Warning – this has nothing to do with eating disorders or mental health, but everything to do with what is buzzing around my head at 4.30am.
As you know, I ponder a great deal on the good and bad of online communication – overall, am in favour, for a number of reasons, a) it’s fun, b) easy and c) it saved my life when my daughter became anorexic. Less flippantly, the facility for people to mobilise and communicate collectively must be a positive development. But less positive are the times when people put the mob into mobilise, when they collectively abuse, harangue and target someone who just doesn’t deserve it.
And so it is with online debates about ‘Privilege’, beautifully covered by @Glosswitch in her blog. Let me be really clear – when I think of privilege, I think of Gideon Osborne, George, to his subjects. Privately educated, without much of a dent in his family’s wealth, Oxford Bullingdon Club member, presumably initiated by one of their charming rites such as lighting a cigar with a £50 note in front of a homeless person and now Chancellor, lecturing us all on the need to tighten our belts, especially if we are disabled, female, unemployed or working in the public sector. He oozes privilege, from every pore of his pinky white skin, it greases down his bouffanted hair and puts extra curl into his plump, sneering lips.
On Twitter, however, privilege seems to mean something else. It means not being as discriminated against as other people. I am not sure how the points stack up on this; it feels as if some self appointed court has determined who are people of privilege in this context. These are some examples and my thoughts on them.
Being white – yep, I get this one.
Being educated – yes, I get this one too. Less so than being white, because education doesn’t just ‘happen’ to people, it takes work and commitment.
Being able bodied – Totally understand this, but as some readers will know I do wonder if there are different attitudes towards physical ill-health as compared to mental health. Would I say therefore that those with physical disability have privilege compared to those with mental illnesses? No, never.
Being ‘cis’ which essentially means that your gender has never been questioned or problematic in anyway – that is, you are born a woman and this is perfectly straightforward and comfortable, compared to those who feel they are born in the wrong gender and seek to change, or those who feel gender is constraining and struggle to identify with either. The most obvious example is a transgendered person, say, born male, but moving to a female gender later.
Does being ‘Cis’ and a woman make me more privileged than a transgendered woman? This question appears to have been raging due to some women, particularly some radical feminists,claiming that transgendered women are not really women, and do not share the experience of discrimination that women face. Most famously, this view was allegedly espoused by Suzanne Moore, resulting in a storm of abuse and violent threats, to which Moore robustly responded. Amongst the charges against her were that she was white, educated, middle class etc. Her ‘privilege’ was cited as her biggest crime, that she could not see beyond it.
I don’t agree with any view that sees a trans woman as less of a woman and therefore second class in either gender terms or as a feminist. But nor do I want to be in competition with her as to who gets the most discrimination points and therefore which one of us has a Get out of Jail Free card for whatever bile and hatred we spew, or which one of us has fewer points and therefore gets the privilege badge, which means we are probably automatically wrong or our views must be scrutinised by ourselves and others. Is it too much to believe in a feminism where we can have slightly different views and express them and to expect a response which might be that someone else doesn’t entirely agree and offers a different viewpoint and we listen respectfully, even if we disagree? Am I wrong to think that having fought for years for the right to express opinions as women, that we should not now be fearful of doing so, lest other women find us privileged and seek to tear us apart online? Meanwhile, the privileged politicians bring about changes which target women specifically, the privileged press publish articles by Richard Littlejohn which result in a trans woman’s suicide and day in, day out, men of all races hurt, humiliate and abuse women, while those who could provide a united voice against misogyny, bigotry and hatred are distracted hurling insults and threats at another online. Divided from each other and isolated, tapping messages on smartphones, iPads and laptops, becoming increasingly angry, because online communication doesn’t force us to see the hurt in another’s face as they read the hostile words. Ignoring the fact that in this context, we are all privileged, we are communicating in ways other women in developing countries would see as unimaginable, attacking each other from warm homes while our children sleep upstairs, well-fed.
Just think of the strength we could have if we actually said “Some of what you say worries me, and I’d like to debate more, possibly in a place where we aren’t constrained by 140 characters, and most of all I think we are on the same side, and if we can accept some of our differences, perhaps we could work together in a way that makes us stronger”. Because, how can we expect to create a society that accepts people for all their differences, their weaknesses as well as strengths if we continue knocking crap out of each other like this? This isn’t a competition as to who gets the most Disadvantage Card points and while some treat it as such, the truly privileged will continue to wage war on all of us.