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August 26, 2004

White Guys and Privilege

Over at Alas, A Blog, one of the commenters named "Funnie" has discussed male privilege and how that affects men who call themselves "feminist." A big "gotcha" for a feminist man is for him to be aware of when he benefits from societal views of gender roles that inhibit or harm women and others not privileged by gender, race, and class. It's an awareness that pro-feminist men must tackle every day. It's a criticism I've heard before, and it's one that I happen to agree with.

XY Online is an excellent resource for articles and commentary written by pro-feminist men. This article by Chris Crass, Tools for White Guys who are Working for Social Change and Other People Socialized in a Society Based On Domination, places a spotlight on what white, middle-class men can do to become aware of how they benefit from dominant societal views of gender, race, and class - and what they can do to help mend society. As they say, awareness is the first step.

Crass outlined, for men, "practical strategies for minimising everyday domination."

I'm aware that one criticism of this article is that it doesn't go nearly far enough. It doesn't have enough pointers regarding being aware of how white, middle-class men benefit from societal attitudes, such as their opinions would be accorded more value, they get to define the debate, and all sorts of other little things they may take for granted that women overall cannot. A woman has to work twice as hard as a man.
The article mainly about men being aware of other men and wanting to dominate in meetings rather than listen or ask what is needed. There may also be criticism that it focuses too much on awareness and not enough on actually taking action that would relieve men of the benefits of their status. Letting go of the benefits of privilege is not something a lot of people would willingly give up.

1. Practice noticing who's in the room at meetings - how many gender privileged men (biological men), how many women, how many transgendered people, how many white people, how many people of color, is it majority heterosexual, are there out queers, what are people's class backgrounds. Don't assume to know people, but also work at being more aware - listening to what people say and talking with people one on one who you work with.

2a. Count how many times you speak and keep track of how long you speak.

2b. Count how many times other people speak and keep track of how long they speak.

3. Be conscious of how often you are actively listening to what other people are saying as opposed to just waiting your turn thinking about what you'll say next. Keep a notebook so that you can write down your thoughts and then focus on what other people are saying. As a white guy who talks a lot, I've found it helpful to writing down my thoughts and wait to hear what others have to say (frequently others will be thinking something similar and then you can support their initiative).

4. Practice going to meetings or hanging out with people focused on listening and learning - not to get caught in the paralysis of whether or not you have anything useful to say, but acting from a place of valuing other people's knowledge and experiences.

5a. Pay attention to how many times you put ideas out to the group you work with.

5b. Notice how often you support other people's ideas for the group.

6. Practice supporting people by asking them to expand on ideas and get more in-depth.

7a. Think about whose work and what contributions to the group get recognized.

7b. Practice recognizing more people for the work they do and try to do it more often. This also includes men offering support to other men who aren't recognized and actively challenging competitive dynamics that men are socialized to act out with each other.

8. Practice asking more people what they think about events, ideas, actions, strategy and vision. White guys tend to talk amongst themselves and develop strong bonds that manifest in organizing. These informal support structures often help reinforce informal leadership structures as well. Asking people what they think and really listening is a core ingredient to healthy group dynamics, think about who you ask and who you really listen to. Developing respect and solidarity across race, class, gender and sexuality is complex and difficult, but absolutely critical - and liberating. Those most negatively impacted by systems of oppression have and will play leading roles in the struggle for collective liberation.

9. Be aware of how often you ask people to do something as opposed to asking other people "what needs to be done": logistics, child care, making phone calls, cooking, providing emotional support and following up with people are often undervalued responsibilities performed by people who are gender oppressed (biological women and trans folks).

10. Struggle with the saying, "you will be needed in the movement when you realize that you are not needed in the movement."

11. Struggle with and work with the model of group leadership that says that the responsibility of leaders is to help develop more leaders, and think about what this means to you: how do you support others and what support do you need from others.

This includes men providing emotional and political support to other men. How can men work to be allies to each other in the struggle to develop radical models of anti-racist, class conscious, pro-queer, feminist manhood that challenges strict binary gender roles and categories. This is also about struggling to recognize leadership roles while also redefining leadership as actively working to build power with others rather than power over others.

12. Remember that social change is a process, and that our individual transformation and individual liberation is intimately interconnected with social transformation and social liberation. Life is profoundly complex and there are many contradictions. Remember that the path we travel is guided by love, dignity and respect - even when it brings us to tears and is difficult to navigate. As we struggle let us also love ourselves.

13. This list is not limited to white guys, nor is it intended to reduce all white guys into one category. This list is intended to disrupt patterns of domination which hurt our movement and hurt each other. White guys have a lot of work to do, but if we white guys support and challenge each other, while also building trust and compassion we can heal ourselves in the process.

14. Day-to-day patterns of domination are the glue that maintain systems of domination. The struggle against capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism and the state, is also the struggle towards collective liberation.

15. No one is free until we are all free.

Posted on August 26, 2004 at 11:09 AM | Permalink


Thanks, Trish. XY Online is one of the sources I use regularly in my class on Men and Masculinity.
I do especially appreciate this section:

"Remember that social change is a process, and that our individual transformation and individual liberation is intimately interconnected with social transformation and social liberation. Life is profoundly complex and there are many contradictions."


Posted by: Hugo at Aug 26, 2004 12:15:46 PM

That seems like a lot of work. How about I doze off, thereby shifting the balance of power, as an acceptable substitute?

Posted by: norbizness at Aug 26, 2004 4:02:21 PM

LOL, if you start to snore, I have the female privilege right to poke you in the ribs. ;)

Posted by: Trish Wilson at Aug 26, 2004 5:17:01 PM