Hear Them Roar

Political Wire:

"This year, more than 200 women began bids for Congress," reports USA Today. "Of those still in the race, 163 are vying for seats in the House and 18 for the Senate. Most are Democrats with 113 running in House races and 13 in Senate contests."
Good stuff.

It shouldn’t matter, in terms of having women’s issues addressed—from reproductive rights to securing funding for female-specific health issues—what the percentage of progressive women in Congress is, but it does. (It even makes a difference whether male representatives have daughters.) It always matters, for every minority demographic.

Unfortunately, we live in a very lopsided and still largely segregated culture, where a white person, for example, can go their entire lives never having to know blacks on a personal level. That situation inevitably begets ignorance, which can manifest in overtly malicious expressions of racism or unintentional (but not innocuous) offense.

As I’ve said before, multiculturalism—including a deeper integration of the sexes in positions of influence—benefits not just minorities or the marginalized, but those of privilege, by providing them with opportunities to expand their understanding of others. When considering legislation to fund research, a Congressman who sits beside a colleague who is a breast cancer survivor every day, and has heard her firsthand accounts of her treatment options (and, perhaps, lack of options), is more likely to have a personal investment in pushing through the bill than a Congressman who only regards breast cancer as “bad” in an abstract way. That’s just the way humans work. It’s the same principle behind the studies showing that straight people who know openly gay people are less likely to be homophobic, and people who have active friendships with people of other races are less likely to hold racist attitudes toward any race.

There is an understandable knee-jerk negative reaction among some straight, white men to the complaint about national leadership (or party leadership, or corporate leadership, blogosphere leadership, et. al.) being primarily straight, white, and male. I’ve known men who were bitter about what they perceived as the “guilt” they were expected to feel, or were angry that such complaints (or celebrations of increased participation of women, minorities, gays) somehow assailed their intrinsic characteristics. And I get that—I really do. But that’s not the point. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with being white, or straight, or male. What’s wrong is the cultural preference that has conferred privilege upon those characteristics—a privilege from which anyone who falls into any of those categories benefits.

Though I myself, if charged with hiring employees, would never discriminate on the basis of race, when I apply for a job, I might benefit, even unbeknownst to me, from being white. That’s what privilege is really about—not just what you choose to do with it, but what others choose to do with it, and how their decisions might work in your favor. Of course it’s not something over which I have control in any one specific circumstance, but that’s why it’s important for me, as part of my rejection of racism, to advocate for more opportunities for minorities. It’s not enough for me to just “not be racist” myself, because I may still benefit from the racism of others so long as it’s endemic in our society. So, when I argue for the breaking of a straight, white male tradition in any venue, it’s not because I am hostile to straight people, or whites, or males. I’m not self-loathing or wracked with “liberal guilt.” Instead, I am aware that people are naturally self-interested, often unless they are forcibly exposed to people who are different than they are, and I am aware that as long as people of my race (or sexuality) dominate, I am likely to be the beneficiary of undeserved privilege.

Saying there’s a problem with disproportionately male representation doesn’t mean that you’re a man-hater (if you’re a woman) or that you’re self-loathing (if you’re a man). It’s simply a recognition that most men, because of our culture, aren’t compelled to familiarize themselves with women’s issues. Being a white person who says there’s a problem with disproportionately white representation doesn’t mean that you’re self-loathing. It’s simply a recognition that most white people aren’t compelled to familiarize themselves with the issues of other races. I’ve never had a black boss (or a Hispanic boss, or an Asian boss); how many people of color who have worked in corporate America in a major city could say they’ve never had a white boss? How many women could say they’ve never had a male boss, versus how many men who could say they’ve never had a female boss? Privilege is, in its rawest form, the ability to live one’s life without ever having to interact in a myriad of meaningful ways with The Other.

Losing my privilege as a white person or as a straight person doesn’t worry me. Benefiting unfairly because I’m white or straight does. Not having my concerns as a woman addressed satisfactorily by legislators does. So I celebrate diversity, not because I resent any gender, or race, or sexual orientation, but because, given time, it will mean that irrespective of the gender, race, or sexual orientation of the person representing me, s/he will understand my issues—no matter how different we may seem.

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