On Privilege and Kyriarchy

Here on Three Cheers, I talk a lot about privilege, without really explaining what privilege is.

It’s a word that we’ve all heard, probably since we were children. My brother and I would lose our TV privilege when we were younger if we got in trouble. Privilege now often relates to someones class, race, and other factors. It’s called a privilege because it gives them an advantage in life.

For instance, male privilege is something often talked about in feminist circles, and is exactly what it sounds like: the privilege that comes from identifying as male (Note: People who are designated male at birth (or DMAB) do not necessarily experience male privilege. Trans women are women, and the privilege is not extended to them. Similarly, trans men may experience male privilege). Male privileges include being taken more seriously in workplaces, not having to fear sexual harassment, male characters tend to be well-rounded and interesting, less likely to be the butt of a joke, and others of varying degrees of obviousness.

White privilege is another that gets a lot of attention. The privileges that come from being visibly white include being more likely to be hired, less likely to be shot on the street, generally assumed to be more trustworthy, and not being questioned when taking pieces of cultures you know nothing about into your life for the aesthetic.

Other privileges include being thin, able-bodied, neurotypical, straight, cisgender, English-speaking, conventionally attractive, upper class, and many, many others. All of these privileges have oppressed counterparts that involve stigma, stereotyping, erasure, harassment, and microagressions, as well as more severe actions, up to murder and rape.

Having a privilege means benefiting from systematic oppression. Even if a person does not actively oppress others and checks themselves, being in a position of privilege gives an advantage no matter what. What one does with that privilege matters.

All these privileges overlap with each other often. A person can be gay and black, but also cisgender and DMAB. This intersectionality of privilege and oppression is kyriarchy. Kyriarchy dictates that a person who is privileged in one way may be oppressed in another. If a person is straight, cisgender, DMAB, white, able-bodied, neurotypical, thin, attractive, native English speaker, they would be very privileged. A bisexual trans woman of color who is disabled, neuroatypical or neurodivergent, overwieght or otherwise conventionally unattractive, would be very oppressed.

People who are privileged tend to want to keep their privilege and not have to face any backlash that may come from it. White people often don’t like to hear about racism, men will trivialize the experiences of women, thin people are only looking out for fat people’s “health”, and straight parents may tell their children that they are too young to label their sexuality. These are common microaggressions.

Privileged people, when faced with those whose oppression they benefit from, get very offended to they are generalized into a group, or when they have to deal with people’s anger. They use common phrases like “hate breeds hate” to keep the oppressed people oppressed, often without knowing that it trivializes and downplays the experiences, and is a microaggression.

Their privilege allows them to do this, and do it without having to think critically about their actions or be questioned. As people become more educated about topics such as privilege, they’re more likely to check themselves and their actions, and call out others for oppressive behavior. This is the key to dismantling the kyriarchy: knowledge and willingness to change.

More on:

Examples of Male Privilege

White Privilege

White People vs POC and Jobs

Examples of White Privilege

Microaggressions

Kyriarchy (diagram)

On the “A” in LGBTQIA

A lot of people will tell you that the “A” in the LGBT+ acronym stands for Allies. Most of these people are straight and cisgender. Most of these people are bad allies. Even a lot of people in the LGBT+ community say it stands for allies. Here’s a truth bomb: the A doesn’t stand for allies. Or at least, it shouldn’t.

“But Echo!” you cry, “If not allies, what does the A stand for?”

The A stands for Asexuals. Or at least, it should. And if you don’t know what it means to be asexual, that is exactly why it should.

Asexual, like pansexual and other multi-gender-attracted orientations and identities, is routinely ignored and trivialized by LGBT and non-LGBT alike, justified by the fact that asexual people make up about 1% of the population.

So are gingers.

In any case, almost everyone who identifies as asexual called themselves broken before they knew not feeling sexual attraction was something that other people experienced. Others write it off as they haven’t met the right person yet, because that’s what they get told.

In the LGBT+ community, asexuality is on a list of identities that don’t exist, or are claimed by people who really just want to be “special snowflakes”. In all communities, there is someone who will get offended when someone says they are asexual.

Asexuality is very misunderstood. Some myths about it include that it’s synonymous with celibacy, that it’s synonymous with being “frigid” or prudish, that it only happens after someone is raped, and many others.

The difference between asexuality and celibacy is choice. Asexuality is an innate lack of sexual attraction. Celibacy is a choice, often made by people involved with a church, to actively avoid sexual activity. Someone who is celibate can be asexual, and someone who is asexual may choose to be celibate, but the two are not the same.

The idea of being “frigid” is simply something people say about people who will not have sex, namely, sex with them. This is usually used towards virgin cis girls by cis boys, and it is incredibly misogynistic. Not want to have sex, or waiting to have sex, is also something that can be done by asexuals. But again, asexual is a lack of sexual attraction, and the two are not the same.

Often, people jump to the conclusion that a person who is asexual was injured or traumatized in some way, such as rape. While events such as that can turn a person off of sex, that doesn’t necessarily make them asexual.

The common trend here is that people seem to think asexuality is only characterized by the action of having sex or not having sex. The difference between sexual attraction and the action of sex is, of course, the action part. Sexual attraction is attraction based on arousal, or being able to look at a person and have your genitals make a guest appearance. Asexuals do not experience this, demisexuals experience this only with significant others and maybe very close friends, gray-asexuals experience sexual attraction rarely. It is as vast and varying as any other sexuality spectrum. No one definition will fit with every person who identifies as asexual.

A lot of people will defend asexuals by saying that they can have sex, that it has nothing to do with libido, they may have sex to please their partner, etc. I really think this adds stigma to being asexual, making some think they even if they don’t want to, they have to have sex in order for people to take them seriously, and that’s not a healthy mindset to have.

The A in LGBTQIA needs to stand for asexuals to end this stigma and to help people feel like how they feel about sex is not weird or unnatural, and to encourage them to have or not have sex as they wish and they don’t need to have sex to be a valid identity. Asexual is every bit as queer as any other non-heterosexual identity, and ought to be treated as such. Allies are not, and though they may be important to the movement, they have no right to a space just for them in the LGBT+ community in the same way that millionaires can’t stay in homeless shelters.

More on:

Asexuality

AVEN (Asexual Visibility and Education Network)

How to Tell if You’re Asexual

On Skinny Shaming

In lieu of recent pop songs about body positivity (Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda and Meghan Trainor’s All About that Bass, namely), some comments have arose about the so-called “Skinny Shaming” that takes place in both songs, and in body positivity movements everywhere.

Skinny shaming is, of course, the act of shaming skinny people for how they look, making jokes about their weight or appearance, etc. And if you ask skinny people, it’s apparently a very big deal. It is not, however, as big a deal as they make it sound, or as big a deal as fat shaming, or any other body shaming.

Thin people have thin privilege. That is, the privilege of not being asked about their health, complimented on looks, praised by media, receiving adequate medical attention, and even being taken more seriously in interviews and the workplace. Things fat people, especially fat women in a few of these respects, only dream of.

Fat people are often the butts of jokes, asked about their health in inappropriate settings, told what they should or shouldn’t be doing or eating by people who aren’t qualified to be giving dietary advice, turned away by doctors who write their problems off as them being fat, and generally are judged no matter what they do.

People make excuses like, “I’m just looking out for their health.” when talking to complete strangers, whose health they know nothing about, then in the same breath would compliment a friend on their sudden weight loss without bothering to ask if they had eaten that day. It’s really not about the person’s health. It’s about trying to control fat people and what they do with their bodies.

The body positivity movements exist to make such people feel good about themselves and show people that it’s not actually a terrible unhealthy thing just to be fat. The movement is not meant to justify or encourage unhealthy behavior, as some people would be led to believe. The movement centers on bigger body types, and mostly on women. It does have some glaring flaws, such as the body types that are most often represented and the whitewashing. But if you ask a thin person, the problem is saying that fat bodies are beautiful, rather than all bodies are beautiful, or that saying things like “skinny bitches” is fighting hate with hate.

This reaction tends to elicit sarcastic responses, advising thin people to go outside, turn on a TV, whatever they prefer, and see their body type idealized. Such responses are not even necessarily wrong.

Body shaming in general is a cruel thing to do, but skinny shaming is by far very low on the list of things to prioritize. Because of how thin people are treated in real life, they ought to be able to have one thing not be about them, or be forced to include them (the whole thing sort of reminds me of the bird’s rights activist tweet that says “I am uncomfortable when we are not about me”). The body positivity movement only exists to make people feel good about the body they have, and if thin people want to spoil it by pointing out everywhere that their body type is not shown, then it’s really their own problem when they have to face the backlash.

More on:

Thin Privilege

Thin Privilege (cont.)

On Challenging the Gender Binary

[Author’s Note: I promised a post challenging cisnormativity in the past. Sorry for the long delay, but here it is!]

As I kid, my parents never kept me from doing or wearing “boy” stuff, if that was what I wanted. I grew up progressively more and more masculine. Most of my friends grew up masculine too, but without the same parental influence of open-mindedness.

The gender binary is the classification of sex and gender into two neat little boxes. It’s a social boundary, preventing the masculine and feminine from overlapping and keeping gender roles defined. And, like communism, it works great on paper.

It’s a very Western way of thinking. Through much of human history, the concept wasn’t even considered. Non-binary genders, gender identities that are not strictly masculine or feminine, date back to Mesopotamia and Egypt, infamously described as “Third gender”. Native Americans recognized it as two-spirit, and in India it’s called hijra.

Many historical examples of non-binary genders sound, in description, closer to intersex. To be intersex is to be born with genitals that are not strictly a penis or a vagina and uterus. There are many possible ways this can occur besides what is observable at birth, including infertility.

Modern non-binary genders are a similar story, however tend to be more about personal identity than divinity. There are lots of identity labels that people use. Agender, bigender, gender-fluid, and genderqueer are common. I’ve also seen demigirl/boy, genderpunk, and genderquoi (quoi means “what” in French). Many people consider non-binary genders to be under the trans umbrella. Some non-binary people, such as myself, choose not to use the trans label.

Some identities, such as genderquoi, are pretty self-explanatory. Others, like demigirl/boy, raise questions. Almost all non-binary people will hear the same comment regarding their gender in their lives:

“That’s not real.”

When people start challenging a long-used system, however arbitrary that system may be, it makes people angry. This has always been true. Granted, so have non-binary genders, but that hasn’t stopped anyone from disrespecting, ignoring, and erasing them in the name of, you guessed it, the gender binary.

And because the gender binary manifests itself in more ways than just identity, everyone can experience ridicule for even going against “traditional” gender roles. Children are especially open to this. Not necessarily from other children, but from their parents, other parents, and complete strangers. Parents who won’t let their children play with certain toys, participate in certain activities, because god forbid they grow up to be anything other than cisgender, heterosexual adults. Strangers and other parents who think that their opinion is so very important and should be considered because how dare these people let their son play with baby dolls, don’t you know your daughter won’t be right when she grows up if you let her think of anything but her appearance?

Most young people now don’t always take such commentary seriously, or outright ignore what people think gender roles should be. But even in LGBT+ communities, the idea of the gender binary is so ingrained that people don’t take non-binary genders seriously.

This has encouraged a lot of people, non-binary and otherwise, to talk to people about non-binary genders, and to teach them to question the binary wherever they see it. Gender, like everything else, is a spectrum. And sometimes people just need a push to think critically about and explore gender and their own identity. Some people who know they do not identify with their gender assigned to them at birth think that their only options are “boy” and “girl”, even if neither of them fit, and that they have to pick one. This line of thinking can be unhealthy and damaging. It’s important that people know and understand that there are more than just two genders, and more than just two sexes even, for this reason.

More on:

Non-binary identities

Intersex people

The non-binary experience

The gender binary

PSA by EchoCommaThe

I appreciate all comments on my blog. I love hearing what you have to say about my arguments as an outside perspective.

But if you’re going to argue with me, please keep your comments to the point and critical.

I recently had a spat with someone who tried to reword parts of my own arguments and use them against me. If in the future we could have a more mature discussion than that, I would appreciate that, too.

I really am glad people are taking interest in what I have to say and I’m trying to keep myself open to as many worldviews as I can.

However, I’m really good at picking out if an argument is valid or if my opponent is just trying to get my goat or confuse me and make me say something that negates or disproves what I’ve already said. I believe this is immature and a waste of everyone’s time, and I only have so much patience for it. I have no qualms with blacklisting anyone who stops being worthy of the time it takes to engage with them.

And again, thank you for taking the time out of your day to read, and my posts will always be open to a critical view. Fighting for the sake of it is not and will never be welcome here.

Thank you.

RE: On Women in STEM Fields

Another WordPress user, who shall remain anonymous, brought to my attention some of the areas I did not cover so well in my last post.

“Why is it that STEM fields are important? Why not focus on, or at least include, Nursing Teaching and other traditionally women’s jobs? There is only about 20% female participation in STEM but only about 2% male participation in Nursing and Teaching. Why not focus on the more gender segregated work places?”

I’ll go in order.

STEM fields are important in general because it is in literally every aspect of your life. Just by sending me this message you’ve utilized the T. Science and math are vital to our future – Everyone’s future. Not just the men that take up 80% of STEM jobs. Likewise, said men have the power to hire or not hire, and they are not hiring women.

“Between 1969 and 2009, the percentage of doctorates awarded to women in the life sciences increased from 15% to 52%.” Despite this gain, women only make up about 18% of full professors in biology-related fields, and 36% of assistant professors. Women are awarded less than 20% of Bachelor’s degrees in both physics and engineering, but more than 50% on Bachelor’s and Doctoral degrees in biology.

Gender preferences in STEM fields are most likely due to discrimination against women in science. This leads to women holding fewer positions. This is another reason why the lack of women in STEM fields is a problem that needs to remedied.

There are no “traditionally” women’s jobs. “Traditionally,” women do housework and raise children. “Traditionally,” men get paid. There was a time that nursing and teaching, along with every other position in the workforce (with a few special cases), were Men’s Jobs. I think the word you’re looking for is “stereotypical”.

And I am not focusing on these jobs because the lack of men in these fields does not hurt them. When men are teachers, nurses, or even single or stay-at-home fathers, they are praised, as if having a sense of sympathy is a No Boys Allowed club. Men in this world can do just about anything they want career-wise. Women on the other hand tend to be pushed away from any job that, by having it, would suggest they are not just a pretty decoration to look at, and that they have some desire to be respected and viewed as an equal. Men do not tend to have this problem.

I could stand to mention other gender-segregated workplaces, such as management (<40% women in 2009), business ownership (~36% women in 2007), firm ownership (~16% women in 2007), Fortune 500 CEOs (<5% women in 2012), 25 senior government jobs that have NEVER been held by women, and others. All of these figures are different when you segregate it again by age, race, and disability. So why not focus on more segregated workplaces? I would never stop. A subject that can be divided a hundred different ways is too broad of a topic for a <800-word article to cover with any completeness.

STEM jobs are significant in that without them, there would be nothing. With everything in the modern world somehow tying back into science, technology, engineering, or math, an 80/20 gender discrepancy is unjust in every conceivable way. These are important jobs that affect everyone equally in life. Turning girls off of STEM fields is unfair to them and to future generations.

More on:

Why STEM is Important
Male Faculty and the Employment of Fewer Women
Department of Labor Stats
Women in the Workplace
Diversity in Today’s Workforce
U.S. Census Bureau: Women in the Workforce (pdf)
Senior Gov. Jobs Never Held by Women

On Women in STEM Fields

[Author Note: This one’s in the category of cisnormative articles I’m trying to avoid. This topic is an important one to me, but it’s also pretty exclusive to the gender binary. I’ll make up for it in a later article.]

It’s pretty well known that to be a woman in a STEM field is uncommon. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and it’s a generally male-dominated area. In fact, women make up less than a quarter of all STEM jobs.

This begs the question, why? Are STEM fields just too masculine for many lady-folk to take interest? It is a fact that men tend to perform better in spacial tasks than verbal, and women tend toward the opposite, but in most studies these differences are for the most part superficial, and can be overcome. This makes the “it’s just biology” argument pretty flimsy in my opinion.

At an elementary level, boys and girls have similar attitudes toward math and science. About 66% of girls and 68% of boys are interested. The difference only shows up around puberty. By 8th grade, about twice as many boys as girls are interested in STEM subjects.

The barriers that keep women uninterested in STEM fields have been researched. Lack of role models, reluctance to hire people who may also have to raise a family, and our good friend Gender Stereotyping are the popular choices.

There is limited support for women who are interested in math and science, and some of this lack of support may be in the infamous 200-level college courses. The joke goes that 100-level courses are to get you hooked on a subject and 200-level courses are to “weed out the weak”. Courses designed to do this tend to disproportionately “weed out” women, not because they are failing, but because they are less confident. Women with Bs deem their grades inadequate, and drop those courses. Men on the other hand will continue to pursue a subject with grades as low as Cs.

Classroom gender biases go well beyond college courses. Many teachers interact more with male students. When girls ask for assistance, teachers are more likely to just do the problems for them, rather than teach them how to do it themselves. This leaves girls just as clueless as before. Studies show that when actions are taken to involve female students, the whole class is better for it.

Even as young as early elementary school, students start to have some gender biases already ingrained into them. Ask a 2nd grade class to draw a scientist and you’ll probably end up with 25 crudely drawn pictures of Albert Einstein; a middle-aged white man in a lab coat is what kids will picture before Dr. Mae Jemison or Ada Lovelace. This kind of stereotyping turns girls off of STEM fields more and more as they grow up.

Many girls just find that there aren’t any good role models in STEM fields for them. This isn’t true, but most good role models get buried under their male colleagues. Most people could probably count all the female scientists they can think of on one hand. Women like Jane Goodall and Marie Curie are well-known. Rosalind Franklin died of ovarian cancer that she gave herself discovering the double helix structure of DNA, but James Watson and Fancis Crick tend to get the credit. Hedy Lamarr (yes, that Hedy Lamarr) is known mostly for her face, but she also invented the transmission technology that makes your WiFi possible. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin is the reason we know that hydrogen is the most abundant atom in our universe. Even Cleopatra invented cold cream.

Women are interested in science and math. We just need to remind them every now and again that it’s OKAY for them to be interested in science and math. Encouraging girls to continue to pursue their interests, telling them that they are allowed to be smart, will build up their confidence to not settle for just being pretty, but will also push them to be pretty intelligent.

More on:
Women in Science – Why so Few?
Myths about Girls and STEM subjects
Why so Few? Study
U.S. Dept. of Commerce: Women in STEM
Talk Nerdy To Me
Mae Jemison
Ada Lovelace
Rosalind Franklin
Hedy Lamarr
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin

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