I have been working hard for the past couple of days. Today I was going to write a post about my engagement ring, but I decided to write about privilege instead, because that is just the kind of mood I am in.
There was a minor media storm lately regarding Caitlin Moran’s comment on Twitter that she ‘literally couldn’t give a shit’ about the fact that the sitcom ‘Girls’ features an all-white cast. Her comments triggered some debate over whether a show which has managed to become successful while focusing entirely on the concerns of the ‘Girls’, providing a rare portrayal of ‘real’ women on TV, should also feature women from ethnic minorities, and whether feminists as a group should ‘give a shit’ about whether it does or not.
Moran has been accused of demonstrating a sense of entitlement in not engaging with this debate. She answered her critics by stating that the question ‘why are the women in ‘Girls’ all white?’ is as relevant as the question ‘why were all the members of Abba white?’.
Abba is a pop group that formed in Sweden in the 1970s, where the population was predominantly white. ‘Girls’ is a sitcom written about life in New York in 2012, where the population is predominantly…oh, hang on…
The writer of ‘Girls’ focuses upon what she knows. She doesn’t extend her writing beyond her own concerns, and neither does Caitlin Moran. They don’t think about their own white privilege, because they don’t have to.
I started to think about this in relation to male privilege. This is something that all feminists can understand; it’s probably what made them become feminists in the first place. For me, it all clicked into place when I had a child. It was then that I felt the brakes applied to every aspect of my life. It was like the change from cycling along smooth flat ground in 3rd gear, to struggling up a hill in 1st. Motherhood engenders a total transformation, a complete rethink of priorities and lifestyle – yet for a father, this transformation is entirely optional.
As a single mother, I would watch news items where children went missing or were abused. The reports would focus on the mother and what she had done wrong: she took her eyes off her child for too long, she went off and had fun and left the child with an unsuitable person, she worked too much – I would marvel at the invisibility of the father; where was he? Sometimes my question would be answered, when the father would pop up on the screen, stating how devastated they were about what had happened to their child while admitting with a complete lack of embarrassment that they hadn’t bothered to see their child for several years. They had, in fact, gone off and had fun and left their child with an unsuitable person – the mother, who they were now stating they always knew was no good. Nobody would suggest that he might have shared some responsibility for the situation. For every single mother who is vilified in the press, is an absent father who is secure in the knowledge that the buck does not stop with him.
Not having to worry about things because they don’t concern you, is what entitlement is all about. Not asking questions about the lives of other people, accepting the status quo as long as it works in your favour, and dismissing other concerns as irrelevant – that’s how to feel comfortable with your own privilege. It strikes me that through reading some of the blogs here, I have gained insights into other lives, sometimes reading about struggles that I have been lucky enough never to have had, sometimes seeing the world in a new and different way – and sometimes realising that I am privileged. I still think mostly about my own experience, of course, but hopefully this all helps to ensure that I would never be the journalist who fails to query the absent father, or the feminist who when asked about race issues, says ‘I literally couldn’t give a shit about it’.
I would like men to question their own entitlements; not to abuse their privilege just because they can. By the same token, I feel that feminists (including myself) have a responsibility to do the same.