Tag Archives: white privilege

another note on nonsense

23 May

In response to my original post on cat-calling and my responses to it, I got an interesting question that I wanted to bring up here. I cross-posted this to Feministing, and here’s what I was asked:

Why is their “responsibility to actively work to change those systems”? What’s in it for them?

Not trying to be a jerk but asking a legitimate question.

I suspect alot of men actually want you to talk back and that their silence has more to do with them being embarrassed by the scene you are making then the behaviour of the guy. It’s a tough situation to be in b/c doing what you do only makes you look like the crazy one, yet doing nothing makes some women feel powerless. I feel for you.

Super valid question! So valid, in fact, that it made me articulate myself a little more clearly, so I wanted to post my response here as well:

I don’t think this is jerk-ish at all; you raise a valid question. Here’s my thoughts on why men, too, share responsibility for calling out and attempting to countermand misogyny:

1. When you’re in a privileged subject position — male privilege, white privilege, straight privilege, cis privilege, able-bodied privilege, etc — you are always already reaping the benefits of that privilege. This is true whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not, whether you want to be or not. So you can either actively work towards equality, which means admitting that your privilege is not earned but is instead received at the expense of another, or you can be a signatory to those unequal systems of power that privilege you and disenfranchise others. Being a signatory happens in two ways: passive or active. The cat-caller in question is an active participant in his privilege, but by not speaking against him, his friends and all the other onlookers (male, female, whomever) are being passive participants, passive signatories. So it’s the responsibility of those who witness to speak up and out against these systems of power when and how they can in order to work against them. There’s no neutral position.

2. It’s their responsibility because, as I said, I’ll leave, and they’ll all be standing there in the wake of out interaction, and if those onlookers want to actually be agents of equality, they have to — have to! — not allow the conversation to end with me. They need to use their privilege and their access and their power to continue engaging and challenging misogyny, even if it is uncomfortable.

3. It’s their responsibility because if onlookers would agree with people like me and refuse to associate with bigots and misogynists like the cat-caller, then Mr. Cat-Caller would have no safe social space in which to be a misogynist. This is about creating communities that will not abide that kind of behavior and as an outsider, there’s little I can do to affect that community. So it’s up to the insiders.

I hope this makes my position a little clearer. You’re absolutely right that these situations are uncomfortable and that those scenes embarrass us all, but I think we need to be willing to experience the kind of discomfort that this elicits in order to change these systems. I appreciate your sympathy and willingness to engage with these issues.