18, 2012 @ 12:46 am

  23. I think some honesty would be great, break down the ‘cat-calling woman’, what does this actually mean?

    A man ‘cat-calls a woman’ why?
    1. He wants to ask her out for coffee?
    2. He wants to take her to the movies?
    3. He wants to ask her, kayaking, swimming, for dinner, to a night club, to play scrabble, to go sky diving, to go to a concert…NO

    He ‘cat-calls’ a woman because
    1 He thinks he has the right to. Where did this right come from? Why does he think he has the right?
    2 Because something has stirred his loins. Of course, a right stemming from having his loins stirred.
    3. Why does he continue with this behaviour. Of course. he thinks the woman is going to turn around and immediately make herself available to this stirring of his loins, he is letting her know of his desire.
    4 When he has had doors locked on him to deprive him of his liberty for his stirring of his loins right, or had a sister or daughter or Mother or best friend gang raped, raped, bashed, spat on, followed, stalked, slipped a rupy etc etc because of his stirring of his loins right; I want to ask him who taught him he has this right to ‘cat-call’ a woman, was it his Mother?

    Comment by she — July 3, 2011 @ 10:27 pm | Reply

    • I question the accuracy of your characterizations of a cat-caller’s motives.

      As a man who has never cat-called nor been present when it has been done, I cannot know what it might be like to have this happen, and I am not trying to defend this act. I also do not claim to have some special insight into the mind of a misogynist. I have however been in situations where people (of both sexes) have viewed others (also of both sexes) as objects of sexual desire and expressed such to each other, and I think this may have much less to do with libido than with pack mentality and peer pressure.

      Among many men (also some women, but mostly men I think) social status is in large part determined by perceived virility and sexual prowess. As such, a group of men together may cat-call a women because they wish to be seen as sexually potent by the other men in the group. By vocally expressing attraction (whether or not it is real) the man doing the cat-calling, I think, is not only expressing that the woman is a mere object but also that he as a high-status male could possess this object if he so desired. I also think that this is actually a message directed at his peers rather than at the woman herself.

      I also have one minor nit-pick. Strictly speaking, at least in the United States, he does have the right to cat-call as a matter of free speech. Please don’t take this as an endorsement that it is appropriate or acceptable to do so, I am speaking from a purely legalistic standpoint here.

      Comment by Yiab — July 4, 2011 @ 1:42 am | Reply

      • Yiab, freedom of speech isn’t a blanket, 100% right, there are some restrictions to it. One being ‘sexual harassment’, there are other restrictions of which I’m sure you can google. Purely speaking from a legalistic view.

        Comment by she — July 4, 2011 @ 2:57 am

      • Yiab, you speak of possession ‘that he as a high-status male could possess this object if he so desired’; possession of objects is part of property law not humanity.

        Comment by she — July 4, 2011 @ 3:17 am

      • For some reason my previous reply didn’t post, so here goes a second time.

        she, I am aware that freedom of speech isn’t unlimited, but from the Wikipedia entry on sexual harassment the relevant law in the United States largely has to do with employment and the workplace environment. As such, unless the cat-call is coming from an employer or co-worker, is a regular part of the working environment, or it is part of a larger pattern of being required/requested to trade sexual favours for career advancement, there is no real legal recourse available to its recipient. Of course I’m not a lawyer, so I could be way off base on this one.

        Also yes, I am aware that my interpretation of a cat-caller’s motives may be more damning of him than yours. Note please that I am not saying that this hypothetical woman actually is an object or that this hypothetical man actually could possess her, I am stating that this may be part of the message he is trying to communicate to his peers.

        Comment by Yiab — July 4, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

  24. I stopped reading when I saw you refer to men as dogs. Are you a racist too?

    Comment by Helena Constantine — July 3, 2011 @ 11:39 pm | Reply

    • What’s wrong with dogs? I like dogs better than most humans.

      Comment by Yiab — July 4, 2011 @ 1:43 am | Reply

    • It’s a metaphor. The dog and gecko represent any member of a privileged and less-priviledged group – it could be men/women, but it could also be white/black, able-bodied/disabled, straight/gay, cis/trans, etc.

      Comment by MercuryChaos — July 6, 2011 @ 6:36 pm | Reply

    • Missing the point Helena. It’s not an insult, it’s just a metaphor. Women are the gecko in this story. Are ya gonna get offended by that too?

      Comment by Sam Ellis — July 6, 2011 @ 10:55 pm | Reply

      • Now we know you’re also a lair. You don’t call men dogs by accident. Do you just slip up sometimes and call black people monkies?

        Comment by Helena Constantine — July 16, 2011 @ 3:43 pm

      • I never said it was an accident. It was a deliberate choice by the author, but purely because that breed of dog has lots of fur and likes the cold, while the gecko is cold blooded and likes warm temperatures. It could have been a polar bear and a frog, it doesn’t matter. You really should read the whole post before flying off the handle. Because we all now know Helena Constantine as that person who missed the point on that blog.

        Comment by Sam Ellis — July 16, 2011 @ 8:19 pm

      • I find it amusing that Helena is offended by men being analogized to dogs but completely ignores the fact that the corresponding reference for women is as reptiles.

        Using non-human species in a parable like this makes perfect sense in order to avoid knee-jerk defensiveness which would certainly be more present had the author used humans. Still the author wishes people to be able to identify with the characters, and so I think the choice of vertebrates is appropriate as well. In order for the main analogy to work well the over-privileged (male) individual must be warm-blooded and the under-privileged (female) individual must be cold-blooded. Again in the interest of having people identify with the characters and avoiding confusion, the author needs to use species with which everyone is likely to be familiar. For warm-blooded familiar species, dogs and cats spring to my mind first, and since there are breeds of dogs very well-adapted to cold climates, it seems the perfect choice. For cold-blooded familiar vertebrate species, snakes spring to my mind first, but there is a significant psychological barrier to people wanting to identify with a snake, and geckos seem the next natural choice. By the way, while there are several cultures which contain significant barriers to identification with a dog, it is nowhere near as universal as with a snake.

        By the way, all humans are monkeys.

        Comment by Yiab — July 17, 2011 @ 11:10 am

      • Yiab thank you for making sense. Feel like I’ve been up against a brick wall. I can’t imagine how the original author feels. It really should be general etiquette to read a post before replying, especially replying critically. I’m wondering if Helena is actually interested in a real debate.

        Comment by Sam Ellis — July 18, 2011 @ 6:12 am

  25. Love this – wish I could like it on facebook. :)

    Comment by Amy Swart — July 4, 2011 @ 12:46 am | Reply

  26. <> Um, excuse me? What’s that supposed to mean? The job should go to whomever is best qualified for it! Your post is all over the place, but the general gist of it seems to be that feminism is a bad thing?

    Comment by Jillian — July 4, 2011 @ 3:10 am | Reply

    • “They get the jobs men would have gotten.” Um, excuse me? What’s that supposed to mean? The job should go to whomever is best qualified for it! Your post is all over the place, but the general gist of it seems to be that feminism is a bad thing?

      Comment by Jillian — July 4, 2011 @ 3:11 am | Reply

  27. This would have been a great explanation of the idea of privilege if you hadn’t screwed it with the binary opposition male and female pronouns. Surely there are examples where the female dog hurts a female gecko? Female dog hurts male gecko?

    Comment by Anonymous — July 4, 2011 @ 5:12 am | Reply

    • Unfortunately the English language does not have gender-neutral personal pronouns. Which would you have recommended using?

      Comment by Yiab — July 4, 2011 @ 8:47 am | Reply

      • Singular They?

        Comment by maevele — July 5, 2011 @ 5:54 pm

      • It?

        Comment by N — July 5, 2011 @ 5:59 pm

      • Singular ‘they’, while often used, is clunky and confusing as it is often difficult to distinguish from plural ‘they’ in context. Try replacing every instance of ‘s’/’he’ in the OP with ‘they’ for a taste of this. ‘It’ is not a personal pronoun in English, and while it is often used as a gender-neutral way to describe a non-human animal, I think using it here would have run counter to the stated aim of this post aiding in the understanding of the concept of privilege; constantly referring to a character as ‘it’ will make it more difficult for the reader to empathize or identify with that character, as they (singular) will be increasingly likely to see the character as an object.

        Comment by Yiab — July 6, 2011 @ 10:49 am

      • (a) ze/zim/zir, (b) zie/hir/hir

        Those are the gender-neutral third-person-singular pronouns to which I’ve been exposed.

        Comment by Anonymous — July 9, 2011 @ 5:08 pm

      • It does, actually.

        E/Esh/Eir is just one set of possible neutral pronouns. There are others.

        Comment by oetpay — January 20, 2013 @ 11:19 am

  28. Nice post thanks :)

    Comment by Susan Macaulay — July 4, 2011 @ 11:17 am | Reply

  29. Fascinating essay. It’s definitely a context aid, and I’m going to be much more careful when people tell me “That’s offensive!”

    But I’m not about to stop asking “Why?” I don’t believe that these problems can’t be explained. We are a species capable of understanding (or nearly understanding) the grandest physical miracles of the universe. Surely we can understand the point of view of a fellow human, no matter how contextually different.

    I’m the kind of dog who, when the gecko says “Cold hurts me like warm hurts you”, I will probably get it. Or at least get it enough to ask more questions. Now, in your parable, the dog doesn’t give the gecko a chance to say that. That’s understandable, it’s meant to convey a particular point. But parables are dangerous that way — they simplify points, and in so doing, they often blind us to complexities.

    From now on, when someone says “Don’t do this, it’s offensive”, I’ll reply with “Sure. Please explain why it’s offensive, so I can make my own judgments in the future.” Because I’m willing to take it on trust once, but I’m not willing to run around with the paranoia that everything I do needs to be utterly inoffensive to everyone. If that makes me a privileged jerk, so be it.

    Comment by Mike McCall — July 4, 2011 @ 12:45 pm | Reply

    • Thanks, Mike. This pretty much summarizes how I feel also. I’m not really convinced that jargon like “privilege” isn’t more of an obstruction to clear communication than it is a help.
      Bottom line, I want to be an empathetic person, not a paranoid one.

      Comment by oberonthefool — July 5, 2011 @ 7:30 pm | Reply

      • Privilege is not jargon, and it’s a simple concept. You are being obstinate. This article is not about being offensive or about proper speech. It’s about understanding on an intellectual level that men and women experience certain things differently.

        Comment by Sam Ellis — July 6, 2011 @ 10:53 pm

      • Disregard that – I suck cocks.

        Comment by Sam Ellis — July 18, 2011 @ 11:10 am

  30. This is a beautiful and awesome bit of writing. It’s a shame that so many people feel the need to react with such a knee-jerk reaction whenever the word “privileged” arises. Sadly it is inevitable whenever someone writes this type of truth, it is threatening to people so they immediately decide it must be challenged. I hope everyone can ignore the scared whining and take this parable to heart.

    Comment by unnaturalphilosopher — July 4, 2011 @ 1:45 pm | Reply

  31. No, not getting wet is the result of ones actions. Like holding down a job so you can afford an umbrella. If your culture denigrates education and you buy into that cool stuff and can’t hold a job that’s your own damn fault, not the other guys. You are you body, your thoughts, your cultural beliefs. It’s not the other guys fault if you family gave you an inheritance of a crappy culture. So get off your ass, and buy that umbrella. Stop whining about how the other guy has an umbrella, and especially if he inherited one from his family, and ask why your screwed up family didn’t provide you with an umbrella if that’s your beef.

    Privilege is leftist garbage that like other leftist bullshit is going to get more and more people on the wrong track and left behind.

    Comment by Brian Macker — July 5, 2011 @ 1:51 am | Reply

    • The nature of capitalism requires that 100% employment is impossible. If everyone is employed, then that means employment is being overvalued by the market and wages drop in response (that is a drop relative to the cost of other goods/services). Similarly, if everyone has enough food to eat then food is being undervalued and prices go up to the point where there is a profitable level of starvation. If everyone has an umbrella, then umbrellas are being undervalued in the market and prices go up until there is a profitable proportion of people without umbrellas. None of this is taking into account more recent additions to the marketplace like advertising and planned obsolescence, both of which raise the profitable levels of unemployment, starvation and umbrella-less-ness respectively.

      If you like, you can accept this as necessary for the system to function, but our species got to where it is today in part by working together and helping each other more than even other social mammals do. We brought a kill back for the tribe to share, we didn’t eat it in the field. True the most capable hunters probably got the best cuts of meat, but everyone got something even if they couldn’t help on the hunt. Similarly, we gathered plants in the field rather than eating them and brought them back for the whole tribe to share. The hunters got to eat the plants too, even if they hadn’t had a successful hunt in quite a while.

      I’m not saying that helping others is the right thing to do because it’s what we’ve always done, but I’m saying that it’s what we’ve always done and I think it’s the best choice for the future (and morally, of course).

      Comment by Yiab — July 5, 2011 @ 10:59 am | Reply

    • Brian, I am a man as well. And you are making us look bad. This has nothing to do with ‘leftist’ anything. This is a simple argument about things that men should try to understand. You are talking like an uncompassionate asshole.

      Comment by Sam Ellis — July 6, 2011 @ 10:50 pm | Reply

  32. Very good article, very bad title.

    It (the title) smacks of condescension and people in privilege are quite easily put off by such an approach right out of the gate. It’s already a lot to ask (it shouldn’t be, but it is) to suspend their reaction and take a censure. I, personally had a negative reaction when scrolling back up to read the title. Just saying it might pay to bait the hook with something more palatable to those you want.. need to read it. But again, good article.

    Comment by JC Hamner — July 5, 2011 @ 5:01 am | Reply

    • Fair point, thank you. I’ll give some thought to an alternative.

      Comment by Sindelókë — July 7, 2011 @ 2:11 pm | Reply

    • I second that on the title. It doesn’t’ further the analogy, the lesson, or the general conclusion (which I take to be “remember, you have fur”) and will probably turn a lot of people away before even reading the first paragraph. It nearly turned me away, and i quite agree 99% of the point you are making.

      Comment by Far McKon — November 10, 2011 @ 1:02 am | Reply

  33. This is a great metaphor, very clarifying and interesting. Just for the record, when you say we should listen to the lizard, does that mean do what they ask? We can believe them, but should we accept what they ask for? When you say “believe her” or “believe him, since you have no way to know about the matter”. I think this can be wrongly applied to other contexts. Consider the same problem but inverted: what if a man says “you do not know what it feels like to desire a woman so badly that you wanna rape her, so you have to believe me and let me live my life”… Maybe it is true, we have the privilege of being sane and healthy in our brain, we do not know what it is like to be like a crazy man, should we end up accepting what he says?…. We should listen to him, definitely, and then send him to a psychiatric hospital.

    As another example, if an anti-vaccine mom tells you that you do not understand what it is to have an autistic children, I would believe her, but I still do not support her cause. Not because I think I will be a better mommy, but simply because of evidence.

    Don’t think I am attacking the post or the context where it is applied (man do not know what it is being harassed, unless… maybe they should imagine other, stronger man, checking them out… in jail). I was just wondering what are the limits of the metaphore, since I have heard the argument “you don’t know what it s like” to defend many not very nice ideologies…

    Comment by Rochy — July 5, 2011 @ 9:23 am | Reply

    • I think your first question is a very good one. I have read a bunch of the comments above about how warm *could* be just as painful to the dog (though he might not know this, since according to the story, the dog never has experienced really warm temperatures), and was interested to think about how the commenters considered the implied solution to the problem to be one of simple opposites within a single shared environment when there are many other possible approaches. To me, the term privilege (and the parable above) is less about jumping to “the right” solution than it is about recognizing flawed perception.

      The first important step is to say, “I have fur, and I don’t know what it’s like to not have fur, so I should listen carefully to this creature that doesn’t have fur instead of assuming my standards of experience are applicable.” That’s checking your privilege. The next step is to seriously think about the problem and how it affects everyone, with everyone’s voices included in the discussion. There are many possible solutions to the situation in the parable (as there are to most situations). Maybe the dog and the lizard could continue to live together, but the lizard could be given her own space that is warm as well. Maybe the dog could give some of his fur for a fur coat for the lizard. Maybe the dog could decide to shave his coat off entirely to be compatible with the lizard, or they could separate. I don’t think either party is likely to figure out the best solution independent of input from the other.

      It is a common error, in problem solving, to move forward based on your first description of what the problem is, and to therefore end up with a solution that makes everyone unhappy in the long run, ruins relationships, etc. If someone has been running around going “I want to be on the pedestal that _you_ are on,” and the assumed solution is to kick the first person off the pedestal, the person who was up there is indeed likely to be unhappy if they merely accept the obvious solution the downtrodden person is asking for. But if both of them sit down together to figure out what is really important to them, they might in fact come out with a workable solution that pleases both. So no, you shouldn’t necessarily “do what they ask.” But you should recognize they are raising a question that reflects a real issue, give their feelings and opinions credence, and see if you can work something out.

      To stretch the above parable in its representation of current society, I think what you commonly see is a dog who has never experienced warm saying “I think that would be really unpleasant. I don’t even want to try that.” and since the dog is in the stronger position, both the dog and the lizard fail to find out what it would be like to live together in a way that permits the lizard to be more active in her environment, a situation the dog might in fact enjoy a lot, if he were to try it. It is often uncertainty about the unknown that is the biggest obstacle.

      Comment by Netmouse — July 6, 2011 @ 2:52 pm | Reply

      • Of all of the (often quite intelligent) responses to this post, I think yours is the most pragmatic and spot on. Sure, we could spend years debating the logical inconsistencies that might exist in the parable, or we could learn a lesson from it and apply it in ways that are practical and beneficial.

        Comment by bildungsroman — July 7, 2011 @ 6:04 am

      • I agree with your first important step. However, what to do when those who don’t have fur tell you it isn’t their job to educate you on what’s it’s like to not have fur? Because that’s what I keep getting told. Don’t ask a minority what it’s like to be a minority, go find out for yourself and then act appropriately. They already have the burden of being oppressed, why should they also have to explain it to those oppressing them?

        Comment by Anonymous — July 11, 2011 @ 7:45 pm

      • In reply to Anonymous, what you do when you want to understand minority experience but the people in the conversation don’t have the time/energy/willingness to educate you about their perspective on it is you respect that and go do some research on your own. Part of the reason that minority is saying it’s not their job to educate you is because most of these issues have been thoroughly documented – in literature, in historical and anthropology studies and books, and in essays and comments in the blogosphere. Also, that exact person you are frustrated by may have already patiently explained their position to 20 or 40 clueless white people, and they might be burned out by the time you come along.

        If you particularly want to understand their perspective, therefore, one route is to backtrack on that person – go read their blog or search for other comments they made on the same topic using keywords and their name or username. Goggle is your friend.

        There are also several high quality essays online, and google can help you find those as well. Also, though, there are communities of white allies who are also working on educating themselves, and those folks can be a great help finding resources. is one I’ve really appreciated. It was more active right after Racefail ’09, but it’s still going.

        Comment by Netmouse — July 12, 2011 @ 8:54 am

      • Same anon here. I guess my issue is, if I’m genuinely asking a minority to help explain their position, why is that such a bad thing? Yes, I can – and do – my own education, but if I’m so ignorant to begin with, how am I to know if I’m researching the “right” avenue? Why make understanding each other MORE difficult than it already is?

        Comment by Anonymous — July 12, 2011 @ 8:13 pm

      • Anon-
        Consider this: How does that minority person know that you’re genuinely asking?

        Sometimes in conversations like that, the person asking for details on the minority perspective just turns around and attacks each point they make. I’ve seen it happen repeatedly. So despite the fact that you might be a very nice, decent person with no such intentions, unless you give them a reason to know that, not only might they expect their effort to explain to be wasted time & energy; worse, it might be setting them up to just get attacked on a more personal level.

        Also keep in mind that this sort of analytically deconstructivist behavior can be equally as likely to come from someone who is a belligerent asshole as someone who is just being defensive and lacking understanding. Either way, it’s unpleasant to say the least to be on the receiving end of such a failure to listen respectfully.

        So how do you demonstrate that you’re sincere? I would suggest three things:

        1. Seriously, do your research. Not just in general, but on the topic at hand. First, if you’re in the middle of a long discussion, read the whole discussion – your question may have been answered elsewhere. Then follow the other steps I outlined above. Keep in mind, too, that it matters how you define the discussion. For example, Racefail ’09 was a widespread discussion across many blogs, and it was also the third major round in an ongoing discussion about race, fandom, and sf in the past 10 years, but most of us entering it in 2009 had no awareness of what had come before. (if you’re not familiar with that discussion, see

        I highly recommend your reading include this post: and everything it links to internally.

        Noting that it is a sarcastic parody of a reference, yet also highly useful for provoking thought, given your original question I would particularly point you to Derailing for Dummies, especially , which goes more into the question of why it can be a bad thing to expect others to educate you when you ask.

        A librarian can also help you find appropriate reference material on a particular topic if that’s what you need.

        2. Avoid the derail. Consider the OP (original post): was it about the questions you want to ask, or is your question possibly asking people to re-center the discussion on you and what you need?

        Give yourself time (i.e. at least 24 hours) to consider the discussion as a whole before returning to your question, then consider posting your questions on your own blog. Report on what you’ve learned so far, and explain what you still don’t understand. Then either comment back in the original discussion with a pointer to the side discussion that’s happening in your own space, or send a private message to the person indicating that you’re trying to understand, and if they have a minute you would really appreciate it if they could help you, either by responding themselves or by pointing you to other posts or references that you’ve missed. If you are dealing with someone in person, first acknowledge that it isn’t their job to educate you, then state both your own ignorance and your own willingness to learn, by saying something like “I’d like to go educate myself, but I’m not sure where to start to get on the right track.”

        3. Be respectful first. Try to make your questions specific to understanding their experience, and do not expect people to know how to solve everything just because they are the victims who suffer from a situation. Broad questions like ‘what would you rather we do?” or “what would make you more comfortable?”, as well-intentioned as they may be, are placing the burden on the minority not just to explain, but also to come up with a solution. More personal or specific questions, like “If I saw someone like you in a predicament like _blah_, how could I best be helpful? I was in a situation like that once and I didn’t know what to do,” might be better received but still ask them to solve your problem.

        Also, if someone indicates that something makes them uncomfortable or is problematic for them, it’s hard to ask “But why does it make you uncomfortable?” in a way that does not appear to belittle their personal reaction. Respect that a personal reaction is valid and significant even if someone cannot “justify” it. — in fact, assume that, and don’t ask them to justify it at all. Clarify it, perhaps; justify it, no. It can be really hard to make that distinction in a written discussion.

        Consider starting, not with a question at all, but with a supportive, respectful comment that validates their experience. Then later (after you’ve done the background research in step 1), try returning to ask for more information about their experience if you still have questions.

        Comment by Netmouse — July 16, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

  34. sorry but you are kind of pathetic

    Comment by guest — July 5, 2011 @ 12:12 pm | Reply

    • Oh, you are most certainly not “sorry”.

      Comment by Anonymous — July 10, 2011 @ 5:14 pm | Reply

  35. I enjoyed this post, but I resent the subtle implication that women have no control over the “thermostat.” This essay seems to say, “Only men can control the outcome of a sexual harassment situation, and the onus is on men to nip it in the bud.”

    Yes, I agree, men should not sexually harass women. However, contextualizing the issue to make women the powerless victims (begging for the thermostat to be turned up) robs women of their power to change the situation.

    I also take exception to the idea that straight men never need to be wary of sexual interest. Straight men are frequently wary of sexual interest – from homosexual men.

    Comment by Earl Newton — July 5, 2011 @ 5:01 pm | Reply

    • A good example of the things that women are doing to change the situation is writing things posts this. I can’t really imagine something that a particular woman could do to avoid a particular incident of sexual harassment other than “don’t go there” or “don’t wear that” or some other “don’t” that just happens to be largely foreign to men. Sexual harassment will stop when sexual harassers stop harassing, so obviously the onus falls upon them, and talking about this at all is a very important part of that process.

      Comment by Anonymous — July 5, 2011 @ 5:44 pm | Reply

    • I can give you countless examples of the things straight men can do if they find themselves in the unimaginably horrible situation of being hit on by a gay man. They range from garden variety shootings to brutal torture, rape and murder, and almost all of them escape punishment through use of the gay panic defense. It’s not at all the same.

      Comment by Kei — July 6, 2011 @ 4:12 am | Reply

      • “almost all of them escape punishment through use of the gay panic defense”

        Please supply a list of men who’ve escaped punishment for “brutal torture, rape and murder” by using the gay panic defense.

        Comment by Arthur Anon — July 6, 2011 @ 9:26 am

    • That’s right Earl. From men. So you concede that men are the dominant sexual predators. I am male, and I accept the poster’s parable, as an illustration of a very specific argument. Try to be constructive.

      And try to sound less like a whinging man. “I enjoyed this post, but I resent…”. I don’t think you enjoyed the post at all actually.

      The author is not arguing that women are powerless victims. She is asserting that there is an experience women have, that is hard (if not impossible) for men to understand. The men aren’t assholes for that, they become assholes when made aware of this incommensurate experience, and refuse to take it into account. Kind of like you are now.

      That’s what the post is about.

      Comment by Sam Ellis — July 6, 2011 @ 10:44 pm | Reply

  36. “A man has the privilege of walking past a group of strange women without worrying about being catcalled, or leered at, or having sexual suggestions tossed at him.”

    This statement is false. I’m a man. I’ve had groups of strange women catcall at me, leer at me, I’ve had strange women from groups of strange women grab my behind as I walk past. I’ve even been followed down a dark road by a pair of teenage girls who then followed me into a supermarket and proceeded to have a loud, sexually explicit conversation while walking behind me; an incident I found particularly distressing.

    I avoid groups of strange women. I’m not sure where you get the idea that men have nothing to worry about.

    Comment by Aman — July 6, 2011 @ 6:12 am | Reply

    • I am a (slender poor fighter) man, and I think you are missing the point. You think your one counter example is enough to destroy the whole argument. It isn’t.

      The general assertion remains that sexual violence (and perhaps more importantly the fear (sometimes paranoia) of it) is a far greater burden for women than men.

      You don’t hear about the mass rape of men (except by other other men) being used as an instrument of warfare for example. I think you are being very unconstructive.

      I’m sorry to say, but you have less to fear.

      Why can’t you just accept that in some ways women are live with certain things that few men (if any) can completely understand.

      Why can’t you just let the author have the assertion It’s still a man’s world in some respects. Okay?

      Comment by Sam Ellis — July 6, 2011 @ 10:37 pm | Reply

      • I’m not attempting to destroy any argument, merely pointing out that this one statement is false. Men do *not* have the privilege of walking past a group of strange women without worrying about being catcalled, or leered at, or having sexual suggestions tossed at them. This is the case, regardless of the fact that sexual violence occurs and regardless of any imbalance of fear between genders.

        Comment by Aman — July 18, 2011 @ 6:43 pm

      • Sam Ellis, what nonsense! You are – I think on purpose – confusing the general with the specific. You argue that women are victims of rape in warfare:
        “You don’t hear about the mass rape of men (except by other other men) being used as an instrument of warfare for example”

        What does that have to do with catcalling in the street in America? Unless the woman being catcalled is so irrationally afraid of gang rape by an African militia that she fears anybody on the street she sees. In that case, I argue that the problem would be in her head (ignoring for the moment that it is rude to catcall – it takes an insufficient account of another human’s potential desires)

        Comment by Ben C — October 31, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

  37. I think the analogy is decent, and I agree with the conclusion, but there’s one thing that a critic could easily point out, I think: For the analogy to work, you literally have to use two significantly different species of animal! Comparing men and women to two different species with totally different environmental needs stretches the analogy to the breaking point.

    I totally agree that it’s a symptom of male privilege that men easily think “but I’d love for women to catcall me!” That’s what the analogy addresses. Many men, though, can easily imagine a world in which women don’t feel threatened by such attention, a world where women react to being catcalled in the same way the stereotypical man would.

    Of course, the answer to that objection is that it’s unreasonable to expect women to react in that way. It may not be the fault of respectful, decent men that there are so many other men who would respond to a rebuffed catcall with verbal or even physical abuse, but it’s definitely not the fault of women!

    Comment by Flimsyman — July 6, 2011 @ 11:48 am | Reply

    • I don’t personally think the species issue strains it that far. Maybe thinking about it in this way will help (it’s not perfect, but it’s a way of taking the species difference into account more, and actually makes clearer something I think the original post leaves in the background – but the post in general is I think pretty good otherwise):

      – The dog, as a dog, has multiple ways of dealing with the temperature issue in this house – the A/C, his internal thermostat, even shaving off his fur if need be. That is: because of how the house is set up in relation to his species, his ability to deal with his environment is flexible and multi-pronged, and thus it doesn’t provide a huge barrier to him when attempting to get other stuff done. The lizard, on the other hand, is dependent upon one and only one way of coping with the chill – because she can’t regulate her own temperature and cannot work the A/C (control of overall temperature is inaccessible to her because of the house’s design). Thus the temperature provides a much greater barrier to her in her attempts to navigate the environment and get other stuff done than it does to the dog: it’s hard to go get herself a meal when the fridge is cold (of course) and she has to leave the lamp to do it. So the difference in ‘good’ temperature is not the only difference between dog and lizard, it’s also ability to navigate ‘bad’ temperatures – the impact of bad temperatures is proportionally different because of the unequal flexibility granted to each.

      – In a somewhat similar way, men as a class have a certain social flexibility when dealing with sexual ‘temperature’ issues that women as a class don’t: men, as a class, are not seen socially as having value only by virtue of their sexual desirability/availability or as moving in a world structured only by sexual cues and relationships. A man’s social worth is not the product of *only* his willingness to have sex and how much he is wanted as a sexual object. And men are *taught* – both officially and through the way culture uses the figures of men (in language, in advertising, etc.) – that their value is not dependent only upon their sexual status. Women, as a class, still largely move in a world in which their value is primarily rooted in the view of them as sexual objects; women have to fight to be recognized on other grounds, and no matter what the “official” story is about women being equal now, the culture is still saturated with images of women as primarily sexual beings, and they are taught to view themselves that way. – One small example, the debate over ‘appropriate’ clothing. The (in)appropriatness of men’s clothing is rarely a subject of general social debate, and virtually never comes up in situations in which men are raped. Everyone and their brother however has an opinion on whether or not women dress too ‘sluttily’ (nice side of slut-shaming built in to the conversation) and when a woman is raped, her clothing is always brought up. Even when an 11-year-old is gang-raped by a bunch of 18-year-olds the New York Times still thinks it appropriate to uncritically quote defenders of the boys when they shame the girl for how she dressed ‘too adult.’ Women as a class are always starting from the position of being seen as first and foremost sexual objects, and society tries to push them back there. Men as a class don’t start from that position.

      – Thus, for women, they have less social capital and fewer internal or external resources to fall back upon when navigating a climate in which they are not only repeatedly sexually harassed, but are, specifically, repeatedly *reminded* that they are good for sex and nothing else. THAT is why men catcalling a woman and women catcalling a man are still situations that are not entirely proportional. An individual man may be momentarily reduced to his sexual function by those women, but that is an *exception* to how he is normally treated and seen by the rest of society, an exception to how he is taught to think of himself, and an exception to how men in general are thought of and treated. For a woman, it is a *reinforcement* of her already marginalized status. It’s like throwing a bucket of water over a man on a 70-degree-F day vs doing the same to woman when it’s 40 degrees outside and she’s got no coat. She’s already at a disadvantage that the man doesn’t have.

      Comment by daylightsdauphin — July 10, 2011 @ 4:51 pm | Reply

      • Dear God, thank you for this!!! It’s perfect!!

        Comment by electrakitty — May 17, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

      • @daylightsdauphin – Thank you so much for this excellent explanation! I’ve been having such a tough time trying to explain these concepts to a well-intentioned man, and your comment in addition to the OP should help a lot.

        Comment by L — September 9, 2012 @ 2:12 am

  38. This is the best explanation of privilege I think I’ve ever read. I’m reposting it immediately. Thanks so much, both for helping me help others see their privilege and for helping me see my own.

    Comment by Molly — July 6, 2011 @ 1:29 pm | Reply

  39. […] Today I'm feeling 101-y, I guess, so let's talk about privilege. It's a weird word, isn't it? A common one in my circles, it's one of the most basic, everyday concepts in social activism, we have lots of unhelpful snarky little phrases we like to use like "check your privilege" and a lot of our dialog conventions are built around a mutual agreement (or at least a mutual attempt at agreement) on who has privilege when and how to compensate for tha … Read More […]

    Pingback by On the difference between Good Dogs and Dogs That Need a Newspaper Smack. (via Sindelókë) « Feminist Forte — July 6, 2011 @ 1:31 pm | Reply

  40. Great post. But I need to point out an irony:

    “that’s ten C, for all you weirdo metric users out there” = the entire rest of the world!

    Did you check your own privilege before insulting the world?


    Comment by Jim — July 6, 2011 @ 7:21 pm | Reply

    • Haha, last time I try to be funny on the internet. I’ve been surrounded by science and Canadians my whole life, and thus generally use metric for everything but speed limits, so I was actually largely poking fun at myself. :)

      Comment by Sindelókë — July 7, 2011 @ 2:25 pm | Reply

  41. I don’t know how I found this blog, but you are a fucking moron. Yankee scum.

    Comment by Vichy — July 6, 2011 @ 9:29 pm | Reply

    • And you sir, are ungentlemanly.

      Comment by Sam Ellis — July 6, 2011 @ 10:32 pm | Reply

    • you don’t have to like it, but you don’t have to be a jerk about it either.

      Comment by an — July 14, 2011 @ 5:24 pm | Reply

  42. I’m going to preface this with the fact that I am an American woman and approach this from that angle.A lot of respondents have posted that they, as men, have experienced being catcalled by a group of strange women. This is entirely true, I have witnessed it. I’m sure that some men feel distressed and uncomfortable, etc in the situation. That is of course a valid experience and it would be silly to try to state otherwise.

    The difference is that women (cisgendered or not) live in a world where sexual assault is a big risk. While men, specifically the straight cat-calling men from the example, do not live in a world where the risk is as large. This is of course taking out specific examples of sexual assault that do occur to men, but sexual assault, and more specifically sexual assault by a stranger, is not statistically significant enough for it to be a factor in the average life of most men in most cultural circumstances in the US. Because of the specific nature of rape (particularly when we are using the heteronormative example that we started with), women do have more to fear from a group of men than men do a group of women. We are also conditioned to respond with at least a healthy bit of fear because of the risks that a woman has by nature of her gender. The privilege that men have is that *in most circumstances* in broader Western society they do not have to live in fear of sexual assault.

    The first time I was cat-called, I was 10 years old. The men were full grown and yelled obscene things out of the window of a car. It happens all the time. I have been followed by groups of men while alone in the middle of the day. Does this mean I avoid men in general? No, I love men. Am I suspicious of individual men I meet? Not under normal circumstances. Do groups of men make me nervous or afraid when I’m cat-called or alone? Yes. While unfair assumptions may be made, in the cat-calling scenario, the power of the group is greater than the power of one. Fear/caution is both a natural AND a conditioned response for the lone woman.

    A more pertinent example would be a physically-threatening, but not overtly hostile, group of one gender harassing an individual of the same gender. The group clearly has the power. The individual may be afraid. This does not mean that the group is necessarily BAD but it is still safer for the individual to proceed with caution.

    Also I would like to point out that the post is not ALL about gender. The animals in the parable were gendered for the convenience of pronouns. Racial, cultural, economic, religious, class etc all come with their own sets of privileges and disadvantages. It is up to the individual to seek awareness of his or her own privilege as well as the disadvantages and privileges of others. Guilt should not be a part of it. Without self awareness AND empathy, how can we expect to achieve equality?

    Comment by EAD — July 6, 2011 @ 11:33 pm | Reply

    • This is of course taking out specific examples of sexual assault that do occur to men, but sexual assault, and more specifically sexual assault by a stranger, is not statistically significant enough for it to be a factor in the average life of most men in most cultural circumstances in the US.

      While I agree with your response overall, this is a sticking point to me. Sexual assault by a stranger isn’t statistically likely enough that it should be a worry to women, either, as the vast majority of sexual assaults (according to the US DoJ, about 74%) are done by someone the victim knows, with a less than 0.25% chance of any given man being a rapist. (We’re talking Western societies here.) That means that even in that group of four guys cat-calling you, there is a less than 1% chance of them actually proving themselves more than just immature assholes.

      Comment by — August 2, 2011 @ 5:30 pm | Reply

      • Yes stats show 1 in 4 woman are likely to be assaulted by some one they know and that the most dangerous place for a woman is in her own home. Your example of a group of 4 men means (based on 50/50% men/woman demographics) that it’s likely that one of them will go home and abuse their female partner. Perhaps speaking out about public abuse of woman may help to change attitudes that it’s not ok which in turn may help woman in the private realm.

        Comment by she — August 2, 2011 @ 8:31 pm

      • @cirdon Actually, you didn’t state any statistic about correlation between rape and milder forms of demeaning behaviour towards women, such as catcalling. If the correlation is high, then it might be quite reasonable for a woman to fear rape from a catcaller, though not necessarily from some random guy. If the statistic you provide is correct, then we simply have to ask how many men an average woman walks past in a given day; let’s assume for the sake of argument that a woman walks past 10 men she doesn’t know each day (an unrealistically low estimate for anyone living in an urban environment). This means that after 40 days she can expect to have walked past one rapist. If she is vigilant, she may decrease her odds of being that rapist’s next victim (note: I am not blaming someone who is raped for the rape, that is obviously entirely the fault of the rapist). Considering the number of women that rapist has walked past in the same 40 days any given woman’s odds of being his next victim are low, but often a predator will become skilled at identifying targets who are less aware of their surroundings and/or less able to resist their assault, so he is then much more likely to focus on a woman who is not being as attentive and careful about her surroundings. It is therefore quite reasonable for women to fear assault from strangers, no matter how strong the wish this fear were unfounded.

        @she I’m just nitpicking here, but the statistic you stated is, as stated, ambiguous. As written, it does not imply what you have claimed, namely:
        “1 in 4 women are likely to be assaulted by someone they know”
        (ignoring the redundant “likely to be” which renders the statement meaningless) does not provide a time frame, so I have to assume it includes an unstated “at some time during their life”. This means that, if the group of 4 men catcalls 4 individual women over the course of the day, it is likely that one of those women has been or will one day be assaulted by someone she knows. It does not however say anything about the prevalence of men who commit said assault (it is reasonable to assume that the vast majority of those doing the assault are men), and considering the rather large number of people an average individual knows over the course of their life and the astronomically complex overlapping network of mutual interrelationships which we call society, we cannot make any nontrivial deductions from this “1 in 4 women” statistic about the corresponding odds of a male being an abuser.

        That said, I agree with your last sentence completely.

        Comment by Yiab — August 3, 2011 @ 1:43 am

  43. You spin a nice victimhood tale; too bad facts contradict your fiction:

    As for being catcalled, well, all I can say is that my world is, perhaps, different than yours. women do that all the time. women also grab and touch freely. take this fact, with the dozens of researches I linked to , and you see why I say you live in the 1960’s.

    Comment by Oar — July 7, 2011 @ 2:24 am | Reply

    • If this is in response to my previous comment, perhaps I didn’t make myself clear enough. The link you sent, while I confess I did not make it past the F’s, seemed to be focused on violence in courtship, dating, and the family. Cat-calling would be more in tune with violence perpetrated by a stranger and it was that I was discussing. Stranger rape is less likely to occur than acquaintance rape, but is still something that women are taught to fear. Even taking statistics out of it, men are not conditioned to respond to cat-calling or groping the same way women are. Living without that fear I would say is a privilege. An example of a privilege that a woman has as the victim of sexual assault/violence is that there is less of a stigma and she is more likely to seek help than a man in the same situation. I don’t find the article you cited below surprising. There is always a backlash. Being more likely to be falsely accused is a male disadvantage, but it does not take away from the privilege of not having to worry about sexual assault themselves. It isn’t really a weight and balance thing. There is not a disadvantage for every privilege or a privilege for every disadvantage.

      If you would like to include the acquaintance or partner sexual violence, the discussion will change a little, but not too significantly. If you’d like to examine a microcosm of society, look at sexual assault and trauma in the military.
      60% of women in the military have experienced sexual trauma. 27% of men. The culture of fear for a woman is just different than that of a man. That is the entire idea of privilege. Not making better-worse comparisons or pointing out incidentals, but recognizing that those differences do exist. We live within broader society not merely within the realms of personal experience. You are likely to make snap judgments based on a combination of the two and not exclusively on your own personal experience. This is why knowledge of where you yourself stand within broader society is so important.

      The whole idea of privilege is not denying that bad things happen to a group because of all their advantages. It is looking at broader society and being able to recognize that groups based on gender/race/culture/sexuality/body type/handicap/religion/what-have-you have advantages and disadvantages by virtue of something beyond their control. Being able to see for example that large swathes of music listeners finally began recognizing rap when Eminem came along. This doesn’t mean Eminem isn’t talented or deserve accolades, but what about him was so different from most of the talented and deserving rappers that came before? Eminem himself recognizes this as an example of his privilege. He’s white. His whiteness not only got him attention, positive or negative, in the hip hop culture in which he was the minority, but in larger society because he was part of the majority. This was exactly what Elvis did so many years before. This doesn’t discredit them as artists, but is a sign of their privilege.

      Comment by EAD — July 7, 2011 @ 1:00 pm | Reply

      • Although there is a flipside to that coin, in that “white rappers” used to be looked down to by the black majority – while bringing rap to the mainstream with his skin color, he’s also reaffirmed his race in the black majority of that subculture.
        The still present “white = uncool” stereotype falls in line with that.

        Obviously, I’m not saying the two sides balance each other out.

        Comment by johnwaynman — September 25, 2012 @ 6:10 pm

  44. As for the “I would love to be whistled at”, is that the female’s equivalent of “”but the women like it!” of old?
    Is that all feminism has done to the west, reversed sides? I hear that from a lot of women, “now it is our turn to ‘show’ you!”. Alas, the men they want to revenge against are long gone and dead, and are unavailable for revenge. It is the good men who get shafted. read this:
    and tell me if we’re in a good place.

    Comment by Oar — July 7, 2011 @ 2:28 am | Reply

    • Revenge? You obviously didn’t read the OP or any of the comments here.

      Comment by L — September 9, 2012 @ 2:31 am | Reply

  45. What nonsense.

    Because you are privileged, you must take me at my word. How do you know you are privileged? Because you must take me at my word, and I say you have privilege.

    Comment by B — July 7, 2011 @ 2:42 am | Reply

    • Thank you. I’ve actually been told that my opinion is meaningless because I’m coming from a “position of privilege.” And here I thought equality was the goal, not a reversal of “privilege.”

      Comment by Anonymous — July 11, 2011 @ 7:33 pm | Reply

      • Equality is the goal that can be reached only when privilege no longer stands in its way.

        Comment by Emancipated Duelist — August 30, 2011 @ 4:10 pm

  46. What a relief it must be for the privileged people out there that everybody here seems to agree that “The key to privilege isn’t worrying about having it, or trying to deny it, or apologize for it, *or get rid of it*”! You accept that there are social structures of inequality that allow privilege to exist, yet you do not question these structures nor see the need to change them. Instead you try to work around privileged positions so that everybody can feel good in an unfair situation.

    In this moment of crisis the only thing you can suggest is that politicians in the payroll of businesspeople should be more sensible to the plight of the workers, or that bankers should not rape their black, immigrant cleaning ladies. Let us all yell at them: “check your privilege!” and everything will be fine. This is not even 101, but you have the arrogance to say that people are stupid. And the massive privilege you show underplaying social structures and assuming social positions to be as natural as the fur of a dog or the cold blood of a lizard certainly needs to be checked. But I suspect this will take some serious smacking.

    Comment by Manuel — July 7, 2011 @ 1:51 pm | Reply

    • Maybe I’m being generous but I was under the impression that all that was left out because this is a 101 post attempting to communicate the concept of privilege without putting total novices on the defensive (which always does seem to be a futile endeavor on the internet). And you might want to argue that putting them on the defensive is a good thing, but I don’t personally see how intentionally attempting to incite a reactionary response is a useful thing to do. “Privilege isn’t a thing to try to get rid of” means, in this context, “Privilege isn’t a thing to try to get rid of on an individual level,” not “Privilege isn’t a thing we should collectively work to eliminate.”

      Comment by Anonymous — July 7, 2011 @ 2:12 pm | Reply

    • Privilege cannot be removed on a personal level, only on a societal one. Rearranging an entire society is not 101.

      Also, you have an interesting understanding of the concept of “metaphor.”

      Edit: or what Anon said.

      Comment by Sindelókë — July 7, 2011 @ 2:13 pm | Reply

      • I know that you understand that privilege is a social problem and that it’s not easy to tackle it. But you do not wait for a 201 post to suggest a solution, as you pretend. My question is: why do you give a personal, partial solution (have faith in the other, etc.) to what is a structural problem? You say it is because you are trying to keep things simple for pedagogical and rhetorical reasons. In this way you try to excuse my charge that you’re assuming a fixed social structure. But keeping things simple does excuse you for giving contradictory explanations.

        My point is precisely that once you assume a fixed or “natural” social structure, you cannot avoid all kinds of contradictory or at least superficial explanations and prescriptions. The characters in your parable have naturally given attributes that grant them privilege given the social context of *your* choosing. Under this premise you are forced to suggest the absurdity of being faithful within an intrinsically untrustworthy situation because the characters cannot change anything. Others have already pointed out at other contradictions in your parable, so I don’t need to dwell on the fact that your parable does not make sense.

        You can say that privilege has to be tackled at the social level all that you want, but not much in your deeds (your post in this case) suggests or gives you the tools to do so. On the contrary, fixed conception of society educates the reader to think along a reactionary privileged position that assumes privilege to be a (social) given. In fact, I haven’t seen anyone in this discussion questioning injustice and inequality, but rather working around it (which of course, is better than not being even aware of it). And I haven’t seen you, as a teacher (you presented yourself as such), pushing the discussion in that direction. I don’t see how you can bring up the need to change the structure in your 201, 301 or whatever “course” because you have started from the wrong premise. I suppose you wouldn’t find it OK to explain flawed or partial notions of arithmetic to students, who will have to deal with lacunae in the future, with the excuse that it is 101 maths. If it is not OK in maths, why is it OK on a 101 course on privilege? The fact that social structures, including structures of privilege, are not externally given but produced by humans is as 101 as it gets for any solid explanation about society.

        And what is so interesting about my concept of metaphor?

        Comment by Manuel — July 8, 2011 @ 6:21 pm

      • @Manuel FYI, strictly incorrect pedagogical paradigms are acceptable in math education. I remember being taught, as a young child, that when the question is “three minus five” the answer is “does not exist”, then later being taught about negative numbers. There are similar positions regarding division before learning of fractions, roots of polynomials before learning of the complex numbers, and so on into areas such as calculus and linear algebra. As a mathematician (almost) today I understand that these models are probably more accurately called “incomplete” than “incorrect”, but I also understand the didactic utility in oversimplification, and so the omission remains. Similarly incorrect and incomplete concepts are often presented in physics (nobody starts with quantum physics and general relativity, let alone the standard model) and chemistry (being taught the Bohr model of the atom as though it were accurate, rather than as part of the history of science).

        Why you expect a more complete and encompassing solution in an informal educational tool designed for the internet about unsolved complex real-world social issues therefore remains a mystery to me.

        Comment by Yiab — July 9, 2011 @ 9:07 am

  47. The fallacy in comparing your dog/lizard parable to men/women, is that the *reason* that the dog is not capable of being subject to the same “pain” as the lizard is not due to alleged “sociological constructs”, but rather that they’re physically different. They’re from different species.

    The dog’s fur and his warm-blooded physiology on the one side, and the lizzard’s blank skin and cold-blooded physiology on the other side, is what makes the experience of “coldness” inherently different for the two.

    What physiological difference between men and women is there, which should make the experience of “being confronted with sexual interest” so inherently different for the two?

    Comment by andy — July 8, 2011 @ 7:28 am | Reply

    • Seriously!?

      How about a larger, more muscular frame. A more aggressive mental state (both due to hormones and due to socially inculcated mores). A penis.

      Comment by ReginaG — July 8, 2011 @ 4:07 pm | Reply

    • The point of the parable is to simply convey the difficulty of explaining certain struggles and hardships. The fact that it happens to be directly due to specific physical differences is irrelevant; that particular feature of the story isn’t really part of the analogy.

      Comment by Anonymous — July 9, 2011 @ 2:14 pm | Reply

  48. Oh, where was this post last year when I was sitting in a Sex & Gender course trying to explain to my male classmates why catcalling and whistling at women was NOT COOL AT ALL. NOT COOL NOT COOL, I TELL YOU! Nothing has ever made me feel more homicidal than when I’m walking down the street, minding my own business, and have disgusting little assholes yelling disgusting things at me. It’s happened when I’m dressed head to toe in a snow suit in Chicago’s frigid winter weather, so it’s NOT like I’m showing skin (or any other pathetic excuse they’d make to act like I “wanted” it.)

    My husband is a Hispanic man, which automatically gives him male privilege, which one would think would be tempered by the problems Hispanic people face. However, his class status put him in private schools with all the other white privileged kids, so he often comes at things from a place of white privilege. I’m Caucasian, but was raised essentially homeless, and my view of the white people’s world is much different than someone who lived in a home and had food to eat every day. Privilege is usually inherited, but it is also context-dependent.

    Comment by thefeministshopper — July 8, 2011 @ 10:35 am | Reply

  49. Thank you! Great article, I’m sharing it with my husband. (Great guy, but a little clueless sometimes. lol)

    Comment by Anonymous — July 8, 2011 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

  50. Boo, my Goodness booooooo, so sick of Gay issue I would have loved it if not for again shoving it down my throat, it is not a privilege issue it is an issue of gay is wrong so no I am mot turning down the heat

    Comment by crystal — July 8, 2011 @ 2:01 pm | Reply

    • Aaaand, thank you for supplying an example of hetero privilege.

      Comment by ReginaG — July 8, 2011 @ 4:14 pm | Reply

  51. Sounds a lot like whining to me.

    Comment by really? — July 8, 2011 @ 6:22 pm | Reply

    • Very constructive.

      Comment by Yiab — July 9, 2011 @ 9:15 am | Reply

  52. Dear magnificent author,

    I wanted to contact you directly but this seems like the only way so I’ll apologise to everyone taking part in the discussion etc if this is a little out of place.

    That is the clearest and most accessible description that I have ever read.

    This comment obviously requires a little context, I’m an academic and I study the concept specifically relating to the experiences of gay white men and manifestations of privilege and homonormativity in their lives. I also teach about the concept to undergraduates on critical social courses. In short, my professional life is mostly engaged with reading and writing about the concept of privilege. Granted I’m not involved in the blogging business so there may well be other descriptions which are equally marvellous and if so then I apologise to those other authors. I say this because it will hopefully serve to underline that I have somewhat of a broad (but by no means extensive or complete, obviously) experience of literature on the topic.

    So I’ll say again, that is the clearest and most accessible description that I have ever read.

    The beauty of it is that there are all three key elements of privilege (materiality, ubiquity, invisibility) present and accounted for an yet they are expressed without resorting to the usually convoluted language in which I am usually immersed. More specifically you manage to avoid resorting to the invocation of concepts such as normativity while illustrating them elegantly for the novice reader on the topic so that one might subsequently develop them. While I would argue that the study of privilege is aimed, fundamentally, at reconfiguring relations of inequality rather than merely being aware of them awareness is certainly the first, necessary, step.

    I thought I would just let you know that this is so clear that I would be thoroughly grateful if you would grant permission for me to incorporate it into my future classes, properly referenced with the source obviously.

    Please contact me if you would like to discuss such permission at the email address below.



    Comment by Anonymous — July 9, 2011 @ 9:19 am | Reply

  53. I feel like there’s a point a lot of the “dogs” in the comments are missing.

    If the dog gets his will and gets to have the house be at the temperature most comfortable for him, the gecko will get sick and likely die.
    If the gecko gets her will and gets to have the house be at the temperature most comfortable to her, the dog will be very uncomfortable. He will not get sick, he will not die.

    The gecko isn’t demanding that the house be warmed up to a degree where the dog will have a heatstroke, but for it to be at a temperature where she can move around without having to worry about staying in the cold too long (which could end with death) and move to other places as quickly as possible before the temperature has an ill effect on her. The dog can shed his fur, or shave it, the gecko cannot grow fur at all. Instead of one of them being totally comfortable and the other being in a state likely to be lethal if they don’t stay attentive, both are a bit uncomfortable and works with making the most of that situation; the dog can drink lots of cold water or shed some of his fur to deal with the temperature that’s a bit too warm for him, the gecko can wear clothing to make up for the temperature that is still a bit too low. But it would seem that a lot of dogs are simply not interested in compromise, and stubbornly think that the only other alternative to “perfect for him” is “way too warm for him,” even when the geckoes tell them that isn’t the case.

    Comment by Anonymous — July 9, 2011 @ 12:46 pm | Reply

    • The gecko can climb up the wall – as geckos are wont to do – and change the damn temperature herself, or she can educate herself on other option, such as opening the front door to this insular little house and LEAVE. And hey, I’m a woman!

      Comment by Anonymous — July 11, 2011 @ 7:26 pm | Reply

      • She’s too cold to open the door or change the temperature. That’s the point. She can begin to work her way there by telling the dog what’s up and getting some assitance in getting warm enough to better take care of herself.

        Comment by MsLilithe — July 18, 2011 @ 10:21 am

    • Why should the dog be uncomfortable? It’s HIS house! The gecko just lives in it!

      And that, my friends, is privilege.

      Comment by Anonymous — July 31, 2011 @ 5:11 pm | Reply

  54. Nice article.

    Comment by Brutus Lincoln Paine — July 9, 2011 @ 1:48 pm | Reply

  55. Hmmm, sounds like your interpretation of privilege is an impediment to personal growth and development; if that is the privilege you want. These scenarios do nothing more than describe pain and suffering. I have one privilege….to know the timeless, allness of my being. All else is fodder and vanity of thought for the privileged.

    Comment by LMF — July 10, 2011 @ 3:04 pm | Reply

  56. I have an issue with this article. Full disclosure: I guess I’m a dog – Caucasian European male. This article was brought to my attention because of Elevatorgate. If that is new to you, don’t bother investigating it, because the issue is gecko vs dogs in the atheist/skeptic communities (ie feminism) , not the trivial beginnings.

    Privilege is a new word to me, and frankly a new concept. I am trying to re-assess my own approach to women as I learn more about the cold.
    As I read more about privilege, it seems to be in this context a category word that encompasses the following:

    advantage, adaptation, difference, preference, requirement, attitude, viewpoint, assertiveness

    I see many posts above talking about one of these words, being answered by a response that assumes a different word.

    if the article had been about colour, the comments can be categorised as such:
    Quite right! Red is ……
    But you are forgetting that Blue …..
    None of this matters in Orange ….
    Silhouettes are the absence of colour …
    Black is the opposite of White, therefore Blue and Red should be considered opposites …
    Again, you are ignoring Orange …

    This is the problem. This article and comments are an exercise in equivocation – everyone is exactly sure what they are talking about is the correct topic, and everyone has a slightly different definition of the central term. ‘Privilege’ thus is as nebulous and useless as a word, as “spiritual” is in other contexts.

    This leaves me with a vague sense of everyone is grasping towards some truth and that there is a valuable topic I can learn from at the core – but no-one has found it and clearly demonstrated it yet.

    Putting forward individual ‘privileges’ (and then arguing the toss over whetter it exists, is significant, or belongs to the other side) is pointless ‘grass is greener’-ism.

    Comment by Fred Trellis — July 10, 2011 @ 9:04 pm | Reply

    • There is a good point. The fact of the matter is that this use of the word “Privilege” is made-up. It seems to be a technical term whose etymology I suspect originated with Women’s Studies? Problem is, it doesn’t correlate well to the actual definition of privilege, rendering fuzzy thinking (or feats of interpretation) necessary to extract any information. A majority is not privileged, if only for the fact that privilege implies exclusivity. It also implies that it was conferred by some higher power… when the reality is it is the result of some kind of group-think.

      Comment by Ben C — October 31, 2012 @ 3:33 pm | Reply

      • All uses of all words are made-up; language (as used by humans) is a human construction. Just because this particular usage of this word only gained prominence within living memory does not make it any less valid.

        Comment by Yiab — October 31, 2012 @ 3:52 pm

      • Yiab,
        That is simply not good enough, and I have read enough of these comments to know that you are smart enough to know better. My complaint with this new, ill-defined use of the term “privilege” is NOT that it is a new word. It is that it is an attempt to redefine a word that already exists. That amounts to propaganda/political speech, and has the effect of obfuscating the issue. Is the point of Feminism to obtain equality of treatment for all humans, or is the point to redress prior inequities by handicapping those whom statistics identify as having had a head start? I think that a term like privilege is meant to permanently put people in their place, as defined by those who invent the concept. As such, it seems insufficiently interested in producing actual justice, and more interested in putting specific individuals from allegedly privileged groups (whites, men, the able bodied) behind all members of allegedly underprivileged groups, for no other reason than their physical attributes. In fact it sounds like some rather unpleasant totalitarian strains of thought, with all the elements of judging people by their identity rather than by their own actions.

        Comment by ben c — November 5, 2012 @ 2:40 pm

  57. I have an issue with this article. Full disclosure: I guess I’m a dog – Caucasian European male. This article was brought to my attention because of Elevatorgate. If that is new to you, don’t bother investigating it, because the issue is gecko vs dogs in the atheist/skeptic communities (ie feminism) , not the trivial beginnings.

    Privilege is a new word to me, and frankly a new concept. I am trying to re-assess my own approach to women as I learn more about the cold.
    As I read more about privilege, it seems to be in this context a category word that encompasses the following:

    advantage, adaptation, difference, preference, requirement, attitude, viewpoint, assertiveness

    I see many posts above talking about one of these words, being answered by a response that assumes a different word.

    if the article had been about colour, the comments can be categorised as such:
    Quite right! Red is ……
    But you are forgetting that Blue …..
    None of this matters in Orange ….
    Silhouettes are the absence of colour …
    Black is the opposite of White, therefore Blue and Red should be considered opposites …
    Again, you are ignoring Orange …

    This is the problem. This article and comments are an exercise in equivocation – everyone is exactly sure what they are talking about is the correct topic, and everyone has a slightly different definition of the central term. ‘Privilege’ thus is as nebulous and useless as a word, as “spiritual” is in other contexts.

    This leaves me with a vague sense of everyone is grasping towards some truth and that there is a valuable topic I can learn from at the core – but no-one has found it and clearly demonstrated it yet.

    Putting forward individual ‘privileges’ (and then arguing the toss over whether it exists, is significant, or belongs to the other side) is pointless ‘grass is greener’-ism.

    (Edited: typos corrected)

    Comment by Fred Trellis — July 10, 2011 @ 9:06 pm | Reply

  58. Ridiculously inane. A complete failure at explanation. “You don’t have to be wary of sexual interest.” Yes, no man has ever been raped or sexually abused. This idiotic idea of privilege is anti-feminist. It’s as if you’re saying, “It’s better to be rich, white, straight, and male and if you’re not those then you’re a subbeing.” Bull. Sexism exists because there are sexist people, not privileged people. You’re assigning value to the allegedly privileged that you remove from the allegedly unprivileged.

    Comment by Joe — July 10, 2011 @ 10:01 pm | Reply

    • “Sexism exists because there are sexist people”

      But the effects of sexism far outlast the lives of sexist people. Allow me to provide an anecdote.

      I recently attended an academic conference focusing on the intersection of computer science and mathematical logic. The first day I was bored during one of the talks, so I counted the people in the room: other than myself there were 45 men and 3 women. Through the rest of the week the ratio remained approximately the same. I highly doubt that this had anything to do with sexist people. As far as I saw nobody at the conference treated anybody differently along gender lines; how you were treated depended almost entirely on perceived social status deriving from your publication history and age. I know several of the people who organized the conference, and I highly doubt they would have had any gender bias regarding invitations to speak, or reimbursement for expenses to participate. It is worth noting that there are notoriously few women in mathematics and in computer science, so it may simply be that this is an accurate representation of the academic area, but the ratio of women to men was actually lower than I’ve seen in any department where I’ve spent time (admittedly not many, but still), and even if that were the case it only pushes the question back a step.

      I think that part of the problem is that people put far too much trust in tradition. Traditionally women have been thought of as bad at math, and in so far as a tradition exists in computer science (obviously a very young discipline) it is quite similar. Overcoming the subconscious idea which permeates the minds of a lot of primary school educators that girls aren’t going to be as good at math as boys is extremely difficult, especially since many of these educators were themselves educated by those deeply imbued with said idea. Additionally, these traditions mean that everyone expects conferences like this one to be attended almost entirely by men, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as many women are (understandably) put off by the thought of being one of the 3 women in a room with 45 men.

      Unfortunately we do not have the luxury of starting with a clean slate, so the effects of past mistakes are likely to linger for quite some time even if we suddenly start to do everything right. Until these effects have faded into minimality, we may as well do what we can to compensate for them.

      Comment by Yiab — July 11, 2011 @ 1:57 am | Reply

      • This is sort of going to get off topic, but I wanted to respond to your post. As a woman in academia I have had a lot of discussion with colleagues in disciplines across the Arts, Sciences, and engineering about the distribution of women in academia. There is actually a lot of evidence now that girls dominate in educational institutions from primary grades through to undergraduate. My own experience of school was that about 75% of the awards in math and science went to girls. There is some variance across disciplines at the undergraduate level, but even in male dominated areas women are still gaining ground up to that point. It’s around the graduate level that women are still dropping like flies in the disciplines of concern, and the proportions of women become most drastically lower. The numbers of women who succeed in math and science up to and including undergraduate would indicate that the problem is not in primary education – that part we seem to have figured out. So really what you’re looking at is why there are fewer women at the graduate level and higher?

        One of the factors in distribution of faculty may simply be that there haven’t been enough new positions open up for changing trends in who pursues these topics to necessarily be reflected in the make up of the faculty, depending on how long and how much the numbers of women coming up the ranks has been increasing – and math and computer science is one of the disciplines that was further behind in starting to see increased participation of women. In my own department there was only one woman on faculty until about 10ish years ago. All three tenure-track positions (and one contract position) that have been opened since have gone to women. That still leaves them in the minority in the overall makeup of the department, which does not reflect that in undergraduate classrooms and the masters program in the same department the overwhelming majority are women. So in some respects, it may just simply be a matter of waiting for the effects to trickle up. But you yourself said that the conference was more skewed than you thought departments were, so here’s something else to consider: when the most recent position was filled, there were 10 people interviewed and only the successful candidate was a woman, which, I understand, was roughly reflective of the distribution of gender among the applicants. So you have to remember that the number of either gender hired could be skewed depending on whether the person hired was in the majority or the minority, and how wide the gap. With over 100 applications for every position I’ve heard of opening at my institution in the last few years in any department, there’s a lot of room for statistical anomaly.

        So if you want to look at why there were so few women at an academic conference the issue is not teaching girls that they are just as good at math as boys – they already know that. The issue is why women don’t participate in the higher levels of academia in the same numbers. And that is an issue that is altogether too big to come up with a simple solution here, but is receiving ongoing attention in research on these trends.

        Comment by Anonymous — July 12, 2011 @ 5:36 pm

  59. […] came across as ignorant. A lot of people realized this was a teaching moment. I stumbled across this metaphor for privilege via a repost by […]

    Pingback by A Comment About Being Privileged « Seth's World — July 11, 2011 @ 9:07 am | Reply

  60. Interesting definition. I don’t particularly subscribe to it, but there is one point I want to make. As an author, if I choose to title my book “Beautiful Cocksuckers” and that is offensive to someone – be they gay or straight, male or female, living or undead – they are explicitly invited not to buy it if it offends them so. I don’t need their business more than I need my artistic integrity…or any other kind of integrity, for that matter.

    Comment by Anonymous — July 11, 2011 @ 11:03 am | Reply

  61. Women lambast the male privilege of “being able to be invisible.” But the men lament the difficulty of attracting attention. It’s as if women are a permanent magnet yet the men are electromagnets, quiescent unless an electric current is run through them.

    24/7 power is expensive. What an enviable ability the women have!

    Recognize that both sides have powers, some of which are inalienable as long as certain institutions exist. Women must realize that they cannot turn off the magnet without investing in shields or damaging themselves. Men must realize that they must change themselves if they are to gain the same paramagnetism.

    The gecko should realize that it can climb into vents while the dog cannot! They should make a trade. Thus came about capitalism…or is it the dating market?

    Comment by — July 11, 2011 @ 11:17 am | Reply

  62. You have one dog holding the controls to air conditioning, a more true picture would be 100 dogs (male population) and a 100 lizards (female lizards) and one dog controls (the few males that control things) the air conditioning. Furthermore that one dog is getting tired of the lizards complaining they are cold so he turns up the temperature for the rest of the house but continues to keep his room cold (the male elite keep their privilege while forcing all other males to forfeit theirs).

    The result is 99 of the male dogs are not happy because it is too hot and 100 female lizards are unhappy because it is still too cold. You have angry men who are now hot and upset that the lizards are still complaining and you have the angry lizards still complaining it is too cold.

    Comment by John — July 11, 2011 @ 2:56 pm | Reply

  63. I realize that this is an old post, but I just saw it getting linked around today, and I want to thank you for writing such a wonderful and clarifying metaphor. And I greatly admire your patience in dealing with many of the responses to this post.

    Comment by Anonymous — July 11, 2011 @ 5:05 pm | Reply

  64. Shut the fuck up cunt. Go eat a motherfucking bag of baby dicks. Your metaphor has about as much meaning as fecal matter. I hope you get raped.

    Comment by anon — July 11, 2011 @ 10:15 pm | Reply

    • Good job, keep being about as helpful as Sam Ellis. You are a credit to your species.

      Comment by Tilde See — July 12, 2011 @ 4:14 pm | Reply

      • Am I not helpful?

        Comment by worldwearywaiter — May 18, 2012 @ 12:56 am

  65. I agree with the metaphor, and the sentiment: You have no basis for offense when you’re not part of the potentially offended party. Yes, that’s pretty damn true, and has been backed up by many rude and idiotic comments on this page.

    However, I would like to point out that presuming men don’t know is a slippery slope. I know plenty of men that do, and the broad generalizations that “make women” into kitchen dwelling barefoot babymakers also threaten to make men into hulking assholes with no empathy.

    I was at one point dating two people, one of which was male and one of which was female. When leaving an establishment, on a regular basis I would ask them to walk with me instead of leaving me to walk to the car alone and come get them on the way by. They both were blithe and unconcerned about fears of violence, because they had the *privilege* of having never been assaulted/attacked/violated. They both whined and bitched and gave me shit if I asked them to walk with me, because picking them up was on the way, and they were tired and carrying stuff.

    One could argue that D, the male, had male privilege of being 6’2″ and weighing 210 and generally not fearing for his bodily integrity. But that’s blown right out of the water by the other person involved, who was smaller than I was, female, and just as ignorant of danger.

    Privilege has many fronts. I understand that this post had a lot to do with privilege as relates to males, but I would offer that it has a vast deal more to do with exposure to victimization. A woman who HASN’T been catcalled or abused or put down or discriminated against is in that situation just as much of a dog, and I’ve met plenty of those.

    Comment by oniongirl13 — July 11, 2011 @ 10:28 pm | Reply

  66. I’m not going to go through all your false analogies here but I will comment on this one.

    A man has the privilege of walking past a group of strange women without worrying about being catcalled, or leered at, or having sexual suggestions tossed at him.

    Firstly, you are making a bait and switch here. Comparing women who walk by men and men who walk by women. What happens when men walk by men?

    In fact, if a man walks past that same group of men and doesn’t like what they have to say to him and he protests he may be beaten and even killed by those men. If a woman protests the men may insult her more or they may be quiet but it is unheard of for them to attack and beat her let alone kill her.

    Another large difference is that if a man complains about the insulting comments made by those men he will either be ignored or receive further abuse. However, if a woman should complain her complaints will be taken seriously and she can expect an apology and in many cases the men will be fired or arrested or even attacked.

    So then, this is not a privilege for men. In fact, it is a privilege for women who once again receive more protection and consideration.

    Feminism is rife with these unfair and false analogies which routinely portray women as victims and men as perpetrators. However, when the comparison is made more accurately we see that the privilege is (as usual) on the side of women.

    When you engage in this kind of bait and switch or other straw man tactics you are actually engaging in misandry.

    It is this type of behavior which is the reason many people believe that feminism is a movement of hatred rather than equality.

    Comment by Jean Valjean — July 12, 2011 @ 5:43 pm | Reply

    • Wait what? If a woman complains about catcalls, her complaints will be taken seriously? If a woman complains about insulting comments, the men will be punished? Really?

      No, what will happen is this: Other men will rush to the scene and tell the woman to shut up and not make such a big fuss about it since in the particular incident she was not physically harmed. People will tell her to “shut the fuck up, bitch”, as evidenced by the recent “elevator” shitstorm. She will not be taken seriously, but rather patronized and hushed away.

      And it is unheard of men attacking a woman that walks past them and objects to what the men said to her? Really? So if you’d open the newspaper and read a story like “Woman walks past group of men, tells them to stop the catcalling, subsequently gets beaten and raped”, you would be absolutely surprised about this incident, unable to imagine that things like this can actually happen?

      THAT is privilege showing.

      Comment by lagerbaer — July 14, 2011 @ 8:21 pm | Reply

      • I do not agree with Jean Valjean here, but lagerbaer needs a calling-out. Firstly, if a woman complains about insulting comments to the organization that the catcaller works at, they very well may be fired. This is a minor point, primarily because of the gains made by equality movements. In other words, it is a good thing that workmen can be held responsible for their rude actions. But they certainly can be punished for those actions, in this case.

        Second, I would be extremely surprised to hear of a woman who told off a catcaller in the street who was subsequently beaten and gang-raped. If that ever happened in my city of about one million people, where I have lived for almost thirty years, I certainly would have heard of it. So obviously fearing gang-rape because of catcalls is extreme, and in fact irrational. Not that experiencing fear is wrong, but it is still irrational.

        Comment by Ben C — October 31, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

  67. At the risk of being redundant, I want to echo Thomas and CL.

    To avoid undermining the case for taking seriously the very real problems that face certain groups, the idea of white male privilege needs to be qualified: It’s true that white males enjoy privilege in many situations, but not in all situations. In some situations being white and male is a _disadvantage_, relative to the subjects prospects of achieving his ends, just as being black or female is an _advantage_ in certain situations.

    To determine whether privilege is existent in any given case, context has to be taken into account, which includes the conditions of the immediate environment, but also the subjective value scales of the actor. To talk of white male privilege as if it were an objective fact permeating the world (as the author of this otherwise insightful piece) does, is misleading.

    Comment by bitbutter — July 12, 2011 @ 6:59 pm | Reply

  68. I think too much heat has been generated on an idea that wasn’t, I think, necessarily stated, which is that privilege is something immutable and transcendent of context. Privilege can be found in any relation between individuals among themselves, groups among themselves and between groups and individuals. It is definitely possible for two people, A & B, that A has a privilege over B in situation X, while B has a privilege over A in situation Y. This doesn’t mean that the two cancel each other out, or that the privilege in case X is necessarily equal to Y.

    The problem that is inherent in privilege and that needs addressing is not that it exists and that it needs to stop. It may be unavoidable for privilege to form in our societies. What is needed however is for the privileged A to realize their privileged position in situation X, and then act accordingly, and for the privileged B to realize their privileged position in situation Y and then act accordingly. It is difficult to get into the specifics of determing the various instances of privilege when people refuse to acknowledge its existence as a concept.

    Comment by cafeeine — July 12, 2011 @ 10:12 pm | Reply

  69. Out of the gate I’ll say that there are some ridiculous reactions that are the direct and proximate result of the cute parable above. A dog cannot shave off his fur, the level of difficulty to that dog getting close to where you’d expect a man to castrate himself. That my dog, when he was dying, had patches of fur missing from compulsive licking no more proves that dogs can shave off their fur than the self-inflicted castration of Boston Corbett (the man who shot the man who shot President Lincoln – he did this before the assassination, and before the war in fact – referring, that is, to the castration) proves that men are happy not being sexual creatures. Dogs actually tend to go into shock when you shave off their fur. Yes, one can and should be able to imagine, or at least visualize, life existing as it would while not being a man (insert a different identification there as necessary), but the road from, say, Murphy to Robocop is a traumatic one, full of brain holes and uncomfortable metal parts. People can design and even understand complex systems of complex design, and even judge them superior to ourselves (for example, my computer multiplies somewhat more ably than I do), but we cannot mold ourselves to an arbitrary physiology, because the paradigms upon which human existence depend are generally complex enough that they cannot simply be altered wholesale.

    The author’s obvious rebuttal is that the call of the article isn’t coming close to asking dogs to compulsively lick at patches of skin until they are cool enough for the gecko to be happy, or for men to castrate themselves. Indeed, the article explicitly says that being a man (or any being endowed with any arbitrarily chosen attribute) is not a cause for concern, but this strikes me as a false sort of tolerance, and against the actual spirit of the piece, because passages throughout the text of the article such as the “big feet” make it quite explicit that given any particular sort of attributes a person is required to live up to certain social norms and curtail their own freedoms in order to create a more perfect set of outcomes (Pareto-optimal you might say). I call it a false tolerance because it’s made clear that being a dog, or having bit feet, and then exploiting one’s dogness or bigfootedness is a cause for concern and moralizing rebuke if not outright repression.

    I think it worthwhile to take a step back and look at this in the simplest terms: Where do the balances of freedom exist? Putting the onus on those with freedoms, or “privileges,” or blaming the victim ends up being a rhetorical bludgeon that seemingly stifles a discussion of where the limits on freedom actually ought to lie. It also seems to me – perhaps some will argue otherwise – that even freedoms or natural rights are actually artificially created to a large degree, but ensuring freedoms (the freedom to write books with outrageous titles, the right to go to a school with adequate resources which has been too long denied children in poor areas) are respected when there is a conflict between the freedoms of one group or another seems a much more direct and logical progression than to say that we ought to use this paradigm of “privilege.”

    @ cafeeine: “It may be unavoidable for privilege to form in our societies.” I would say that at least a sizable segment of the population would argue that it is in fact a necessary component of society, certainly in certain defined instances, although they might avoid the term privilege here, instead probably opting for the more positive-sounding term freedom. I am not prepared to disagree with them: A mathematician or a logician has what might be called the “privilege” of being paid deferential treatment when they state a problem in a concise form (unless their analysis butts heads with the aforementioned “silent majority,” in which case they will simply be shouted down, but that’s a separate issue). The bully pulpit of reason comes with a price (beyond the obvious which is the responsibility) in that they had to train for their post. But remove the dues paid, and you still have a situation whereby somebody is better believed – in this case, judged better able, as objectively as humans can make that claim – than another person. I think that it is simply an illustration of the difficulty of broaching this topic that the author has caught so much flak from this. I often, for example, ask people on random Forums to take more care to explain themselves carefully before posting snark when their comments are not swallowed unquestioningly (including on technical points not open to differences of opinion in which they may be correct and the other party wrong). Unfortunately, at the same time it is extraordinarily easy for me to be hypocritical and view pleas like the original posting as being simply too dictatorial – you see the hypocrisy in my being able to freely criticize one person’s ill-behavior while shying away from a person attempting to create a vaccine for the whole problem. However, the difference is just that: Targeted advice, versus blanket statements. Apart from the poor reception I think this piece gets simply from its tone and to its audience, I think it may also be helpful to remember that some instances are more easily remedied than others.

    I would also like to point out that this seems to be a construction of biological and social concerns. Society does not tolerate the complete expression of freedom by a murderous sociopath, say, and much the way biology (when it works) prevents much of the population from exhibiting same said murderous sociopathic tendencies.

    And that gets us back to the problem. When we talk about “privilege,” of course some of it is real, but the rational component becomes a composite of both a sort of mapping failure – in optics, this would be called metameric failure, where two colors sometimes are perceived as one depending on the system doing the detecting; and also when you poll two systems that observed the same color, they come back with different answers. In this debate the term “privilege” burdens a given party (in this case, the dog, but as pointed out by others it may be arbitrarily selected, i.e. it may be the gecko) with having to untangle whether their perceptions are correct. You may note that this is extended even to second-guessing whether our readings of the responses of others is correct – there are some obvious tropes playing out on this in culture which relate precisely to the situation above. But perhaps more important, one also has to wonder if when somebody says “this is a terrible idea, you shouldn’t do it; be aware of your privilege,” one has to wonder if they are being blinded by their own criteria and in fact missing your point. Is Sasha Baron Cohen wrong when he plays on common stereotypes to highlight ignorance and irrational fears (and irrational tolerances) in our society? Is any combination of any person highlighting ignorance being “privileged” when doing so? Why is it that many in the fine arts (poetry, writing, painting, etc.) feel burdened by considerateness in making their points, but others (i.e., radical atheists of the Dawkins or Hitchens persuasions) do not?

    I posit that none of these viewpoints are at least obviously wrong when they serve some greater good that can be enumerated – and sometimes (or quite almost always, I’d bet) these conflicting viewpoints are all worthy of being stated. So I do not resent the person who asks us about our privilege, nor do I resent the person who uses their “privilege” blindly. I do, however, think that defining the scope of acceptable discourse is essentially cutting people of certain backgrounds out of their rightful place in society. Speaking of a rightful place: Al Jolson understood the trope of blackface. Does his blackface act, because it displaced blacks from singing (noting, of course, that they simply would not have been allowed into that market) and because it perpetuated stereotypes, reduce his apparent commitment to black rights and equality? That Al Jolson, through no intrigue of his own, was able to profit from the repression of black talent actually doesn’t reduce his own humanity, his own talent, his own reason for pride. And if Al Jolson were suddenly alive with that blackface act today, I’d imagine that despite the protests I, at least, would have to take a step back and say: “Wow, a blackface act in 2011, this is a completely new prism to consider society through.” Yes, it would make us all squirm to no end, but I think that when we say we must shut down some avenues of expression (or whatever it may be) for the sake of others, we must do so extremely carefully. And of course, I’m sure there is somebody out there toiling away in ridiculous pancake makeup, in complete obscurity. Al Jolson was about humanity and arguably his blackface act was about shared sufferings. And, more to the point, if Al were alive today, he wouldn’t be in blackface. The many blackface performances of today – we can rail against them, and we can see the point in them, both. I think it misses an opportunity to simply denigrate people with complex relationships to others as “Dogs That Need a Newspaper Smack.” :)

    It may be unwelcome but I see the usual “liberal-conservative” false dichotomy playing in here. Despite the popular stereotype about dreamers versus working men, at their best the Randians (Tea-Partiers, libertarians in case the association isn’t quickly made) will (from my understanding) argue that when you say that “X shouldn’t abuse their privilege,” they will point out that this amounts to abrogation of personal initiative. Another perhaps tangentially related cultural topic I see is that of freedom of the arts: Some smug kid talking about how he is ‘exposing the plight of the poor’ by paying the indigent, homeless poor to hurt each other (exactly as documented by “Bumfights: A Video Too Far”) does not evoke our sympathy or merit a defense of their artistic freedoms because the expression of those freedoms clearly impinge on those of others. Yet when we see somebody whose work signifies (to us, note!) that it Has Merit we will defend it at length. Now, this is a good and normal process, but I think the “You Have Privilege” crowd is well served to recognize there often is a bias in what sorts of issues are selected for rebuke, and control by the crowd is not crowd control.

    A dissent by Justice William O. Douglases’ at the Supreme Court was that “trees have standing” (Sierra Club v. Morton), that rivers represent all the life within them, and so should be afforded consideration as entities of their own outside human ownership. This possibly can be generalized quite easily to many sorts of “privilege” issues without having to resort to the idea of privilege in the first place. Likewise, an argument that a corporation should be keen to avoid inflicting unintentional impacts on the environment, and that ignoring externalities is creating false profits in the short term which will be outweighed by consequences later – this may appeal to the buzzword-laden minefield of a business executive’s thought process. This, too, gets by without the use of the word “privilege;” it describes a situation I think that entirely encompasses many situations the “privilege” idea wishes to adhere to, but to which it is superfluous. The “privilege” vocabulary is not avoided but is simply irrelevant; the situation emphasizes personal responsibility within a greater sphere and argues that freedoms must be balanced. What the dialogue of “privilege” actually adds past this I am not sure.

    One could, however, manufacture an argument that social commentators are privileged to be able to talk about things completely in the abstract, while (CHEST THUMPING!) Real Execs have to support their workers and by extension their families. You’ll note that precisely this argument, in a clearly specious form, is raised by “fiscal conservatives” whenever the spectre of tax hikes wafts in from over the horizon. Further confusing issues by saying “well, it’s not really an issue of shifting the tax burden (i.e., screwing people over), it’s an issue of privilege” is a less intuitive way of describing the disparity. But back to that idea of “privilege,” it seems to be more naturally suited to arguments that are trending downhill into cesspools of cynicism and resentment, rather than into situations where we can all mutually lean on each others’ strengths while not sliding into a Hobbesian scenario of extreme freedoms, where might makes right and “the contract is sacrosanct” (second time I’ve used that phrase today…hmph…libertarian if you miss the linkage).

    I think the original poster ought also to recognize that the parable of privilege is one constructed in a way which clearly reflects their own privilege – they don’t feel privileged to offend Muslims, for example, but many Middle Eastern men would be quite offended by the comparison to dogs all the same. While I feel that animals are much closer in intelligence and ability to ourselves than we normally believe, they don’t understand each others’ language and this need not be dressed up with funny animals.

    Anyway, I’m obviously going off on some tangents. Many thanks if you have toiled through this all. Good night and good luck!

    Comment by Edwin Herdman — July 13, 2011 @ 4:22 am | Reply

  70. I’m not going to read ALL of the posts here because A) I’m becoming sickened by them and B) most of them seem to be saying the same two things: I’m a Lizard (or I like them) and that’s accurate OR I’m a Dog and that’s not accurate. Variants exist.

    Privilege exists. Period. I’m a white, middle aged male. Yeah, I’m expected to step in the way of an attacker. I’m expected to go to war and sacrifice my body. Yeah, I have no say over whether or not I have to be a father to a child I might not want. Sure. It’s true that it is generally assumed that I only interact with women to get sex, possibly by force if I have to. It’s also true that it is often assumed I want to do the same with children, even if I don’t actually go through with it. It’s assumed I make more money because I’m a man and I don’t deserve it, even if I’m educated and have worked particularly hard. These things ARE true. There are a HUGE number of misandrist laws, views, public opinions and social conventions that I have to deal with daily.

    Still, I don’t have to deal with being raped or wondering if my new girlfriend might not take “no” for an answer on our first date back at her place. I don’t have to fight to get equal pay to take care of the kid my ex-girlfriend won’t help with. I don’t have to hold two jobs just to make the same amount of money as my female neighbor. I don’t get cars sold to me at a higher starting price than my female peers. Or houses. Or any other item, particularly those that confer “status.” I don’t have to worry that I’ll be offered the receptionist job rather than the management, even though I’ve got a degree in business right on my friggin’ resume. I don’t have to deal with assumptions that I can’t think logically, or that my emotions aren’t valid every twenty + days, or any number of the VAST amount of misogynist laws, views, public opinions, or social conventions that women actually have to deal with daily.

    Look both genders have some huge problems, prejudices, etc. These are real problems that men and women have because they are men and women in a society that says “Men are this way and Women are that way.” If you break the norm, there’s something wrong with you. I’m a househusband. My wife is a professional. I helped put her through college. She’s got several years of post-graduate training and I have an Associate’s. When we go to functions, strangers (men AND women) assume I”M THE PROFESSIONAL most of the time. We have to correct them. Even those who already know she is instantly assume that I AM TOO. That’s privilege. The flip side? When they find out I stay at home and take care of the kids, cook, clean, pay the bills and generally do all that “women’s work” (another example of male privilege), their respect for me visibly drops. Yes, even the women. I sometimes even get “Oh….well, there’s nothing wrong with that.” I didn’t think there was. Who are they trying to convince?

    The fact is we live in a Patriarchal society. It’s also a fact that Patriarchy doesn’t just disadvantage and harm women. It harms men, too. It creates gender roles that are, at this point, completely arbitrary. It says women are delicate lizards who can’t control the air cooler and men are shaggy dogs who are too stupid or inattentive not to. Those are poor assumptions, but what’s even worse is that WE FOLLOW THEM. Men end up believing they have to be the shaggy dog. Women end up believing they are just a delicate lizard. Why? Because of the preponderance of evidence that that’s just how the world works. Well, it doesn’t have to be so.

    This is why equal rights matter. I get why “Feminism” was chosen as an equal rights moniker, I really do. I think, however, that our society needs to actually grow up rather than pretending to, and “Feminism” is just as poor a choice, now…in these time, as “Masculism” would be. Arguing about which gender’s social problems are valid is ridiculous and counter productive. Rather than say “This way of doing things is bad for [insert your gender here], and [insert the opposite gender here] just can’t understand it because they aren’t [your gender, again],” how about we say “Our patriarchal system is outdated and is causing more problems than it solves, so lets fix it.” Or maybe “Basing social values on gender sucks.” That’s a good one.

    And by the way, I’m more like a Pharaoh hound. We like the heat, too.

    Comment by Virtually Lucid — July 14, 2011 @ 3:07 am | Reply

    • Yeah. Excellent response to all of the previous comments. Thank you.

      Comment by MsLilithe — July 18, 2011 @ 10:16 am | Reply

    • Okay, now THAT was…..articulated very well. I laud you.

      Comment by Ben — July 18, 2011 @ 1:54 pm | Reply

    • *This* is the best thing on the entire page, even including the original article.

      Comment by Will — July 22, 2011 @ 6:19 pm | Reply

    • You, Sir, win.

      Comment by Sam Cook (@sam_cook) — October 18, 2011 @ 7:36 pm | Reply

    • Best of a bad bunch. Why the superfluous reference to the apparently technical (but fuzzy) term, “privilege”? I still don’t see a need to inject this emotionally charged term (a term usually used to derail an argument).

      Why not just say that people should be treated fairly/equally, rather than differently? I am bigger, so I do heavy housework. My wife is more particular, so she prefers to clean, especially the kitchen and bathroom. We share the work, and both are (reasonably :D) happy with the result. We don’t obsess about who has privilege due to this or that “narrative” or “social construct”. We treat each other as equals and do what needs to be done. Ideally, society should mirror this situation: all contributing, trying to take each other into account. It is about being a decent human, as far as I can see. If I don’t see someone’s problem – because I am different – and I hurt them, it does no good to label me and castigate me for my ignorance.

      Comment by Ben C — October 31, 2012 @ 4:20 pm | Reply

  71. Vital concept, well explained. When someone tells you they hurt, BELIEVE THEM. At very worst, you are sensitive to someone who doesn’t fully deserve it. The good energy is good karma even so.

    Comment by sensei — July 17, 2011 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

  72. “My experience completely invalidates yours, because I am a woman. You can’t possibly know what it’s like for me, because you’re a man.”

    Nice bit of womansplaining there.

    Comment by Phil — July 21, 2011 @ 1:48 am | Reply

  73. I have read this entire section with more than a bit of interest. First, the absolute need for self revelation. I am male, white, and an academic (hold a position at a university). Background: I came from very poor stock (at one point lived in a two room shack, pot belly stove for heat, one lamp bulb – bare, outhouse). My dad worked bagging groceries at a supermarket for extra money, and my mom typed people’s documents for a few pennies a page).
    First, argument from anecdote (and, OMG, please don’t take this as a “poor me” story – I’ve done just fine, actually, and my experience as amember of the underclass has given me insights that I wouldn’t now trade for the privilege I would have traded for before)..
    Given my background, in Canada at least, I was statistically much less likely to get a good education than Black folks in Nova Scotia or middle class girls in my cohort. I would have traded my position for that of a middle class girl in a heartbeat. Later I went back to school/university in my 30s (having dropped out of high school – as would have been common among my peers). As I went through school I found that again I would have loved to trade my position with almost anyone – I could not get any “special” scholarships or bursaries – there were no white/male economic incentives. However, there are (still, I believe) black, female, aboriginal, Chinese, south asian – pick any other group (read that as ANY other group) economic incentives, scholarships, bursaries, grants, whatever, to assist these folks. I worked more than full time when I went to school full time, and borrowed so that I have just paid off my loans – some 15 years later). So, I will ask the simple question – who had the privilege? I look at me – white, male, blah, blah – and I can surely say, “Wait, it’s a case of mistaken identity. Whoever you’ve identified at privileged, it sure as heck wasn’t me.”
    The Point Is (TPI) – statistical privilege is NOT privilege. We look at statistics (by the way, the subject I teach, primarily – along with research methods) and like to use them for our own purposes (sometimes called, I think, the principle of “whose ox is being gored”). If we look at the incidents of terrorism, we find, perhaps, that a certain group of people, lets call them purple people, are involved in way more incidents than, let’s say, pink people. Does this, IN ANY WAY indicate that we should therefore either target purple people for extra examination (often called racial profiling) or give priority for flights or whatever to white people (because of their statistically different status). Let’s go one step further: we find that purple males are involved in the vast majority of incidents. So now we can go one step further and give so much more attention to purple males, somewhat more attention to purple females, and some benefits to pink females and pink males – to in some way compensate for the trouble that the purple people have caused.
    I can hear the cries of racism and prejudice … and I would agree. The point is that you can’t paint all folks of an ethnicity, colour, religion, whatever, with the same brush. And THAT is what these arguments about privilege do, that is what they amount to.
    An argument from equality: (and please don’t try the “equal but different” argument that feminists and others often pull – I think equal but different was the position of Pretoria during Apartheid. ANY equal but different position simple means that on the basis of what some like or don’t like, arguments will be proposed). Example: women aren’t as strong as men so they should have parking closer to buildings than men. What noise. Equal or not. And I know the counterargument about handicapped parking (or is it now differentially abled parking). I’m fairly short as a man, and not very strong, so because it’s harder for me to walk to the building I should have a closer parking spot than tall strong females. Cut the cake as you’d like, any variant of argument can be made, but arguments based on statistics are the MOST biased or prejudiced. Say we found that black people were on average stronger than white people, should white people have parking closer than blacks? Yeah, again I can hear the screams ….. Anyway …
    So, now let’s look at other systemic things that can be enumerated. Let’s look at laws and decisions that discriminate against males and females. Now, I’m speaking from Canada, so I don’t know so much about other countries. There used to be many laws and policies that were pro-male: height and weight and strength policies for police, fire fighters, etc, that discriminated against women (and some minority groups). I believe those are now a thing of the past. There were laws that permitted a man to sue someone if an accident made his wife unable to have sex, but not the reverse. Yes, there were these things (and if any still exist out there, and/or have been acted on recently, please let me know because I’d LOVE to have the information). Again, I think these things are a thing of the past.
    But let’s go to some things that exist now. Male police and prison guards are not permitted to search females (under the assumption, I guess, that males are pretty much pervs) but female police and prison guards are permitted to search males (under the assumption that females are not). This was a supreme court decision in Canada. If a man and a woman go out and have a few drinks and end up in bed, the woman can wake up in the morning and claim that she did not give consent because she’d been drinking, but the man can not (someone explain that one to me). If a man and a woman get divorced then the female is much more likely to get custody of the children (in cases where there are custody fights), under the assumption that women are better parents (I guess). Female sports reporters can go in male locker rooms but males can not in female (again, court decision). You can have all female gyms, but females can not be barred from male gyms (again, court decision). And the list goes ever on and on – and if anyone has more examples I’d love to have them. So, legally, who is on the short end of the discrimination stick.
    Oh, and by the way, my first degree was in early childhood education, but I found that my opportunities were greatly limited comparted with my female counterparts because my interactions with the children were substantially restricted (again, I guess, under the assumption that I, as a male, am statistically more likely to be a perv or something). And if someone throws any stats at me, then we need to deal with the higher probability that some ethnic/racial minorities are more involved in crime and therefore shouldn’t be hired to do certain types of work.
    Let’s move on. I mentioned that I am an academic. The vast majority of my students now are female. I remember the furor (of the feminists – who at that time, at least, branded themselves as egalitarians and not anti-male – and mostly anti-white-male: which they still don’t do openly, but when you look at their positions it’s not difficult to discern. Sort of like looking at some of the positions in the 50s in the south. What they said was substantially different from what they did) at the male-female numbers in the 60s. O! how horrible, discriminatory, structurally disfunctional, blah, blah – and they were right. Where are those voices now. One doesn’t dare bring issues of anti-male bias or anti-white in the system for being labelled some variant of “politically incorrect” and shut down. (A little aside: I went to an examination of privilege workshop at the university, and when I went to make an argument about something to do with this kind of reverse discrimination {which really isn’t reverse discrimination, it’s just discrimination}, a minority woman (PhD, by the way, in Sociology I believe) dismissed my argument with – “but you’re white male.” I’d heard an argument like that in the past, back in the 60s when I was having a discussion and brought up one of Plato’s arguments – that was dismissed – but this time by someone who hadn’t finished high school [interesting comparison I think] with the statement “but he was a queer.”). In academia we have little kangaroo courts to deal with matters of prejudice, disrespect, and the like. If you are found not to be engaged in “right thinking” then the consequences can be substantial – including loss of position. Mostly, however, it seems to involve taking some kind of “awareness” training, admitting your errors of thought, and espousing the party line – kind of analogous to what I see as being sent to a Chinese re-education camp. I would like you to guess, for the most part, who the members of these little courts happen to be.
    Anyway, TPI – there is no sign of the previous egalitarian notions. Women seem to be taking the higher ground in my system at any rate, and, damn it, are going to defend that ground. When I’ve asked several of my female colleagues if we shouldn’t do something about it the response was something like “then males should organize.” Really … shouldn’t we all organize? In the 60s and 70s (and even very recently in take back the night marches) I marched with women (and blacks and aboriginals, but those are different issues), and I’d like them to march with us now.
    So, again, power and privilege – and absolutely the best way of gaining it or keeping it is to get it and make yourself seem the victim when you have it. No one can attack a victim: so dawn the mantle of victimhood, hold up the talismund of politically correctness, use slippery analogies to make your point, be selective in your use of statistics, and, above all, don’t point to any specific things that individuals can do to correct it – that way it’s always an issue and whatever you do on a personal basis – is wrong. How brilliant that.

    I must off to give an exam, and so I’ve very much truncated my rambling, stream of consciousness, response. As always, not a simple issue, and anyone who tries to simplify it, to make it a function of simple dichotomies (or polychotomies) like male-female, white-nonwhite, etc, are simply, wrong.

    One last thing – we talk of majority white privilege. Indeed, this was the most common term brandished about at the workshop I attended at the university. Again dealing with Canada (and I stand to be corrected here as I haven’t run across the stats for many years and admit to not having done the research up front lately), but I believe that the most affluent group in Canada is the Jewish group. I don’t hear “Jewish Privilege.” The most educated and, I believe, second most affluent group is the Chinese group, but I don’t hear “Yellow Privilege.” I am tired of having to bear the burden or white male guilt, much like I imagine that the younger Germans are tired of having to bear the burden of the Holocaust. Enough already. We are individuals, treat us like that.

    OK – I lied, one more thing. IF we want things to be argued or to be done on stats, then let’s just do cross tabs on our society. If 50% of people in Canada are females, then 50% of the armed forces should be female (even if it takes conscription), 50% of students will be female, 50% of teachers will be female, and so on. Where there are fewer then these seats will either be left empty of recruited. Where there are more then these seats will be left empty, or males will be recruited. Where people can’t afford it, then funds will be provided. If 5% of the population comes from affluent homes, then 5% of all spots, positions, etc will come from the stock of those families. If 60% of Canadians are white, then 60% of all positions in all companies publically traded will be white. If 27% of Canadians are French, then 27% — anyway I’m sure you have the idea. We want equality, then MAKE IT HAPPEN. If you want something else, then you don’t want equality. Talk about simple minded, eh? (so quintessentially Canadian).

    Comment by NulliusInVerba — July 22, 2011 @ 2:52 pm | Reply

    • At the moment, I’m only going to comment on your last paragraph. These sorts of things have been done in some countries, and they wind up institutionalizing race, religion, gender, etc. For one, they mean we would need legal definitions for each race and preferably a legal framework for adding a previously undelineated racial distinction – not a simple matter at all. We would need to decide on a level of coarseness with regard to economic affluence to determine what categories are to be used, and do we use current wealth or an average over the last decade? If someone has been disowned, where do they fit? What if they’re just relatively independent from their family? Also this means that a certain percentage of front line soldiers should be infants and the elderly. On what level do we distinguish between religions? Is someone from Baptist church A the “same religion” as someone from Baptist church B down the street? What about people who don’t identify with a formal religion – how do we adequately represent the various subcategories the “don’t like being categorized” group? Then we get to gender – not as simple to define as many people think. How do we determine if someone is or isn’t intersexed? Do we distinguish between trans people who have had gender reassignment surgery and those who don’t want to? How do we distinguish asexuals from the perpetually unlikeable and the simply unlucky? Also since one of the major areas of trouble is the highest positions in the corporate world, do we step in and force a representative sampling of the population in the private sector? How do we determine whose corporation will be lacking a CEO until a person of the appropriate unqualifications can be found?

      You are correct in calling this simple-minded – equality, in any practical setting, cannot be based on simple representative sampling.

      Comment by Yiab — July 22, 2011 @ 3:47 pm | Reply

      • Yes, there are difficulties in this simple minded position. Coarseness in categorization certainly being one. But what could be coarser than white male versus everything else. And regarding the old and young being front line soldiers, I think we now have principles of nondiscrimination that permit certain types of discrimination, such as you can’t get a drivers license until you are over 6, there is no society for nondiscrimination against quadreplegics for surgeons, and so on. I understand the principle of “argumentum ad absurdum, but there are some reasonable things that might be done around this. Regarding religion, at least in Canada, we are not permitted to ask about that when hiring or making other decisions like that. But we could build some reasonable, if coarse, categories for many other attributes. So, the question is, IF equality cannot be based on simple representative sampling, THEN on the basis of what could it based? If not the Bayesian then what is the principle or set of principles. I often see statistics used to provide arguments for privilege and whatever. The basis of these statistics is categorization. If we cannot use categorization to provide a principle for equality, then how can we use them to provide an argument that equality does not exist. It seems this is based on the principle of “having one’s cake and eating it too.”

        Comment by NulliusInVerba — July 23, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

      • There are three broad categories of means I can see which allow for exclusion of infants from conscription, quadriplegics from being surgeons (before the technology advances enough), etc.
        1) Only those groups with advocacy organizations get consideration. This is a fundamentally discriminatory method of deciding which groups should be considered, as it by definition excludes any group which has significant difficulty organizing to advocate for itself. This is why we see little or no prevention for discrimination on the basis of schizophrenia or psychopathy (although I would argue that psychopaths can hardly be called a disadvantaged group). What we do see in the way of advocacy for schizophrenics mostly comes as a side-effect of other mental health advocacy groups, for example. Unfortunately, this method is also the only one likely to ever be used on any large scale.
        2) Arbitrary declaration. I hope we all see the problems with having no clear, consistent basis for deciding which groups get to participate in any given capacity.
        3) Reasonable discrimination. In order to meaningfully define a group we identify one or more perceived or real differences between those in the group and those not in it. Those definitional differences (and logical consequences thereof) can sometimes reasonably be used as a basis for discrimination. For example, newborns are incapable of understanding language, much less making political decisions, and thus are reasonably excluded from voting. The difficulty here is how we determine what is and isn’t reasonable when it comes to discrimination, but that’s something we at least need to be able to discuss, whereas right now the term “discrimination” itself evokes such a viscerally antagonistic reaction, we can’t even begin consideration of the subject.

        I for one don’t like to use statistics in examination of discrimination, because it is virtually impossible to account for all confounding variables. For example it does not seem unreasonable to me that there may be a statistical difference between the amounts of women and men who want to maintain a long-term career in a particular field. In my opinion, if this were the case, it should not be used in any way when considering an individual, but it would also mean that statistical analysis which did not correct for this difference would be useless. The problem is that this very difference then creates a situation of privilege within that career path simply by having more of one gender than another in that career – without delving into such things as group dynamics, the construction of traditions, and unconscious discrimination, it would just mean that those of the underrepresented gender would more likely feel isolated or out of place. At this basic level then, privilege seems to me to be fundamentally ineradicable so long as distinctions between groups exist at all.

        This does not mean that we have to ignore what are more severe and changeable instances of privilege. In practice we use a blend of all three above-mentioned methods, together with the strength and weaknesses of each. The problems in these methods are real, but adopting a simple view of the matter at hand only serves to amplify the problems of the corresponding solution. I think something which needs to actually be examined (or if it has been, then it needs to be communicated to the public) is how we would recognize equality if/when we reach it – this is also a question which has no simple, satisfying answer in my awareness, and it is one which needs addressing. My suspicion is that several incompatible visions of equality will arise and we will need to compromise between them through dialogue, but this is just a guess.

        Comment by Yiab — July 23, 2011 @ 7:00 pm

    • @NulliusInVerba

      “Let’s go one step further: we find that purple males are involved in the vast majority of incidents. So now we can go one step further and give so much more attention to purple males, somewhat more attention to purple females, and some benefi ts to pink females and pink males – to in some way compensate for the trouble that the purple people have caused.
      I can hear the cries of racism and prejudice … and I would agree.”

      Prejudice, yes. Racism, maybe. Are either of these inherently bad things (as you seem to be implying)? I’d like to see the case claiming they are.

      We’re sensibly prejudiced against wild tigers, and it’s a good job we are, I hope you agree. Is there any reason we should be ashamed of our sensible (though less intense) prejudice against purple males? I don’t think so.

      I think your complaint against the author of this piece misses the mark because prejudice (while sometimes misguided) is inescapable, necessary, and adaptive. Trying to abolish it is a fool’s game.

      Comment by bitbutter — July 22, 2011 @ 5:29 pm | Reply

      • Hmmm, that is a difficult one. I actually don’t disagree with racial profiling, although my sense is that most folks who are in support of the gecko will. I want to play to their sensibilities and use their positions to support mine. However, I think you will find that there is more support for interspecies profiling than intraspecies profiling (at least for humans). Being xenophobic certainly had/has its evolutionary advantages.
        In support of your position, if there were a black church set afire in the south of the USofA, and I were a police person, who would I be more likely to stop and question in a road block; a black family with children in the back of the car, or a bunch of good ‘ol boys bombing around in a half ton? Well, I would be more likely to be interested in the half ton folks, even though that is profiling. Note, however, it’s not necessarily the case that I dislike young white males, just that the probability is higher that they might have had something to do with the fire.
        Again, another however, I don’t think we need support or institutionalize prejudice against certain groups. I don’t think it’s ok to say that because prejudice might have been evolutionarily adaptive that it is a good thing – many things that might have been evolutionary adaptive (had a higher level of inclusive fitness for a specific gene pool) at one point, I don’t think, can be argued to be right or whatever, on that basis. Examples of this might be slavery or forced copulation. Both of these can be shown, both in interspecies and intraspecies, to be adaptive for some groups or species. And in some cases today we might argue for it (do we not do this for breeding animals, use animals for our purposes, etc). But would we want to argue that we should reintroduce these in intraspecies terms (i.e., as humans) as part of our civilization? I don’t, particularly.

        Comment by NulliusInVerba — July 23, 2011 @ 3:44 pm

      • Evolutionarily adaptive does not mean, “acceptable by society” Think Rape.

        The problem with racial profiling is not that it doesn’t work… It can work! the problem is that people in the USA abused their power, and so the courts (rightfully, in my opinion) took away their privilege to racially profile potential suspects.

        And I managed to use privilege in a way that actually has meaning too!

        Comment by Ben C — October 31, 2012 @ 4:44 pm

  74. So if the dog can’t understand what the gecko is getting at, is the dog morally culpable for making the gecko cold? The main point, that privileges blind those who possess them, is clear enough. And clearly one should act morally on what one can learn in spite of that blindness. But people, unlike geckos and dogs, have very similar experiences of the world. Someone born wealthy can lose or give up her wealth; dogs can’t do that with their fur. No amount of meditation or compassion is going to get a dog to understand the gecko’s suffering, but humans can understand each others’ suffering and act compassionately on that understanding. That they don’t usually do that isn’t because they’re stupid, I think. It’s hard to act compassionately, whether you’re privileged or not.

    Comment by Matt — July 23, 2011 @ 9:57 am | Reply

    • The dog may not understand the gecko’s suffering, but the dog can still listen to the gecko, give her the benefit of the doubt, and try to work out a compromise. I don’t think the dog is wrong to want the room cold in the first place, but if he shouts her down or ignores her every time she says it’s too cold, that’s wrong. You don’t need to have been in a certain situation to show empathy or compassion for others, not by any means. You just need to be empathetic and compassionate.

      Comment by the reality fairy — October 6, 2011 @ 1:36 am | Reply

  75. Yiab,
    I could not agree more: we need a dialogue about what would count as equality, how we might recognize when we have achieved it, and so on. But, as you, I suspect that we will never reach a consensus, or even close to consensus, on what that will look like. My cynical side (was it not Goethe who said that cynicism is the only sin – ahh, what a sinner I am) tells me that there are too many vested interests in not having a definition so this “inequality industry” can continue to thrive, and too many folks with senses of entitlement and what is NOW fair given previous inequities. Certainly if we leave previous inequities in the equation we are hooped.

    But let’s take a simple (don’t you just love that word) example – the issue of potty parity (restroom equity, whatever). The issue is equality between the sexes in terms of access to toilet facilities. Ok, where do we start. Well, let’s start with the current building code that we must have an equal amount of space devoted to male and female facilities. But, that’s not fair, say some. Females MUST have toilets to do all duties, which take up more space than latrines which function for males for some duties. Ok, so should we have the same number of toilets for females as both toilets and latrines for men – that would be equal, yes? Well, no, some say. It takes women longer to do number one in a toilet than it takes for men to do number 1 in a latrine, so we need more female facilities to make up for the time difference. Well, not so fast, it turns out studies show that females take more time to get in and out of the toilet to do number 2 as well, so we need even more toilet space for women because of the extra time. But not so fast – why do they take longer? Well it seems that they are more fastidious with rearranging their clothing than are men. And, as concerns the space-time relationship for number 1, males give up a lot in terms of privacy, dangling their wiener for all to see whereas females want more privacy. Further, males must stand for this, whereas females can sit. Perhaps if females would stand or squat (as they do in some eastern and european facilities) then that would reduce some of the space time issues, or if they would give up privacy that would eliminate some of the space issues (not needing individual stalls, etc). One solution would be to have unisex facilities either with all toilets with privacy or all “facility slots” with no privacy, but I think perhaps the females would not go for that.

    So,. the question is, what is equal – equal space that the males and females can allocate as they’d like (e.g., a certain amount of slot, latrine, wall, toilet, whatever, space), or something else. If something else, should one group be disadvantaged for the sensibilities of the other (perhaps more space for females because they want to put on makeup, which males don’t want to put on), more toilets because females take longer (fastidiousness or female sanitary issues). What about the argument that as males are 10% larger on average then they should have 10% more space to accomodate their extra bulk.

    Comment by NulliusInVerba — July 23, 2011 @ 7:48 pm | Reply

    • I am not so cynical as to think that there are very many people who would consciously obfuscate the issue in order to prolong the existence of the redress agencies – rather I expect that there will be genuine differences of opinion in what a world closer to ideal in this regard would look like. We may not reach a consensus, but we may be able to reach an acceptable compromise, and I think this is something that should be attempted.

      As for restroom equity, for quite some time I’ve been in favour of unisex bathrooms with all stalls. It would immediately render irrelevant all complaints about transgendered and intersex individuals, for one, and provided privacy is maintained I don’t see why unisex facilities would be a problem (I may just be unimaginitive, though). I am also somewhat confused regarding this building code – does a women-only gym need to have equal space for male restroom facilities, or are they provided with an exemption?

      Comment by Yiab — July 24, 2011 @ 12:38 am | Reply

      • Yiab,

        I would suspect that they (the female only gyms) are provided with an exemption. Interesting, though, not the same for males.

        I agree that we should go for an acceptable compromise, and I am totally behind you in favouring unisex bathrooms.

        I don’t know how old you are (I am over 60), and perhaps it’s my age that renders me somewhat cynical. I have asked the sociology types who run these privilege meetings to engage in a discussion of what equity would look like and they seem not to be interested in the dialogue. They seem. however, totally interested in pointing out to me why all the things I think we might begin the conversation on to be wrong. This leads me to think they are NOT interested in finding a solution, merely in maintaining the awareness of the “problem”. I am glad that you are not as cynical as am I – the world needs believers. I am a believer, but just a somewhat bruised one.

        Thank you for the conversation. I learned from you, and I like that. You take care – And, Nullius in Verba.

        Comment by NulliusInVerba — July 24, 2011 @ 3:28 am

  76. This reminds of Jesuits that write theses on hypothetical angel density on the head of a pin. Very impressive sounding sophist waffling that says nothing using very high minded language and who’s only purpose is to confuse the stupid who then all nod sagely at each other and pretend they understood. Watson can sound just as stupid – but at least she does it more economically.

    Comment by The Devil's Towelboy — August 1, 2011 @ 12:18 pm | Reply

  77. Towelboy,

    I love you. Parsimony in stupidity is certainly an aspiration.

    However, sometimes sublety – is required to dissect what appear to be very straight-forward assertions – statistically supported. The inability to follow long, more nuanced arguments is a function of the 30-second sound byte. Have a read of Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent” or note the inability of many students to follow an argument longer than a few lines, or a simple metaphorical story into which they can read what they wish. Cognitive economy is a principle, and it’s like exercise. Most folks couldn’t run a kilometer to save their lives, nor follow more complicated arguments than metaphorical trap.

    Anyway, any generalization about people absolutely applied is wronger than wrong (see Pauli).

    And I have nothing but distain for nodding sagely (where was it, a cartoon, where the protagonist said, “I find your argument shallow and pedantic, ha ha ha ha.” But I do so enjoy the argument.

    If you have a rebuttal, please enjoin. If not then don’t engage in ad hominems. I love the rhetorical principle to which you seem to ascribe: If you have good argument or evidence, argue the point; if not, attack the speaker. I look forward to the debate.

    Comment by NulliusInVerba — August 10, 2011 @ 1:59 am | Reply

  78. […] Today I'm feeling 101-y, I guess, so let's talk about privilege. It's a weird word, isn't it? A common one in my circles, it's one of the most basic, everyday concepts in social activism, we have lots of unhelpful snarky little phrases we like to use like "check your privilege" and a lot of our dialog conventions are built around a mutual agreement (or at least a mutual attempt at agreement) on who has privilege when and how to compensate for tha … Read More […]

    Pingback by On the difference between Good Dogs and Dogs That Need a Newspaper Smack. (via Sindelókë) « Everything Rhymes With Alcohol — August 27, 2011 @ 1:51 am | Reply

  79. I am open to being convinced, I suppose, but your parable was not at all convincing.

    I’ve heard this argument before (my college professors seemed to be quite fond of it), and every time it boils down to one group being inherently unable to understand the plight of another group. As long as the argument remains rooted in the inability of one arbitrarily determined set of people to understand or even conceive of the situation that encompasses another arbitrarily determined set of people, it will not convince me.
    By the standard generally set, members of the group with privilege are by their nature incapable of disproving of falsifying the proposition.

    Let us treat people as individuals.

    Comment by Mes (@Mesmeridicus) — August 28, 2011 @ 8:17 pm | Reply

    • There’s nothing “arbitrary” or “inherent” about it – male privilege (and white privilege, et cetera) are very specifically rooted in the society we live in, and comprehension of one’s own privilege is by no means impossible – it’s just hard, and more importantly, it’s a non-obvious thing to do. “Privilege” isn’t a characterization of a fundamental metaphysical concept, it’s a name for some features of our culture.

      Furthermore, there’s no dichotomy between “treating people as individuals” and analyzing broader social phenomena.

      Comment by Anonymous — August 28, 2011 @ 9:16 pm | Reply

    • The group of people is determined (arbitrarily if you like) by the aggregate behaviours and perceptions of the mass of individuals called society. People do not treat all socially-constructed groups of people equally and there is a tendency towards uniformity of attitudes among individuals within a society so there is virtually no possibility of individuals’ biases balancing each other out on the large scale. Since “the system” in which we live is made up of individuals, this leads to systematic inequalities not necessarily intended by any specific individual, hence the concept of privilege.

      Treating people as individuals does not negate the benefit of examining the large-scale cumulative effects of the behaviour and perceptions of those individuals.

      Comment by Yiab — August 29, 2011 @ 10:47 am | Reply

  80. another feminist whinger writing self-obsessed delusional garbage – what a surprise! you’re a dime a dozen gals and guess what, people (men and women) are having fun out there without constantly wondering about how they’re being offended, your bitter existence is exactly what you deserve but you’re missing the party as you sneer from the sidelines, i think that truly is the reason for the self-delusion, you create a rationale for why you are being left out, for why you’re not having fun when the reality is how you view the world just makes you not a very nice person to be around

    Comment by Nathan — September 21, 2011 @ 7:37 pm | Reply

    • Ouch. The only sneering I’m seeing is from butthurt trolls. Chill out a bit, enjoy life and stop being such a misery.

      Comment by Pumpkin — April 20, 2012 @ 1:43 am | Reply

  81. This subject is near the pinnacle of difficult issues to teach people about. I admire your attempt to do so. However,
    Your analogies are vastly one-dimensional.

    You write:
    “and that we not use it to dismiss the valid and real concerns of the people who don’t share our particular brand.”

    That is what you just did several times.

    This post smacks of ideological privilege, from the sweeping attempts at defining maleness, the male experience, and male values, to the suggestion that you should allow someone to determine your artistic expression (the book analogy) based on their sensitivity level or personal issues with your language or behavior.

    In my life, and in my neighborhood, (where three out of four people I grew up with were dead or in prison by age 24) women are not regarded as non-dangerous in the slightest. And in my life, as a child, the perpetrators of all the worse crimes upon my body and life, have been at the hands of females. You can dance around this issue And attempt to couch or cover it it in larger social issues if you will, however it will not cover the fact that Modern western women in the 21st century are some of the most privileged, academic, and luxury oriented women in the entire world, and that also includes working class, and lower class women.

    Of late there is a culture among privileged people, both men and women included, to self-victimize, hold themselves morally above others, and to distance themselves with the fact that they are absolutely products, and working parts, of postmodern western capitalism and imperialism, and yet, they seek to couch THEIR Imperial thinking in a veil of political correctness.


    Your statements “A straight cisgendered male American, because of who he is and the culture he lives in, does not and cannot feel the stress, creepiness, and outright threat behind a catcall the way a woman can” is a toxic stereotype,
    You are in no position morally, spiritually, nor socially to tell anyone what they can and cannot feel. This is Imperial thinking in Academics, and a little insulting to the the human experience to suggest such a thing.

    In your book title analogy. “do not title your book ‘Beautiful Cocksucker,’ that’s stupid and offensive,” is just astonishing. you are basically saying that that word cocksucker, or the word “cocksucking” is somehow inherently Gay. I find that incredibly stereotypical and offensive. Practically the entire world partakes of that particular act and no one group possess hegemony over the use of the word. Come again?

    A Black person critiquing a white filmmaker while seriously using the word “honky” has pretty much put them self on an ethical footing with zero traction, and the use of that word constitutes racism, period. (I grew up in a black family in Oakland so don’t start with the “no such thing as black racism” thing with me)

    I agree that people with privilege often do not know it. I agree that while in terms of the question of sexual assault statistics clearly show that the world is far more dangerous for females. On the other hand in terms of death, men die in violent crimes, at double the rate women do. (

    I think you are a insightful writer,

    I also think that you could do more than a status quo, one-dimensional, foggy piece on such an important subject, and one that did not rely so heavily on stereotypes and “self-victimizing-as legitimizing” cliches, and socially unaware errors, that pretty much everyone left of center have heard for decades over and over again. This is old news my friend.

    Thank you

    Piero Amadeo Infante

    Comment by Papamalo — September 23, 2011 @ 5:30 pm | Reply

    • Most of your post is tired old BS that basically amounts to “nuh-uh” or pathetic point-scoring, but I just felt the need to reply to your WHO link. It says that violence accounts for a larger percentage of male deaths than for female deaths. This does not tell us that more men die due to violence, that is not how statistics work.

      Comment by Pumpkin — April 20, 2012 @ 1:41 am | Reply

  82. The key difference between the real world example and your analogy is control. In your analogy, the husky could control the temperature of the room. In the real world example, men cannot control whether or not they get cat-calls on the street.

    The man could just as easily call the woman privileged for not knowing what it’s like to have your looks go unappreciated.

    Comment by k — September 27, 2011 @ 9:48 pm | Reply

    • Holy crap! It was lucky I wasn’t swigging a drink when I read that last sentence of yours. “My looks are unappreciated” is the most comparable thing in your experience to the threat of rape (which, by the way, is one of the main differences between men and women being cat-called)? If that doesn’t explain privilege, I don’t know what will!

      Comment by Pumpkin — April 20, 2012 @ 1:31 am | Reply

      • Yawn
        Despite your raving, a catcall is not a rape-threat, Pumpkin.

        Your own internalized fear of rape is legitimate, but it originates not with the catcall.

        Comment by Ben C — October 31, 2012 @ 5:10 pm

  83. This was used against me by someone who I thought was a friend. I wrote a horror story, which she said was offensive, so she sent this blog through my friend to “Attempt to make me see reason”. I just wanted to write a novel, but for weeks and weeks she made my life hell…I dislike and disagree with the above mentioned stereotypes.

    Comment by homop — October 1, 2011 @ 3:07 pm | Reply

    • Interesting how you don’t go into detail about what the story is about, or how someone can make your life hell for weeks and weeks by saying, “this is offensive” and sending you a link. What was it, “erotic” rapes? Teeth-lined vaginas? Ditzy blondes who are killed in ways increasingly “sexy” and too-dumb-to-live? A lot of stories are offensive, with pulp horrors having a worse-than-average track record, so without details your comment is a bit meaningless.

      Comment by the reality fairy — October 6, 2011 @ 1:45 am | Reply

      • Well, seeing as you’re extremely interested and a tad bit condescending I will just say that the story is all about a gay serial killer who is being pursued by the police. Yes it is offensive, but not for the reasons that the person I mentioned above thinks it is. She thought I was trying to say that all gay people are serial killers and I wasn’t. Also, I should’ve been a bit clearer, but it wasn’t a simple link to a blog that made my life hell for a few weeks, it was more than that and anyone with any brain activity can know that…unless they’re being unnecessarily condescending. So, as meaningless as my comment may or may not have been, why did you feel the need to reply to it?
        By the way, I dislike how you jump into thinking that I would write about “Ditzy blondes” and all that jazz. It’s almost as if you think you actually know me…

        Comment by Anonymous — October 6, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

  84. An excellent article; thank you! Although I do echo the comments on the title, possibly something more descriptive “Of geckos and dogs; a parable of privilege”. The current one really suffers as it tells you little about the article whilst also being unnecessarily aggressive.

    I do agree with several earlier comments (I think #12 was first) about how “privilege” is often used as an excuse to either ignore people or insult them; better understanding from both parties is always a good thing.

    Also having read the majority of the comments I’m truly dumbfounded at the number of people who seem to be unable to grasp the idea of an analogy.

    Comment by Sam Cook (@sam_cook) — October 18, 2011 @ 7:55 pm | Reply

    • Well said.

      Comment by Anonymous — October 19, 2011 @ 6:51 pm | Reply

  85. you said “for all you weird metric users out there” haaha you are so american. The United States is one of the few places in the world that doesn’t use metric. So really… “for all you normal metric and with the time users out there”


    Comment by Anonymous — October 19, 2011 @ 9:55 pm | Reply

    • You realize that was a joke, right?

      Comment by Ben — October 31, 2011 @ 9:59 pm | Reply

  86. Very well done… I learned something new today. Awesome.

    Comment by Ms. Kathleen — November 10, 2011 @ 10:03 pm | Reply

  87. This is the clearest definition of privilege I’ve seen yet, and I was hoping I could get your permission to use the parable, not word-for-word but in general structure, as part of an educational pamphlet my campus queer group is going to put out.

    Comment by Ray — November 11, 2011 @ 2:35 pm | Reply

  88. I think the analogy is a fruitful one, as is the bus example. However, it has other implications, some of which are considered above. For example, there is no doubt that the dog has control over the thermostat, that the dog doesn’t consider the needs of the lizard, and that when the lizard asks that the temperature is raised, the dog should listen, and not minimise the lizard’s experience of cold because huskies don’t care.
    However, we don’t hear anything else about the situation in the dog/lizard household. Maybe the dog spends the day pulling a sled. Maybe when the dog is too old to pull the sled, he’ll be taken out back and shot. So while the dog certainly might have thermostat privileges, that doesn’t mean that the dog is necessarily the privileged pet in that household.

    It might also be that there are thousands of dog/lizard households, and that this dog is the only one who gets sled duty – the rest are pampered pets. Does this mean that the dog /in this particular case/ is privileged? Well, clearly not. In fact, he is probably particularly mad about the fact that all the other dogs get to lie around all day while he is being whipped through the snow.

    So we know how the dog should behave. He should listen to the lizard, believe the lizard, and try to find a compromise which will work for them both. He should understand that the fact that he /can/ control the thermostat doesn’t mean that he has the /right/ to only think about his own needs.

    So how should the /lizard/ behave? Well, it’s clear that the lizard has the right to complain that it’s too hot. However, when the dog comes home after twelve hours sled-pulling, the lizard shouldn’t say “So what? You control the thermostat.” And if the lizard says “it’s not really an issue – statistics show that hardly any dogs pull sleds nowadays” then the dog will feel rightly aggrieved, and may just turn the heating right off out of spite.

    It’s true that driving a car and not getting wet are privileges. But then, being able to read on the way to work, or having extra storage space in the garage are also privileges. Almost any condition carries with it privileges.

    Acknowledging privilege is the right thing to do – both ways. I noted a post above which mentioned that apart from killing themselves more often, dying sooner, doing worse at school and a few other things, men have it pretty sweet. I think that says a lot.

    Dogs should listen to lizards. Even when they feel hard done by, lizards need to listen to dogs.

    Comment by Julian West — November 16, 2011 @ 8:52 pm | Reply

  89. Love this. Thank you!

    Comment by Dominique Millette — November 20, 2011 @ 10:29 pm | Reply

  90. […] tagged: privilege, gender, race, 101 Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

    Pingback by On the difference between Good Dogs and Dogs That Need a Newspaper Smack. « Sindelókë « like ALL the things — November 25, 2011 @ 11:06 am | Reply

  91. Hey, great post. By the same extension, the govn’t, propaganda powers, and trolls for those powers tell us all day long we shouldn’t do this, think that, want this, like that. So you are setting up a contradiction don’t you think. I agree, dogs don’t know cold. Here in the Arctic, they really don’t. My dog is quiet and still in the warmth of a fire, but let him outside in the snow and pow! He is in heaven running, tasting, playing enjoying life. There are many in America especially that don’t know what the world is like on the outside. But it is everyone’s job to find out for themselves what is truth. Maybe the world needs another Honky movie to make sure they are finally sick of white-centered hero worship stories. There should be no council on what is appropriate and what is no longer appropriate. It takes all kinds. Those that hate Honky movies and those that for some reason need to constantly be exposed to that message until in the core of their DNA they finally grow weary. Then the next-in-the-line of species genuinely won’t care anymore. Evolution often comes slow, but in hindsight it comes very fast. Our evolution from wheel creation to movie creation was really slow. Evolution from Birth of a Nation to Star Wars was very short. So keep perspective on timelines. Human development is really slow, even if individuals have some really good ideas. Jesus had some too, and that was a few thousand years ago; advice from him is still being ignored. Keep on being you!!

    Comment by Juliana Loomer — December 18, 2011 @ 2:50 am | Reply

  92. Fantastic. And now repeat story 5 million times.

    Comment by Jenn D (@jennluvsmangos) — January 20, 2012 @ 3:23 pm | Reply

  93. Bravo!!! Bravo bravo! I’m going to make every male I know read this. Thank you for so eloquently explaining what is not understood.

    Comment by Makayla — January 26, 2012 @ 9:01 pm | Reply

  94. This is a great article. I would like to translate it in Greek. Would you mind if I did?

    Comment by Πεχλιβάνης — February 4, 2012 @ 2:17 pm | Reply

  95. (that’s ten C, for all you weirdo metric users out there)

    “The United States is the only industrialized country that does not use the metric system as its official system of measurement” (

    Comment by Anonymous — February 28, 2012 @ 1:08 am | Reply

  96. Author: what are your licensing / copyright terms on this? I’d like to reprint this in a Zine.

    Comment by Probably Radical — March 8, 2012 @ 11:30 am | Reply

  97. […] Here’s a great parable about a dog and a lizard trying to live in the same house. Imagine, if you will, a small house, built someplace cool-ish but not cold, perhaps somewhere in Ohio, and inhabited by a dog and a lizard. The dog is a big dog, something shaggy and nordic, like a Husky or Lapphund – a sled dog, built for the snow. The lizard is small, a little gecko best adapted to living in a muggy rainforest somewhere. Neither have ever lived anywhere else, nor met any other creature; for the purposes of this exercise, this small house is the entirety of their universe. […]

    Pingback by Privilege Discussion 101 « Dissent of a Woman — March 30, 2012 @ 1:27 am | Reply

  98. My girlfriend asked me to read this article so as to understood why she gets so upset when she gets catcalled……..

    One thing, if the dogs clever enough to know what to do to get it’s temperature right, why can’t the gecko? Alright, the thermostat might be a bit large. But it could cut some of the hot dogs hair off and weave a jumper, no? Doing nothing and playing the victim doesn’t sit right with me. Can the gecko not be a bit more proactive, like the dog?

    I don’t mean to sound like a troll. I just can’t understand (allegedly due to privilege) why catcalls are so offensive? It’s a backhanded compliment, surely? Hear an idiot, see the idiot, move on with you day!!

    Comment by PTK — April 9, 2012 @ 4:13 am | Reply

    • Wow. Your girlfriend must be pretty disappointed at how badly you failed.

      Comment by Pumpkin — April 20, 2012 @ 1:19 am | Reply

    • Because it’s not a matter of the dog being “clever” while the gecko isn’t–it’s the fact that a dog gets to reach up, turn a dial, and instantly be more comfy, while by your suggestion, a gecko needs to collect fur without scissors, and learn how to weave a complex pattern without a loom or opposable thumbs (which I…don’t think is ACTUALLY physically possible), and otherwise jumps through hoops *simply to survive.* The dog has it easier than the gecko, is the point, and while that isn’t a bad thing, it shouldn’t dismiss the fact that the gecko IS suffering just ebcause it doesn’t immediately understand why.

      Catcalls are offensive because they make women feel like we exist to be eyecandy. They make us feel like objects. And even scarier, some men who are skeezy enough to cat call might just be skeezy enough to follow you down the sidewalk after you try to ignore them or tell them to shove it, harrassing you for wanting personal space. Some of those men might be violent, and feel entitled to your sexual attention–whether you want to give it or not. I’ve had a gorgeous friend of mine be literally stalked by a car for a few blocks because she tried to ignore the men inside when they catcalled at her. It was early evening in a sketchy neighborhood. She was terrified. This is what a lot of women think of when guys shout lewd things at them.

      Comment by wordsmithingimp — April 20, 2012 @ 9:38 am | Reply

    • Well…. if you take into account that the lizard is cold-blooded, a jumper wouldn’t do her any good even if she COULD weave it. :)

      Comment by Taurwen — May 15, 2012 @ 7:55 pm | Reply

  99. I think one of the main baffling things I’ve encountered in reading some of these comments is that some people are still trying to talk about who is more privileged than whom. This was just an entire well-written article about how privilege is a morally neutral thing–having it usually isn’t even controllable. It’s not a matter of “how much” you do or don’t have, and whether or not you are sufficiently unprivileged to participate in these discussions. It’s about recognizing when you DO have a privilege, of any sort, and taking care not to inadvertantly bash someone over the head with it.
    As I read it, this was a call to everyone to simply be more aware and sympathetic of the fact that other people are approaching life with different advantages, disadvantages, and viewpoints. “My suffering is greater than your suffering so you can’t intelligently contribute to this conversation!” or “[privileged party] has disadvantages too so [unprivileged party] shouldn’t even be complaining!” comments are entirely missing that point.

    Comment by wordsmithingimp — April 20, 2012 @ 9:29 am | Reply

  100. I’m a middle-class white male, I used to have some latent racism, because of ignorance, and I used to distrust feminism and I say right on, this discussion is not a competition, it’s about establishing what needs to change. Dave Chapelle puts it brilliantly in this video reflecting on black men in the entertainment industry. He says to a mixed audience that a person doesn’t have to be a bigot to enjoy a privilege, whether they are aware of it or not. These things have to be talked about so we can make improvements, so stop taking it so personally. If this very discussion offends you, ask yourself why.

    Ignore the dumb illuminati title, the word doesn’t even appear in Dave’s speech. It’s all good, but the relevant part is towards the end. This man is a sage and an old soul.

    Comment by worldwearywaiter — May 17, 2012 @ 11:37 pm | Reply

    • I have to assume that anyone that admits they used to have latent racism still has latent racism.

      Sorry, you sound like a racist privileged cis gendered asswipe.


      Comment by Name (will not be published) — September 3, 2012 @ 4:12 pm | Reply

      • No, you don’t *have* to ass|u|me. Don’t you know that bigotry comes from ignorance, and knowledge and understanding are the cure for bigotry? Considering your apparent ignorance, I have to wonder how many arbitrarily-defined social groups you are bigoted against.

        Comment by L — September 9, 2012 @ 7:11 am

      • Great example of how terms like Racist and, in my opinion, Privilege serve more as a club to bash others, than a tool to help illuminate the truth. I know I have some racist tendencies, but to be aware is a step toward overcoming such tendencies. I love it when people tell me they, “are not Racist” as though it is a membership group. You can have a racist thought and not be a racist, as long as you take the time to show yourself why the thought was wrong.

        Comment by Ben C — October 31, 2012 @ 5:23 pm

  101. The main question of course is – why gekko does not move out?

    Comment by AAA — May 28, 2012 @ 2:55 am | Reply

    • It says right there in the post. “for the purposes of this exercise, this small house is the entirety of their universe.”

      Neither of them can leave the house, just like none of us can leave this universe, and unless you’re an astronaut, you can’t leave this planet. The point is that the dog doesn’t experience a certain aspect of the world the same way the gecko does, so he doesn’t understand why she’s complaining about that same aspect of the world.

      What we need is better communication. Since the dog doesn’t understand “cold,” the gecko could have rephrased her complaint to say, “This temperature hurts me, and if I leave the warmth of this incandescent light right here, I will die.” Likewise, the dog could have told her, “I don’t understand this word, ‘cold’.” Can you please explain it to me? Instead, he dismissed her problem as though she was crazy. Once the dog understands the problem, they can work together to find a solution. Maybe he can turn the temperature up, or just find a way to warm up one of the rooms for her, but nothing will be accomplished if he remains ignorant of her problem.

      I was quite thrilled when I came across this blog post, because the explanation seemed so crystal clear, and it’s really amazing to me that so many people have so completely missed the entire point.

      Comment by L — September 9, 2012 @ 7:58 am | Reply

  102. We all miss the point because we all have cognitive blinders on – and it is not possible to truly see the world from the position of another. Most privilege is based on class – not race, not sex, not sexual orientation, not … pick your poison. So a poor white heterosexual able bodied male is not as privileged as an middle class black female homosexual with one leg, and we can compare until the cows come home. In all this talk of privelege we ignore the elephant in the room – the notion of privilege is poorly understood or applied if what appears to be a reasonable generalization is generalized. The nuances are many, and the interactions make almost any generalization false except in the broadest statistical terms, and that becomes silly. If you have your head on a block of ice and your feet in the fire, on average (a broad statistical generalization) you are comfortable. No one would think so. So to hold that an individual is privileged because they are white is wrong, that they are male is wrong, that they are able bodied is wrong, that they are Jewish is wrong, that they are heterosexual is wrong, and the list goes ever on and on. So, in the end it comes down to something like this: to say that you are privileged because you are male is wrong; to say you are privileged because you are female is wrong; but to say that you are privileged because you are male is the same as being privileged because you are female is, to bastardize Shermer, wronger than wrong.

    Comment by Anonymous — June 13, 2012 @ 10:38 am | Reply

    • So…it’s not possible to see the world from the position of another, but you’re quite sure that class is the only form of privilege?.

      Comment by Anonymous — June 17, 2012 @ 7:23 pm | Reply

      • Sorry – I said “only” where?

        Comment by Anonymous — June 20, 2012 @ 3:12 pm

      • You did indeed say most. But the overall effect of your post was to dismiss other sources of disadvantage/privilege. I used to think that class was the only kind of privilege worth considering. I’m still sympathetic to the idea of class, but I concede the point of the original post. And that comes from a white, male, middle class, heterosexual, university educated POV.

        Comment by worldwearywaiter — June 25, 2012 @ 3:48 am

  103. Great article, honestly, but when you said “If he can get the house to fifty (that’s ten C, for all you weirdo metric users out there)”, I lost some respect. Gender equality but can’t accept that other people use metric? Not the right kind of article for a comment like that :P
    Also, I think the metaphor would have worked just fine, if not even better, had you not referred to either animal by gender. I feel it would prove a better point not shoving it down our throats that the lizard is playing the role of the woman.
    But otherwise, I think this is great. Even as a woman I found it very informative.

    Comment by Anonymous — June 28, 2012 @ 10:28 am | Reply

    • Well – it *is* an article about privilege, and gets specifically into Male Privilege (which is a big one). So, to me, it’s fairly reasonable that gender be used in

      Comment by probablyrad — June 28, 2012 @ 11:09 am | Reply

    • The metric thing was a joke – the author uses metric most of the time. She’s living in Canada, I believe.

      Comment by Melissa — September 11, 2012 @ 10:41 pm | Reply

  104. First of all, just read your parable and i can safely say i have never seen the concept of privilege so well explained. And for most uses of it, i completely agree! i’m even going to post this on a gender discussion group i participate in. But i got a question! First off, some background, so you know what you’re dealing with.

    I’m a brazilian guy, 28 years old, i like to think of myself as with larger than average culture and good enough financially. Gender-wise i’d say i’m not a feminist guy, if only because i don’t really militate on the subject, but i’m actually pro women rights, not so much pro equality, but pro isonomy (not sure that’s the actual word for it in english, sorry) and i think that in this subject we are well ahead, considering the advances made in the near past, but still have some to go to say that both genders have equivalent treatment, society-wide.

    Thing is, in dealing with some feminist friends, some rad-fems, some aligning with other subcategories of it, and mostly i see a kinda demeaning, condescending treatment towards men in general. Stuff like if you’re a man and don’t agree with me you should shut up. Of course, not put in this way, but to that effect. mostly not to me, more of a general issue. Also, a lot of this happens in discussions about pretty objective matters, like surveys, value to the job-market, legal aspects of prostitution regularization and so on.

    So, my question actually is, when does the PRIVILEGE thing showing of ceases to be a non-empathy issue and becomes a gag for respectfully disagreeing males? Why does whatever men have to say, independently of the value of the argument per se, becomes less valuable than the women’s one?

    thanks in advance for the patience (hoping for more of that 101ish feelings =D ) and sorry for any english problems, english not being my first language,
    Fernando Tollendal

    P.S.: I’ve seen in a comment something about the reference to the metric system as weird, and I should say metric is way better, ok? makes a lot more of sense! ;)
    P.P.S.: I didn’t look thru all the comments, so if the concern was already adressed, shame on me.

    Comment by Fernando Tollendal — July 25, 2012 @ 1:45 am | Reply

  105. […] Of Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege […]

    Pingback by A Guide for Men with Good Intentions « Dissent of a Woman — August 23, 2012 @ 9:33 pm | Reply

  106. I don’t expect this comment by a cismale gay to survive here and I don’t know why I try, but just a few points: You already burned down your house of cards when you made the dog male. But the real howler comes with “listen and believe her.” Hell no, I won’t. You’ll have to show me. And then you arrogantly assume I wouldn’t and couldn’t understand when you show me. Why exactly? Because I’m a subhuman male? Because you arrogantly assume I couldn’t be made to suffer by females or males? Because you think that female fear of males is in some higher, more protected realm than male fear of muggers, murderers, enemy soldiers, abusive mothers, rampaging cops? From where do you take the temerity?

    I’ve bought into feminism for a long time – until I realized that they could only show me half of what they claim – at best. Yes, women had some valid complaints – but they don’t quite hold up any more. By now it’s firmly established that half of domestic violence is women upon men – with often greater damage. Men are VERY well aware of the damage a woman can cause, from stalking to paternity fraud to false rape accusations – and the big-dog women seem to be unwilling to understand the suffering of men in a society that is overwhelmingly stacked against them, informally and legally – in fact, like your dog, they dismiss it – like you will this post. The suffering of half of the domestic violence sufferers is dismissed by the big female dog. Men get their penis cut off – women cackle over it on national TV in prime time. Violence against men is enabled everywhere. What does the big female dog care about it?

    Well, I could go on and on – but I’ll save my breath. I’ll need it to run fast next time a feminist enters an elevator with me.

    Birric Forcella
    Proudly using both heads

    Comment by Birric Forcella — September 11, 2012 @ 4:28 am | Reply

    • You already burned down your house of cards when you made the dog male.

      FFS, Birric. Did you just miss the entire point of the parable, simply because the author used male pronouns for the dog and female pronouns for the lizard? You could just as easily substitute the lizard for a male who is gay, black, a stutterer, 4 feet tall, or has other qualities for which people are often marginalized unfairly, and the parable still works. You’re not just the dog in this story in regard to your gender, but you are also the lizard in regard to your sexuality.

      The whole point of this parable is that people who are not X don’t understand what it’s like to be X, so instead of dismissing someone who says, “Being X causes me distress because _____,” we should give their complaint some consideration.

      Comment by L — September 12, 2012 @ 3:25 pm | Reply

  107. By now I’ve read through most of the posts. Many are thoughtful, but I think most still miss the mark. Let me elaborate on what I said:

    My point was that the dog-lizard metaphor is fatally and viciously flawed for two main reasons (there are more). It rests on two assumptions which are scarcely challenged even by the more sophisticated analyses above.

    First is the assumption that privileges never change but are writ into nature. That’s simply wrong. Dogs change into lizards and vice versa all the time. Like wealth, status, etc. privilege changes, often overnight. You could argue that the gender of a person doesn’t change. But that confuses sex with associated changeable privilege Males certainly had large privileges in the past, though it has been pointed out here and elsewhere that even those privileges weren’t all they are cracked up to be. The evidence by now clearly shows that male privilege has waned and female privilege is now largely dominant in the West. What has not changed is the false feminist narrative about privilege. That is why I must so strenuously object to the line “listen and believe her.” It’s not a matter of belief – it’s a matter of evidence.

    The second fatal flaw is the assumption that the dog can’t ever know what the lizard feels. That’s just jaw-droopingly wrong and an insult to every victim of privilege in history, including female ones. Are you saying black men, strung up from trees, can’t feel victimized? Are you saying female “suffering” from catcalls is somehow in a nobler, higher category of suffering than racism? Gay men, historically (and still today) lived in constant fear of being attacked, raped, denied jobs, housing, equal pay, etc. Is their suffering inferior because they were men? What a vicious, arrogant position to take! Men can know and feel the suffering of women just fine.

    In truth, the dog-lizard metaphor illustrates exactly the opposite of what it purports to show. It demonizes man as the eternal “other,” the monster that can’t be changed and will never be able to participate in the higher ideals and rarefied feelings of the eternally nobler females. Sorry to pull the Hitler card on you, but that’s exactly what Adolf said about the Jews. It’s not surprising that many feminists come to the only logical conclusion: A final solution for men. In Greg Laden’s words: “The male brain is a female brain damaged by testosterone.” If that’s so, then men can’t be helped. They can only be genetically reengineered or killed. Women, of course, are perfect. That is the true meaning of the dog-lizard parable and of the feminist narrative.

    Do some research, maybe you know how to google. Female privilege is all over the place. The very fact that the faulty feminist narrative is wildly dominant and unquestioned is proof of its privilege. There are few men left who will deny females equality. I don’t. I merely fight a paradigm that would establish oppression by females and generates gross inequality.

    The narrative of male privilege can be disproved practically everywhere. Women, by now, receive equal pay, if not more counting circumstances. In court a woman’s testimony always counts more than a man’s. The popular culture supports female violence against men while any sign of male aggression is condemned. Cutting off a man’s penis is applauded on prime-time TV – so is rape of males in prisons and elsewhere. The ever-escalating war on boys and the war on male sexual expression in general speak for themselves. Feminism-based erotophobia is rampant and unopposed. Men’s needs are simply dismissed in the same fashion the big-dog dismisses the lizard’s needs.

    It’s especially obvious in the workplace. Any small(er) business lives in daily fear that a woman might say something – anything – no matter how wrong or outright lying. It can make you instantly go out of business. No recourse – even if you can prove the accusation was wrong. Now, that’s privilege.

    The accuser in the Virginia Lacrosse case wasn’t even charged with filing a false police report. The privilege of shield laws saw to that. Any woman can ruin a man’s life (or a group of men) forever – no consequences. Everywhere, women’s names are withheld. Nobody can come forward and point out a serial accuser. Men, on the other hand are dragged through the mud, no matter if the accusation was false. Now that’s privilege.

    The remaining racism towards blacks falls disproportionately and viciously on black men, mostly because privileged white feminists are disproportionately “empowering” black women.

    The oft trotted-out “catcall” is nothing but a bait-and-switch ruse. At some point it inevitably gets switched out with rape. It’s dishonest. Catcalls are not rape, never have been, never will be – so don’t drag it in. My sympathies lie with the woman who doesn’t get catcalls. Rebecca Watson’s absurd elevatorgate complaint relies on the same bait-and-switch. The fact that women commonly get away with the red herring of catcalls shows the privilege accorded to the feminist narrative.

    So, quite simply: Women, don’t be that dog. Men, don’t “listen and believe” a false narrative. Look at facts, look at evidence. The facts prove that privileges change rapidly. Men’s privileges are mostly gone in the West. Men’s experiences and lives are exactly as valid and valuable as women’s. We have to fight for equality, not support the lies of new overlords.

    Birric Forcella
    Proudly using both heads.

    P.S.: I’ve been brought up metric up into my 20’s, but I’ve come to love and adore the US system. I suits my playful nature. It’s just – fabulous.

    P.S. 2: The dog-lizard is a great metaphor for one thing: Traditional marriage and its modern counterpart, repressive “commitment.” Dog and lizard should have never been thrown together, and certainly not in Ohio. They should have had the opportunity to gather experience with many partners first before shacking up. They also should be free to leave. In a true relationship, the mutual privilege of keeping the partner around, mutual respect, and love need to be earned daily by the other partner. Take it from those gays (like me) who have stayed together for decades with all the cannons of society trained at them.

    P.S. 3: I think in my earlier posted comment I made a typo in my e-mail. It should be

    Comment by Birric Forcella — September 12, 2012 @ 11:07 pm | Reply

    • “First is the assumption that privileges never change but are writ into nature. That’s simply wrong. Dogs change into lizards and vice versa all the time. Like wealth, status, etc. privilege changes, often overnight.”

      I agree that privilege can change, moreso in some cases than in others, and wealth is a good example for demonstrating this. If someone is born and raised in poverty, then later earns or inherits wealth, they will still know what it’s like to be poor, because they’ve been there. Likewise, someone who is raised with wealth all of their lives won’t know what it’s like to be poor, unless they somehow lose that wealth, or perhaps if their parents force them to fend for themselves for a while, just so they can learn the value of the dollar (or pound, or euro, etc).

      “You could argue that the gender of a person doesn’t change.”

      I personally wouldn’t argue that, unless you’re only defining “gender” based on the occurrence of X and Y chromosomes. When we get into intersex and transgender individuals, I think privilege or lack thereof would be based on their particular circumstances. Do people perceive them as male or female? Do others know they are intersex or transgender? Do people see them as gay or straight, without knowing they are intersex or transgender? Different people experience life in different ways, based on many different factors.

      Likewise, not all women share a typical “female” experience, just as not all men share a typical “male” experience. It’s not just based on things like status, wealth, or race, either, but on so many other individual factors in addition to that. John Smith or Jane Doe could have one experience in one town, but a completely different experience in a town 20 miles away, and a much different experience in a different part of the country or a different country. A lot also depends on their parents, what school they went to, who they hang out with, etc.

      I was bullied for most of my childhood, then moved to a nearby town when I was 15, where the kids treated me decently. If I had gone to that 2nd school the whole time, my outlook on life would most likely be a lot different than it is now, and this is only one of countless factors that shaped who I am today.

      In the case of male/female privilege, I think it’s safe to say that all women are probably used to putting up with at least some amount of sexism, and many seem to live in constant fear of being raped. With that whole 1 in 6 statistic (taken from the US Department of Justice website), I think it’s an understandable fear. It’s not unheard of, though, that a man could have a dangerous stalker, or marry a woman who turns out to be an abuser, and can identify with the same fears – and even the erosion of self-esteem – that many women share.

      So no, I don’t think Sindelókë was remotely trying to say that privileges never change. The point I took away from it was that anyone who hasn’t been in any given situation won’t be able to understand it without a concerted effort to do so, and may not truly understand it even after they try, but nobody should ever just assume that everyone’s experiences are universal, and brush somebody off when they say, “This hurts me.”

      I don’t know what it’s like to be gay in a society where so many people ignorantly accuse gays of being child molesters, simply because you’re attracted to adults of the same gender. I don’t know what it’s like to be black or Muslim in my country. I don’t know what it’s like to have a physical or mental impairment, or to be much taller or shorter than the average height. I don’t know what it’s like to be obese due to reasons beyond my control, or to look anorexic, despite trying very hard to put on enough weight to appear “normal.”

      Most of us have some type of privilege, and most of us have some type of obstacles. Sometimes they are due to others’ preconceived notions about us, sometimes they are due physical and/or mental handicaps, and sometimes they are due to all of the above. We should never say that white straight men have privilege in every aspect of life, or anyone is always oppressed, because each person has his/her/zir own challenges to deal with.

      “Males certainly had large privileges in the past, though it has been pointed out here and elsewhere that even those privileges weren’t all they are cracked up to be.”

      Male privilege isn’t something of the past. It’s true that women have come a lot closer to gaining equality than was once afforded, but we still have a way to go before women are treated as true equals. The most obvious problem is unequal pay for equal work, but it goes much deeper than that. This isn’t to diminish the obstacles that some men face, but it is a fact that many of us are all too aware of.

      “That is why I must so strenuously object to the line “listen and believe her.” It’s not a matter of belief – it’s a matter of evidence.”

      I have no doubt you truly believe this, but women are privy to personal evidence that states otherwise, not to mention the pay inequality, rape statistics, and other indisputable factors. Yes, women do have privilege in some areas like custody cases and not being required to register for the draft (in the US), which I think is wrong, too, but that doesn’t negate the areas in life where women are oppressed. Again, it’s not an all or nothing proposition. Women and men simply have different privileges and different obstacles, and I think it’s better for us to understand what others have to deal with, rather than saying one doesn’t matter because the other has other obstacles to deal with. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and one person’s problem doesn’t cancel the other one’s out.

      “The second fatal flaw is the assumption that the dog can’t ever know what the lizard feels.”

      I don’t think we can unless we’ve been in a similar situation, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Even if we can’t truly understand the difficulties of a particular situation, we still shouldn’t brush it off like the dog did in this parable.

      I have read the rest of your comment, but I hope you can understand by now why I disagree with you about the point of the parable, but agree with you that everyone faces his/her/zir own challenges. It shouldn’t be about “us” vs “them,” but about doing our best to understand each other’s challenges, and working together to gain equality for everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, etc.

      P.S.: Your P.S.s gave me a chuckle. :) As an American, I actually kind of wish we’d adopt the metric system, because counting everything in 10s and 100s is much easier than remembering there are 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon, 8 ounces in a cup, 2 cups in a pint, 2 pints in a quart, 4 quarts in a gallon, etc. Not only that, but it would be much better than having to remember that 28c=82f when talking about the weather with someone outside the US. :)

      Regards and best wishes,


      Comment by L — September 13, 2012 @ 2:51 am | Reply

      • “I don’t think we can [truly understand] unless we’ve been in a similar situation, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”

        I would argue that to the extent this is correct, we can’t necessarily understand just from having been in a similar situation. As an example, I’m white (for most purposes) and I was subject to one or two racial slurs on a regular basis while in high school (my high school was mostly people of South-East Asian heritage), but I certainly don’t know how a black person feels when being called the ‘n’ word – there’s almost none of the associated cultural history or wider context.

        Comment by Yiab — September 14, 2012 @ 8:40 am

      • The way I often put this to people is thus: You might understand having been slurred or discriminated against if you’re a white person, because there are some situations in which you’re in the minority. I used to work in a company in which I was the only white person and the only native English-speaker. I felt excluded a lot at work, even though people were nice and tried to include me, they had their own language and their own jokes of which I was not a part. However, I didn’t really know what it was to be an ethnic minority, because when I left work, I was in the majority. As I’ve told people, you don’t know what it is to be systematically discriminated against, because if you’re being situationally discriminated against, you can go and be white someplace else and have it be just fine. Those who are truly in the minority don’t have that option. They are minorities wherever they go.

        Comment by electrakitty — September 14, 2012 @ 9:11 am

      • Hi Yiab,

        I have enjoyed reading your comments on this page. However, I cringed when you inserted “truly understand” into my sentence, because that isn’t at all what I was trying to say.

        Someone wrote:

        “The second fatal flaw is the assumption that the dog can’t ever know what the lizard feels.”

        I responded:

        “I don’t think we can unless we’ve been in a similar situation, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”

        You can put a comma after “can” if it helps, but if you need to add words there, please work with this:

        “I don’t think we can [know what the lizard feels] unless we’ve been in a similar situation, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”

        As I’m sure you’ll agree, knowing or understanding the concept behind something isn’t the same as “truly” knowing or understanding how someone else feels about this “something.”

        The dog has absolutely no clue how the cold makes the gecko feel, because he doesn’t know or understand what “cold” means. If you could somehow put him in a room that is cold enough for him to feel discomfort at the very least, he would then have some form of reference to work with, but he still wouldn’t “truly” understand how it feels for the gecko to have to live in such dangerously cold conditions for as long as she has.

        That said, I agree with your assessment of the topic in general, and only wish to clarify what I was trying to say with that sentence. You may not “truly understand” how a black person feels when being called the n-word, but you do have your own experience as a frame of reference to get a basic idea of it, and you do realize that the racism you’ve been subjected to isn’t as severe as it is for so many black people.

        Likewise, a man who has never felt trivialized or threatened based on his gender will have much more trouble understanding even the concept of these feelings. If he has had a similar experience due to his race, sexuality, height, or other qualities he can’t change, then he will have some frame of reference from which to begin understanding how it feels to be in that position, while someone who hasn’t had similar experiences will have a much harder time even understanding the concept.

        So, in a nutshell, even if we can’t truly understand how a particular issue affects someone else, we can still listen to the person or people who are affected by that issue, try to understand it as well as we can, and not just brush it off without giving it any consideration.

        I hope this clarifies what I was trying to say above.

        Comment by L — September 15, 2012 @ 12:33 am

      • Hi electrakitty,

        I like how you explained that, and agree with your assessment.

        While an experience like you described can’t help a white person completely understand what other racial groups have to go through all of their lives in a white-dominated country, having this frame of reference can help us be more sympathetic toward those who do have to deal with it all their lives. The important thing here, though, is acknowledging (as you obviously do) that we are only getting a hint of what they have to deal with every day, and that a short-term situation from which we can remove ourselves won’t have nearly the same impact that living with it all of someone’s life will.

        Unfortunately, I have heard far too many people say, “Well, I’ve had [bad situation] happen to me, too, but you don’t see me crying about it. Quit overreacting.” Why can’t they just get it through their thick skulls that having [bad situation] happen on a few random occasions doesn’t have nearly the same impact that having [same bad situation] happen on a regular basis throughout all of someone’s life can have?

        The proper response, of course, isn’t, “Quit overreacting.” A better response would be, “Yeah, I’ve had that happen to me, too, but only a few times (or for a short period of time). I can’t imagine what it must be like to have to deal with that on a regular basis, but I’m sorry you have to go through that.”

        Comment by L — September 15, 2012 @ 1:03 am

      • Hi L,
        I apologize if I misunderstood and/or misrepresented your position.
        I took the “truly understand” from the sentence following the one I quoted because I thought you were speaking about true understanding for that whole paragraph, and I think that true understanding as a goal is a red herring in discussions like these – I think it is better to deal with varying degrees of understanding than to have an unreachable (in my opinion) goal in mind. It appears I read a connection between those two sentences you didn’t intend, so again I apologize for my misapprehension.
        Thank you for the clarification.

        Comment by Yiab — September 17, 2012 @ 9:21 am

      • Thank you, Yiab. I accept your apology, and realize how my original wording might have seemed a bit ambiguous.

        I think it’s good to try and understand as much as we can about somebody else’s pain, but we also need to assume that we will never have a true grasp of it, and never claim that we do. Even two individuals within any given “group” can have vastly different experiences, and even the same experiences can have vastly different impacts on each individual.

        All in all, I think we’re in agreement here. :)

        Comment by L — September 17, 2012 @ 10:54 pm

    • Some parts in this post seemed legit to me, while others I can’t currently confirm or deny (mostly to do with the misandry statistics).

      But then there were bits that outright pissed me off:

      “It’s not a matter of belief – it’s a matter of evidence.”
      When it comes to individual cases, someone telling you a story, it’s more of a matter of belief (with maybe some additional evidence) – but what they say can’t be generalized without evidence.

      “Is their suffering inferior because they were men? What a vicious, arrogant position to take! Men can know and feel the suffering of women just fine.”
      Hey, silly, didn’t you notice all those parts in the original article that cited the problems of homosexuals and blacks, as well?

      Whenever a certain privilege is tilted in your favor, you generally can’t know the other party’s suffering. If you’re homosexual who’s been oppressed in one way or the other, you may identify better with women who have, too – but not if you’re a heterosexual who hasn’t.
      If most women have male harassment or even sexual assault as a source of constant nuisance in their lives, and most men don’t – then most women don’t know how it is to be those most women.
      If you’re a minority exception and do know, then the majority of other men won’t understand *you*.

      If you live in a peaceful town, you might not know how it is to live in the wretched hive the other side of the river. Etc.

      Now, it’s possible to understand that through other means, like really looking into it, reading testimonies, watching a movie etc., but obviously you have to do something for that to work, rather than just… live.

      “It demonizes man as the eternal “other,” the monster that can’t be changed and will never be able to participate in the higher ideals and rarefied feelings of the eternally nobler females.”

      Well, that’s just stupid – just as it demonizes the dog, it also portrays the lizard as an eternally weaker entity, and it does NOT say or imply, at any point, anything about the lizard somehow being “nobler” or “eternal”. Don’t project what you’ve read elsewhere on this article, because it simply isn’t there.

      “The oft trotted-out “catcall” is nothing but a bait-and-switch ruse. At some point it inevitably gets switched out with rape. It’s dishonest. Catcalls are not rape, never have been, never will be – so don’t drag it in. My sympathies lie with the woman who doesn’t get catcalls”
      That aside, it can still feel obnoxious, and I think that should be acknowledged.

      Your last sentence is utterly naive – it presumes that being whistled at and proposed all the time has to be a pleasant experience. It’s not necessarily. It all comes down to the proportion, the nature of those “catcalls”, and of course, the individual – one woman may find it a constant source of ego reassurance, another may feel sick of it.
      But it’s very often a source of nuisance, and I think you should recognize that.

      Comment by johnwaynman — September 25, 2012 @ 5:44 pm | Reply

      • I’m still trying to wrap my head around some of the stuff I’ve been seeing on the internet over the past year, ever since one woman described a set of circumstances that made her feel threatened, and gave the advice, “Guys, don’t do that.”

        John, you bring up some good possible motivations for why someone in a privileged position may get upset at certain things, and I would like to add another one. I think some people genuinely believe they’re doing everything right, and can’t bear the thought of having oppressed another person or group of people, so they convince themselves that the other side is overreacting, get defensive, and act out against those whom they believe are calling them a bad person… when all that was said was, “That thing you said or did hurt me.” Unfortunately, some people seem to take this as a judgment of their character, as though, “You’ve got something stuck in your teeth,” was the same as, “Why don’t you ever brush your teeth?”

        The very idea that an unintentional oppressor would lash out in this way seems to contradict itself, because if someone wants to be a good person and avoid oppressing others, they should be willing to listen when someone says, “This hurts me.” But, as irrational as it seems, I do think this happens in some cases.

        Comment by L — September 26, 2012 @ 10:01 pm

      • Not sure why I can’t reply to you, but anyway:

        Yea, that’s obviously a very likely cause for most, one just doesn’t want to feel guilty, and easily tends to shift the blame and responsibility away from oneself.
        Another likely cause, at the more general level, is that if you’ve been living in a social environment that you thought was completely okay, with realized gender equality and no sinister social dynamics… accepting that it may not be so is just a hard red pill to swallow, you may think it contradicts all the fluffy, fuzzy things you’ve experienced, and it just can’t be true.

        Then there can be another easy trap – telling the “legitimate” criticisms from the faulty ones. It’s something that you have to do, because there are a lot of false claims of oppression out there, mostly from people with their own bag of insecurities and self-entitlement, but at the same time, you have to adapt because you can’t judge everything from your high privilege pedestal. So that makes it a bit of a mind job, and sometimes after hearing false, ridiculous accusations of oppression and sexism, you might miss the legit ones. Obviously, you shouldn’t :)

        I initially was one of the people laughing at Watson’s video, because I was familiar with the “coming on is wrong / should be handled delicately, but only if it’s male on female” trope, and just thought this was another example of misguided self-entitlement.
        Obviously, I’d been an idiot and missed the part that emphasized the whole “elevator is an enclosed position” angle as the primary reason against it – then I caught up to it, and now I can’t disagree with it.

        Comment by johnwaynman — September 26, 2012 @ 10:25 pm

      • Hi John,

        There’s a blog post I read recently that started by showing a clip from Pleasantville, where “perfect” 1950s husband, George, comes home and announces, “Honey, I’m home!” Instead of receiving the usual response of having his wife and kids run up and greet him with smiles and hugs, he finds himself in an empty home, and dinner isn’t made. As far as he knew, he has always been the perfect husband and father, providing for his family, doing everything society expected a good man to do, and never once thought to question whether his wife and kids were happy, because they never complained. You can find that clip on YouTube, titled, “Honey, I’m home! Where’s my dinner?! “ Length: 1 minute 23 seconds.

        I haven’t seen the whole movie, but there’s another clip on YouTube titled, “Put on some makeup” (you’ll need to add Pleasantville to the keywords for that one, or you’ll find a bunch of makeup tutorials) where George is obviously upset with all the changes going on, but he doesn’t really know what to do about it. He tries to assert his authority as he has done in the past, but he doesn’t seem quite comfortable with doing that in this scene.

        Not only does George have learn his new, unfamiliar place in society, but he also has to live with the guilt of having an oppressor when he didn’t even realize it. From what I know about the movie, it sounds like it took him a while to come around, but he eventually got there.

        On the whole elevator incident, there are other things to keep in mind, in addition to being in an enclosed space with an unknown man. This in itself may or may not be so scary, depending on the woman, and how the man conducts himself while in that elevator. However, all the other details involved here might have made even the bravest woman afraid, if she didn’t at least have some means to defend herself. From the sound of it, Rebecca was talking with a group of people at a bar, and this guy was either standing in or near that group, without saying a word. Rebecca had already said in her convention speech, and again to the group in the bar, that she doesn’t like to be sexualized. Then, right before she left the bar, she announced to this group that she was tired and needed sleep, and this guy followed her from the bar to the elevator without her realizing it.

        Just being followed from the bar to the inside of an empty elevator would be creepy. The fact that it was 4am and the hotel hallways were probably pretty empty at that time makes it even creepier. Under these conditions, him saying, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting,” sounds an awful lot like, “This will probably creep you out, but I’ve been stalking you.” The fact that he did this while disregarding her explicitly-stated need for sleep and her explicitly-stated dislike of being sexualized, when he had been around to hear her say these things? Inviting her up to his room, alone, for “coffee” shows a complete disrespect for her desire to get some sleep, and to not be sexualized. If he can’t respect those wishes, will he respect her “no”?

        If that guy had done everything the same way, except propositioned her in the hallway instead of following her into the elevator, his behavior would still have been creepy, but at least she would have been able to run back into the bar if she felt the need. If the guy hadn’t propositioned her, but just happened to be taking the same elevator, said, “Hi,” and proceeded to look at the display that indicated which floor they were on, Rebecca may or may not have felt comfortable with that, I really don’t know. However, exhibiting that creepy behavior and propositioning her in the enclosed elevator is a combination that could make any woman fear for her safety, and this is why I’m having so much trouble understanding why some men are so offended by her simply saying, “Guys, don’t do that.”

        Comment by L — September 27, 2012 @ 1:10 am

      • I should have proofread better before submitting. Where I said this:

        Not only does George have learn his new, unfamiliar place in society, but he also has to live with the guilt of having an oppressor when he didn’t even realize it. From what I know about the movie, it sounds like it took him a while to come around, but he eventually got there.

        I meant this:

        Not only does George have to learn his new, unfamiliar place in society, but he also has to live with the guilt of being an oppressor when he didn’t even realize it. From what I know about the movie, it sounds like it took him a while to come around, but he eventually got there.

        Comment by L — September 27, 2012 @ 1:13 am

      • Yea, I remember those specifics about the guy’s awkward / creepy bahavior, as well as Watson’s prior anouncements. They all add to her case, but I think what most people that started disagreeing took away from it is that a guy hit on her and she condemned that – or that he was awkward and created an “uncomfortable” moment, but awkward moments were something people would have to deal with on a daily basis anyway.

        Maybe because they wanted to take it that way, or because they didn’t pay enough attention.

        Quite often when this issue comes up, some like to ask questions about double standards and what role the genders played in that situation. That kind of makes me wondering – while men remain in the majority as far as assault (especially sexual assault) goes, should men be more wary around a suspect (or heck, not suspect) woman in the parking lot, or are they way too trusting?
        It’s often said if the genders were reversed, no one would complain, and the man would probably feel completely safe, not expecting anything nasty from the blonde vision – but should he?

        Comment by johnwaynman — September 27, 2012 @ 1:41 am

      • Hi John,

        I wonder just how many of these angry men have heard the whole story and paid attention to the details, how many have gotten the “short version” from her detractors, and how many have heard the whole story but just don’t understand all the nuances behind it. After all, “He was obviously a nice guy, because he took no for an answer.” Yeah, sure, in hindsight. If that situation wasn’t creepy enough in itself, most women have a whole lifetime of experiences that makes certain situations feel even creepier than it would feel for a man.

        There’s a reason why many women (and possibly a few men) don’t like catcalls, while many men (and possibly a few women) would welcome it, and it mainly has to do with the way men and women are treated differently in general, whether some people realize it not. If that didn’t happen to women all the time, then women might actually like it, too. You seem like you already understand this, but for anyone else who may be reading this…

        Let’s say you love chocolate ice cream, but you’re only able to have it once a month, or maybe even once a year. This is a real treat, and you wish you could have it more often. But now, let’s say that’s all you’re allowed to eat. You’re not allowed any real food, and must live on nothing but chocolate ice cream, for every meal of every day, for the rest of your life. Is this still a treat, or are you so sick and tired of it, and just wish things could be different?

        Now, instead of chocolate ice cream, we’re talking about catcalls, “compliments” about a woman’s body, being called pet names like “baby” or “sweetie” by male strangers or male coworkers (when they refer to their male coworkers by name, of course), persistent “Why won’t you go out with me?” nagging (followed by a bad attitude when they finally give up), having your opinion belittled because you’re not as smart as a man, being told you’re overreacting when you complain about sexual harassment, and on, and on, and on. It’s degrading, and it helps no one. It doesn’t help the women who are being degraded, and it doesn’t help the good men who try to approach a woman in a nice way, only to have her avoid him because of all her bad past experiences.

        Asking what would have happened if the genders had been reversed in that elevator incident isn’t a sufficient question to ask, because there are always other factors involved. Heck, if Rebecca was some tall, muscular amazon and the guy was this tiny little wimp, she might not have felt threatened at all (but probably still annoyed), so sheer size and strength can have a lot to do with it. But this is only one obvious factor, while there are also some much more subtle factors at work here.

        It’s not just physical size and strength that matters in situations like this, but also the way we are socialized. The following are generalizations, and certainly not meant to be taken as “all” men or “all” women in any case:

        Men are often taught to be aggressive, to not back down from a fight, that a woman is just playing hard to get if she says no to a date, to be the breadwinner, and to have authority over women. Even when a wife has a career, men often have their pride threatened if she makes more money than he does, and she will often take lesser paying jobs to keep him happy.

        Women are taught to be polite. If a man approaches her and she doesn’t want to speak to him, she’s still expected to acknowledge his presence to avoid the appearance of being rude. If she politely tells him she’d rather be alone, she’s seen as a snooty bitch. If a man and woman have a disagreement, she is often the one to back down.

        These are just a few differences, but as I said, they are just generalizations. A lot of people don’t follow these “norms” anymore, but they are still embedded enough into our culture that even some good guys do some of this stuff without realizing it. These attitudes are still causing some major issues between the two genders, and it causes problems for both women and men.

        There are so many nuances here that it would fill a whole book, or maybe even an encyclopedia, but the main point here is that men and women experience life a lot differently than each other, and our perspectives on things can differ a whole lot more than most people realize.

        So back to the question of if those genders were reversed, it usually wouldn’t be an issue if the woman did all of those things and then propositioned a man in that elevator. However, there are other factors that could make it different. Let’s say the woman is bigger and stronger than he is. This in itself might not factor in very much, but then what if the guy is much shorter than average, and was bullied all throughout his school years? What if some of his bullies were female? I could see something like this making a guy very uncomfortable when he has those kinds of memories to deal with.

        Comment by L — September 27, 2012 @ 3:04 am

  108. I don’t know if many people will read this comment, buried under a wall of other comments, but I wanted to throw in my two cents to all the people who are nitpicking this post.

    It’s a friggin analogy! A parable! It isn’t meant to be perfect. It isn’t meant to accurately describe every possible situation.

    It is attempting to present an easy to understand description of what privilege is. For those who missed it, the moral isn’t ‘You’re privileged and I’m not.’ The moral is, as the author says in the last paragraph: “You can’t help being born with fur. Every single one of us has some kind of privilege over somebody. What matters is whether we’re aware of it, and what we choose to do with it, and that we not use it to dismiss the valid and real concerns of the people who don’t share our particular brand.”

    Comment by csrowan — September 16, 2012 @ 10:11 am | Reply

    • I read your comment, csrowan. I also agree, and think you said it better than I did up above, here.

      An interesting thing has happened since I first found this parable. Someone had said something to me a few days prior that was unintentionally hurtful, but he didn’t understand why it hurt. I had trouble expressing why it hurt, and it hurt even more when he didn’t believe I felt the way I said I felt. Rather than engage in an argument where I didn’t know how to express my perspective in a way he would understand, I backed down and let it go. Of course, this means it was inevitable that the same issue would come up again, just as it had in the past, and the best I could do was take the hits, because I didn’t now how to make this person understand my position.

      But then, I found this parable. Once I sent him a link to it and he read it, a huge obstacle was instantly removed (thank you, Sindelókë!). Finally, he was able to set his own perspective aside to listen to mine, and although he may not completely grasp my exact feelings on that particular issue, he at least seems to get that “X makes me feel Y, because Z,” and believes me when I say it. Further, since part of “Z” included feelings that are similar to some of those that he experiences due to different circumstances, he was able to relate some of those feelings, at least somewhat, to what I was saying.

      But wait, it gets better! It also works in reverse, which has the added benefit of multiplying upon itself. There are things I didn’t understand about him, too, and other things he didn’t understand about me, but through related conversations over the last few days, we now understand each other even more than we used to. I didn’t think our relationship could get any better than it already was, but these realizations, combined with the desire to be supportive of each other, have enriched our relationship, and I know they will continue to do so.

      Understanding is a two-way street. Sometimes I am the dog, and he’s the lizard. Sometimes he’s the dog, and I’m the lizard. Sometimes we’re both dogs, which is great when there are no lizards around. I have also found that occasionally, we can both be the lizard at the same time, in which case working through a problem may take a little extra care. The important thing to remember is that we do have different perspectives, based on our own lifetimes full of experiences, so we need to believe the other person when they say, “This hurts me.”

      Comment by L — September 17, 2012 @ 1:30 am | Reply

  109. While I get the concept of exaggeration, couldn’t this parable be viewed as kind of sexist when applied to gender? You know, the woman being the poor, small, defenseless lizard, and the big, tough, strong dog is the man… looks suspect to me.

    How about we change the parable a bit, at least for Western sensitivities? Let’s say the lizard can adapt to temperatures… just not quite as well. The house isn’t a cold hell hole, but it often gets cold and uncomfortable – while the dog has to sweat sometimes, but not anywhere that much.
    The lizard can meddle with the temperature, or some other cirumstance, to make the dog miserable… or inconvenienced… just not as much, The wizard can also exploit “her” disadvantage by having the run around the house and change the temperature to the lizard’s liking… but it’s not as bad for the dog as it is or would be for the lizard to have to do stuff for the dog. Each can overpower the other, but the lizard not as often as the dog.

    Not an absolute difference, just a qualitative one. Obviously, the metaphor would be even more accurate, and less sexist, if there were 10 lizards and 10 dogs, each with different advantages and disadvantages – but overall, while not in every individual case, the dogs would have it better.

    Because that’s kinda what reality seems to be – a man can feel uncomfortable being whistled at by a group of women, or even intimidated (and in some cases, justifiably so), but not anywhere as much as the other way around.
    Men can be stereotyped in works of fiction (including by female authors), even in a harmful, degrading way – but it’s not as bad as the other way round, with discrimination and stereotyping at the expense of women simply being much more prevalent. After all, I might not read some comic that stereotypes men in a demeaning way, if that annoys me – but it’s not as likely to annoy me, and if it does, it’s not as likely to hurt me; and if it does, it’s not as likely to harm men in general.

    The lizards can change the temperature, just… not as much.

    Comment by johnwaynman — September 25, 2012 @ 5:10 pm | Reply

    • John, you may be missing the point. The gender of the creatures don’t matter. This isn’t a parable to explain the differences between men and women. It’s a parable to explain the concept of privilege.

      You can reverse the genders, eliminate them, or make both creatures the same gender. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that, in these particular circumstances, one creature is more advantaged than the other. That’s what privilege is: an advantage based on certain circumstances, societal roles, historical precedent, race, gender, age, height, health, native language, and who knows what else.

      Everyone is the dog in some circumstances.

      Everyone is the lizard in some circumstances.

      Comment by csrowan — September 25, 2012 @ 5:23 pm | Reply

      • Oh, I get that, but the article does cite misogyny, racism (against blacks) and homophobia as examples at the end; and it’s rather suggested, if not obvious, that the main focus of this article is the men-women difference, the dog being male and the lizard female and all.

        I was just addressing that one aspect – how the metaphor works when applied to male privilege.

        Comment by johnwaynman — September 25, 2012 @ 6:02 pm

    • I think you’re working far too hard to make this about people. It’s not about people, it’s about privilege. I got it, no problem and moved on. It really seems that the men are getting too upset about this, where the women get it and move on . . . Here’s a hint: Women don’t hate men for having privilege. We know you have it and we’re used to adapting to it. However, men tend (and by this I’m making a vast generalization) to get upset when it’s pointed out to them because they haven’t had to think much about it before. The thing is, people who don’t have privilege are aware of the situation. Those who do often don’t understand because they’ve never had to look at it much before. I think many people who have privilege sometimes get upset and make excuses or do a complex dance because in their mind it’s easier than saying “Huh, I never thought about it that way before. Maybe you’re right.” I’ve done the same thing, I’ll admit it. But honestly it’s a lot more genuine (and a lot less work) to stop, think about it, maybe ask a respectful question or two (or, the way I generally approach people over whom I know I have privilege and listen quietly to what they say), then accept it and work to learn how you can use your privilege in an appropriate way (either to help or at least to avoid stepping on toes). It’s not about individuals, it’s about vast groups. For example, I have a friend who is black(this is a true story, not a hypothetical) who is faaaar and away smarter than I. She was planning to become an engineer or an accountant, but instead decided to use her artistic side and became an actor. Her intelligence has allowed her to work around the corners and has secured for her a more comfortable life than I have, even though she has less education than I. She’s smarter than I am, has more money, and more security. On an individual level, she is doing better than I am (and I applaud her for it). However, on a macro cultural level, I still have privilege over her, simply based on my birth into a seemingly Caucasian family (I’m part Italian and some people don’t consider Italians Caucasian, but whatever). I’m not saying it’s right or fair, but I have advantages that she simply doesn’t(to snag a metaphor used in another discussion about this subject, my “difficulty” level is set lower than hers). Assumptions are not made about me based on my race in the same way they are about her. For example, she used to do telemarketing and when she’d occasionally have a face to face meeting with her clients they were shocked that she was black (“You didn’t sound black on the phone”–She’d assure them that she was black when she was talking to them on the phone). So anyway, the point here is not to go into the intricacies of human strength and weakness, but to point out what privilege is. In this situation the dog has privilege over the lizard and their sexes have little to nothing to do with it. I’m fairly certain that the author assigned them sexes just to keep the writing from getting confusing, so let’s not get all bogged down in it.

      Comment by electrakitty — September 25, 2012 @ 8:42 pm | Reply

      • “It’s not about people, it’s about privilege.”
        Yea, but if you tell a parable, and then say “so keep this in mind, when a homosexual tells you… a woman tells you… etc.”, it’s kinda implied that the parable is meant to apply to those “people”, as well. So then unfortunate implications arise, albeit unwillingly, and that’s what I pointed out.

        “Women don’t hate men for having privilege.”
        I thought this article made that clear.

        “I think many people who have privilege sometimes get upset and make excuses or do a complex dance because in their mind it’s easier”
        There are many possible motivations for that reaction – one being that it’s unpleasant to think of yourself as privileged (for the noble reasons, or because it attacks pride), another that when confronted with it, it contradicts what they thought to be true, and someone claiming disadvantages without having any isn’t the best thing they can imagine.
        But that obviously doesn’t mean you don’t have to listen.

        “I’m fairly certain that the author assigned them sexes just to keep the writing from getting confusing, so let’s not get all bogged down in it.”
        That, and if he had made the dog female, people would’ve started suspecting something sinister :p

        I agree with your post, plus it kinda doesn’t contradict the point I made ;)

        Comment by johnwaynman — September 25, 2012 @ 9:51 pm

  110. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the part of your parable where the woman is powerless to do anything about her situation: ‘the lizard has tiny hands and can’t turn the thermostat’. You seem to be saying that all women can do about privilege is meekly ask men to change things and hope they oblige. This parable makes it seem like women are basically born… crippled, for lack of a better word. I’m reading it and thinking, ‘Why doesn’t the lizard take initiative, use her brain to find a way to turn up the thermostat, and to hell with the dog if he doesn’t like it!?’

    Comment by PetraPenmark — October 12, 2012 @ 8:20 am | Reply

    • She can’t leave the lightbulb to get to the thermostat. If she does, she’ll freeze to death.

      This isn’t about one man and one woman, and it isn’t even specifically about gender. Please read some of the other comments here, because many of them add more light on the subject.

      Comment by L — October 12, 2012 @ 9:28 am | Reply

      • Lysistra

        Comment by Theodore M. Seeber — October 16, 2012 @ 4:43 pm

      • For starters, that’s not what the parable says. For seconds, it still doesn’t address the objection that, while this essay is a perfectly good illustration of how privilege works, it still casts the person(s) affected by privilege as helpless. I discussed this exact objection on the Atheism+ forums and the response was mostly, ‘Well what could the lizard possibly do!?’ As if there are no other options than for her to either accept her situation or beg her “oppressor” (their word) for mercy. As if it’s offensive and demeaning to suggest that victims examine and change their own behavior to prevent further trauma, instead of that being the most psychologically-sound advice possible. As if it’s better for them to whine in moral outrage for society to fix the problem. As if it’s more noble for a victim, through their refusal of action to improve their situation, to let their ‘oppressor’ continue controlling their lives.

        As someone who endured an abusive relationship that lasted well over a decade, I realized eventually that, unfair or not, I was the only person who was going to get myself to a place where my abuser no longer had any power over me. So I’m a little sensitive to anything that so much as smells like it’s indicating victims are helpless. In my world, the dog’s behavior and the lizard’s physical differences are irrelevant. Does the lizard have a brain and a will? Then she can get herself to a place where she’s no longer suffering. There are always options. There is always a way out. That’s the attitude I’d like to see more of.

        Comment by PetraPenmark — October 16, 2012 @ 8:57 pm

      • “As someone who endured an abusive relationship that lasted well over a decade,”

        You were able to get out of that relationship. I’m not saying it was easy, because I know it can often be quite difficult in many cases, but you did have the power to get out of that situation. However, while someone can get away from one oppressive person, it is NOT possible for members of oppressed groups to leave the planet or stop being part of that group to get away from the oppression of SOCIETY. If someone turns in a resume and has it rejected because their name sounds foreign or female, there really isn’t anything they can do about it, because there’s no way to prove or even to know that this is the reason why it was rejected.

        Comment by L — October 26, 2012 @ 3:47 pm

      • “If someone turns in a resume and has it rejected because their name sounds foreign or female, there really isn’t anything they can do about it, because there’s no way to prove or even to know that this is the reason why it was rejected.”

        I know you didn’t intend it that way but, I’m sorry, my immediate reaction was, ‘If I can deal with abuse that sent me to three different mental hospitals on five separate occasions and gave me permanent mental illness, I think you can deal with the _possibility_ that you didn’t get a job because someone may have been a bigot.’

        I cannot define that as ‘oppression’. Unfair? Certainly. An injustice worthy of correction? Yes. But oppression is living in a society where if someone finds out you’re gay, you will be arrested and killed. Oppression is not being allowed to get an education because of your gender. Oppression is living every day fearing death. And oppression is having someone else control your life so fully that over time you lose the ability to distinguish your opinions from theirs and it takes years to come close to getting better.

        Comment by PetraPenmark — October 28, 2012 @ 1:34 am

      • You initially raised the following objection:

        “For seconds, it still doesn’t address the objection that, while this essay is a perfectly good illustration of how privilege works, it still casts the person(s) affected by privilege as helpless.”

        Now, you have just said this:

        “But oppression is living in a society where if someone finds out you’re gay, you will be arrested and killed.”

        Thank you for making my point. Now do you see why the lizard in this parable is helpless?

        Comment by L — October 28, 2012 @ 8:18 pm

      • >Now do you see why the lizard in this parable is helpless?

        (Just stares at you, dumbfounded) …No. No, I do not.

        Even in all the dire situations I mentioned (one of them being my own), I will never concede helplessness. There is always something you can do to better yourself. If you think of yourself as helpless, even in the worst circumstances imaginable, then you’ve let your oppressor(s) win. You’ve lain down at their feet and surrendered. I took myself from a place of unending mental misery to a point in my life where things are better than I could have ever imagined. Do I still have scars, inside and out? Yes, but at least I’m better. And I know not everyone can fight back like I did. But everyone should at least be encouraged to try. Everyone should be taught that being a victim is temporary, unless you let yourself believe it’s permanent. You never have to stay a victim. Never. No one has more power over your life than you do.

        Comment by PetraPenmark — October 29, 2012 @ 3:21 pm

  111. So we all have privilege in different ways. So if we were to acknowledge everyone’s privileged ways that are unique to that persons wealth/gender/sexual orientation/race and then adjust our actions accordingly that would be an ideal solution. If everyone was to change the title of their book, the way they write movies and they way they conduct themselves to acknowledge every other person’s privilege in this utopian world absolutely nothing would ever get accomplished. Where does privilege end and being over-sensitive begin. I think every reasonable, good hearted person does not want to offend or hurt another person (or dog or gecko for that matter) but perhaps we should recognize that many of us reading this have the privilege of free will and choice. Perhaps that privilege should supersede most others as we recognize that we live in a multicultural society that still has to function. So perhaps we should tolerate each others “privilege” instead of attempting to try to change the world to accommodate even the most minute needs.

    Otherwise I appreciate the post. Too bad your dog didn’t have empathy. Just because a person hasn’t experienced something they can have an idea of what it may feel like.

    Comment by Brian Mann — November 5, 2012 @ 12:52 pm | Reply

    • “So perhaps we should tolerate each others “privilege” instead of attempting to try to change the world to accommodate even the most minute needs.”

      Possibly, but only to an extent. Stuff like this shouldn’t have to be tolerated.

      Comment by L — November 5, 2012 @ 2:15 pm | Reply

      • L,
        I completely agree. No one should have to put up with it. Is the best way to get to that point by identifying everyone’s privilege and ranking each other accordingly? I fail to see how arguing about who is more privileged will end particular problems. It sounds like a lifestyle purity movement to me, like the failed notion of “voting with your dollars to fix capitalism”. Co-opted from the start.

        Comment by ben c — November 5, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

      • Although some people do have more privilege than others, it’s not about ranking or tallying it. It’s about recognizing it in cases where it exists, and seriously considering a complaint instead of just dismissing it, saying, “Oh, he’s just paying you a compliment,” or, “I would love it if that happened to me,”, or “I don’t see it, therefore it doesn’t happen,” or “Stop overreacting/being so sensitive.”

        Some people don’t realize how damaging street harassment can be. Some may not even recognize it as harassment at all, and won’t even listen when we try to explain how that kind of behavior affects us when it happens over and over again on a regular basis, wearing us down little by little. When someone dismisses it and someone else tells them to check their privilege, this is just meant as a reminder that the person dismissing the problem is only looking at their own perspective, and should hear the other person out to try and see it from their perspective. If they can’t see the other’s perspective, it can still be helpful for them to at least understand that it is a problem, and act accordingly. Not only can it help the non-privileged in that situation, but it can also help the one in the position of privilege, too, because it helps us all relate to each other better.

        Comment by L — November 5, 2012 @ 4:03 pm

      • L,
        Thanks for responding. I understand the idea of using the term as a tool to make people aware, I just don’t see how it adds anything to the conversation. It seems a tenuous connection to invoke privilege to explain the difference of perspective. Perhaps I don’t see the utility of it because I already don’t accept the practice of screaming one’s opinions/desires at someone else in the street. It seems wrong to me for reasons of ordinary civility.

        The term privilege seems to me to serve only to muddy the waters and further separate those involved. In my opinion, it would be wrong to scream judgments on the street no matter who is the recipient, no matter the privilege of any party involved/onlooking. So why include the notion at all?

        Further, I fear that the so-called implied threat of rape is in fact invented. Where is it inherent in an act like a catcall on a public street? Not that apprehension is not understandable, or that it is right to catcall, but it seems that many on this thread see the world as a breathless run from enemies everywhere. If it is from physical victimization, then I apologize for my ignorance, and sympathize as best I can with the victims, but it sounds like more than just a few are intent to take revenge in advance for their perceived chance of future assaults! It seems a destructive and divisive way to express a valid concern. No doubt this perspective can be explained away by my alleged privilege. However that doesn’t answer my arguments, such as they are.

        Comment by ben c — November 6, 2012 @ 2:20 pm

      • Hi Ben,

        “Perhaps I don’t see the utility of it because I already don’t accept the practice of screaming one’s opinions/desires at someone else in the street.”

        Street harassment isn’t actually about screaming one’s opinions/desires, but about more about intimidating and asserting power over the person they’re yelling at. It also doesn’t just happen to women, but also to men who are perceived as gay/feminine/weak. So yeah, telling guys like that to check their privilege probably wouldn’t help in most cases, and if they even knew what it meant, it would probably prompt them to do it even more.

        When it does help is in cases when the person with privilege actually realizes what it means, and actually cares about whether they’re saying or doing something sexist/ableist/racist/etc but just don’t realize it. As an example, I was reading something recently where someone added “dingdong” to the end of M. Night Shyamalan’s name, and someone got upset because as an Asian, she’s sick of people always doing that to her. The person who posted it didn’t see it as racist, and I didn’t understand why it was, either, but then someone else asked and it was explained. The person who posted it then said that they didn’t see it as racist, because their perspective as a caucasian with a white-sounding name didn’t have the same perspective that the Asian had. That is a case where “check your privilege” can serve as a good reminder, and it did. The person ended up apologizing and said they wouldn’t do it again.

        “In my opinion, it would be wrong to scream judgments on the street no matter who is the recipient, no matter the privilege of any party involved/onlooking. So why include the notion at all?”

        Yes, you’re better than that, but some people aren’t. It’s usually done to assert dominance or make them feel better about themselves at the expense of others, not to offer constructive criticism or anything like that. When someone calls a complete stranger fat or ugly, or tells a skinny person they should eat a cookie, it’s not out of concern for their well-being, and when a man cat-calls a woman, he isn’t trying to get a date with her.

        “Further, I fear that the so-called implied threat of rape is in fact invented.”

        It’s not invented. If a man cat-calls a woman, it’s out of disrespect for women, and he is more likely to rape or at least sexually assault a woman than a guy who doesn’t cat-call. Likewise, if some guy shouts homophobic slurs at a man, he’s more likely to physically assault anyone he perceives as gay than someone who doesn’t shout homophobic slurs at men. Likewise, if someone yells “Cripple!” at someone in a wheelchair, he would be more likely to beat up on disabled people than someone who isn’t mean enough to do that. It’s all the same mentality. It’s just a matter of which group(s) the aggressor chooses to target.

        “If it is from physical victimization, then I apologize for my ignorance, and sympathize as best I can with the victims, […]”

        Thank you. Although I haven’t been violently assaulted, I have been grabbed inappropriately (which is still sexual assault) on too many occasions to count, and there are some instances where I probably would have been raped if I had done things differently. You may have actually seen this mentality in some men without realizing it, but those of us who have been the target of it on a regular basis, and had it directed at us so often when no one else is around or paying attention to witness it, have learned to spot it pretty well. We need to be able to spot it, too, otherwise the consequences can be devastating and have lifelong psychological effects, at best.

        “No doubt this perspective can be explained away by my alleged privilege.”

        What I explained in my last paragraph is actually the “privilege” of not being subjected to “X” on a regular basis, and I think that’s all they really mean when they use that word in this context. If someone is white and has the last name of Smith, they have an advantage (or privilege) over someone who is black or has a middle-eastern name. If someone named “John” turns in a résumé, he has a better chance of getting an interview than someone named “Jane.” If an alpha male walks down the street, he has less of a chance of being assaulted than a feminine and/or weak-looking man or a woman does. If someone is born into a wealthy family, they don’t have to experience what it’s like to grow up poor and have no way of paying for college, as Romney’s “borrow from your parents” remark so clearly demonstrates. That man is so privileged, and has done absolutely nothing to even try to see other people’s perspectives, a lot of people will be so screwed if he wins or steals the election today.

        Comment by L — November 6, 2012 @ 4:20 pm

  112. “Privilege”, or “culture”? What is learnt behaviour, what is expected, and what is acceptable, differs across time, location, and social setting. Why is it so difficult to understand R E S P E C T. Nothing to do with anything else.

    Comment by green — November 19, 2012 @ 7:51 am | Reply

    • That’s pretty much the point of this article. Why do you sound like you’re disagreeing with it?

      Comment by L — November 19, 2012 @ 12:37 pm | Reply

  113. I have to weigh in again. In my area, if someone is male, white, has a Western European sounding name, is not gay, and not handicapped, then they are at a disadvantage. What I wouldn’t give for some native blood or some other minority status (notice the word “status”)? We can look at older data and say that white Western European males are advantaged, but if you look at recent data that is just not the case. Now there are more women being hired than men, proportionally more “minorities” than whites, and the list goes on. If you look at university attendance, it is now about 65% women. Where is the “privilege” now.
    And I would like to see the data that men (or women) who whistle at their preferred sex are more likely to sexually assault them. If you look at serial killers, for example, does the data not seem to indicate those who would never do that kind of thing in public are exactly those who assault and kill. Further, if you look at the work of Kim Bartholomew, it seems to indicate that abuse and such is NOT a male perogative, but is pretty well distributed across the sexes. And, I don’t know about the data in other countries, but as I understand the Canadian data, females in urban areas are outearning males in urban areas. This does not obtain for rural and nonurban earning – mining, forestry, working on rigs, and other areas in which there is a high level of physical strength required, and substantial danger. So, where is the privilege now? I am tired of being the maligned sex, race, culture, and sexual orientation. In Canada there are laws that specifically discriminate against males, but none that are enforced (that I know of, please let me know if there are any – I would love the information) that discriminate against women. It’s time to lose white male’s burden, white man’s guilt.
    Anyway, enough – I will say it again – it’s class by country that is the real “privilege”, not race, not sex, not whatever. There may be correlations, but this does not give licence to denigrate those who are correlated with it. If you don’t think this is correct, then, again, as I understand it, the Jewish folks are the most wealthy in Canada, and the most educated are the Chinese. Why do I never hear of “Jewish privilege” or “yellow privilege”? I could likely come up with a few more. Enough, stop! We don’t need the division – the “privileged” love this kind of discourse – keep those in the lower classes pointing fingers at each other while they “assault” us in our weakness.

    Comment by Udaeus Admoseus — November 20, 2012 @ 1:23 pm | Reply

    • You’re too busy looking at things through your own perspective, and not from the perspective of others. Please try again.

      Comment by L — November 20, 2012 @ 2:31 pm | Reply

      • I’m sorry L, I don’t agree with Udaeus Admoseus, but your response seems highly dismissive to me. This person came in here with their own lived experiences and what they think of as data to back it up, and your reply is essentially to invalidate their experience and dismiss their “data” without substantive explanation. Smacking the dog with a rolled-up newspaper and saying “no” loudly without clearly indicating again and again what it is they’re doing wrong will serve to at best confuse the dog further. (Note: I am not saying that you are treating this person as subhuman, I’m merely trying to extend the parable which we’re all ostensibly talking about, which makes the image even more confusing as literally dogs have no hereditary imperative to be friendly towards lizards the way they do towards humans.)

        Udaeus: You provided one partial citation for your data (Kim Batholomew), which is good, but that leaves the rest of it coming off as hearsay. The folks reading your post are likely to see your paraphrased results therefore as highly dubious. You clearly state that you have a dog in this fight (not to mix metaphors) and so that leads others to doubt your objectivity further. As someone who does not have the time to read over large swaths of social science literature, I generally trust those who make a living at doing just that to get it right, and while I certainly recognize that it is possible for the experts to collectively get it wrong, there is nevertheless a heavy burden of proof justified in being placed on the dissenting party in a lay conversation like this. I recommend that, if you have the time and inclination, you trace every factual statement in your post back to primary sources and return with links (or at least citations) once you have, and if you don’t have the time or inclination, that you refrain from making spuriously precise claims in future, or claiming to have the data on your side.

        Oh, and as a Jewish Canadian, I have never heard anybody mention “goy privilege” either. I think this is largely because Jews are vastly in the minority in every country except Israel, but in North America there doesn’t seem to be much anti-Jewish sentiment in the mainstream anymore. Basically, we feel like a current within the mainstream, from what I’ve gathered – almost everyone other than white supremacists considers us to be white (which I suspect is a problem for Jews of non-European ancestry) – and so there doesn’t seem to be much to discuss about privilege in regards to this particular distinction.

        Comment by Yiab — November 21, 2012 @ 10:02 am

      • Yes, I was being dismissive of dismissive comments, because I wasn’t feeling patient enough to re-explain something that I and many others have already tried to explain on this page. I agree with you that the onus is on those who disagree with this article and its supporting comments to prove it wrong because the evidence does show it to be right, and I appreciate you taking the time to re-explain it.

        Comment by L — November 21, 2012 @ 1:28 pm

  114. Reblogged this on Verdant Handshake.

    Comment by verdantsamuel — December 26, 2012 @ 9:32 am | Reply

  115. Reblogged this on One Woman's Thoughts and commented:
    I REALLY good example explaining Privilege. I’ve been trying to learn more about the subject and this blog was pointed out and it’s very clear and helpful in doing just that. Understanding.

    Comment by bloggingdame — January 3, 2013 @ 10:57 am | Reply

  116. The huge problem I have with privilege is that it’s a completely unfalsifiable idea that in the end is nothing but an appeal to give unlimited power to anyone pretending to be a victim. The suggestion at the end to simply “believe” everyone is IMO, not a viable one. Nor is the idea that all aspects of mass media should appeal to every demographic. It’s perfectly ok to ignore the feminist who complains about super heroines being dressed overly sexist, when the target audience is teenage boys, much like it’s perfectly appropriate for publishers of gay pornography, or women’s magazines to ignore the objections of the cisgendered white male that their publications are offensive and objectify men.

    The way to deal with all these things is to grow some thicker skin and maybe avoid the material. Not to force other people to adapt to your sensibilities. The latter is the absolute last resort in a free society and we typically draw that line around violence and threats.

    I think you’ll also find that the argument loops around, because what you’re basically asking for is for respect of other people’s nature. Well, such natures include the catcalling males who are in a situation where they have to be aggressively pursuing opportunities if they want to get laid. A situation essentially no females share and by the logic of this article – a situation no female could possibly comprehend and therefore should take the male’s word on how horrible it is to be at the whims of the oppressive females who dress sexy merely to taunt them. Why should only the female’s interests be catered for? Oh, that’s right… because they’re self described victims.

    Give me a break. It’s fine to argue for rules of interaction, but these can never be based on the most squeamish in every group or nothing will be acceptable in society and if you’re going to argue that you’re really being hurt – demonstrate it or GTFO. Otherwise you’re coming across as a religious person insisting that GOD wants everyone to do X and demanding that everyone comply without ever having done any legwork to demonstrate your case. Such nonsense is not a useful way to regulate interaction between agents.

    By the way, your answers to critics above, claiming “the onus is on my critics to prove me wrong” when you haven’t done anything to prove your own case, is laughable, but here’s support for one of that person’s claims, namely that vastly more females than men get university education at present. From the national center for education statistics for fall 2009. Females are overrepresented in ALL categories.

    Now, by all means, good for them, but the question “Where is the privilege?” is so valid these days that you can’t simply throw out assertions about how oppressed you are and claim the onus is on everyone else to disprove you – if you want to pretend you have a shred of credibility that is. And this is a concrete example of why we should simply not believe random claims.

    Comment by Illusio — January 6, 2013 @ 7:59 am | Reply

  117. Here’s one attempt to raise consciousness; a song from the 80’s comedy show ‘Who Dares Wins’, written by Philip Pope


    Whenever there’s a lunch break, a tea break, a coffee break
    Whenever there’s a break at all
    We like to like for young girls, or old girls, or any girls
    Giving them our jolly workmans call

    We go ‘COO-EE!’, hanging ’round the skip
    ‘COO-EE!’, being vulgar and loud
    ‘COO-EE!’, harrassing all the girls –
    But only ever when we’re in a crowd.

    Sometimes we’d rather yell out ‘Hello Darlin’,
    Sometimes we make a gesture, thus
    We’re only being friendly and cheerful, that’s all it is
    We don’t see why you have to make a fuss

    When we go ‘COO-EE!’, it’s just our little game, to go
    ‘COO-EE!’, ladies don’t take offence
    ‘COO-EE!’, just get your knickers off, ‘please’,
    You see, deep down inside, we’re perfect gents.

    It’s bound to excite us
    A bird with artheritis
    Give us a kiss
    Cop your laughing-gear round this
    Put a bag over its head,
    I wouldn’t kick it out of bed
    She’s dog-rough
    I’d put her in for Crufts
    I think she fancies me
    ‘Cause she told me to get stuffed

    When I went ‘COO-EE!’, fully grown up men going
    ‘COO-EE!’, tell me what’s wrong with that
    ‘COO-EE!’, is just the mating call
    Of any normal, well-adjusted prat

    You don’t have to be a jerk
    To wolf-whistle while you work
    But it helps to be a dickhead to go

    (US vocabulary: skip=construction dumpster; knickers=panties; artheritis=visual pun, hands held like claws where breasts would be; laughing-gear=mouth; Crufts=national dog show; get stuffed=get f***ed; prat=idiot)

    Comment by hotrats — January 23, 2013 @ 9:52 am | Reply

  118. Ah, Excellent explanation.
    Of course, that would mean that the fact that women spend less time in jail than men for the same crimes is priviledge. So is automatically getting the children in a divorce. So is getting support (which is rarely the case in reverse even when the woman earns more than the man). By extension, the fact that only men are compelled to register for military service is priviledge to women as well. So many examples. Those should really be corrected as well.

    Comment by Dmitry Alexis — February 21, 2013 @ 8:57 pm | Reply

  119. I still don’t care.

    Comment by Honest John — February 23, 2013 @ 7:16 pm | Reply

    • At least you’re honest.

      Comment by DownSonder — February 24, 2013 @ 12:20 am | Reply

      • That’s why they call me Honest John. I was never a good liar.

        Comment by Honest John — February 27, 2013 @ 10:04 am

  120. Really good post. Now linking it from my own youtube video on the same subject.

    Comment by Xzenu — March 1, 2013 @ 2:15 pm | Reply

  121. […] people, heterosexuals, the wealthy, and whites are shielded from violence.  As a part of their privilege, they neither witness nor experience violence enacted toward them because of their […]

    Pingback by Oppression As Terrorism | eGrollman — March 7, 2013 @ 11:27 am | Reply

  122. “Every single one of us has some kind of privilege over somebody”

    Eggggzactly. You should’ve just stopped there.

    Comment by Donny — April 5, 2013 @ 10:15 am | Reply

    • The rest obviously went over your head.

      Comment by DS — April 5, 2013 @ 10:41 am | Reply

  123. Reblogged this on auguries14 and commented:

    Comment by auguries8 — April 11, 2013 @ 8:33 am | Reply

  124. I’m sorry, but this door does swing both ways. You can say there’s nothing wrong with privilege all you like, that it’s not the fault of those who have it, and you’re right, but many who have it find it harder to accept the views and claims of those who don’t have it, and react so negatively to the activism of those who don’t have it, because they are constantly demonized by many of those people. Imagine how it is to be a white, American, cissexual male who always tries to treat others respectfully and equally, trying to be considerate of the needs and requests of others, and to constantly hear from the self-proclaimed spokespeople of those others how his kind oppress them, are inconsiderate to them, biased against them, etc., when that individual has done no such thing nor witnessed it. It’s just as much a stereotype, and creates a similar atmosphere for him. Women may fear the potential dangers of sexual attention, but for the males who’ve never had a predatory thought cross their mind, the constant brand of a “potential predator” is felt, like living with a constant accusation.

    Comment by WhyCantPeopleJust — April 23, 2013 @ 3:57 pm | Reply

    • Which is exactly why enlightened white American cissexual males (or anyone who understands privilege, for that matter) should stand up and make their voices heard.

      Maybe you personally haven’t fit the ‘male chauvenist’ stereotype, but trust me… they’re out there, and they’re not afraid to show it. If you haven’t done it yet, try going into a chat room with a feminine name and spend an hour there. Get a glimpse of what women have to go through. It’s quite an experience. Then imagine you’re a woman and you have to walk home in the dark, or have a plumber come over to fix something and you’re the only person at home, or you are passed over for a promotion or raise when a man who isn’t as productive gets it, or you’re going on a date with someone you don’t know very well and you’re going in his car with nothing more than a purse and a phone, or you’re going to buy tires and get an oil change in a shop full of blue collar men, or you’re wanting to pursue a career in science or math and end up one of 3 women in a class of 60 students.

      Now imagine all of that, and more, every day, for your entire life.

      Comment by csrowan — April 23, 2013 @ 4:31 pm | Reply

    • “the constant brand of a “potential predator”” is not caused by the fear and stories of women, it’s caused by the rape-tolerant, violence-admiring male-dominant culture. If you don’t like it, take action to fight that culture, don’t just whine that you feel unjustly accused.

      Yes, this culture is bad for both men and women. What are you going to do about it?

      Comment by Anne Gray (@zer_netmouse) — April 24, 2013 @ 12:03 am | Reply

  125. Reblogged this on 0olong Messes About On and commented:
    Okay, so I guess I’m occasionally re-blog posts I’m likely to want to refer back to. This is good.

    Comment by 0olong — June 30, 2013 @ 11:58 am | Reply

  126. Please never take this down. I link to it all the time.

    Comment by Kahomono — July 14, 2013 @ 11:59 am | Reply

  127. […] I have openly written about and reflected on the ways in which I am privileged — as a male-bodied individual of a (presumably) middle-class status — there are […]

    Pingback by On Using Privilege | my sociology — August 26, 2013 @ 11:05 am | Reply

  128. […] of feminist women have deemed men unable to take on a feminist identity by virtue of their male privilege.  And, with some feminist-identified men doing a major disservice to women and feminism, I feel […]

    Pingback by A Space For Me In Feminist Activism? | my sociology — September 3, 2013 @ 11:02 am | Reply

  129. This is beyond idiotic and completely anti-feminist. Why should the basic assumption be that the world (as described) is built for the comfortable specifications of the dog. Why should the female character be represented by a smaller, weaker organism and unable to change her environment? Feminism seeks to address this by putting women in positions of power, not appealing to their victimhood. The world is equally difficult for men and women and women like you need to realise that instead of pandering to the sexist assumptions inherent in this narrative. This is anti-feminism at its worst.

    Comment by Rango — September 4, 2013 @ 5:32 am | Reply

    • Your assumption that the parable has anything to do with gender has led you to a false conclusion.

      The characters of the dog and the lizard could be any combination of genders or even be genderless for the purposes of the story. This isn’t a story to explain how women live in a male dominated world. This isn’t even a story about how lizards have to live in a dog dominated world.

      The entire purpose is to explain the concept of privilege. That’s it. Period. End of story.

      Actually, this is the end of the story, and the part you seem to have missed: “Every single one of us has some kind of privilege over somebody. What matters is whether we’re aware of it, and what we choose to do with it, and that we not use it to dismiss the valid and real concerns of the people who don’t share our particular brand.”

      Comment by csrowan — September 4, 2013 @ 4:02 pm | Reply

      • – Oh yeah. I knew this response was coming as soon as I noticed the gecko’s gender. I was prepared to feel ONLY A LITTLE of the same, until the full context, respectfulness and thoughtfulness of the entire piece became crystalline.
        – I suppose it could be changed for general consumption. I suppose it would be worth it to remove a potential stumbling block for the eloquence, quality and importance of the piece.
        – But, for me, it’s just unfortunate how difficult it is for all of us, in given and varied cases, to read beyond a trigger. Maybe that’s even a related issue.

        Comment by KD Jones — September 7, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

  130. – Great respect for this. It’s good as (or better than) I’ve ever seen… thorough, broad as gentleness and limits of real world understanding allow, as concise as it can possibly be, and rather beautiful, really.
    – If only more online discourse followed this form, the world would, at least in some small but important ways, be a much better place. With the hope of not so small ways to follow.
    – Thankfulness. Much of it.

    Comment by KD Jones — September 7, 2013 @ 4:37 pm | Reply

  131. […] Dass man es als Privilegierter leichter hat, erklärt sehr schön   dieser Text.  Hier eine weitere fast noch schönere Erklärung, was ein Privileg ist. […]

    Pingback by Soziale Privilegien: Zwei(einhalb) kleine Anekdoten – Hier wohnen Drachen — September 15, 2013 @ 1:27 pm | Reply

  132. Reblogged this on Jake Kuyser and commented:
    I really like the way you explain this. It makes me want to write some kind of story. I’m not sure what yet. In fact I like the way you have told this like a story. :)

    Comment by jwkuyser — September 19, 2013 @ 7:58 am | Reply

  133. […] Of Dogs and Lizards, a parable of privilege from Sindelókë […]

    Pingback by Excellent Articles About The Concept Of Privilege | Lynley Stace — December 5, 2013 @ 11:01 pm | Reply

  134. […] a great guide to what privilege is and what it means here, which I find is my favorite essay to point others too when they find that they’re having a […]

    Pingback by Problems | entropistanon — December 11, 2013 @ 2:21 am | Reply

  135. In order to maximize your chances of convincing people with your ingenious parable, you would be wise to reword the following bit: “If he can get the house to fifty (that’s ten C, for all you weirdo metric users out there)”. Yes, I know you’re making a joke, but at the same time you’re unwittingly showing exactly the disrespect for other people’s realities that you are attempting to expose/decry. You are an American living in the supremely arrogant superpower that is the US of A. Unlike most of the rest of the world, you use Imperial measurements for temperature. You brand those who use the metric system as “weirdos”. The subtext is, “What is it with those people who aren’t us, insisting on ways of perceiving that are different from ours? Why don’t they just stop being weird and fall into line?”

    Comment by Michel Faber — December 24, 2013 @ 9:59 am | Reply

  136. […] I have openly written about and reflected on the ways in which I am privileged — as a male-bodied individual of a (presumably) middle-class status — there are numerous […]

    Pingback by Conditionally Accepted | On Using Privilege To Fight Inequality — January 11, 2014 @ 3:09 pm | Reply

  137. […] finns ett kvinnligt alternativ. Det kanske inte är så konstigt att jag mest spelar BioWarespel? Det här kallas privilegie. Jag har det i det här sammanhanget inte. Grabbarna har […]

    Pingback by discordia » Tyvärr, men inte trovärdigt — February 4, 2014 @ 9:35 am | Reply

  138. “A straight cisgendered male American, because of who he is and the culture he lives in, does not and cannot feel the stress, creepiness, and outright threat behind a catcall the way a woman can.” Cannot believe discriminatory words are spoken with such certainty, by a ‘champion’ of civil rights, no less. I had no qualm with almost anything you wrote here, except this. To state that one person cannot comprehend something because of their color, creed and other origins is falling victim to the very same prejudice in which you fight. Seek equality by elevating yourself, not tearing others down to your level.

    Comment by Daniel — February 8, 2014 @ 4:09 pm | Reply

    • It’s not tearing people down to say that someone can’t understand that something is bad. It’s not tearing down people to say they can’t feel it the same way. She’s not saying that men can’t comprehend that catcalls create stress, and have a level of creepiness and threat to them.

      She’s saying that, because of who he is, because of his background, because his life experiences are such that catcalls don’t evoke the stress, creepiness, and threat in his own mind, he can only experience it as a concept that has been explained. He cannot feel it IN THE SAME WAY that a woman can, BECAUSE of who he is and the culture he lives in. That’s very different than saying he cannot comprehend it.

      Comment by csrowan — February 8, 2014 @ 4:25 pm | Reply

      • Sorry, first sentence should read: “It’s not tearing someone down to say that someone can’t understand something that is bad.”

        Comment by csrowan — February 8, 2014 @ 4:27 pm

    • Daniel. That’s just sad.
      – No one will argue that straight, cisgendered, males can get in weird, dangerous, even protracted situations, if that’s what you’re fussing over.
      – And no one is trying to bring anyone “down to” their “level.” (Though the fact that you see a woman’s “level” as requiring a step down, while still not being able to admit the incongruity overall.)
      – It’s a simple case of “please notice this” and “please stop.”
      – But if you’ve never noticed, in the real and present world, the attitudes people who do NOT have these specific concerns often have of those who DO, if you’ve never noticed the crap that women take, subtly, overtly, or aggressively from precisely those men generally, the precautions women must take and the wariness they need the open social environments everyone must navigate everyday (while many of the issues men complain of only kick in once they’ve engaged a particular woman, i.e. conversation or interactions bearing sexual intent… while “hanging out” or just getting from here to there are unaffected), or how obvious all this is RIGHT OUT IN THE OPEN, then either you really, really need to get out of your box more often or you’re a victim of exactly the kind of blindness the piece addresses.
      – Bluntly, it would have been silly and weak if the piece had NOT acknowledged the primary source of the problem at hand. It’s not the sole and only source, everyone knows that; anything that’s gone on so long is going to have very deep roots in society. And I honestly don’t get where men get the idea that women are simply offloading, that they’re pointing fingers and saying “you must change now” while doing squat themselves, when in fact women are out dealing with this every day. They have to navigate negative environments in order to work, and in order to manage most of the rest of life. And many are actually trying to ENGAGE, often with little help from men. And really, how often do men do then reciprocal, by walking themselves into an environment that is centered on women? Not often, I think. Women don’t have that option of avoidance.
      – And by the way and for what it’s worth, I am one of those straight, male, cisgendered types, and white to boot, so I’m not just pitching stones at you.
      – Man up, bro.

      Comment by Anonymous — February 8, 2014 @ 5:31 pm | Reply

      • Don’t think it’s hilariously ridiculous that you feel the need to point out what you are in order to defend what you say? What should it matter if you’re white, black, straight or gay in regards to what you say? That’s my point entirely. People are people. All people have all manner of experiences. It is important to ‘choke’ on this, as you put it below, because it’s a rather dangerous concept to allow to be perpetuated alongside seeking equality. Which do not misconstrue, I seek equality also. In every facet, however. I should be just as free to complain or comment about something and not be told I can’t say that because I’m a cisgendered, straight, white male.

        Comment by Daniel — February 8, 2014 @ 7:08 pm

      • Daniel, if you really wanted equality, I don’t think you would be so quick to dismiss the points that were made in this blog post.

        Comment by L — February 9, 2014 @ 1:11 am

      • +1 to cismale, straight, white Anonymous.

        Comment by L — February 9, 2014 @ 12:57 am

  139. – I will add that it might have been (slightly) more accurate if the sentence had read: “The majority of straight, cisgendered… etc”
    – But seriously, if you’re going to choke on that, you’re looking for something to choke on.

    Comment by Anonymous — February 8, 2014 @ 5:35 pm | Reply

  140. The very nature of inequality dictates that one party is at a lesser or greater level, if you will, than the other. One’s engaging of such a mindset demands adherence to this concept. I perceive your labels and identify them for use in constructing actual, meaningful dialogue. I do not perceive women as ‘below’ me. I perceive your perception of such and respond accordingly. I do observe a plethora of social exchanges which at one point or another have either role in positions that can exert undue influence over the other. This is appalling and takes place everywhere, including by alleged civil rights champions, as clearly exemplified above. If you cannot understand how stating that someone cannot comprehend x(where x is any social injustice) because they are y(where y is any color, race, sexual orientation, gender etc), then you are falling victim to the very same bias form of thinking of which you claim to be free.

    Comment by Daniel — February 8, 2014 @ 6:52 pm | Reply

    • You can just as easily replace comprehend with experience of a similar nature, and it be just as to the point. Making distinctions based on someone’s origins is the very basis of discrimination..

      Comment by Daniel — February 8, 2014 @ 6:53 pm | Reply

    • I disagree. Many people can have SOME understanding on an intellectual level, but nobody can TRULY understand someone else’s experiences unless they have lived through those same exact experiences themselves. I don’t know how it feels to be discriminated against based on race, but I do know how it feels to be treated like a weak, incompetent, piece of meat, based on nothing more than my gender.

      Comment by L — February 9, 2014 @ 1:08 am | Reply

  141. A plethora of potestations.
    – It’s hilarious if you laughed, pretty much by definition. In terms of ridiculous, yeah, I’ve done that without meaning to more than once. If this was it, then oops.
    – I mentioned what I am to avoid the usual crap, from a particular source, which appeared to be a possibility due to the construction of your comment, which (perhaps accidentally) had a strong MRA scent.
    – By “usual crap” I mean having the comment automatically written off because I may have been female. Again, because usual crap. Doesn’t make it more important, and doesn’t give it any weight at all. I wouldn’t expect ANYONE with even a dim understanding of the issues to be affected by it one way or the other. And, at least in impersonal text, would be meaningless in a perfect world, where we do not live. And you are right, in terms of the potential validity of a statement / argument / position “what” a person is shouldn’t figure in.
    – I’m not falling victim to anything, in this particular case. But I will say again, if you don’t or can’t recognize that there is a particular source of the problems in question, and if you don’t or can’t recognize that source as being empowered by entitlement, and if you don’t or can’t recognize that particular entitlement as belonging primarily to a specific group, and if you don’t or can’t recognize that the group is in this case straight, cisgendered males, then I have doubts that a mountain of text will achieve anything.
    – And if you DO recognize all of that, and still persist in freaking out over naming that group, then something’s up. If it’s true, which I firmly believe it is, it’s simply a statement of the nature of the issue.
    – And regarding making distinctions based on origins, no, is not in itself the basis of discrimination. We all make those all the time, out of necessity. Making meaningless distinctions that limit the humanity or “personhood” of individuals, approaching such distinctions disrespectfully, acting rigidly in accordance with those distinctions, maintaining them in the face of contrary evidence, seeing ONLY those distinctions and allowing them to override the actual actions and statements of others, and understanding the fallibility of one’s own judgements regarding those distinctions IS.
    – Another way: If a particular group exercises a particular form of negative behavior toward others, and does so in a way that is, in the majority, particular to that group, it is not a virtue to leave the fact unstated. It clouds the issue, and is simply a misguided attempt to apply principles where they aren’t applicable.
    – And note that in this case, this only holds in the ABSENCE of unrelated generalizations, such as ALL MEN ARE HORRIBLE. Please note that this generalization IS absent here.
    – Perhaps most importantly, since I assume from your writing that it’s at least possible that you have some meaningful and productive stake in the issues at hand (as opposed to being a gentle MRA troll), I honestly and sincerely apologize for any offense I may have given. I don’t know you, so I am (obviously, hopefully) only responding to the text as I read it. So I wish you, beyond the text, well.

    Comment by KD Jones — February 8, 2014 @ 8:09 pm | Reply

    • I can point to almost anything I’ve already written here to address most of your responses. In fact, you’ve missed my point entirely. Rather than go through all that, however, I’ll simply point out once again that I don’t disagree with a majority of what you’re saying and what’s been said in the article. To put it more simply, I’ll use the analogy of the dog and lizard. Just because I may have fur, does not mean I can’t know what the lizard is feeling, not JUST from explanation, as has been conceded here already, but I contest also through other experiences that would relay the same emotions. My point, whether you are majority or minority, you can experience all manner of discrimination. To assert that one or the other is completely immune from this or that type of discrimination is the same discriminatory practice itself in question.

      Also, to your response on making distinctions based on origins – I was quite sure the context was rather obvious, but thank you for taking the time to explain it for any that might not catch on. Forgive me if I hadn’t specified enough, but given your own writing I can’t help but feel you were being a bit obtuse intentionally to detract from the point. Again, just deductions based on comments observed.

      Either way, no harm done. Wish you the best and thanks for the excellent response.

      Comment by Daniel — February 9, 2014 @ 12:59 am | Reply

  142. aggghhh. Should have been “… and NOT understanding the fallibility…”

    Comment by KD Jones — February 8, 2014 @ 8:31 pm | Reply

  143. […] in the arguments and theories than the important names. I’ve remedied that, now, though. No more ”boys […]

    Pingback by Atheism and sexism – cmbaldwin — February 20, 2014 @ 9:56 pm | Reply

  144. […] all have certain “privileges,” as discussed by Sindelókë in Of Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege. Everyone has “fur” in some way or another. Even all of us have “fur” when […]

    Pingback by Offensive or Identity? | Communication³ — February 25, 2014 @ 8:25 pm | Reply

  145. This is really a bad piece, in every sense. Getting past the kindergarten-level metaphors, complete lack of professionalism, absence of concise and accurate language, the point themselves are not even strong.

    First of all, the whole analogy relies on your hypothesis that men are complete bumbling it idiots without a scrap of sentience. I mean really, you say in your scenario that the dog is completely unaware that he is harming the lizard in any way. You really think that men just go about their daily lives, executing every action that comes into their mind without even the tiniest regard for others feelings? Or better yet, that we’re so stupid we are unable to even recognize when another human being is distressed? You must, because if you don’t think that, the analogy is irrelevant.

    “A man has the privilege of walking past a group of strange women without worrying about being catcalled, or leered at, or having sexual suggestions tossed at him.”

    You realize that these situations are not unique to women right? I’ll give you a great one that about 95% of women never have to deal with. If you have a big guy, twice your size, and he’s pissed at you, be it for no reason, be it for a good reason, whatever, you will never have to be afraid of being seriously injured, ending up in the hospital, or even being killed right then and there. Every man will have countless encounters like this throughout his life. Yet you don’t see me trying to shut people with this “check your privilege” shit.

    Which is really all this amounts to, an easy way to rationalize away ANY counterargument without feeling guilty about ignoring someone or invalidating their concerns.

    Comment by R — June 1, 2014 @ 7:53 am | Reply

    • “I’ll give you a great one that about 95% of women never have to deal with. If you have a big guy, twice your size, and he’s pissed at you, be it for no reason, be it for a good reason, whatever, you will never have to be afraid of being seriously injured, ending up in the hospital, or even being killed right then and there.”

      Comment by Yiab — June 1, 2014 @ 10:19 am | Reply

      • I LOL’d.

        Comment by Chris — June 1, 2014 @ 11:42 am

  146. How do you know you have a privilege?
    I would argue to empathise with one others lifestyle, like e.g. watch a tv show about a black person wearing a hiiden camera for a day.
    But here in this post it is proposed, that there are feelings you can never empathise with. Here it gets impossible to proof your privilege. You can’t film it, you cant create the feeling in your own body. So how do you know, this feeling really exists? So in your example with the dog, the dog will never know for sure, if the lizard is lying or not. You expect the dog to not be an asshole and he should listen and accept that there is a feeling. But if he is sane and accepts the feeling, he then should act, because he is inflicting harm. So if he is moral he will act in a way he can stop the coldness even if it is uncomfortable/ causing pain.

    The problem with this is that the dog never has an objective standart by which he can find out if he is really inflicting harm. So if he accepts one feeling he cant proove he has now to accept every feeling of his fellow lizard, due to principle. So the lizard now has the power to control the actions of the dog. If the lizard wants the dog to wash the dishes, it could say: “I am suffering pain doing the dishes.” The dog accepts the feeling as true and acts accordingly. You say you don’t want to inflict guilt by pointing out a privilege/inflicting harm. I am a muscular tall man and sometimes i recognise that stranger women avoid my presence in situations where we are alone, like in elevators, or subway stations. I see it in their face that they are afraid. And I feel guilty even if I have not willingly inflicted harm. Just like if you get on someones feet accidently. So in general someone feels guilt automatically. And this guilt could be used to exploit, just like women asking me to take their handbag, because I am such “a strong man” and their are weak.

    So how to deal with this constelation?

    Comment by a — June 8, 2014 @ 3:20 pm | Reply

    • “I am a muscular tall man and sometimes i recognise that stranger women avoid my presence in situations where we are alone, like in elevators, or subway stations. I see it in their face that they are afraid.”

      Very much this. Many people can’t read body language or facial expressions, but it sounds like you can, at least to the extent that you recognize the look of fear. First of all, I appreciate that you want to do the right thing, and that you are aware of these facial expressions.

      In your “I am suffering pain doing the dishes” example, this may be true of an actual lizard, since some dishes may be too big and heavy for such a tiny creature. Of course, we know lizards can’t really do dishes, just like a woman wouldn’t freeze to death at a temperature that is comfortable for a man. In the real world with real people, it would be hard to imagine a case where it would hurt anyone to do the dishes, unless they had arthritis, or a nasty cut on their hand, or some other medical reason. In those cases, I think it would be easy for you to deduce that arthritis or a nasty cut could, indeed, make it difficult or even painful to wash dishes, and if they did try to do it, you would probably sense the pain in their facial expressions and body language.

      When it comes to institutionalized sexism, you don’t have to rely on one woman’s word. There are plenty of feminist blogs out there, or you can spend some time reading #yesallwomen on Twitter. One of my favorite tweets was a guy who said he started reading #yesallwomen because he has a daughter, but after a while, he realized he needed to read it because he has two sons. This, to me, makes that hash tag a success, because it enlightened at least one person.

      Comment by Chris — June 8, 2014 @ 11:19 pm | Reply

  147. Cool story, but not at all how the world works.

    Our nordic dog doesn’t merely want A/C, he needs A/C. He’s liable to get a heatstroke with all that fur, and he’s not built for the heat. Meanwhile, the A/C is bad for the lizard. They both have genuine needs, in genuine conflict. It seems to me that the lizard is every bit as insensitive to the needs of the dog as vice-versa.

    The only solution that can possibly work for both parties is to separate them, and to realize that the optimum temperature for the dog is very different from the optimum temperature for the lizard.

    Comment by Dan — July 7, 2014 @ 4:40 pm | Reply

    • Dan, what you just said is probably the only somewhat reasonable objection I’ve read about this story. In reality, the lizard and dog would be separated, and they are separated in the natural world, because they require different environments. It’s a good thing that in the real world, people’s needs aren’t in conflict like the dog and lizard’s environmental needs are, and helping to accommodate each other’s needs can actually be beneficial for everyone involved.

      Comment by Chris — July 8, 2014 @ 4:47 pm | Reply

  148. Every time I have been told to check my privilege, it has been the intellectual equivalent of a lynching. The phrase is only uttered in when an opponent is assured of support from the people around them. In such a situation, they are usually backed by an entire system of thought, language, and belief which is impossible for a lone dissenter – a statistical minority – to argue within.

    They crush you not by ideas, but by peer pressure, public shaming, refusal to engage in debate (‘I will not enact the labour of explaining that’), and by resorting to etymological trickery.

    Sometimes – given enough time and selective pressure – a dog becomes a rat and a gecko becomes a crocodile. Only then does the crocodile dare get close enough to bite.

    Comment by h — July 10, 2014 @ 9:18 am | Reply

  149. Male privilege is being condemned to 3 times the sentence that a woman would for the same crime. Male privilege is sustaining 97% of the combat deaths in the military. Male privilege is being denied the right to a paternity test in Europe and India, but still having to pay child support. Male privilege is having only 2 shelters for battered men in the U.S. Male privilege is continuously being blamed for committing the most abuse against children, sexual or violent, when studies say that women are the most common culprits. Male privilege is having the court system favor women in regards to divorce, rape charges and allegations, and child custody, regardless of how unfit the mother is for being the parent. Male privilege is having to explain that, while most CEOs are male, the number of ditch diggers, truck drivers, and menial labor workers are far greater, but somehow that’s perfectly fine. Male privilege is being unable to defend yourself if a woman attacks you. Male privilege is being arrested if you call the police because your wife or girlfriend attacked you with a weapon. Male privilege is being labelled guilty and made a social pariah because of a false rape allegation, both in court and in the living neighborhoods. Male privilege is being forced to pay child support, even if you have the child the majority of the time. Male privilege is being labelled vile and evil, even if just for standing while peeing or sitting on a tram with your legs spread. Male privilege is having a shorter life expectancy than women, but the demand that you work 5 years longer before you retire. Male privilege is being more likely to commit suicide, be homeless, be denied welfare, be denied child custody, and having to fear commitment because 75% of women are the instigators in divorce. Male privilege is having to deal with the hypocrisy of Post Modernism (demands men look good, are insulted for wanted physically appealing partners, etc). Male privilege is contending with 93% of industrial and work related deaths and injuries. Male privilege is being told to be quiet, that you are not allowed to have an opinion, even when people are shrieking agreement that we need to get rid of Father’s Day or Kill all Cis Men or have a National Castration Day. Male privilege is being circumcised when you are too young to be able to protest and none of the women complain, but the circumcision of females at any age is considered ‘cruel and barbaric’. Male privilege is being told that men need to ‘stop the cycle of violence’, despite studies showing that middle class women hit their children 932 times a year, the children being between 7 months old and 4 years old. Male privilege is being forced to accept male disposabilty as a reasonable social requirement (Women and children first, while many men on the Titanic died). Male privilege is having to listen to women screaming ‘check your privilege’, despite the prejudice it entails. Male privilege is being mistreated by radical feminists and told by everyone else ‘That’s not what feminism is about’, before being denied the rights given to women. Male privilege is being ignored by 86% of the people you turn to if you are sexually assaulted, molested, or raped. Male privilege is being labelled a psychopath and hate-monger if you join an MRA group for support in times of stress, but when women join a radical feminist group preaching free-bleeding and castration, it’s considered empowering. Male privilege is being told you aren’t allowed to cry by a woman, and then told she’s leaving you because you don’t show your emotions. Male privilege is having to accept a 14 year old boy being raped by his female teacher, and the dismissal of her trial, as ‘acceptable’. Male privilege is being forced to sign up for the draft. Male privilege is being denied access to your children, and your home, if the woman in your life deems you a threat (whether this is true or not has shown to be of little concern of the courts). Male privilege is not being allowed to sit next to children on British Airways or Virgin airlines. Male privilege is being unable to recover losses to himself or his business from the government due to his gender. Male privilege is having NO say in whether a child can be put up for adoption. Male privilege is being terrified of hooking up while out at a bar for fear of being accused of ‘date raping’ his partner. Male privilege is being considered privileged for having a sexual preference. Male privilege is being forced into the role of a negative stereotype, and condemned for attempting to correct the false accusations of society. Male privilege is being denied the right to apply for Federal Child Benefits in Canada unless you get a written note from the mother. Male privilege is being called ‘lazy around the house’, despite a 2013 meta-analysis of the American Time Use survey, Pew Survey, and a nationally representative sample of 2511 adults finding that, between genders, housework is carried out equally. Male privilege is being fined over $20,000 and facing a year in prison in France for a male soliciting a paternity test. Male privilege is not having a say in the termination of an unwanted pregnancy.

    Male privilege is bogus.

    Comment by Nekko — July 19, 2014 @ 4:23 pm | Reply

    • I agree that circumcision is barbaric and needs to be outlawed. The rest of what you said is bullshit.

      Comment by Chris — July 19, 2014 @ 11:18 pm | Reply

    • No, it’s not. Male privilege is very real, and manifests in many ways in society, as amply covered in many placed.

      But here’s the rub, and the thing very few Feminists have the intellectual honest to consider, much less admit:

      Female privilege is also real.

      Female privilege manifests in the social realm, where strangers are more likely to come to your aid, more likely to defend you if attacked, less likely to assume you’re a criminal, more likely to extend common courtesies.

      Female privilege manifests in the legal realms, where women are statistically treated better and less likely to get into trouble when dealing with police, when dealing with grand juries, when facing charges, and in sentencing. Women receive 40% shorter sentences for the same federal crime. Women also receive the wrath of our horrible, secretive, and unconstitutional ‘family court’ system. Women are much less likely to lose all access to their children, a crushingly painful thing for any parent.

      By the definition of the term, these are all privileges.

      Now, none of these invalidate the very real gender dis-privileges that women do face. But neither do men’s privileges cancel out these things I’ve listed here.

      The point is, we need a more nuanced understanding of ‘privilege.’ It is not a black and white, oppressor/oppressed relationship. Privilege is complex, and when comparing two highly heterogenous groups such as ‘men’ and ‘women’ you will see all kinds of different privilege at play, all kinds of different intersectionalities. What you won’t see, if you look with clear eyes, is simple case of one gender being oppressed and the other basking in their privilege – not in the west, anyway, and probably less in other countries than we might believe (such as afghanistan, where women get it shitty, but men get it incredibly shitty as well – 95% of child workers are boys, doing hard labor; the vast majority of child rape victims come from the ranks of these boys). In short, both genders have contextual privilege, both genders have dis-privilege.

      Tell this to most feminists, that female privilege is actually a real and observable thing, and they will react in the same way to a christian being told that jesus is the son of a prostitute. They don’t hear it as an assertion to consider and debate, they see it as a heresy that brands the speaker a bad person and is not even worth discussing because it simply must be untrue.

      As a side note, it’s worth mentioning that if you go to oecdbetterlifeindex dot org and click ‘gender differences,’ in terms of aggregate life outcomes, women are currently doing better in just about every single western country.

      Comment by buddhaflow — September 20, 2014 @ 12:32 pm | Reply

      • Most of the feminists whom I’m familiar with have often said, “Patriarchy hurts men, too.” I agree with that statement, and it sounds like you do, too. When MRAs rail against feminism, they’re only shooting themselves in the foot, because feminism’s goal, by its very definition (real feminism, not radfems) is to break down gender inequalities for the betterment of everyone.

        Men shouldn’t have to be afraid to show emotion, at the risk of being seen as “less than” a man. Women shouldn’t be afraid to show strength, at the risk of being seen as a controlling bitch. Women are just as capable of committing murder as men are, but men are pressured to be “macho” and to “keep their women in their place,” which leads to men committing violent crimes more often than women. If society would stop expecting men and women to fill different roles, then men and women will stop trying to fill those arbitrary roles, and will be free to be true to themselves without the fear of persecution for doing so. I personally don’t let gender define who I am, and if anyone has a problem with that, that’s their problem. Unfortunately, I still have to deal with dis-privileges due to my gender, but I deal with that as it comes, and am not afraid to speak out about it.

        Comment by Chris — September 26, 2014 @ 2:38 am

  150. Reblogged this on And then there was me and commented:
    Brilliant Post.

    Comment by @smirk_ninja — September 15, 2014 @ 1:10 pm | Reply

  151. Can I use this in my university classroom? It is the most approachable explanation of privilege I’ve ever seen.

    Comment by ProfKat — November 4, 2014 @ 7:36 pm | Reply

  152. Well, obviously any man can relate to the fear women feel at been leered at and having sexual suggestions thrown at him. All he has to do is imagine that a group of male homosexuals is sexually harassing him. Homosexual rape is just as real as heterosexual rape.

    Comment by dlr — January 8, 2015 @ 11:26 am | Reply

  153. […] Of Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege | Sindelókë. […]

    Pingback by Of Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege | Sindelókë - I Got You, Boo — January 21, 2015 @ 11:29 pm | Reply

  154. I guess the one part of this analogy that I have trouble with, though I agree with most of it, is that, unlike the dog, the average Joe Schmoe White Cishet Scum does not have the power to eliminate the things that make less privileged individuals uncomfortable with a flick of a switch (if so, I’d have flipped said switch as soon as possible!). The way I see it, it’s more as if the thermostat in the house is computer-controlled, the human owner of the house is the only one who can control it, and the dog may ENJOY the temperature but still be powerless to do anything about it. Thus, when the gecko complains, the dog asks about the cold and admits he feels bad for the gecko, but can’t do anything about it other than try his best to get the owner’s attention. The gecko spends the rest of her life blaming the dog for her misfortunes and telling the dog how awful he is for something he may benefit from, but has no direct control over.

    Comment by Evan Johannsen — February 16, 2015 @ 6:05 am | Reply

    • The dog in this story doesn’t understand why an environment that he is accustomed to and comfortable in can be harmful to others. If you do understand, then you are not that dog. You could be a different dog who is comfortable with that temperature, but understands and wants to help. Even if you can’t turn that temperature knob yourself, you can still try to help other dogs understand, and together we can all work to find a temperature that everyone can live in comfortably.

      Comment by Chris — February 24, 2015 @ 12:37 am | Reply

  155. […] parable about a dog and a lizard is an impactful explanation […]

    Pingback by A Bit from the Internet | The Windy City and I — March 2, 2015 @ 9:02 am | Reply

  156. “Nevertheless, just because you personally can’t feel that hurt, doesn’t mean it’s not real. All it means is you have privilege”

    Or? I’m waiting for the “or”….

    There are more than two possibilities (and even if there weren’t, why the assumption that claims made by one group are always valid, regardless of the accuracy and/or nature of similar past claims?).

    Comment by shiroihanabi — March 26, 2015 @ 5:15 pm | Reply

  157. […] There are other ways to meet those needs. It’s just that this project raises questions of privilege in America and the acknowledgment of societal hierarchy. What some people might spend to keep themselves safe, […]

    Pingback by Student Project: LED Safety Jacket for Dogs » Fashioning Circuits — April 19, 2015 @ 2:20 pm | Reply

  158. Reblogged this on the inadvertent feminist and commented:
    I feel like this needs to get a little more attention, right now.

    Comment by inadvertentfeminist — August 8, 2015 @ 6:24 am | Reply

  159. […] it could be that the privilege is so thick they can’t see anything from inside that […]

    Pingback by Persecution Fantasies | Kahomono – It Means Lucky — August 25, 2015 @ 3:36 pm | Reply

  160. Okay, there’s a HUGE problem in your analysis. You edited the definition to suit your premise. That is pretty disgusting. You say “…advantage that only a small group of people have, usually because of their wealth or their high social class.” Yet the definition is clear that this is a “grant” received by the power structure, not just something that exists (or was earned, for dog’s sake). The old woman is not privileged, she worked and bought the car (or was your hypothetical also assuming that she was given the car by the president?). And who owns the house, the dog or the lizard? If one, then they control the temperature. If both then they share. But of course, in the world of the whiny men and women, the state of things is always exogenously endowed in each instant – there is no history!

    If we must be crass, then this: if you are not being chased by a bear, then you are privileged. People before you died to give you that privilege. Shut up and accept it with grace. And if you are a lizard and you move to Ohio, get a job and pay for your own space heater.

    Comment by clearly a white man, right? — September 17, 2015 @ 2:26 am | Reply

  161. […] Male privilege can be understood as a set of unearned rights, advantages, and/or immunities that men enjoy by virtue of living in a patriarchal society. If you are a woman or gender non-conforming person, examples of how men benefit from patriarchy are often glaringly obvious. […]

    Pingback by 10 Types of Misogynist Men We All Need to Know About – And Then Call Out! — Everyday Feminism — November 27, 2015 @ 4:00 pm | Reply

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