I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘privilege’ recently. Certainly, this concept is not unfamiliar. There is even something about it that is compelling and useful to me. For example, I think it is a good way to label the fact that I share a certain kind of being-in-the-world with many other male-identified folks, a being-in-the-world which is relatively devoid of fear. Put another way, I do not wonder if I am safe from sexual assault when I walk home at night; it does not occur to me that I may be sexually harassed on my way to class in the morning.
‘Privilege’ is one way to label the absence of this fear, this taking-for-granted of safety. The problem with ‘privilege’ is that it lacks the semantic space to adequately convey the way my ‘privilege’ hurts me. ‘Privilege’ stops at the safety others ought to be entitled to; ‘privilege’ does not demand I get beyond the melancholy realization that the world is not fair or equal. There is nothing about ‘privilege’ that compels me to do anything more than count my blessings and let the world remain the same.
Fuck ‘privilege.’ We need a new word, a word that demands I live the way I want the world to be, a word that acknowledges that my ‘privilege’ hurts me. I don’t have a single word. Maybe other folks do. I do have a collection of words though. I suggest we replace the word ‘privilege’ with the words ‘responsibility to struggle.’
But struggle against what?
When people ask me why I choose to work with perpetrators of violence, I ask them to imagine that they are out to sea in a ship that’s slowly sinking. There’s a hole somewhere in the hull; water keeps welling up. The ship will sink if you don’t bail out the water, but it won’t matter how much water you bail unless you can also plug the hole.
Our community is the ship and we are awash in violence. I don’t dispute the importance of bailing ourselves out – we cannot stop supporting survivors, we cannot retreat from the front lines of this battle. We need to do more though. We need to ask ourselves why we’re sinking. We need to plug the hole. The hole is ‘privilege.’ Until ‘privilege’ becomes a problem, until it becomes ‘a responsibility to struggle,’ we’re only slowly sinking and failure to re-conceptualize “privilege” as “struggle” means eventually, drowning.
Meditate upon this for a moment:
I am not lucky to be born into a world where I can take certain kinds of safety for granted. This is a world where I’m only slowly sinking. This is a world where I’m on my way to drowning and I don’t even know it.
And so instead, I struggle. Instead WE must struggle. We must reject violence at every turn, but we must also reject the culture that is its condition of possibility; we must reject the ideology of hegemonic masculinity that insidiously fuels its fires. In place of these things, I offer healthier styles of life, healthier constructions of masculinity and personhood. I offer embrace of the responsibility to struggle. I offer insistent intervention, the amelioration of the symptoms AND the eradication of the disease.
I invite you all to join me; I request permission to join you all. I encourage you to connect with me if you have not already, and I look forward to connecting with you. I thank you for all you have done, and all that you will do.
Graduate Assistant for Bystander Intervention and Prevention Education
Ohio University Women’s Center