Privilege is something hard to define and very difficult to detect if you’re in a place of it. I find that in trying to answer what privilege is, it is often much easier to look at experiences one has not had.
In Ellen Jean Samuels’s essay “My Body, My Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-Out Discourse” I was faced with the difficulties of simplifying the intersectional approach to feminist discourse. I’m very used to picking out white privilege and male privilege in the world, but am still a novice at examining heterosexual privilege and able-bodied privilege. So my running list of “have you evers” that signify privilege (the fewer you check, the more privilege you have) was full of items like this:
Have you ever been told you’re really strong/logical/smart for a girl?
Samuels, despite her argument that we must be careful in finding broad similarities, caused me to add another broad term to the list:
Have you ever had to come out?
The mere statement “come out” without the preposition “to” is open as it allows for the interpretation of the phrase to apply to one’s personal grappling with an identity they’re not sure they can share with the world (237). Though I may have thought of this as an item on my mental list for heterosexual privilege, I never would have thought of it as something that could cover the experiences of the invisibly disabled or even myself as a racially-ambiguous mixed-race girl.
Samuels, “My Body, My Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-Out Discourse”
This advertisement for Thomson Holidays, a UK-based travel agency, portrays several families and couples on picturesque, joyous vacations in a variety of locations. The advertisement urges the audience to take a break and cherish time with family. Unfortunately, the advertisement does not feature any non-normative people or relationships. Every single person featured is white, presumably upper class, and in a heterosexual relationship. This kind of advertising perpetuates the idea that the ideal, happy family has to fit into a certain mold. In reality, all types of families could probably benefit from this kind of vacation; as Belkin notes, even though most lesbian couples do not argue about the same issues as heterosexual couples, they still do bicker (Belkin 10). The advertisement advocates some positive ideals: spending time with family, putting away technology, and taking a break from the daily grind; it’s a shame that the creators of the advertisement did not care to portray non-heterosexual, non-white families partaking in a relaxing vacation as well.
Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” 2008.
I wanted to write this post about an advertisement I really like for a product I use and enjoy, and examine the gender implications I may have overlooked. I often wonder how my outlook has been influenced in the past, and if it is changeable (or if it even should be altered).
Through this thought process, I came to this advertisement for Target from this holiday season.
The ad definitely takes some positive steps: some racial diversity, son baking with mother, and sections with non-distinct gender lines.
However, there were some other obvious gender normative scenes as well but I think that any progress is good, and only our efforts over time will allow for greater changes.
The word privilege is used quite often when discussing issues of race, class, sexual orientation, and other instances in which a majority group is granted societal advantages over minority groups. The concept of privilege is wonderfully described in this post on the blog of Tressie McMillan Cottom, a PhD student in sociology at Emory University. In the post, Cottom describes how being raised in a black American family shaped her view on privilege, beginning with the story of how her mother’s ability to act as “a respectable black person” allowed her to assist an elderly neighbor who, lacking both a mastery of the Queen’s English and a fashionable outfit, was being continuously turned away by employees at a social services office. Cottom remembers that it took her mother only half a day to accomplish what the elderly woman had been working on for over a year. Cottom goes on to describe her experiences witnessing privilege at play in several other interpersonal interactions throughout her life. The common thread is that poor people are often judged for “wasting money” on consumer goods that might be considered luxury, but that poor people who don’t display outward appearances of affluence are often ignored in stores, treated poorly by others, and passed over in interviews. Furthermore, those that do portray a certain level of affluence are given preferential treatment on the job, receive better customer service, and are overall treated better in interpersonal interactions. What is privilege? Cottom’s examples illustrate the concept well: getting promoted to manager just because you showed up for an interview in a designer suit, having a school principal defer to your judgement simply because you’re a middle class parent and you know how to navigate the educational administrative system if you need to advocate for your child. These are just a few (among many) reasons why poor people shouldn’t be judged for ever displaying any upscale or luxury belongings.
Advertising monetizes ideals. In buying shampoo, you are not buying shampoo but a revolutionary product that promises to transform your life because of its’ magical straightening properties. Whether it’s straighter hair or lighter skin, advertising frequently sells idealized beauty. That is to say, a white, upper- middle class idealized beauty.
This construction makes even the most popular and praised women change. For instance, Beyonce has famously had her nose done and allegedly has undergone skin lightening treatments. If this was her independent choice, then I think most would not flinch. However, it is a larger societal pressure that makes even the most celebrated women morph into whiter versions of themselves to gain wider appeal and desirability.
In this L’Oreal advertisement, Beyonce underwent significant phenotypic changes. These changes may make her power and existence more digestible to a wider audience (chambers). In doing so, this ad bolsters the dominant white beauty ideal.
Samuel A. Chambers, “Heteronormativity and the L-Word” (2006)
The other day, I ran across an image of basketball player LeBron James and supermodel Gisele Bundchen on the cover of Vogue… except in various articles (including a Huffington Post article linked below), their picture was placed side-by-side with a vintage advertisement of the film King Kong. It was striking and disappointing to see how similar James looked to King Kong, and how much Bundchen mirrored the damsel-in-distress in the film advertisement.
This cover photo seems to perpetuate the narrow perception of black masculinity which, according to Hill Collins in her piece “Booty Call: Sex, Violence and Images of Black Masculinity,” consists of, “…aggression and claiming the prizes of urban warfare… Being tough and having street smarts is an important component of Black masculinity. When joined to understandings of booty as sexuality, especially raw, uncivilized sexuality, women’s sexuality becomes the actual spoils of war” (151).
Is this just a harmless cover with James showing his “game face”, or is there a more racist undertone (Huffington Post, 2008)?
Hill-Collins, Patricia. Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender and the New Racism. New York: Routledge, 2005.
Zaleski, Katharine. “LeBron James Vogue Cover Criticized For “Perpetuating Racial Stereotypes”.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 2008. Web. 31 Oct. 2013. .
This print advertisement is selling a powerful computer processor, and utilizes the objectified black male body to do so. The advertisement depicts a middle-aged white man in office attire with his arms crossed and his gaze focused at the viewer. In contrast, six black men are crouched beside and behind him; they are wearing athletic gear, and hunched over as if they are about to begin a track race. Most importantly, their faces are bent and hidden away from the viewer, as opposed to the straight-forward representation of the white man’s face. Text above the men states, “Multiply computer performance and maximize the power of your employees.”
This advertisement makes use of a common media representation of black males by reducing them to their athletic bodies. “Historically, African American men were depicted primarily as bodies ruled by brute strength,” states Patricia Hill Collins (Hill Collins 152). The depiction of the men in the Intel advertisement dehumanizes and objectifies them; they are faceless and uniform tools for the white man’s character to use in improving his work efficiency. The juxtaposition of the black men and the white man also portrays an unbalanced power dynamic. Reminiscent of slave imagery, the advertisement is “relegating Black men to the work of the body” in a manner “designed to keep them poor and powerless” (Hill Collins 153).
This advertisement is likely targeting upper-middle-class, educated professionals who might make use of processors for company technology. In addition to selling the processor, the advertisement sells power and control by objectifying black male bodies to make them marketable additions to the advertisement.