Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Because You're a Woman

It occurred to me, whilst I was showering (which is where a lot of my good ideas percolate and then go on to die quickly because I have no way of keeping them alive because there is NOWHERE TO WRITE THEM oh my god why don't I have those shower crayons my roomies and I had in college?!) that privilege is a hard thing to fully recognize because it is essentially a passive power. You can't walk into a room and go, "I'm white, I'm a guy, give me a job!" Well, you could. But that probably would make them not want to give you a job. What you can do is walk into a room, hand them a good resume, and then have that person interviewing you be influenced by the fact you're white and a guy and then give you the job over someone who may be just as qualified but is not white and a guy. This is the problem with privilege. You could walk out of that room thinking it was your excellent interviewing skillz and a well put together resume that got you the job - when in reality it may have been those things plus.

There is nothing wrong, on the individual level, with getting a job based on a plus. Well, there might be. But for sake of argument, say there isn't.

When things get hairy is when getting jobs based on a plus happens a lot, and for the same group of plus people.

And it is very hard to recognize when that plus comes into play - when the privilege you unintentionally wield influences the events around you.

I have a lot of privilege. That privilege helps me get away with doing a lot of things and saying a lot of things someone who didn't look like me wouldn't get away with. I've always told my friends that I get away with a lot of crap because I act like I'm right; I act like I should get away with, say, yelling at a cop or telling my Old White Guy boss that we need to hire more people who aren't Old White Guys and who won't become Old White Guys as part of our sales force - in those terms. And I'm convinced that is part of it. But the other part, and why I've been conditioned to feel like I have the right to do X or Y, is what I am. I am middle class. I am white. I am small, both in height and in size. And I look like I'm twelve. These things don't help people take me seriously, but it does help me when it comes to getting away with telling people they're idiots.

And I don't think I should get away with something because of any of those factors; but I also don't know when it does and when it doesn't. So I can't really mitigate the effect that has on my life, and what it does for me. And if I weren't annoyingly obsessed with myself, I may never have examined the fact that when everyone says I look like I'm twelve, and that my nicknames at work are "Little Girl" and "Little One", those along with the other aspects give me a certain amount of protection and privilege I otherwise would not have.

Now, some of my privilege will be mitigated by age. Hopefully, when I'm in my mid-forties, no one will be calling me "Little One", although I appreciate the affectionate name now. But I have no way of truly taking that perspective others have of me and dismantling it myself. I have no way of telling a person, "Don't react to me as you would a small child". Because, like the "I'm white, I'm a guy" thing, it would probably not elicit the desired reaction.

Which takes me to this: I listen to Stuff Mom Never Told You, because Molly and Cristen are awesome. The last podcast of theirs I listened to was "Are political quotas bad for women?", and in there a couple of interesting questions were asked.

Cristen posed the question,
Is that at the same time not only dismantling our ideas of equal opportunity and democracy but also almost categorizing women once again into this, like, ind of separate, special little corner that they need to hang out in and, you know, work on their, like child care, etc., types of issues rather than allowing us to, you know, jump in the fray and get in there right beside, um, elbow our way in alongside men?
And I like the question, because it is a good one. Is forcibly making space for women in different arenas the best way to get women into those areas? But I also like the question, because it demonstrates an issue of framing. Same thing with Molly's quandary:
You'd always have to wonder if you were in power because you're a woman, or if you really had something to contribute to government.
The problem I have with how the question is framed is that in the first question, Cristen herself is separating so-called "Women's Issues" like child care and equal pay from societal issues. It is the age-old problem where men are seen to speak universally and women are seen to speak only about women.

And the problem I have with Molly's quandary is that we very rarely reverse that question and look at the invisible privilege held therein. We almost never ask of (white) men, "Are you in power because you're a man, or because you really had something to contribute?" We'll ask if there was some sort of dynasty thing at play (like with Bush the Second), but we rarely ask if a man got the job because he's a man.

So, when Molly is worried about people looking at women in power, is worried about women in power looking at themselves, and wondering if the fact that they are women was the necessary plus to push them into power, she is demonstrating something profound. We worry about whether or not women, or African Americans, or Latinos, or [fill in your minority here] got to where they are because of Political Correctness. Because they had some Plus that pushed them above the deserving White Guy. Very rarely, do we as a society, ponder whether some white guy got to where he is because he is a guy, and white. That is one of the essences of privilege: your plus not factoring into the general consciousness of why you are where you are. And because that is one of the essences of privilege, it is incredibly difficult to recognize it as such, in general and on the individual level. Because unless something egregious happened (or unless the Peter Principle is to blame), a lot of people who have the jobs they have deserve them. And the question then becomes whether or not the plus that pushed them over the edge to jobhood was earned, or was a function of an unearned quotient like gender privilege or racial privilege or even religious privilege.

5 comments:

MediaMaven said...

Shower crayons?!?! You had shower crayons and I didn't know about them?!?! Where do you get such things?

What you can do is walk into a room, hand them a good resume, and then have that person interviewing you be influenced by the fact you're white and a guy and then give you the job over someone who may be just as qualified but is not white and a guy. This is the problem with privilege. You could walk out of that room thinking it was your excellent interviewing skillz and a well put together resume that got you the job - when in reality it may have been those things plus.

I don’t know about this. I think in many places, if there’s a preponderance of white guys, that they might not want to higher another (gotta get those diversity candidates in!). I think of Ivy League schools, or other prestigious pedigrees, that work in these situations—it reminded me of something I read a few days ago (maybe this Ezra piece), where job candidates were largely picked because they had specific backgrounds (in this case, elite college with liberal arts majors). These kids were incredibly lucky. We certainly did not have any of the privileges they enjoy. I think skin color and gender is too simplistic in these cases. I remember my high school principle, in one of my classes, said the best thing to be was something like a black Hispanic woman because she fit all the boxes and was “exotic” enough that she would be desirable in situations (this is very much paraphrased). I remember being really struck by his comment but not totally sure if I believed him. I wish I remembered more!

And the problem I have with Molly's quandary is that we very rarely reverse that question and look at the invisible privilege held therein. We almost never ask of (white) men, "Are you in power because you're a man, or because you really had something to contribute?" We'll ask if there was some sort of dynasty thing at play (like with Bush the Second), but we rarely ask if a man got the job because he's a man.

Hmm. I’ve worked in a lot of settings where the gender imbalance heavily tilted towards females, and I always wondered about the males getting hired. But I think we ask these questions not just upon women (I don’t), and not just based on dynasties, but other “privileges” at play. Like nepotism, favoritism, or other traits in common. After all, those in the job pool are told to project likeability at all costs and to try to bond with interviewers, to find common ground. So technically a person can be hired based upon something as inconsequential as both parties grew up in the same area or like Lady Gaga. It’s not impossible.

MediaMaven said...

I have a lot of privilege. That privilege helps me get away with doing a lot of things and saying a lot of things someone who didn't look like me wouldn't get away with. I've always told my friends that I get away with a lot of crap because I act like I'm right; I act like I should get away with, say, yelling at a cop or telling my Old White Guy boss that we need to hire more people who aren't Old White Guys and who won't become Old White Guys as part of our sales force - in those terms. And I'm convinced that is part of it. But the other part, and why I've been conditioned to feel like I have the right to do X or Y, is what I am. I am middle class. I am white. I am small, both in height and in size. And I look like I'm twelve. These things don't help people take me seriously, but it does help me when it comes to getting away with telling people they're idiots.

And I don't think I should get away with something because of any of those factors; but I also don't know when it does and when it doesn't. So I can't really mitigate the effect that has on my life, and what it does for me.


You do get away with a lot. It’s true, I don’t think either of us can pinpoint exactly why that is in most or even some circumstances, but I don’t attribute it (totally) to your size. Maybe that’s part of it. I think you’re right when you mention your attitude; I think that, and your manner, is one reason why you do. You’re just so damn forceful and you have the power of your convictions, something of which I personally wish I had more. I think there are times when you use your smallness to your advantage, to get your way, similarly like using your cuteness or your femininity. No, I can’t think of specific examples. But there are others around you who also let you get away with things, sometimes enabling you. And other times, it just doesn’t matter.

It will be interesting, next time this happens to you, if you can see why that is so, and what you attribute it to. Because I think for people in your inner circle, the fact that you’re female, white, and small, wouldn’t or shouldn’t make a difference.

petpluto said...

Shower crayons?!?! You had shower crayons and I didn't know about them?!?!

We did, and they were AWESOME! And then the RAs came around and were like, "Violation!" and I was like, "It's cool guys. It's shower crayons. It'll come right off".

Where do you get such things?

I don't know!!! Or else I would buy them for myself!!

I think in many places, if there’s a preponderance of white guys, that they might not want to higher another (gotta get those diversity candidates in!).

I think that could be correct, but then you've got the situation where someone looks around and goes, "We've got 20 white guys in here. Better hire one woman!" It's like what my boss said when I told him we needed to hire some people who wouldn't become old white guys - in a force of like 30 or so people - and he said, "We have three women and one Asian". That's all well and good, but you've still got a ridiculous ratio there.

Also, I think that plays into the "You got this job because you're a [enter your minority type here]" idea. If you're hiring a white guy, I don't think you often think about why you're hiring him, and whether or not his whiteness and guyness are a part of that. Most of the time - especially where I work - I'm going to say it plays a part (there's that whole idea that we hire people who are like us, so if white guys are in positions of power, it might not be any true sexist or racist views that result in more white guys getting hired). Meanwhile, if you look around and say, "I've gotta get some diversity in here, you're consciously aware of the plus that will get the person the job - and even if that's not what gets you the job, the invisible push of being white and a guy don't enter into the conversation as much as that visible push of diversity does.

It’s not impossible.

No, it's not. And I'm not discounting those things. But I think when we add gender or another social "tell", things get wonky. If you look at Caroline Kennedy, for example, you'll see a situation where a lot of people were talking about the nepotism, about dynasties, when that same worry didn't come to play when Patrick Kennedy ran for a House seat. Caroline may not have been the best candidate for the job, but I think that, along with the fact that the seat she could get was Bobby Kennedy's old seat, her gender played a part in how her potential Senatorial career was described.

Maybe that’s part of it. I think you’re right when you mention your attitude; I think that, and your manner, is one reason why you do.

I agree. I also think I have that attitude for a very specific reason - the weird way I was raised, and the fact that nothing has ever "beaten" it out of me. If I were another color, if I were taller, if I looked to be of a lower class, I think the way people reacted to my attitude and my manner would be different. Which, in turn, may influence my success rate, and may, in turn, influence my attitude and manner.

I remember a piece I read by Latoya Peterson, and she was talking about the difference even the way she talked seemed to influence the reactions of those around her. She also had some examples in regard to white kids getting away with crap but how none of her black guy friends don't have a story about their run-ins with the police. And I think that's kind of significant.

John said...

Y'know what bugs me about privilege? If you have it, you can't not use it. In some ways it's like always having the cheat codes on in a video game, which ruins your ability to experience the triumph of overcoming a difficult objective on your own merits. You can't just say "sure I'm a white guy, but don't hold that in my favor."

I've worked in offices where my department was rather diverse (of 6 people, 4 were Asian-American with different countries of origin, 2 of which were women, leaving me and one other white guy) but the more important departments were still very much an Old Boys' Club. Very often it's easy to get hired to entry-to-mid-level jobs if you're of a protected characteristic, but not so easy to move up to the top brass.

FranciscoL_Swaney0806 said...

河水永遠是相同的,可是每一剎那又都是新的。...............................................................