What is Privilege and How Do We Address It?

In de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex: Introduction,” she states, “The most sympathetic of men never fully comprehend woman’s concrete situation” (de Beauvoir 37). This statement led me to question why I agreed that some men have trouble truly understanding certain women’s experiences. Part of the answer resides in the possession of privilege. I came across a quote that I thought pretty accurately pinned down the concept. David Gaider, a writer and game designer, says, “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally” (Source here). I like this quote because while it does not ignore the harmful effects that privilege has on trivializing minorities’ issues (not limited to gender – privilege is present in the dominant group of any division, be it gender, race, sexual orientation, class and more), it does acknowledge that privilege often includes ignorance but not necessarily malicious intent. Privilege becomes a problem when people in power are unaware of having it; therefore, the best way to deal with it is through education. Communication between the privileged and the “unprivileged,” combined with attempts of the privileged to be empathetic and understanding, will go a long way in closing the comprehension gap that privilege tends to widen.

Source: Simone de Beauvoir, “Introduction” to The Second Sex (1949)

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One thought on “What is Privilege and How Do We Address It?

  1. doyoucanoe

    I like your discussion about privilege and how it relates to perspective.
    This post reminded me of the reading from “Whipping Girl” by Julia Serano, who challenges the notion that having been born and socialized as a female makes one wholly understand what it is like to be a woman, or a “woman’s concrete situation” (de Beauvoir 37). Serano points out that all women experience femaleness differently and have had different gendered experiences. Other factors like “race, age, ability, sexual orientation, economic class, and so on” (Serano 227) also influence individuals’ understandings of femaleness.
    De Beauvoir states that the most sympathetic of men never fully comprehend women’s concrete situation. Although de Beauvoir is speaking specifically about the marginalization of women in a man’s world, it is interesting to think about the fact that women can never completely understand other women’s experiences, as well. Women making assumptions about what it means to be a woman is another form of privilege, since “our concept of womanhood will remain a mere reflection of our personal experiences and biases rather than something based in the truly diverse world that surrounds us” (Serano 227). This is similar to Bell Hooks’ ideas about the huge differences between women that lead to misunderstandings and divisions. The “gender entitlement” that Serano refers to is privilege.
    I agree that education is a good way to combat issues that arise as a result of privilege. However, it would realistically be difficult to close the comprehension gap between cissexual and transsexual women, since their experiences are so different.

    -Emily Gao

    Reply

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