“I have a gay cousin from Alaska, can I set the two of you up?”
The funniest part is that this conversation has actually happened. Pretty recently, actually. Anyhow, last week, we discussed how privilege affects specific racial groups, and the overall impacts it has on college admissions as well as overall society. This week, we are taking this social discourse to the realm of gender and sexual relations.
Interestingly enough, during my involvement with Duke University’s Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, I was asked in a survey of my opinions regarding a touchy subject by a New York Times reporter. His son, who identified as gay, decided to talk about the story of his sexual identity for his college admissions essay. The parents were conflicted on the issue, as they felt that if the essay were to be read by an admissions counselor with a conservative bias, the student would be perceived more unfavorably.
My issue with the entire debate was: Why is it the kid’s problem to worry about bias when he seeks to tell one of the most momentous stories of his life? As a racial and sexual minority, I am constantly bombarded with questions such as: “If there is a gay pride parade, why is there no straight pride parade?” “If there is a black history month, why is there no white history month?” This line of ignorant questioning leads to two extremely dangerous social issues:
1. It marginalizes the efforts of marginalized groups to fight for equality and empowerment.
2. It implies that the fluidity of racial, gender, and sexual identities is nonexistent.
White history month doesn’t exist due to the same reasons that Caucasians never faced centuries of institutional as well as active injustice, violence, and prejudice in the United States due to the color of their skin (which is actually only partially true—but that is a completely different subject). Straight pride parades don’t exist due to the same reasons that straight people never faced institutional as well as active injustice, violence, and prejudice in the United States due to the orientation they never had the choice to make.
These similar modes of institutional privilege are deeply ingrained against gender minorities as well. For example, a study of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania revealed a clear bias amongst professors who prefer to provide opportunities for white males. Even more statistically obvious, only 18% of our nation’s undergraduate engineering students are female.
Many often attempt to dismiss these statistics by positing, “Well maybe women are just naturally worse at fields such as business, science, and mathematics.” Not only is a scientifically unfounded and socially harmful claim to make, but it also reveals the epitome of privilege: the inability to understand why many social functions are more beneficial to certain groups over others.
A big question regarding this topic is, “Why are women considered to be gender minorities, if women make up half the population?” The answer is simple: the concept of “minority” is defined by much more than basic numbers. These ideas are more thoroughly explained in Towards a Minor Literature by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, and its ideas have been effectively portrayed in popular classics such as The Awakening by Kate Chopin as well as A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.
But I digress, and we must return to the context of modern society.
Ultimately, we have to understand that the goals of balancing privilege events and ideals (such as black history month, gay pride parades, and feminist theory) extend beyond the simple concept of equality. It is about the empowerment and of marginalized groups, providing them with newfound opportunities to rise above the systematic oppression they have faced in the past. Though to some it may seem like fighting privilege with privilege, at the end of the day, we must understand that the word “equality” is quite a misnomer when it comes to dealing with the convoluted diversity that is present in our society.
Unfortunately, the poor grasp in understanding of privilege by many of society’s minority members as well lead to acts of downright misandry which serve to only deconstruct the goals of these marginalized groups as a whole. As such, we begin to see a rising wave of minority social groups as well as minority academic thinkers calling into question what these all-too-overdramatized buzz phrases of “gay rights,” “the feminist movement,” and the like are truly supposed to mean and represent.
And this marks the end of our journey in understanding privilege. Obviously, the concept is much more complex as well as systematic than I can explain in even three articles, so I encourage you all to actively pursue further research on the subject!