Privilege is defined as a set of unearned advantages, enjoyed by those who do not suffer from a particular oppression, simply by virtue of belonging. Here in this article, I have tried to examine certain privileges that are and are not enjoyed by some people.
It is often hard to acknowledge one’s own privilege because privilege is the other side of oppression. Privilege, by definition, is “a right, immunity or benefit enjoyed only by one person beyond the advantages of most.” Basically, having privilege is to have an advantage that is completely out of your control.
If talking about my personal experience, I have many times seen that some people are against talking about privilege because they don’t want to be framed as the aggressors or complicit in a system that gives them an advantage at the expense of others. But it should be understood that privilege is not a concept designed to make people feel guilty or to diminish their achievements. Instead, the word tries to wake up people to create an understanding of the decisive act, in small and large ways, so that they can use their privilege and make the systems fairer for everyone.
It is often believed that behind every privilege there is an imbalance of power. It’s invisible to those who possess it and ever-present for those who don’t. There are many privileges that a person may enjoy throughout his life but it happens sometimes that we don’t often recognise them. It is important to understand certain things we don’t really get oppressed for. Privilege benefits some people just because they fit into a specific social group that provides them an identity.
Privilege can just be termed as the intersectionality of degrees of prestige and respect that an individual has by virtue of his/her belongings to a certain identity. One of the defining features of privilege is that it means you don’t have to think about the issues faced by people who are not privileged.
Privilege can either blind you or can be an eye-opener. The choice is yours.
Let’s start with: Boys will be boys and girls must learn to be ladies. Most gender privileges are given to males. Promotion for males at their workplace is so obvious and is never because of their sex but women in power or at high positions in our society are always believed to sleep their way to the top. It’s easy for a man to choose his career options and is always applauded by the society members but when it comes to a woman about choosing her career options and opportunities, they are often doubted.
I am sure, you must have definitely heard about these above scenarios and these are all the cases of existing male privileges even in the 21st century.
Females are almost always in what we call a “double-bind.” For example, a woman who doesn’t speak much is too shy or submissive. However, a woman who expresses herself is always considered to be too bossy. A woman who cares about her career is too ambitious, while the woman whose priorities differ is considered to be unambitious. Women never win.
If you are a heterosexual male reading this, I suggest you read till the very end.
Being born as the heterosexual, fair-skinned, upper caste male, immediately entitles you to a set of privileges you never signed up for. You are the preferred sex. This includes both patriarchy and cis-gender privilege. The patrilineal nature of traditional societies renders you fit to carry the family name forward.
This intersectionality of privileges renders a male to access his privilege to education and career. This allows a particular gender to access public space and allows them to go on forever to fulfil their dreams. Also, let’s not forget, it also provides you the entitlement to “Boys will be Boys”.
Cis-gender privilege is actually a heterosexual privilege. If you don’t fall in the LGBTQ+ spectrum, you are probably benefiting from privilege favourably granted because of your heterosexual orientation. Firstly, it’s important to understand what exactly a cis-gender privilege means?
Cis-gendered people feel comfortable with their assigned birth sex and have no desire to identify as another gender. Let’s get one thing straight: The Oxford English Dictionary describes the word “cisgender” as an adjective and defines it as “denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex; not transgender.”
So, here arises a question: Is cis-gender the same thing as being straight? Cisgender is a word used to describe gender identity. Straight, on the other hand, is used to describe sexual orientation. Being cisgender isn’t the same thing as being straight, but they can overlap: People can be both cisgender and straight.
Being cis-gender or enjoying heterosexual privileges implies that you are possessing a privilege that means you never have to worry about ‘coming out’. You also won’t have to worry about being rejected by your friends, family, or religion based on the person you love. Though society has come a long way, and people are nowadays more supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, but still there are many privileges that aren’t awarded to the LGBTQ spectrum.
Socio-economic privilege is a complex privilege that most of us don’t recognise. When it comes to privileges, many people are good at ignoring it, especially in a country like India. Socio-economic privilege is sometimes seen as the class privilege in country like ours. Socio-economic privilege actually doesn’t mean being super-rich. There are a million different ways people benefit from their socio-economic status. But again, it’s not your fault.
Socio-economic privilege can simply mean being able to afford a university-level education, could afford things like going to summer camp or playing after-school sports. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have millions in your bank account but simply means having enough resources to be able to take on the opportunities that life has given you, such as unpaid internships and training in order to gain experience.
You don’t have to walk miles to go to your school or to fulfil the necessity of water, you have got that extra privilege that you have been denying since the time of your childhood when your parents didn’t buy you the sports cycle that you wanted to brag in front of your friends to gain that extra attention. Are you reading this article on your laptop or on your phone? If so, chances are that you are, in fact, somewhat privileged.
This doesn’t mean that you have gotten everything very easily in life but just that your path was slightly easier than those who are unable to afford such opportunities because of their socio-economic condition.
The systemic structural oppression fuelled by the hegemony of patriarchy, casteism, religion, and economic forces are interlocking and intersecting and work together to oppress marginalised people. Religious privilege includes being able to find a place of worship near you and feeling a sense of connection between your religious celebrations and wider society. It is important to note that religious freedom is not a religious privilege.
For example, in America, Christian privilege is undoubtedly one of the most prevalent types of privilege. Christian privilege means the holidays your religion celebrates will always be realized. People in America always have a day off from work or school on a Christian religious holiday.
There is also a kind of oppression that comes with being disabled. Being mentally and physically able-bodied person is a kind of privilege. Have you ever thought, you don’t have to worry about climbing your university or workplace stairs? Everyday objects and building are designed for a physically able-bodied person, but there are only a few buildings and structures are made in order to ease differently-abled persons.
It’s time we think about this as well.
Acknowledging privilege is an uncomfortable process. It might make you feel guilty. It might make you defensive – but I didn’t ask for this! Unfortunately, giving up privilege is not really an option as we are born with them. But surely, we can adopt certain practices in our lives that make us release our privileges so that we can make better use of them and simultaneously use them to protect the rights of others as well.
Most of us are privileged in at least one way. That doesn’t mean we didn’t work hard or that we didn’t experience any other hardships in life. Privilege can be hard to admit and even harder to talk about but it is important to understand one’s own privilege so we can give a voice to those who are less privileged.