Feminists: Check Your Privilege

shipfactory / (Shutterstock.com)
shipfactory / (Shutterstock.com)

Many feminists, including myself, seem to completely forget how they’ve obtained their understanding of feminism. This forgetfulness can cause them to come off as angry, extreme, and even worse—exclusive. Exclusive? Yes, and exclusiveness is the last adjective a feminist’s cause should be associated with.

When did you first discover your passion for feminism? Did you have family members who made these realizations before you were born? Did they teach you these values as you grew up? Encourage you to be a freethinker? While in high school, were you surrounded by likeminded individuals and terrific teachers that you could freely bounce ideas off of? Were you given the opportunity to go to an expensive liberal-arts college where eye-opening, life-changing Women’s Studies courses were offered? Wow, lucky you! That’s not the case for everyone.

Call me an ignoramus if you must, but before I entered college a few years ago, I had no idea why feminism was even necessary. What were women whining about? Didn’t Susan B. Anthony take care of all that stuff in the 1800s? Before you scoff in disgust, allow me to paint the picture as to why I thought this way.

Growing up, my mom had always been the primary breadwinner in the house, considering my dad has now been unemployed for over ten years and only had temporary jobs here and there when he wasn’t unemployed.

At my Catholic grade school, I participated in a gifted and talented program from the fourth through the sixth grade, and out of the fifteen students in it, only two of them were boys. I used to ask my mom as a little fourth-grader, “Mom, why are girls better at school than boys?” since the girls in my grade seemed to consistently perform better in class, getting better grades on tests and projects.

It was the same song and dance at my public high school—in a fairly conservative community, no less. Fifteen people in my year graduated summa cum laude—eight females and seven males. We had some token “crazy-smart people” in our grade, one of which went off to major in physics, the other in chemical engineering—both female. I participated in student government, show choir, and drama club. The presidents of these groups would constantly alternate over the years between male and female, and usually the majority of the executive board was female. We had a vivacious female principal and several other female administrative faculty members. My favorite math teacher was a brilliant woman, while my favorite English and history teachers were exceptionally thought-provoking men.

After high-school graduation, I entered a five-year bachelor’s degree program in biomedical engineering at the University of Cincinnati, which had a ratio of approximately 50/50 for men vs. women. The pattern of my observations continued, with the top performers in my field being half male, half female. Some of the best professors I had were female. I watched female peers of mine getting co-op jobs at top companies such as P&G, Duke Energy, Ethicon Endo-Surgery, L’Oreal, Marathon, etc. My male peers definitely struggled just as much as my female peers to get co-op jobs, too.

SLAY me for not realizing that many women are oppressed after an entire lifetime of observing the exact opposite. Before you condescendingly start off a reply with, “Oh, honey…” I’ll have you know that thanks to my (privileged) education, I have come to the conclusion that my experience growing up is the exception and not the rule.

All it took was one calm, collected feminist to hear what I had to say about female equality in today’s society. She took into consideration my upbringing, genuinely respected my logic, and showed me (in a way that my obviously dumb, feeble brain could appreciate) how my current understanding and background did not represent the full picture. Now, after more years of observation and information, I would consider myself to be a full-blown feminist, too, but let it be known that that is NO THANKS to the feminists who attempted to tap into my emotions as a way of convincing me—emotions such as embarrassment, anger, guilt, or frustration. The ones who said with red faces and flustered speech statements such as, “Are you serious right now?!” … “I can’t even believe I’m hearing this!” … “You don’t see it?!” … “Wow, you are the reason women are so far behind.” … “What you just said literally makes me want to vomit.”

Where is the respect in that? Where is the rationale? Should I have gotten them a trashcan? I completely understand why they are frustrated, but do they actually think their fury with the system will change the minds of those around them? The full-blown lack of respect toward people who don’t quite grasp the whole feminism thing (like me a few years ago) is downright insulting. I am a successful biomedical engineering student who is preparing to pursue a Ph.D. in biophysics; FOR CHRIST’S SAKE, I AM NOT AN IDIOT. I didn’t understand why aspects of feminism were important until I was informatively provided with logical reasoning and evidence showing why women are not yet equal to men. I was provided with this understanding thanks to my privilege of being a student at a great public university.

Not everyone is as lucky as me or you in this regard. What about people whose parents have raised them on the foundation that women should stay home with kids while men provide financially for the family? They were taught that’s how it is for their entire lives. Their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents survived (and arguably thrived) under this principle. Who are you to tell them they are idiots for being satisfied with their definition of success? They weren’t raised on the same values you were. They didn’t have the same education you did. Open-mindedness to alternative ways of life could have been punished rather than celebrated. Call them misogynists or bigots all you want—that’s not going to change the values and traditions in which they were raised. You are equally illogical to them, especially if you can’t control your deep-rooted resentment during a debate. The sooner you understand that, the better we can all come to some agreements.

If a feminist can’t acknowledge their own intellectual privilege, they are as wrong as the rich white male who thinks he’s gained all of his success from his own aptitude.

And while it is unfortunate that the stereotypical rich white male (who in the above case is symbolic of all privileged demographics) will often not recognize his privilege, at least he doesn’t condemn anyone for not comprehending the intense subjects he has mastered to be successful. He doesn’t call people who haven’t had the same education on topics such as physics or chemistry “ignorant.” He doesn’t blindly accuse people of being “physogynists” to make the opponent angry, as if that statement is the end-all-be-all in an argument. If you disagreed with him on Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, I doubt he’s experienced adrenaline rushes causing an increased heart rate as he becomes so frustrated that you would even FABRICATE such a PREPOSTEROUS suggestion (ya moron!) As an engineering student, I’ll tell you something: Scary angry physicists are no fun to learn physics from, and feminism is no different.

In summary, if you are a wildly passionate feminist, I have some advice on how to carry yourself next time you encounter a man or woman with an opposite stance:

Take a few deep breaths. Check your privilege. And, for the love of God, respectfully share what you’ve learned. TC mark

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