Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.

5.29.2014

But, More Seriously: Male Privilege

“People in brightly lit places cannot see into the dark.”
 - Marie Rutkoski, The Winner's Curse

While the quote is literal in the context of the book--a character is looking into a house from outside at night, knowing he doesn't have to worry about being seen because of the lighting dynamics--it is possible to read a deeper meaning into it based on the characters' situations: a slave is looking in at his owner.  I interpreted the sentence as metaphorical as well as literal.

But I didn't stop there, because I think it is an eloquent metaphorical statement on the dynamics of privilege in general.  Those with the privilege of being in brightly lit places cannot see into the darkness of those who are disadvantaged in contrast.  Their privilege, by its very nature, blinds them to the impact of that privilege on others, and they are hard pressed to understand what life is like for those without that privilege.

Yesterday I attempted to write a humorous post on the issues of gender privilege that have been much under discussion online recently, an attempted riff on the idea that, all too often, men feel entitled to view and possess women as sexual objects instead of equal people (though I'm not sure the humor actually worked).  At the end, more seriously, I wrote that the real solution is that we guys [need to] stop being so damn defensive and start listening to the women, because what they have to say really isn't all that complicated and hard to understand. Except, based on the things I'm reading on my social networks, it seems it really is that complicated and hard to understand from the perspective of brightly lit privilege.  Otherwise nice, open, caring men just can't seem to get their heads wrapped around the ways that women are oppressed by misogyny and sexism.  They seem blind to that darkness.

And here's the thing about privilege: it's based on power.  It's possible for power to be taken away, with much struggle and pain and suffering.  Often the majority of the pain in such a struggle is suffered by those fighting to gain power; at least, right up until they achieve their goal, then the most common result is a reversal of the power dynamic and suffering burden, with no equality ever being achieved.  A much healthier way to change the dynamic is for those with the power to willingly share it.  That's often a very scary proposition for them, since they feel their share of the power--and, thus, their ease of life and happiness--must be diminished by the sharing since they will have a smaller portion.  (I would disagree--that the pot grows instead of divides--but that's an idea to expand another time.)

But those with power will never be capable of even considering sharing it if they can't see that they have it in the first place.  The privileged first have to find a way of seeing into the darkness and realizing it's different than their brightly lit places to be able to acknowledge their privilege.  And, aside from their being forced into the darkness by a radical change in circumstances, the ability to see into the darkness largely depends on the privileged themselves.  They have to be willing to turn their own lights off, since those in the darkness rarely have the power to create light for themselves.  It's a bit of a circle with no easy entry--the privileged can't see their privilege unless they're willing to step outside of it, yet they have no incentive to step outside of it if they don't see that it exists.

Nevertheless, it's not impossible.  Even if those from the privileged group can never fully experience the oppression of the disadvantaged group, they can come to see that it is real.  If they want to.  If they are willing to look past their brightly lit places by turning off their lights and seeing what's in the darkness.  Specifically, men can see that sexism and misogyny are real, painful, and harmful if they are willing to step out of their comfortable positions and try to genuinely understand the experience of gender dynamics from the perspectives of women.

Or, to put it another way, we guys [need to] stop being so damn defensive and start listening to the women, even if it is complicated and hard to understand from our perspectives.  Really, it's up to us to make that change.

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I've had one big Facebook status on the issue, hoping to share part of what I've been able to see from my privileged position.  I think it's worth sharing again here:

A very common statistic is that anywhere from 1 in 4 to 1 in 5 females will be sexually abused or assaulted in their lifetimes, and the reality is most likely higher than that because of those too afraid or ashamed to report. Statistics are easy to ignore as just numbers. I feel blessed to have spent a number of years as an adult helping with the NCCJ (National Conference for Community and Justice) programs Unitown and Anytown for teens. One of the most powerful moments each time was the culminating experience exploring gender issues (i.e. sexism). After a safe environment was created and trust built among group members, much sharing occurred. At the end, the men were asked to silently observe while the women, whom they were facing, silently stood in response to a number of statements to show that they applied, a wide variety of statements that included, for example, “I have said, ‘Yes,’ to a man because I was afraid to say, ‘No,’” and “I have been pregnant when I did not want to be” and “I have been raped.” Teens, from an intentionally diverse range of backgrounds and life situations. And, every time, I saw the statistics born out as true. These are not numbers, but the women you see and know and love, every day.

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