I ran across this poem today in my blog reading, and had to save it for posterity.
Note: I strongly suspect that most of my male readers are aware of male privilege and are not misogynist assholes. This poem is not aimed at them. This poem is aimed at men who cannot understand why feminism is still around, who think that men and women are truly equal in this society because sexual harrassment and sexual discrimination are illegal.
by D. A. Clarke 1981
A poem for men who don’t understand what we mean, when we say men have “it.”
Privilege is simple.
Going for a pleasant stroll after dark.
Not checking the back of your car as you get in,
Speaking without interruption
and not remembering dreams of rape, that follow you all day,
that woke you crying,
and Privilege is not seeing your stripped, humiliated body
plastered in celebration
across every magazine rack.
is going to the movies and not seeing yourself terrorized,
seeing something else.
Riding your bicycle across town without being screamed at
or run off the road,
not needing an abortion,
taking off your shirt on a hot day, in a crowd,
not wishing you could type better just in case,
not shaving your legs,
having a decent job and expecting to keep it,
not feeling the boss’s hand up your crotch,
dozing off on late-night busses,
Privilege is being the hero in the TV show not the dumb broad,
living where your genitals are not denied
knowing your doctor won’t rape you.
being smiled at all day by nice helpful women
it is the way you pass judgment on their appearance with magisterial
the way you face a judge of your own sex in court
and are over-represented in Congress
and are not strip searched for a traffic ticket or used as a dart
by your friendly mechanic,
Privilege is seeing your bearded face reflected through the history
not only of your high school days but all your life,
not being relegated to a paragraph every other chapter,
the way you occupy entire volumes of poetry
and more than your share of the couch unchallenged.
It is your mouthing smug, atrocious insults at women
who blink and change the subject politely
Privilege is how seldom the rapist’s name appears in the papers
and the way you smirk over your PLAYBOY.
It’s simple really,
Privilege means someone else’s pain,
your wealth is my terror,
your uniform is a woman raped to death here, or in Cambodia or
wherever your obscene Privilege writes your name in my blood,
it’s that simple,
you’ve always had it,
that’s why it doesn’t seem to make you sick to your stomach,
you have it,
we pay for it,
now do you understand?
I have to say that I am a fairly privileged woman. But I still get the forwards about what all women should do to avoid being raped (even though I am statistically more likely to be raped by a man I know than by a stranger). I still get walked to my car by men, and am grateful for it because it means I’m safe (unless, my subconscious sometimes reminds me, they mean to rape me themselves). I tense up when walking alone at night and watch for places someone could hide and leap out at me. I don’t get wolf-whistled, though. Silicon Valley is pretty good about that sort of thing. But there are places where a woman cannot ride public transport without being groped or whispered to. Hell, as a child I was spoken to with skin-crawling seductiveness by strange men when riding the bus to and from art class.
Men do not have to deal with this shit. Sure, they have shit of their own to deal with, but they aren’t constantly told by society that they have to guard against being felt up or raped any time they set food outside their house alone. It isn’t whispered that if they’re felt up or raped, what was he wearing, what did he say, maybe he was asking for it. (Unless the man in question is gay, of course, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.)
That is male privilege.
The fact that there are overwhelmingly few women in power in this country (Never a woman president, never close to half of congress being women, scandalously few woman CEOs) teaches we girls not to strive.
I could go on about this for days, weeks, years – but Clarke has already expressed my sentiments so beautifully that I won’t. This shit enrages me. Listen up, my generation! Y’all have got to raise kids that are beyond this shit. Boys and girls who aren’t told that their gender determines their personality or their behavior. Bitch, PhD is a phenomenal example of this (two of my favorite entries about it are This one and this one). Come on. This shit has got to stop.
PS I am starting to think that one of these days I will do a long essay about shaving and feminism. I think that shaving is not in itself an act of submission to culturally-instilled misogyny, although many feminists are of that opinion. I think both gender’s body shaving should be like men’s facial shaving is now – a matter of personal preference. Guys don’t have to shave their faces (although in some professions, it’s expected, which is one of those bits of shit guys do have to deal with). They can if they want. It’s up to them. So I think the poem should say something like “not being insulted for having unshaven legs.”