AI: Reexamining Privileges


This week, someone whose blog I follow wrote a post complaining about complaints that her blog was cissexist. Now, I had never seen cissexism in her writing (though I may have missed it due to my own privilege), and she’s a feminist who so far seemed to be quite an ally to the LGBTQ community. The response was (predictably) bad, to which she wrote a follow-up post saying, basically, people should get their heads out of their asses with the whole “cis privilege” talk, and that she doesn’t believe such privilege exists.

To me, it looks like she has just never needed to reexamine her own privileges that way. Because why would someone agree that male privilege (and therefore, sexism), white privilege (and therefore, racism) and straight privilege (and therefore, homophobia) all exist, but deny the existence of cis privilege?

(Boy, that was a lot of “privilege”s in one sentence).

And while I’m not going to call her out on it, because it would get lost in a sea of other comments and I probably wouldn’t be taken seriously, this situation could be transported into so many of my daily relationships that I thought I’d ask:

How would you deal with this situation, had it been someone you know and respect? How do you figure is the best way for people to grasp what privilege means and understand they are favored by it? When do you think it is not worth trying?

The Afternoon Inqueery (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Queereka community. Look for it to appear on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, at 3pm ET.

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  1. Well, most people are disadvantaged along SOME axis of privilege… drawing a parallel (while noting that there are no perfect parallels) with some form of privilege they DON’T have may help make it real for them.

  2. I’ve seen a lot of lists linked (possibly here, can’t remember) about privilege, listing all the things cis (for instance) people have better than trans people. I’d say linking to one of those lists would help a lot. I’ve certainly learned a lot myself. In the end, most of it is stuff that you would never think of on your own, like “People do not feel like it’s alright to ask me about the status of my genitals.”

    • The first thing I thought of doing was drawing the parallel, as theelectricturtle suggested, to male privilege, which I know she understands well, but this was quite next to that.

      Lists like that seem like a very uncomplicated way to define privilege, and when it comes to cis privilege, it’s quite an extensive one, as well.

        • Well, yes, the first time I heard about privilege was here (link in Portuguese, sorry, :P), a few years ago, and it was quite enlightening (that whole blog is sort of my initiation in feminism, actually).

          I’m actually trying to find a list of cis privileges to use in this case (I’m sure I’ve read one somewhere!), though for the way things are being handled (as in, she’s been ignoring mostly every argument people make), I’m not sure it will be that helpful, 😛

  3. Unfortunately denying cis privilege is rife within certain areas of the feminist communities. Is what scared me off feminism in my early transition, that and other trans people overreacting we are our own worst enemies sometimes. Problem is some feminists seem to believe that trans women still have male privilege (they would have done but won’t anymore) and that trans men have male privilege so both are more privileged than a cis woman.

    It is also partially privilege blindness you don’t notice you haven’t got something until you don’t. E.g. before transition I really didn’t see too much the inequality between men and women, but now post transition I see that I have to work twice as hard as my male counterparts to be taken as seriously, I am now very careful to try and check my privilege as much as possible…

    • The woman in case recently declared she aligns with such “radical feminists”. Which is really, really upsetting, coming from someone who had all the tools to be an ally.

    • I was pretty much introduced to feminism (in a way that made good sense to me) by Rebecca Watson at one of her talks a couple of years ago. So naturally I view feminism through the skeptics filter and mostly follow the feminists in the skeptic community. I’ve only started following “mainstream feminism” over the last year or so. I every now and then find problematic opinions and an obvious blindness to cis privilege.

      Despite this, I am not willing to dismiss feminism just because some of of those flying her banner are flawed. I’d rather help making feminism better and inclusive. I don’t particularly care for the term trans feminism. I understand why it exists, but find it unnecessarily divisive.

      I too was pretty blind to male privilege before I started my transition. I still get to enjoy that privilege most of the time, but I am at least very aware of it. I also know I am about to lose much of it as I’m drifting heavily towards androgyny. I absolutely recognise that I have been privileged through my education and had it easier getting into science than a cis woman would have had. As a consequence I would love to help girls and women overcoming that disadvantage, which is also why I often blog about that topic.

      I also get frustrated with other trans people. There is a culture of hyper-sensitivity. Sure, there’s A LOT of stuff that needs to be addresses, but the current trench warfare between some radfems and some trans activists is very unproductive and helps divide feminism. Not to mention several trans women I know who are outright anti-feminists and even MRAs. Sure, there are some very vicious transphobic haters out there, like Cathy Brennan, and I wish more people would publicly distance themselves from her and her kind. That said, I do know many cis feminists who do just that. In my brief exchange with Brennan and other radfems on Twitter recently, I got much needed support from a several feminist writers.

      Anyway, my take on privilege is that enjoying any sort of privilege is quite ok. The problem arise when you reject the experience of people who’re at the opposing end of said privilege, because you can’t see it existing. That is incredibly narrow minded. I am very surprised feminists sometimes reject cis privilege exist. I find it hard to believe this is anything other than ideologically based denial.

      • Yup, hence saying that trans women our our own worst enemies sometimes, one of the reasons that transwomen are anti feminist is they have associated all feminism with the TERFs(Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists). Another is some trans women mistake life being eventually happier post transition with life being easier for all women than it is for men. Or at least that’s the way it seems to me. Certainly pre transition I would be so jealous of women that I would have similar irrational thoughts that life is so much easier for them, but that’s about cis privilege rather than male privilege, but if you aren’t used to analysing privilege it is hard to see where the privilege comes from.

        • A lot of people don’t analyse the world past their own experience. Transsexuals who transition will mostly feel better, therefore: identified sex > assigned sex. This is of course rubbish.

          I get the impression that how well people feel post-transition is closely correlated with how much cis privilege they enjoy. And again, there is nothing wrong with enjoying that. But it is very necessary to recognise it.

          Back to the cis feminist, especially the TERFs. They really seem to hate the word “cis” and claim it is *sexist something. The word is of course no different in its origin than the term “hetero” is for sexuality.

        • Let me add, the proportion of trans women who’re like that is similar to the proportion of cis women who think feminism is bad, both in justification and probably in numbers.

          Nowhere near everyone’s like that. As always people make up their mind about stuff without bothering to learning what it is.

      • Also just to add, not trying to make excuses for trans women being MRAs or anti-feminist, but understanding the reasons why they are helps to change their minds!

  4. Blindness to cis privilege is pretty much the one that boggles my mind the most, because even all the microaggressions aside, all one really should have to do is look at the violent crime statistics…

    At any rate, I’ve had the most success with comparing the axis of privilege the friend in question doesn’t get with one they do – it doesn’t always work (particularly when they’re white, male, cis, and straight, which are the majority of people I have to explain these things to), but it’s a better bet than anything else. It was particularly striking with one friend who deals with racism but was pretty oblivious to his male privilege… but he was also starting at “I want to not be an ass, help me not be an ass.”

    The most success I’ve had with straight-cis-white guys has been in the laundry lists of shit various groups have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. If they actually listen and are not absolute jerks, it helps at least a bit.

    • “Blindness to cis privilege is pretty much the one that boggles my mind the most, because even all the microaggressions aside, all one really should have to do is look at the violent crime statistics”

      Someone brought that up in the comments to her post (someone also made the comparison to male privilege, and posted a few of the things trans people have to go through that aren’t even closely a part of cis experiences), but all she’s done in response is post rad-feminists blogs on why “cis privilege” is a lie and say that “ok, they suffer too, but seriously, what kind of privilege can ANY woman possibly have?”

      So one, she’s totally ignoring any other identities in the trans spectrum that aren’t “trans woman”, and two, she’s completely ignoring most of what people are presenting as evidence and trying to get away with it by acknowledging that “they suffer too”. So, to answer my own question: this is probably someone not worth it arguing with.

      Generally, though, this seems like a good approach.

      • the “what kind of privilege can any woman have” thing boggles my mind? Didnt she say she does acknowledge white privilege. So a white middle class heterosexual woman has no privilege that a black homosexual man does not, for example?

  5. i don’t know how much work she’s willing to do, but given that she identifies as a radical feminist you might point her in the direction of this extremely thoughtful blog written by a trans woman who writes from a radical feminist angle (shocking, i know!):

  6. I read a post once that really clarified things for me, I think it was on iblamethepatriarchy ( but I’m not sure when or where. Some trans-phobic feminists come from the perspective that a male who transitioned to female is missing a vital part of the feminine experience, because they did not grow up as a girl and therefore can never really understand what it’s like to be a woman. The counter argument is that I, for example, have never been a woman of color, or of very low economic status, etc. which are all still valid experiences that women have of the patriarchy. I can’t claim to know what a woman of color goes through or what a poor rural white woman goes through, that doesn’t mean that any one of us is less of a feminist. Drawing a line on who’s experiences of oppression are “real” is harmful to all of us.

    • It is not universally true that transsexuals don’t get to experience their childhood and teens as their identified gender. Many kids do these days.

      In any case, different women experience their life very differently, so I don’t really see why different pasts should be disqualifying. And disqualifying from what? For being exposed to misogyny in the present? Because the world really don’t give a shit about your past.

    • I’d argue that although I grew up female, I also grew up as a boy because that’s the gender I always identified with. I didn’t have the support and medical interventions that so many trans kids have today, but I don’t think that’s entirely relevant. So the idea that I’ve somehow cornered the market on The Feminine Experience of Girlhood by dint of my anatomy, and that that experience trumps the experience of a person who really is a girl/woman, is laughable to me. Trans* people do not have cissexual childhoods. If that’s the ‘feminine experience,’ I sure as fuck missed out on a vital part of it. Yet no one challenges my feminist cred based on my trans status – I was born an innie, and that’s all that counts. Sexism? What sexism?

      I assure you, transphobic quasi-feminists, my plumbing played a very small role in my experience of childhood.

      • Yes, my childhood was two-sided too (I’m trans). I had almost only female friends and I had typically female hobbies. I was also let know that I wasn’t much of a boy. So yeah, the social value of girls affected me too, but probably different than others.

        As a teenager I found a compromise. Being a nerd instead. A stereotype that was neither masculine nor feminine and easier to live up to.

    • This is essentially the major difference between second-wave feminism and third-wave feminism. Second-wave feminism had (has?) this idea that there is some sort of universal womanhood that unites all (cis) women in their oppression. Third-wave feminism recognizes the intersectionality of all sorts of aspects of people’s identities, and acknowledges that there cannot possibly be a universal womanhood and that oppression happens to different women in both similar and different ways.

      Most radfem (as far as I know) comes out of second-wave.

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