Dear men: read this stuff kthx.


Dear beloved men:

Yes, I know you’re a liberal, feminist guy. You totally get it! You really do. For example, you regularly read my blog because you like what I have to say about various and sundry issues that shape our shared world.

But there is something you don’t get. You can never get it, not really. Because the world we share frequently looks very different through the eyes of women. Note that this doesn’t mean you see the world more objectively and women (or others) less so, nor vice versa. It means that, although we inhabit the very same spaces and travel the same paths, our experiences are objectively different.

Think of it this way: if you’re white in the USA, you probably do not live in fear of police, whereas if you’re black you do (for very good reasons that I’m sure I don’t have to explain to readers here). Your educational experience in public school settings is likely to be drastically different, from the physical infrastructure, access to quality materials and technology, to what happens if you get in trouble. I cannot ever really understand what it is like to experience the world as a person of color does. While we all inhabit a culture that reinforces white supremacy in a million ways 24/7/365—such that even very young black children internalize it—I cannot know what that experience is like as a person of color.

But that fact should not stop me from listening to, learning from and empathizing with people of color. Indeed, as someone with a conscience and a desire to make our world a better place, it demands it. It also demands that I leverage my white privilege to right the wrongs of racism, because people of color cannot.

I’m sure you can see where this is going: the same principle is at work with sexism. Like racism, it is not always blatant; much of it operates below the level of conscious awareness. This is why I need you—yes, you, my dear d00d—to listen to, learn from and empathize with women, and to leverage your male privilege to right the wrongs of sexism, because women cannot.

To that end, here are things I want you to read:

Why Women Smile at Men Who Sexually Harass Us. Olsen, H.B., Medium (Feb. 2016).

The White Knight Delusion. Wilkinson, A., The Baffler (Feb. 2016).

Abortion ban linked to dangerous miscarriages at Catholic hospital, report claims. Redden, M., The Guardian (Feb. 2016).

Buzzfeed Writer Harassed off Twitter for Urging “Not-White, Not-Male” Writers to Pitch to Buzzfeed Canada. Cox, C., The Mary Sue (Feb. 2016).

This Facebook post by Harper Honey (shared with permission):

Today I went to Target after work. I have been wanting to go for a while, especially since the launch of curvy Barbies….

Posted by Harper Honey on Monday, February 22, 2016

Trust Your Gut! Sara, M., Femnasty (Feb. 2016).

Not a Nice Story. Darcy (Guest Post), Love Joy Feminism/Patheos (Feb. 2015).

The remarkably different answers men and women give when asked who’s the smartest in the class. Paquette, D., Washington Post (Feb. 2016).

Conservative Trolls Have Been Suggesting Men Go into Women’s Restrooms to Help Legislators Discriminate Against Trans People. Brownstone, S., The Stranger (Feb. 2016).

NYPD Really Wants You To Know They’re Cracking Down On Subway Perverts. Chung, J., Gothamist (Feb. 2016).


When you read these things, you will notice that women inhabit a very different world than you do. We are not safe from gendered harassment, abuse and violence; not on crowded subway trains or at quiet bus stops, alone or with friends, at our jobs, in the toy aisle at Target, on the street, at small dinner parties, in public restrooms, on Twitter, in our own homes, in fucking hospitals. We cannot escape our gender and bias against it. We are routinely demeaned, diminished and degraded in virtually every facet of our lives, from cradle to grave, in countless ways, both blatant and perniciously, infuriatingly subtle. Most of us learn from a very young age that we can never, ever really let our guard down among men—nor, frankly, among women (and others) who support, consciously or otherwise, the individuals, institutions and cultural practices that perpetuate male privilege. Some of us may have made a devil’s bargain, but it is not an inherently irrational choice. I’m not sure it is a choice at all, at least for some.

And you will also surely have noticed that all of those links are from February alone. I made no special effort to seek these stories out; they were sprinkled among literally dozens of open tabs in my browser. It was only when I went to compile a link roundup last week that I realized how many they were in number.

Was that too big an ask of me, that you read all of ^that stuff? Well, consider your privilege: you can look away from any or all of it, any time. You can ignore all of it, without much risk (if any) to your career or your mental health or your physical safety or your life. We cannot. Ever. That’s why I want you to read it—all of it—even (especially) if you don’t want to: to give you some glimmer of what it is like for us to exist in this world. I am asking you to listen to, learn from and empathize with women, and to leverage your own privilege to right the wrongs of sexism.

Here is what that might look like:

Learn to see it for what it is. I’ve written before in some depth about microaggressions, and studies that reveal (a) microaggressions may be more harmful than overt bigotry, (b) racism, sexism, other -isms are mainly perpetuated due to unconscious bias, and (c) it is extraordinarily difficult to get (presumably well-meaning) people to realize they are acting in an unfairly biased manner. I won’t rehash all of that in detail here. But there are other behaviors that you might pay attention to. For instance, while you personally do not harass, abuse or rape women, people you know almost certainly do. These are not strangers hiding in the bushes: they are your fathers and brothers and sons, your friends and co-workers, admired professional colleagues and community members in good standing, who “would never do anything like that.” But don’t take my word for it: they will tell you so themselves. The d00d cracking “jokes” about physically/sexually assaulting women, or making “funny” quips about women as intellectually inferior, untrustworthy, manipulable, sex objects, obstacles to be overcome, etc., is telling you exactly how he thinks of us and treats us whenever he can get away with it.

Call it out when you see it. Sexist and predatory men take your laughter, however insincere, as validation. They take your silence as validation. They take shitty beer commercials that objectify women as evidence that their views are valid and the norm. One thing that can help change the culture in which unconscious biases flourish and predatory weasels operate with impunity is men shutting that shit down. In social situations: “Not cool, d00d.” “Wow, not funny.” “Did you just grab that woman’s ass? That is seriously messed up.” “What the fucking fuck is wrong with you, you fucking fuck?” In work and school situations: “Yes we heard you the first time Bob, but now we’d all really like to hear what Cynthia has to say.” “Rani just made that suggestion Malcolm, I’m glad you agree with her.” You see, when we do this, we are abrasive, oversensitive, humorless feminazis who cannot take a joke OBVIOUSLY. We need you to do it.

Believe us. When we tell you this shit is happening, all the fucking time, know that we’re not “playing the victim.” FYI: there is no reward for being a victim, much less one that somehow makes it worth being victimized in the first place.

You, my beloved men, are not “the enemy,” so much as the systems that uphold your privilege at the expense of ours is the enemy. I am asking for your help in dismantling them. Interrupting them. Burning them the fuck down.

Just as racism is whites’ problem to solve, sexism is yours.

You’re creative, and resourceful. I know you can and will find ways to disrupt and smash this shit to pieces. It might even turn out to be fun, if a little uncomfortable at first.

Thanks for your consideration.

Have a nice day.

The {In}visibility of White Privilege

Managing White Identity

Take home: Your White friends and family do know they are White, and they probably know about privilege; the issue is that it’s a problematic identity and so denial and distancing strategies are often used.

At Secular Woman, we are concerned with intersectionality. For people concerned with issues of social justice, the idea that we all may have various kinds of privilege has become common and influential.

Issues of racial injustice are particularly salient of late.  Conversations typically turn to issues of White privilege, but many of us experience defensiveness and backlash when we try to get others (e.g., our Fox-News-watching relative) to view issues through the lens of privilege.

Why is accepting the concept of privilege so difficult for some?  I admit that my first reaction was defensive: “I don’t have privilege” and “I worked hard for everything I’ve accomplished”.  After reflection and analysis the concept now makes sense. For status quo warriors, the reactions to the idea of privilege are often dismissive, defensive, and in extremes cases, even hostile.

A newly published analysis by Knowles, Lowery, Chow, and Unzueta (2014) sheds some light on these reactions. In an overview of their research programs, they first tackle the issue of our assumptions about the “invisibility” of White privilege.

Privilege is often discussed in a way that suggests that “whiteness” is invisible.  Knowles and colleagues offer a different perspective, and provide research to support the idea that Whites are, in fact, aware of their racial identity:

“Instead, we believe that whiteness is consequential because it is visible to many dominant-group members—forming, in fact, the basis of a problematic social identity with which Whites must often grapple.” (p. 595)

Knowles and colleagues propose the “deny, distance, or dismantle” model (or “3D” for short) to describe the ways that White Americans may choose a strategy for dealing with being a member of the dominant racial group.

White Privilege is Threatening

How much we notice our racial identity depends on how homogenous our surroundings are. For example, I feel more Canadian when I am in the US and I notice my gender more when I am the only woman in the room. It’s a classic contrast effect.

So, if we grant that Whites are aware of the fact that they are White, they will sooner or later become aware of other factors associated with whiteness. Despite the advantages that privilege confers, Knowles et al. identify two “psychological costs” or threats to White identity that are associated with being a member of the dominant group.

First, that typical defensive reaction when you remind someone to “check your privilege” occurs because it implies that they don’t deserve full credit for their accomplishments.  Their success can be explained away by virtue of their status as a member of the majority group, and therefore is not earned or deserved.  This is the “meritocratic threat” to identity: my success may be the result of more than just my talents, ability, and work ethic.

Second, as a majority group member, Whites becomes aware that they are part of a “morally suspect group.” My childhood history lessons were devastating; I was continually reminded that I was a member of a racial group whose members were responsible for genocide, slavery, lynching, and internment camps, just to name a few atrocities. This is the “group-image threat” to identity: my ingroup has a history of race-based oppression and injustice.

Dealing with Identity Threat

There are three main strategies that Whites use to protect against these identity threats according to the 3D model proposed by Knowles and colleagues.

(1) The Denial Strategy

Denial is classic psychological defense mechanism.  Moreover, we are prone to what is called the self-serving bias: we like to attribute our successes to stable, internal, and controllable causes (such as effort and ability), but for our failures, we are more likely to blame external or situational factors.  A consequence of admitting that privilege is real is admitting that all of our successes may not be the result of 100% internal and controllable factors.  Moreover, if privilege is real, our-self serving bias does not allow us to explain away our failures by appealing to situational factors.

White American culture affords the use of the denial strategy for a few key reasons. First, this is an individualistic culture, and the focus on individual merit and individual attributions for behavior take priority over situational attributions. We see this play out in what is called the fundamental attribution error – our tendency to downplay situational causes of behavior. Second, the pervasiveness of the Protestant Work Ethic is in direct conflict with the idea that group membership may contribute to individual success. Finally, current research indicates that a majority of White Americans believe that — starting in the 2000s — bias against Whites (or “reverse” discrimination) has become more prevalent than bias against Blacks (Norton & Sommers, 2011).

These three factors provide an easy context for the use of the denial strategy to protect against threats to White identity.  The implications for perpetuating racial injustice are clear. Denial of a problem (or that structural inequality is part of the problem, if there actually is a problem) rarely leads to solutions.

(2) The Distancing Strategy

One form of the distancing strategy is to “disidentify” with being White and/or downplaying the importance of race in general, and of being White in particular.

A more insidious instantiation, however, is expressed in the “colorblind” ideology. On the surface, the proclamation that “I don’t see color” can be viewed as an attempt to focus on commonalities rather than differences. White American culture has embraced colorblindness, believing that the simple act of noticing race is a manifestation of racism. One way to avoid being called racist is to avoid any discussion of race, even when it matters (e.g., Norton et al., 2006). Ironically, Black observers rate Whites who avoid mentioning race as more biased than Whites who acknowledge and discuss race (Apfelbaum et al., 2008).

There is evidence from correlational and experimental studies to show that the colorblind ideology does not work as a technique for reducing bias or discrimination (e.g., Richeson & Nussbaum, 2004).  My favorite example is a study by Apfelbaum and colleagues (2010). Children aged 8-11 were asked to help review a storybook designed for younger kids, in which a teacher is working to promote racial equality.  The children were randomly assigned to either the colorblind version (which focused on similarity and minimizing racial differences) or to the value-diversity version (which focused on recognizing and celebrating racial differences). After ensuring that the students understood the main message of the text, a new researcher (unaware of which version each child had read) then asked the children to consider scenarios that contained (a) no racial bias, (b) ambiguous evidence for racial bias, and (c) explicit racial discrimination.

The children in the colorblind condition were much less likely to “see” explicit racial discrimination. When asked to recall the scenarios, recordings of the colorblind children’s descriptions of the scenario involving racially motivated bullying were less likely to be judged by teachers as warranting adult intervention.  This is not because the teachers did not see such bullying as a problem, but because the children’s narratives excluded the racial identity of the characters in the scenarios as well as the clearly stated racial motive for the bullying.

Knowles et al. (2014) provide additional evidence for the links between distancing and holding a colorblind ideology, and the association between colorblindness and the tendency to deny White privilege.

The obvious implication here is that the distancing strategy, and its accompanying colorblindness, serves to protect against identity threat, but it does little to increase the likelihood that Whites will “see” injustice and inequality. If you don’t see a problem, you can’t address it.

(3) The Dismantling Strategy

When Whites use the dismantling strategy, they actively work to reduce the advantages privilege bestows.  On the surface, this strategy involves working against one’s own self-interests and those of one’s ingroup. In seeking to reduce privilege and current systemic inequality, this strategy addresses the group-level threat by openly recognizing past injustice and oppression.

This strategy may be familiar to those who take “social justice warrior” as compliment rather than an insult.  Dismantling requires one to accept the existence of White privilege:

“Dismantling suggests that Whites will most strongly embrace progressive policies when they regard inequality and privilege as self-relevant and simultaneously see policy endorsement as a means of relieving the resulting threat . . . [and] repairing the reputation of the racial ingroup . . . by taking action against inequality” (p. 603).

What are the prospects for encouraging Whites to relinquish the advantages of privilege and work to address racial inequality?  There are many potential strikes against the dismantling strategy. The American ideals of individual merit and individual work ethic, and our human tendency to downplay situational causes are potential barriers. Across the political spectrum, contrasting ideas about the meaning of “fairness” (e.g., Haidt, 2013) divide opinion when it comes to policies that involve redistribution of social and economic resources.

Knowles and colleagues discuss some of the ways that the dismantling strategy could be encouraged:

“…we believe that White privilege—construed in the right way—need not threaten Whites’ sense of self-competence and deservingness” (p. 604)

Although the standard version of the fundamental attribution error pits a personal cause vs. a situational cause (and the tendency to prefer personal/internal causes), in reality, people typically consider more than one cause. Some causes may be necessary, others sufficient. If one believes that multiple causes play a role (e.g., both individual hard work and a system that advantages Whites), then efforts to dismantle systemic injustice or support policies that promote racial equality will be far less identity-threatening.  The social justice goal could be reframed as reducing others’ possible barriers to success, rather than focusing on any individual’s “unearned” and “undeserved” advantages (which typically produces the expected defensive and threat-reducing reactions).

“Future research should investigate ways of encouraging Whites to construe privilege in a manner that does not impugn their personal self-worth . . . being White is not enough, by itself, to guarantee good socioeconomic outcomes and that aptitude and hard work are equally critical ingredients of success. At the same time, dominant-group members must understand that, without whiteness, it matters less how much merit individuals possess: socioeconomic success is inevitably less likely. We expect that Whites would no longer feel personally threatened by whiteness but nevertheless still, for group-image reasons, want to dismantle a system that makes one’s race an important key to self-actualization.” (Knowles et al., 2014, p. 604)


Target Article

Knowles, E. D., Lowery, B. S., Chow, R. M., & Unzueta, M. M. (2014). Deny, distance, or dismantle? How White Americans manage a privileged identity. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9(6), 594-609.

References and Recommended Reading

Apfelbaum, E. P., Pauker, K., Sommers, S. R., & Ambady, N. (2010). In blind pursuit of racial equality? Psychological Science, 21, 1587-1592.

Apfelbaum, E. P., Sommers, S. R., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Seeing race and seeming racist? Evaluating strategic colorblindness in social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 918–932.

Haidt, J. (2013). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. Random House LLC.

Norton, M. I., & Sommers, S. R. (2011). Whites see racism as a zero-sum game that they are now losing. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 215–218.

Norton, M. I., Sommers, S. R., Apfelbaum, E. P., Pura, N., & Ariely, D. (2006). Color blindness and interracial interaction: Playing the “Political Correctness Game.” Psychological Science, 17, 949–953.

Richeson, J. A., & Nussbaum, R. J. (2004). The impact of multiculturalism versus color-blindness on racial bias. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 417-423.

Your Point of View is not the Default. Context Matters.

By Kim Rippere and Elsa Roberts, follow them on twitter at KimRippere and ElsaLRoberts 


The article below reflects the personal opinions of the authors, and is not an official statement from Secular Woman


It was a surreal experience to witness a white, double PhD, straight, male lecture women and feminists on how to not upset the men in positions of power/privilege as part of a “welcoming” talk to Women in Secularism 2 – that the concept of privilege can be used to silence men! The conference was derailed before it began just as so many of our conversations are derailed online by men who feel entitled to make their issues and feelings paramount. We’ve seen it countless times; for example, how many times have we all seen a comment thread about rape instantly turned into a thread about how men are raped also (yes, we know that and care!)? It is impossible to count.

Dr. Lindsay’s point in his comments was that feminists need to moderate their voice so as to not upset men (or women who continue to cleave to the patriarchy). There was little apparent understanding of privilege and marginal understanding of how the underpinnings of systemic, historical oppression continue to function in our society, even though women’s historical subjugation was given lip service in his speech. It’s difficult to believe that Dr. Lindsay could have so poor a grasp on these issues given that religious privilege is explicitly a part of the CFI mission. Atheists, and their supporting organizations like CFI, are working to be heard regarding religious privilege, and do they worry about the potential of silencing those that are religious?  I think not. Dr. Lindsay, you acting as the President/CEO of the Center for Inquiry, have condemned religious privilege while, apparently, dismissing and/or minimizing other forms of it.

Feminists are not silencing anyone in our movement; we are simply attempting to be heard.  Dr. Lindsay, it isn’t that you are being silenced, it is merely that you are being informed you should make way for first hand experiences and give those primacy when relevant. As Adam Lee said: “You lack evidence relevant to this problem, so learn from those who have it.”

To put it in skeptic terms #ShutUpAndListen means "You lack evidence relative to this problem, so learn from those who have it."

This is how a conversation should go between individuals when one has more experience and expertise than the other:

  1. When the conversation is about the inclusion of women, women’s experiences are most relevant. That doesn’t mean that no one cares about men’s experiences, it simply means that women’s are paramount.
  2. When talking about how men experience socialization, men’s experiences are primary and paramount.
  3. When talking about being a trans* woman of color?  A trans* woman of color’s viewpoint is paramount.
  4. When educating regarding an aspect of the genome; gender and race are irrelevant; but, being a geneticist is relevant and paramount.


Most would rather hear from a scientist regarding science. The foundation of [privilege] is as simple as that.

Privilege is used, in part, to point out that the most relevant person has the best information/evidence and that their voice should be paramount. It doesn’t mean that anyone is silenced or that a marginalized person is always correct. The geologist isn’t silenced by the physicist speaking and commanding the attention of the room on a topic they are an expert in; they have a differing, complementary, and connected understanding.  And on different ideas each will take primacy as appropriate.

Surely, you don’t think that the residential real estate attorney should be paramount in a legal employment concern? The employment attorney’s opinion, viewpoint, knowledge, and experience should be paramount with the EEOC. This is the foundation of understanding privilege. Your view is not the only view, it is not (or should not be) the default, and context matters when deciding who to listen to. This is one the reasons that GOP Senators were roundly criticized during their hearings on birth control: there were no women on the panel even though the issue explicitly affected women. Men were sitting in judgement of women’s health care, just as you sat in judgment of feminists with little to no apparent understanding of feminist history, feminism, privilege, or your feminist audience.

Your “welcome” speech, then, pushed back gains that women have made in our movement. You have emboldened the harassers and vocal detractors of feminism in the secular movement; in fact many of them have come out in vocal support of your statements. These supporters of yours make a habit of calling women “cunts”, “cunty”, and “bitches” all while creating and breaking down straw feminisms faster than we can keep track and still they claim to the “real” feminists, while those of us working to dismantle patriarchal structures are labeled as irrational. You supported these same repugnant and untruthful sentiments in your hyperbolic blog post made in response to Rebecca Watson, where you stated “Either you believe reason and evidence should ultimately guide our discussions, or you think they should be held hostage to identity politics.”

This statement creates a false dichotomy and implies that identity politics is somehow tainted. Nothing could be further from the truth; identity politics gives marginalized groups the tools to make their voices heard and a way to break free from oppression. Those engaged in identity politics must constantly question the status quo and engage their critical thinking faculties to dismantle long held beliefs which are not rational but merely serve to prop up those in power and to keep systemic inequality functioning. It is precisely these people who make use of the tools of reason and evidence everyday, we must if we are to effectively do our work and help others in non-marginalized communities see that some of their beliefs are not rational, but a cultural heritage which they must shed if they wish to move forward toward a more just society.

Feminism, sexism, privilege, patriarchy, and identity politics are all concepts that are readily available to research via the internet. The seemingly perpetual need within the secular community to have more and new dialogue, instruction, and education on these topics is a microaggression. The assumption that it is a feminist’s role and responsibility to educate, educate, educate the oppressor is completely unbalanced. Do some work, get educated. Or alternatively, listen.

A White Woman’s Privilege

"Privilege". It wasn't a term that I’d heard until 2011, when I began working with SlutWalk, a global movement focused on ending rape and rape culture. SlutWalk was ignited by a Toronto police officer telling campus group that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

What does privilege mean in relation to gender, race, class, sexual orientation, and so forth? When people say “white privilege” or “male privilege” or “x privilege,” what are they attempting to communicate?

This was not readily apparent to me, and many times the word “privilege” was used as a weapon, a way to push someone away, as an accusation, a way to shut down conversation, and to silence. It is not always used or received as a term that invites mutual exploration and understanding.

While my first experiences were off-putting, I have explored this idea over the last year. I don’t recall the circumstances under which I first encountered this word, but I do clearly recall being baffled, hurt, and confused about this word being virtually spat at me. Slutwalk was not universally appreciated (what an understatement) and some organizers and participants did not come onto the feminist and sexual assault scene with years of experience in the cultures of sexual abuse prevention and/or feminism. So, sometimes, the language (meaning as indicative of privilege, the approach to ending rape, and more) that SlutWalk planners was not preferred. SlutWalk organizers received quite a bit of feedback on their education privilege, race privilege, and socio-economic privilege, among other categories of privilege.

Personally, at some points it seemed to be a bloodbath. Here were 20-something women grabbing the mantle of feminism (and more), struggling to put on marches, and learning the ropes. All the while being metaphorically pummeled for never having grappled with the notion of privilege. Who was doing the pummelling? Feminists, sexual assault advocacy groups, “men’s rights activists,” a variety of anonymous internet people, groups devoted to racial equality, mainstream media, and more.

My role in the SlutWalk movement was amorphous; early on, I could not find my place. When I finally did, it was so behind the scenes that less than 250 people realized I was involved. I started a Facebook group, which was the first and continues to be the only place that SlutWalk planners are able to gather and talk about their experiences, to learn, to grow, to openly and yet not publicly talk about their realities.

Within this group I was called privileged and read hundreds of postings on the internet with people throwing this term around. In some ways, I was lucky. Because I wasn’t a front line person trying to navigate this landscape I had the opportunity to learn in my own way in my own time. But still, I was confused, angry, and mystified by the use of this term.

Ultimately, I pondered on the meaning of privilege. I decided to figure out how this word was part of my life and reached out in my confusion. This was the turning point.  My desire to actually understand and learn was the beginning. Isn’t it always? Like many others I think I am open-minded and work for diversity, equality, and more. To accept that there was learning in this arena was huge; in retrospect it changed my life. At the time, I was simply trying to understand.

I posted online about my experience with the word. This was a helpful response to my query:

Having certain privileges isn't an indictment of your character, and it doesn't mean you've never suffered. And no one privilege universally outweighs another. You and I have certain privileges because we are white (or at least will be taken for white by most people — obviously I do not know your ethnic background), and certain disadvantages because we are bi (well, I use "queer," but I mean something similar.) This means when a person of color is speaking about what it's like to be a person of color, their insights about POC should likely have more weight than ours. And when we're talking about queer issues, straight people should probably lend us an ear. But the most oppressed person (and I'm not even sure how we'd determine who that is in any given situation) doesn't get a "Most XYZ!" award or automatically win the argument. Ideally, talking privilege doesn't have to result in an argument — I have had some amazingly productive discussions since I've been able to recognize my privilege and listen more. It helps with figuring out how to ask the right questions when it's time to speak.

I finally came to the conclusion that what privilege really means is differences in personal identity and background, differences that confer unearned social power and advantages upon those who possess privilege, and that arbitrarily and unjustly disempower and disadvantage those who lack privilege. We all have different experiences in life, those experiences need to be understood when communicating, and our points of view are different because of our histories. When I hear privilege with this meaning, it makes sense.

Part of my struggle to understand this word is inherent due to the amount of privilege I have experienced in my own life!

Here is a short list of my privileges:

  • Upper-middle class growing up.
  • Graduate degree.
  • Successful business career.
  • Never sexually abused.
  • White.
  • You can stop laughing now!

Looking back, one clear example of privilege at work occurred when I was volunteering at a local women's group and we were working on ending Childhood Sexual Exploitation. As a volunteer on this committee, we worked directly with survivors to create Public Service Announcements and increase awareness in the business community. The PSAs featured girls and young women and were intended for the victims of child sexual exploitation to identify with, so that they would call a hotline.

We had multiple revisions of the PSAs, primarily because of our failure to understand how they would be perceived. We were trying to put together PSAs to help girls understand that they were, in fact, being abused. This wasn't how they saw themselves. The images that were being chosen were based on how middle/upper class adult white women saw teenage girls that had been prostituted: homeless, dirty, and standing on railroad tracks. Survivors were clear that that was not an accurate depiction of these girls’ lives or their self-perception. In spite of the exploitation that was an unavoidable aspect of their lives, they saw young glamourous well-taken care of women at the salon, the nightclubs, and in nice cars.

In another project, we were hosting a breakfast for community business leaders to increase awareness of this issue. Much of the exploitation occurred in business areas. The hope was that, with awareness, the incidents of exploitation would decrease. We targeted businessmen for this campaign even though the survivors of childhood sex trafficking explained to us several times that businessmen were their primary exploiters. This meant our awareness campaign targets were the problem. Not the solution. We were raising awareness of sexual exploitation to the very perpetrators of it!

But we didn’t listen to the survivors; instead, we forged ahead with our own vision of how to make a difference.

Anyone see the problem? Privilege. Of course, I only understand this in hindsight.

Fast forward to now in the secular community and all our discussions regarding gender and harassment. While I do not comment often, I read blogs and their comments. Many times I agree; sometimes I do not. One thing I do see is comments that strike me as odd. I cannot put my finger on what the problem is . . . then it comes to me: male privilege.

I don't use this term to distance us from one another. Instead, I am asking that men with privilege listen (or read) more, comment less, try to understand another’s perspective, try to understand how another might see your words and deeds in a different light, and to understand that words and deeds might not be taken as you intend them. Mostly I use this term so that we may start talking openly about it – together.

Yes, I am privileged; almost everyone is in some way! When you look at specific facets of another life, they will not entirely match your own. When they do not match and someone else's experiences are more relevant in illuminating how systemic oppression works in people’s daily lives. . . you are privileged in that you do NOT have those experiences.

  • When talking with my sister about raising her children . . . She has parenting privilege.
  • When talking with my mother about careers . . . I have education privilege.
  • When talking with my male partner about sexual harassment in the workplace . . . he has male privilege.
  • When talking about living in the south with African-American friends . . . . I have white privilege.
  • When talking about sexism in the secular community . . . some have white male privilege.

Do I have ideas about parenting? Yes. Does anyone who has been or is responsible for raising a child dismiss my thoughts out of hand? Usually. Do they have the right? Yes. They have been there, done that. They have experience and expertise that I cannot hope to match. Do I find being dismissed so easily annoying? DEFINITELY! Does privilege weigh into my annoyance? Probably.

Really, privilege means that we are different, and that our society rewards some of these differences while disadvantaging others. Let's celebrate those differences while coming together to reduce the way privilege warps social power dynamics in our society. How do we come together? We must learn to listen, ask questions to understand, be open to how our own perspective colors our understanding of the world, and know that your life experiences make up the very essence of who you are and what you say and do.

This article will make sense to some and to others it will be gibberish. Hopefully I have intrigued you enough to want to know more! Here are two articles by Peggy McIntosh and Barry Meutsch that are both explanatory and readable.


I kept learning while writing this article! I had listed being the first born girl as a privilege. An editor asked me to explain what I meant as she had never heard of this privilege. Here is my explanation:

Imagine a family that on one side has no boys born into it in fifty years and the other side having no boys born into it in sixty years! I am the eldest daughter of an eldest daughter in a family of strong women. My sister is six years younger than me; I’m almost an only child. I have no brothers. Within the family, I never saw boys and girls treated differently. I never competed with a male sibling. My intimate family experience is that men and women are treated equally, women are just as capable as men, women are just as smart as men, etc. No, I wasn’t taught that women are better than men; it would have been easy to do that though. My experience of being a woman is privileged. (And now, I would say it was different, but not necessarily privileged.)

What I learned is that because there is no societal power afforded this that it is not a privilege, it is simply part of my life experience. I hope including this will help illuminate the difference.