I started this blog because I wanted to talk about scripts. When I read, and then when I write about them, I learn. I reflect and I get better. But… just wanted to interrupt my regular programming because I sat down and watched ABC2’s Hack Live – Is Male Privilege Bullsh!t over the past week and it made me think more about writing than any script I had read in the same period.
So… is male privilege bullshit?
Clementine Ford, clearly the smartest one there, was really the only one able to articulate the very level-headed fact that of course male privilege exists… as does every other sort of privilege, and that it’s not something to be afraid to admit to having. It doesn’t make you less of a person. After all, you’re pretty much born into it. It is of no fault of your own that you may have privilege, so why would you feel the need to have any fear, get defensive, be angry about, in admitting that you do?
Well, as demonstrated by some of the other panellists… apparently there’s plenty to get angry about.
It’s a bit of a shame that the program ultimately descended into nothing more than a fruitless back and forth about who-has-it-worse. Because that’s really not the issue. But it is understandable, because that’s really what the word ‘privilege’ has come to. An insult. An attack. Something to wield against people. And that’s maybe why panellists like ‘Adrian’ and Loren are so ready to point out how ‘both sides of the stick’ have it just as bad as each other. Because privilege is a term that has been used against them and people they care about as an attack and so they use it back. And the meaning just gets lost.
Privilege is an academic construct, and it’s a word that has been hijacked. It’s been popularised, bastardised and now means different things to different people. #Checkyourprivilege spreads like wildfire by thousands of people who have no idea what they’re talking about – and this is how you get angry white females attacking straight white males on the Internet, raking them over the coals for some issue which they ironically (unfortunately unrecognised to them) only care about because they were born into a socio-economic advantage that also makes them part of it. And so some men, feeling backed into a corner, respond in kind. And hence why when you watch Clementine Ford on Hack Live, it seems like she is having a conversation with herself. Because she was really the only one talking about it in its purest form (I also loved much of what Daisy Cousens had to say). Perhaps the confusion that people have about privilege is because it’s a repossessed word. You grow up with a definition of privilege in your head, and that privilege is not quite the same thing as the theoretical concept.
Privilege isn’t the only thing that has been hijacked. I kinda feel like feminism has too. That’s why it all seems so angry and mean online lately. People so loving calling themselves feminists, chuck on their ‘I’m a victim and oppressed by’ glasses and use it for nefarious means. Or actually, it’s also like when a woman tells you that she’s so proud to be raising her daughter a feminist when she recounts the story of how she overheard her daughter telling a friend that feminism is ‘being able to do whatever you want, even if a boy tells you you can’t.’ Yeah, brilliant. Thanks for raising for daughter like that, but feminist is perhaps not quite the word I would use.
Perfect examples of this type of thing happened on Hack Live too. Ella and Nevo both recounted their little anecdotes of how they’ve seen ‘privilege’ – Ella about a boss at a retail store she worked at who made sexualised comments and Nevo, a trans activist who talked about how people interrupt them less now they no longer identify as a female (and, side note, for some reason thought it weird for people to celebrate feminist men more than they would a feminist female… like duh?). Yeah, but sorry… I don’t think that’s privilege. That’s behaviour. And yeah, sure, it’s behaviour that seems from aspects of structural privilege in society, but the derailing of the privilege conversation like this is what fuels the anger and hatred on – as ‘Adrian’ puts it – ‘both sides of the stick’. People get offended when they hear others spout these anecdotes, link it to privilege and then shove all men or whatever other group of people into a basket that paints them all by the same brush. Some men hear Ella and Nevo talk and they think: I never interrupt or sexualise women to their face ergo I don’t have that privilege ergo privilege is a bullshit argument ergo let me tell you all about how my disadvantage rivals yours ergo let’s have a fight ergo you are all idiots. Ergo ‘Adrian’ is created. And ergo tedious discussion.
Welcome to ‘Privilege: the reductionist argument of the contemporary era.’
And this is what made me think about writing.
I need to, we all need to, be exceptionally careful when we engage with politicised issues in our writing – and ensure that we truly understand them. That we don’t contribute to the reductionist argument that is occurring. We can’t stop this hijacking of words and concepts once they’re out there in society. It’s a fool’s errand to think that we can. But we can make sure we don’t indulge it. That we don’t feed it. Fuel it. Pander to it. That we don’t accept it as correct. We don’t create characters who behave like this in our scripts and present it as right or true. We don’t let fallacies permeate the exploration of our themes as I thought 13 Reasons Why did. We need to be better than that.
So, that’s really the end of what I have to say, but I just have this other thought that’s swimming around in my head, so let me draw it out here…
What I felt a bit disappointed by in the program was that no one really engaged with situating approaches to and views toward privilege within an ideology. So many aspects of what people call privilege (access to education/healthcare, safe streets, representation in the legislature, ability to get a good job) can just as easily be replaced with the term ‘having a good life’. The ancestors of many people have fought and worked hard for the capacity to give these ‘privileges’ to both themselves and their descendants – male and female.
So why has our society entered this period of reflection, guilt, feeling critical of or whatever you want to call it – for having these things? Because there’s been an increasing desire in society (or online at least) of the need for an egalitarian society. Equity for all. Clementine Ford at one point during the program said this was her desire. Egalitarianism is not new, and egalitarian movements have occurred at numerous points over human history. But they also were maybe a little bit of ‘we want to be equal to THAT group of people, and stuff all those other groups’. But… egalitarianism is not the only way to live. It’s not the only way to see the world. Some of us have been remarkably influenced by capitalism and economic liberalism that has been cultivated over centuries. Nations like Australia try to have the best of both worlds at the political level when developing policy, with differing levels of success.
It’s the basic question of the individual versus the collective.
I mean, of course, most disagreements between people come down to ideological differences. But I think it’s sad that the proponents of ‘privilege is bullshit’ haven’t really seemed to make their ideological counterpoint clear – that privilege is something we should be proud of. We should want more privilege. And we shouldn’t necessarily care that some people have less. If people that have less privilege want more of it, then they can work hard to get it. And the neo-liberalist structures within society can enable that to happen. You may not get to benefit the full fruits of it, as the building of privilege takes time, but by gosh your descendants will if they also do the right thing and work just as hard!
Yeah, they probably know that saying that out loud would be seen as politically incorrect. But it’s hard to condemn people for developing such a view, as so much of society’s structures give credence to and promote this individual success. And if that’s the ideology through which you live your life, then sure, go for it, you are perfectly welcome to have this world view. But this requires people having the courage and the awareness to admit it… something that was sorely missing in the Hack Live program.