I wanted to entitle this piece “Privilege in Oppression Theory: Privilege in Feminism (Or: What You Want to Believe Doesn’t Exist, or is Too Complicated, is Merely Your Denying Your Actual Privilege; No, Really)”.
I’m exceedingly frustrated — as you can probably tell from the snarky, wanted-to title. But for good reason. Male privilege? Sure, feminists get that, even as they also (mostly) get that Black men are incarcerated at an absolutely unjust rate. Men have privilege merely for being male, but it isn’t always luxurious. White privilege? No problem, here, either. Whites have relative ease, and … if nothing else, think about the rate of Black incarceration. Privileging of motherhood? No way! It’s all about MY mother, or MY life — or MY wife — and how horrible the culture is to her.
No one white whines, “My dad died from job-related cancer at his factory job, SO THERE IS NO WHITE PRIVILEGE! And there’s no whining because we’ve mostly stopped saying aloud that Those Jobs, the dangerous working-class ones, should go to Black and brown men. In part, this is because those jobs, often the remaining union ones, pay a near-living wage. Now women and men alike are clamoring for them, in a culture that has produced only service-sector (burger-flipping) jobs, or otherwise-menial jobs requiring multiple degrees.
No feminist, or pro-feminist male, whines, “My brother couldn’t get a job because they kept hiring females instead!” Partly this is because when a job classification has a preponderance of females, it loses status. And for men in western culture, it’s all about status, masculinity, about being seen as ‘not like women.’
In these two areas, most people understand that privilege doesn’t mean A Life of Luxury. Privilege simply means better treatment compared with a reference group. Men are treated better than women; maleness is higher on the hierarchy than is femaleness. Whites are treated better than are people of Color; whiteness is at the top of the racial hierarchy. Privilege simply means better treatment than that other, related group — related via race, sex, etc. This holds, consistently, uniformly, and really, really well until … motherhood. And I really, really want to know why.
I suspect that part of it is that women are still seen as being ‘designed for motherhood.’ Species continuation, as if too few humans were an immediate issue. Still, no matter our politics, motherhood often just feels natural. And right. And personally important — because without motherhood WE, personally, would not be here. Our very lives have depended on motherhood. To question any of it means to question the rightness of our own, very personal, existence! I suspect another part of it is that we are, when we think of humans as a group, still quite lesbophobic. Sure, Some of Our Best Friends Are, but we still don’t think of Them as equal. Or superior! As having excellent, inherent answers to pressing cultural concerns. Like too many people, like female support for patriarchy, like maintenance of the exiting hierarchy of female subordination and all it entails — including the maintenance of femininity. Heterosexuality is complicity. Seeing that is painful, too big a reach for most hets, and too hard to grasp without turning self and beliefs inside out and upside down. Nope, no real questioning of that is going to happen for the vast majority of far-leftists, even radical feminist activists.
Well, tough shit. Some of us are brave in this area, and would like to see others catch up. I remember the feminism of the 70s, where EVERYTHING was questioned. Women were far braver then than the backlash faux-feminists of this era ever dreamed of being. Which is also tough to deal with, for some. Too many women believe the New! Improved! claims of advertising somehow apply to feminism. Coziness, comfort, navel-gazing, a belief that If It Feels Good It Can’t Be Questioned, came into politics in the 80s and settled deeply in the 90s. Single issue ‘activism’ became normalized. Women could unite, never mind worrying about the messiness of race. Fat people could come together, never mind the messiness of hierarchies of sex, sexuality and actual love, race, class, and the rest. ‘Park your differences at the door’ bled from feminism into fat activism and elsewhere, and those of us who were never single issue activists were stunned. (All three of us.) Clearly I’m still pissed. And not likely to get over it. (OK, there are more than three, but not enough more, who get it.)
Part of it, which needs saying, is that it’s cultural, sub-cultural, even racial: for minority groups, and for people of Color, women not reproducing can feel like genocide. So outgroup women and women of Color have a sacred obligation to continue their people, their race(s). Conservatives distraught at the impending white minority classification, and the rise of outgroups, certainly reinforce it, and the world sure doesn’t need more first world, entitled whites. But women as obligatory Breeders of the People is a problem, a feminist problem, a huge problem for proponents of social justice. No one can be used against their own interests for the betterment of the group without damaging the group. In fact, no one who is legitimately marginalized can be claimed as a part of a group without their permission. (Lizard Man and T-Culters don’t qualify as ‘legitimate’ within radical feminism.)
Another issue is that lesbians capitulated to the cult of motherhood in the 80s. I was one of them, a fact that deeply shames me now. But it’s done and what I can do now, all I can do, is support more-marginalized women and call out the truth as best I see it. And that truth, here, is that motherhood is decidedly and clearly privileged.
Elite-caste characteristics are privileged: maleness and whiteness are two good examples of immutable characteristics, decidedly privileged. Another is white patriarchy’s consensus on physical attractiveness, the characteristics of which are rarely amenable to any lasting change. Think weight and body shape and size, coloration, physical features, and especially the smallness, weakness, and general paleness associated with ‘feminine beauty.’
Any conformity to the power-maintenance needs and the power-reinforcing wants of the elite is also privileged. These conformities CAN be changed. They are acceptances of the status quo, demanded by white supremacist patriarchy. Institutionalized inequity in the additional forms of heterosexuality over lesbianism and gay maleness, classism (economic AND subcultural/ worldview-based), and motherhood, fit into this category.
So can we start talking about it, with the understanding that privilege means better treatment compared with a reference group? And that your mother’s awful life, or your own, aren’t the point? And that if you cannot imagine how your mother’s life would have been different had she been lesbian AND resisted the baby-making mandate, or how your own or your wife’s life would have been different, you are denying privilege. No, really.