The Power of Privilege

Being an advocate in an age of false allies

By Bailey Mount Editor-in-chief

Women’s march, Iowa City

Privilege is an issue we’re forced to contend with on both an individual and a systemic level.

The word itself is now thrown around almost carelessly — any white male has “privilege” over his white female counterparts, white females have “privilege” over women of color, and wealthy people of color have “privilege” over their disadvantaged peers.

What is hardly addressed, however, is how that privilege can be used to change the systems that created it in the first place. It can be used as a tool against those who use it as a weapon.

In the dawn of this new year, gender and racial issues are at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Whether it’s in the persistence of the “All Lives Matter” movement or in the backlash against the “Me Too” movement, these issues of privilege aren’t going away any time soon. Our opinion: they can’t be moved with just stalwart opposition.

They’re more likely to listen if they’re talking to people who look like them. This goes for both racial and gender issues of privilege.

It’s controversial yet nonetheless necessary to admit that men have a larger part to play in feminism — controversial because in the battle for gender equality, men have undoubtedly established a historical hegemony with themselves as the primary beneficiaries but necessary because this puts them at an advantage to change it.

As a feminist, I recognize how odd this sounds. The implication is that feminism is strictly by women for women, so a man’s place in the movement has always been a tricky subject — does their inclusion take away from it?

Short answer, no; if anything, getting men on board and accepting the benefits their gender privilege has to offer is the quickest way to succeed.

Feminism is defined as the “political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” and the “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests” according to Merriam-Webster.

This isn’t to say that women need saving; rather, it’s to suggest that male allies must leverage that all-access pass into a “man’s world” to join us in making it an equal one.

We as women don’t have that pass. We’re perceived as an “other” in dichotomous opposition to the aforementioned “man’s world.” This makes men who are conscious of this limited thinking invaluable advocates for feminism.

In “A Short History of Male Feminism” by “The Atlantic,” Noah Berlatsky references instances of male feminism dating back to Frederick Douglass. They’re not perfect — many of the men cited lacked insight in one way or another. The acknowledgment of these limitations is what made them instrumental to feminism.

Douglass admitted that a woman “is her own best representative.” Ultimately, he argued, a man could never truly speak for women’s rights because he could not understand the system as a woman and thus didn’t possess the right tools to change it like a woman could.

This is how we achieve gender equality.

We recognize that the other has the attention of an audience that we can’t reach. In this case, men need to use their power in their respective industries to speak out against the men that use that same status as a weapon.

It doesn’t need to be a grandiose display of advocacy. All of the men in Congress don’t need to link arms with their constituents at this year’s Women’s March — even if our current administration is the most poisonous head of this privileged hydra. Male allies can start by identifying with the movements they support and sharing their own experiences.

In this case, Terry Crews is one of the best examples of a proper advocate for gender equality. In December of last year, the actor and former football player tweeted about being the victim of a 2016 groping incident by a Hollywood agent. The decision to share his experience was made after allegations against executive producer Harvey Weinstein surfaced:

“Somebody’s got to support them…because they’re about to be shamed.” he said in an interview with NPR. “I’ve got to back these women up…it happened to me.”

Crews’ support came in the form of sharing his own trauma. By tying a personal experience into a largely gendered issue, he lent the movement more credibility. He demonstrated that he wasn’t just a part of a male group — he was a victim of one of its most toxic aspects as well.

“…men need to use their power in their respective industries to speak out against the men that use that same status as a weapon.”

So what happens when men don’t do this? When they are only allies, but never advocates, when they support only with a hashtag or a button and ignore the powerful platform they have at their disposal?

Well, we get the January Golden Globes.

Following the sociopolitical firestorm in Hollywood after Weinstein’s exposure as a sexual predator and the subsequent resurgence of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, nearly all actresses at the awards ceremony wore black in solidarity.

They brought gender and racial equality activists as their dates. In their acceptance speeches, they addressed the shameful acceptance of sexual harassment in the United States and spoke of a hopeful reconstruction of Hollywood in a post-Weinstein era.

Some men wore buttons emblazoned with the words “Time’s Up” — a new anti-workplace sexual assault and harassment movement that started in early January. Others fidgeted in noticeable discomfort when Natalie Portman announced the “all-male” directing nominees. The only one who really came close to even acknowledging the night’s protest was Bruce Miller, executive producer of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” stating:

“To all the people in this room and this country and this world who do everything they can to stop ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ from becoming a reality, keep doing that.”

Instead of an impactful moment in an otherwise superficial event, the women seemed to exist in a vacuum where their calls for change were tolerated and not supported. It was a disappointment.

Even worse, it’s recently come to light that a few of the actors that supported “Time’s Up” at the event are now under fire. Aziz Ansari was accused of sexual assault by a former date. James Franco was similarly accused by six different women in a Los Angeles Times piece. Both have since apologized — to those they have wronged and to the general public — but their exposure unfortunately casts an eye of suspicion on the remaining men involved in social gender issues.

This makes male advocacy for gender equality all the more crucial.

Aziz Ansari is renowned for his mindfulness of social issues but recent sexual allegations suggest otherwise.

By Matthew Gozzip Staff Writer

Amidst these allegations, very few award recipients even bothered to attack the systems that limit people of color in these conversations, crucially ignoring the bystander effect that has become more pervasive in these communities.

Aziz Ansari won a Golden Globe for Best Actor for his performance in his critically acclaimed Netflix series, “Master of None.” The show addresses everything from modern dating to being Asian American in a society that disparages the celebration of heritage. Several episodes even specifically focused on mindfulness of potential sexual misconduct, veiled misogynistic behaviors by men and consent.

Ansari holds his own set of privilege as an Asian American male and still has a large amount of influence, regardless of the lack of representation in the industry.

Despite this, Ansari was recently accused by an anonymous woman of taking advantage of her after a date. An article published on “babe.net” gave a detailed account of Ansari forcing himself on her and failing to read her body language after she didn’t explicitly reject his sexual advances.

Whether you believed the allegations or found it difficult to determine what is consensual sexual activity, Ansari’s decision to ignore the situation and give a whimsical acceptance speech was startling.

On a night when the #MeToo movement was ubiquitously displayed in the attendees’ decisions to wear all black for the newly formed “Time’s Up” movement, Ansari took the stage with a pin on the lapel of his all black suit and feigned ignorance to the larger part of abuse in Hollywood, like so many of his male counterparts did when they spoke. His decision to distance himself is a prime example of pseudo-solidarity and abuse of privilege.

There is a limit to addressing power that privileged people dare not venture to. They believe it will require them to sacrifice certain aspects of ego, pride and power.

It’s very unfortunate to see a performer of color drop the ball on an occasion where they had a platform to make a statement, especially from an artist whose work is so influential to people of color. Ansari holds his own set of privilege as an Asian American male and still has a large amount of influence, regardless of the lack of representation in the industry.

There is a limit to addressing power that privileged people dare not venture to. They believe it will require them to sacrifice certain aspects of ego, pride and power. Ansari is just the latest artist with a background in comedy who has been exposed for their sexual misconduct.

Being complicit is a form of indulgence for those who abuse privilege and feigning ignorance is an easy out for those unwilling to do the necessary work to change rape culture, no matter what our ethnic backgrounds are. When there is smoke, it’s best to call for action instead of fanning the flames, hoping it extinguishes over time.

It seems more or less that people of color are pressured to use their limited privilege to make changes. However, when the pursuits are intersectional and fight entire systems, all the work is fortuitous.

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement formed four years ago but quickly became one of the most influential organizations in the world. The movement began in response to George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the murder case of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen that Zimmerman killed in what was ruled as self-defense.

Activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi created the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter to assemble a demonstration that protested the ruling of the case. Black Lives Matter gained further notoriety for its demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City in response to the police murders of unarmed black men like Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The once small social media phenomenon soon evolved into a global organization that now includes 40 chapters.

Despite its growth and support from communities of color, Black Lives Matter continues to have a polarizing presence in the country. Many critics of the group claim it promotes racism, encourages violence against police officers, lacks focus on intra-racial violence and is not inclusive enough to people of all backgrounds.

Thus, several counter movements have sprang up against it, most notably the #AllLivesMatter (ALM) movement.

ALM attempted to dispel the objectives of BLM and undermine the intersectional values that the movement is founded upon. It instead created a twisted narrative that called humanity in marginalized black communities a self-centered pursuit. This group is populated by many different people of privilege; even members of the black community try to invalidate issues that they themselves don’t have to confront.

Additionally, assuming that BLM is focused just on the success of the black community is an oversight of the thirteen different guiding principles of the movement — including diversity, globalism, empathy, transgender affirmation and collective value.

“#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important,” explains activist Alicia Garza on the movement’s website. “It means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to [everyone’s] liberation.”

To protest acceptance is to promote ignorance, especially when BLM aims to address deeply embedded social issues that are obviously an issue to so many communities.

Countering with a generally obvious statement like “all lives matter” only aims to discredit the claims of these marginalized communities; it would upset the natural order and power of privilege. BLM recognizes that there can be no progress without the support of those in these positions and they even willingly invite others to be a part of the cause as allies.

Perhaps that is why so many detractors of the movement continue to misinterpret BLM. They want to control the agenda on what they think is “reasonable activism” and entitle everyone to their own opinion. This could be an irresponsible exercise. All of this information is being regurgitated from the movement’s website and the fact that this is not common understanding by the ALM crowd is just willful ignorance, a perk of privilege to be able to deny these issues altogether while marginalized communities continue to struggle in these current systems.

To understand privilege is to first recognize this ignorance and listen, even if you are uncomfortable. As people who have lived our entire lives in this state, it’s the least we can do. It is only from there that we can advocate change for those without it.

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