Straight White Men And The Invisibility Of The Default Setting

Andrew Galvin
May 28, 2017 · 4 min read

*phone ringing*

Colin: Bill’s Steakhouse. How can I help you?

Linda: Hi, I’d like to book a table for 6 people on Thursday at 7:30 please.

Colin: Sure thing. What’s the name?

Linda: Williams.

Colin: Right. That’s a table for 6, at 7:30, under the name Williams.

Linda: Great. Now, just a few things to let you know with regard to dietary requirements, allergies, and access issues.

Colin: Fire away.

Linda: First of all, allergies and intolerances.

Colin: Yes?

Linda: We don’t have any.

Colin: Uh…ok.

Linda: Now access. All of my group are able-bodied and have no mobility issues.

Colin: Sorry, was that *no* mobility issues?

Linda: Yes.

Colin: That…won’t be a problem?

Linda: Excellent. Also, some are meat eaters, will that be an issue?

Colin: Well, we are a steakhouse. Sorry, I mean, our chef can accommodate that of course.

Linda: Fabulous. So, we’ll see you Thursday at 7:30 then.

Colin: Yes, see you then. Goodb-

Linda: Wait!

Colin: What?

Linda: Can’t believe I almost forgot! Will the menu be available in English?

The dialogue above, in my view speaks to why straight white males in western countries seldom self-identify as straight white males. Because they don’t need to. And in some ways it doesn’t serve them to. It’s the cultural equivalent of asking a steakhouse if they can accommodate meat eaters. It is only in deviations from the norm that we are in most cases required to define and verbalise our differences.

The default setting is inferred, expected, catered for. It does not require conscious formulation or verbalisation to have its needs and tastes satisfied. It does not require the effort of explanation or asking. This is the bubble of relative ease that those with unearned advantage experience and often assume is somehow the same for all.

When you *are* the norm there is an absence of difficulty and a breadth of choice that is unavailable to those who do not share your majority/dominant attributes/identifications.

Why reduce me to just these three identities?

Focus does not equal exclusion. From an intersectional Feminist standpoint to discuss these identities does not deny the existence of others. In fact, that’s the point of the intersectional viewpoint. It maps all aspects of privilege and oppression including their intersections. Now, are there people who proclaim to be feminists who deny or negate the class lens. Yes. Is this view in line with intersectional feminism? No it is not. What I’m trying to say is if it doesn’t include and acknowledge all identity political battlegrounds (including class) then it’s not intersectional feminism. And more than that, if it doesn’t acknowledge that while, straight white males enjoy unearned advantage in some areas they are also oppressed in others then it’s not intersectional feminism.

And why these three from my broad range of identities?

We focus on what we view as important in the context of what we are discussing and who we are discussing it with. Blind-spots are where the light needs shining. If you’re up to speed on the class issue then there’s no need to focus there. If you are blind to the power dynamics of unearned privilege with regard to default setting sexual orientation, skin colour and gender then you’re going to be hearing ‘straight white male’ until you do I’m afraid.

There is a sort of blindness that can accompany being [x] in a culture where [x] is the majority/dominant setting.

There is a point of view that we should abandon all labels as intrinsically divisive and simply embrace a broader view of our shared humanity. Ironically, I have seen this reductive view proposed by the same people who baulk at the reductive nature of the ‘straight, white, male’ label. The reason for this I think is that naming something forces us to engage with it and the selective blindness of those who profess to not see, colour, gender etc. is in my view an often times unconscious means of avoiding this engagement.

Dispense your privilege in service of those who do not share it

There is often unearned advantage in being the default setting. The majority perspective. The standard. This statement does not deny the existence of other intersecting disadvantages.

When the world you live in is for the most part like a restaurant specifically designed to accommodate your needs, your requirements, and your tastes, then the need to self-identify as the default setting disappears, and those identities and the unearned advantages they entail become invisible. The way to redress this in my view is to acknowledge the blind spots, foster empathy for the experience of others, and most of all, seek to dispense your privilege in service of those who do not share it.

Andrew Galvin

Written by

Irish poet, playwright & performer @maxhomo

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