It’s 5.30am and I’m blogging. About privilage.

Why?  Because I can’t sleep.  Why?  Because I was having one of those dreams where you do the same simple thing over and over. 

Sometimes my brain does this because it hates me and it wants me to die.  Today it did it because I was worrying at this thing.  Let me explain the situation (I swear, it’s relevant.  I think.  I mean, it is 5.30)

It’s pretty simple, when isolated.  I was making a flyer for a male colleague.  I made the flyer.  There was some to-ing and fro-ing, but nothing unusual.  The time came to send the flyer out electronically.  I’ve built it in Illustrator, and I’ve used a couple of fancy fonts – our standard fancy font and another one specifically requested.  This means that I can’t just pdf the sucker, because, because of the complicated nature of copyright (go read BoingBoing or something, if you are confused about this.  And want to be more confused.  And then angry.  And then confused again… maybe don’t read BoingBoing.) the fonts can’t be packaged.  Thismeans that if I pdf it as is, and you don’t have Frutiger and DIN light on your computer, you won’t be able to read it properly at worst, at best it will not look the way it is intended.  (Frutiger is ok, it usually just defaults to arial.  Some fonts will turn up as gibberish, though.)

So, ok, I do the usual, I convert type to outlines, which means making the computer think it’s a shape, not a font.  This is great, but it also means, for most san serif fonts (and Frutiger especially), that the lowercase ‘l’s will all lookkind of bold.  It’s a thing.  No way around it.

So, I send it off to Male Colleague.  He comes in: the ‘l’s look funny.  I explain why.  He expresses his unhappiness at this fact.  I tell him I can send him the not-outline one for internal use (most of us have Frutiger, it’s our official font.  Just to make life easier for everyone, we picked a stupid one) but that if he sends it out, a lot of people won’t be able to see it properly.  He likes this.  I send it to him. 

He sends that one out as the official flyer. 

A female colleague at another site who works on approvals, and with whom I often discuss such things, puts it into Illustrator again, makes it outlines, and resends it out, with a friendly note to me pointing out that I probably should do that, next time, so that everyone can read it properly.

I was disproportionately upset about this.  Part of it is the context of the last couple of weeks – Thursday and friday everythingI did just seemed to be a little bit wrong.  You know?  Nothing big, just little, niggly, stupid mistakes.  And a similar thing had happened earlier on this flyer (I suggested a design tie-in, Male Colleague didn’t want to go in that direction, I did the flyer, Female Colleague pointed out that a design tie in would have been nice, MC had no memory of the conversation I had had with him about it). 

And I am getting really, really tired of being treated like a retard.  And I am even more sick of being one.

This is what I woke up at 4am thinking about.

I know, it’s not even that big of a deal.  Except it is.  In my head, this is how it goes:

MC: There’s a problem.

Me: <explains problem and why it can’t be fixed the way he wants it fixed>

MC: I’m not really sure that you know what you are talking about.

Me: Hmmm, me either.

Me again: Maybe I don’t know what I’m doing.  <Does something that proves this.  The other way, though>

FC: Um.  Are you sure you know what you’re doing?


So, yesterday I was angry at him for not listening, for making it look like I made a rookie mistake…

Until I realised (at 4am, did I mention that?) that I had made a rookie mistake.

If I had forgotten to do this, I would be angry at myself.  I should know better than to have let him have the not-outlined copy.  It shouldn’t have even occured to me as an option.  So why did it?

Partly because of our relationship and dynamic.  Partly because of the day I was having(busy).  Partly because of the week I was having (busy – the same reason for the stupid mistakes last week).  Partly because I wanted him to go away and let me get on with other things – I was finished with this flyer, already!Partly because I didn’t go to design school for three years and sometimes I still feel like a bit of a fraud in this job (which I am NOT.  Doesn’t help with the feeling, though, knowing that).

It didn’t even occur to me that gender roles might have played a part.  But I think they might have.

Not a big part.  But a crucial one.  An unconscious one.  One that made it ok for him to think that maybe he knew more than me about my job, and for me to think that too.

To put this in perspective, our site boss asked about the same thing the other day, I explained it and she said ‘ok, it’s not a big deal, then’.

Now, the place I work has a very high female:male ratio.  It is very privilege-aware.  So is this particular male colleague.  I am definitely not calling him a sexist pig here.  that is plain not true, and he would be offended by it – rightly so.  Actually, he was offended the other day when I pointed out that he is part of the Patriarchy (ain’t we all.)

One of his things in Narrative Therapy, and I wanted to know a bit about it, so he had recommended some books from our library for me.  And I stared reading one, and I found this bit.

[F]eminists have demonstrated how patriarchal attitudes permeate social institutions and popular thought, and how these assumptions lead to injustice.  As a result, in some social circles traditional narratives about the ‘essential’ – and subordinate – nature of women are no longer taken seriously, although I believe that these ideas are often demonstrated by those of us men who think of ourselves as liberal…. I imagine that few counsellors of any persuasion agree with male chauvinist, racist or similar beliefs, but the emphasis in narrative therapy on the need for continual vigilance against their more subtle manifestations is particularly emphatic.  White* values feminist analysis of the patriarchal assumptions embedded in established psychologies, and acknowledges that feminists have alerted him to subtle ways in which sexism and chauvinism may be demonstrated by male therapists through vocal tone, dominance of conversation, marginalization through vocabulary choice, unverified assumed capacity for empathy, and assumed cultural and gender norms.  White insists that these manifestations are impossible to avoid altogetherbecause male therapists live in a culture in which those attitudes are embedded.  However, he believes that by critical self-monitoring and regular checkingout with persons**, therapists may go some way towards minimizing these factors, and that to do so is a moral obligation.

(Payne, M (2006) Narrative Therapy second edition, Sage publications, page 22 emphasis added)

*this is Michael White, co-founder/inventer/whatever of Narrative Therapy, and my fellow Adelaidean – well, until he died earlier this year.  An unfortunate name in the circumstances, perhaps

** their term for ‘clients’

I tagged it, because the MC in question in this story sometimessays stuff that I know he thinks is joking, but… sort of isn’t, really.  I mean, he means it to be.  But this privilegething…  It’s insidious, you know?  In fact, about 5 pages later, after that quote, the author does it himself.  He gives four examples of people struggling with ‘thin’ narratives of their lives (society telling them they are no good, essentially).  One of them is a primary-school aged boy.  The other three are female.  Why?  I don’t know.  I’m pretty sure the author didn’t mean to make it look like only women and children have these problems (classic Victorian strategy.  The era, not the place.  Although…)  And when I pointed it out to MC, he protested along these lines – of course it’s not intentional, it’s not a big deal, don’t be silly, etc etc.

But that’s not the point.  The point is, that privilege is SNEAKY!  It gets us coming and going.  We don’t mean to show it, but with subtle language choices, with body language, with all kinds of non-conscious clues and hints, we reinforce it – both the privileged and the un-privileged reinforce it for each other, ourselves and those around us.  It’s not just the men who live in the culture that feeds them assumptions about women – women live in it too, we breathe it in every day.  You can’t avoid absorbing some of it.  Why do you think things like sexualised dolls are such a big deal, why capital F feminists object to sexy video clips.  It’s not the things themselves, it’s the ripples they leave in people’s self-stories, in their sub conscious, in their innate awareness of how to be and act, what’s acceptable and what’s not, what’s normal.

That’s why it’s important to have real diversity – not just token ‘others’.  I go past a school every day on the way to work, with a mural out the front that the kids have done themselves.  It shows kids playing.  All the ‘normal’ looking kids are clearly boys, through my cultural eyes.  All the figures that are girls are exaggerated – huge pigtails, big lips, eyelashes, etc.  What does that tell those girls, every day, without them knowing?  That to be noticed, to be a girl, they have to be exaggeratedly feminine, to be over the top.  They can’t just be ‘normal’ – only boys are normal.  to be a good, proper part of our society, they need to change their behaviour, their appearance and themselves.

And I think that’s part of what happened to me yesterday.  I bought into someone else’s privilege.  He wasn’t trying to make me.  But we were part of a societal script.

The thing is, that there’s no point to all of this.  I mean, essentially, so what?  What is the big freaking deal?  It was a tiny incident, and I’m way over exaggerating it.  And even if it is about gender, It doesn’t matter.  It is almost as bad to always make it about gender (or whatever) as to never make it about that.  I am positive that gender played some sort of role in this.  But it shouldn’t have.  And that it did is as much his fault as mine, since we both bought into it as much.  Me maybe more: I should have pushed back.  If i am the strong woman that I like to pretend I am, I should act like it, I should work on myself to make sure that Idon’t buy into those cultural norms – if I’m doing it to myself, who ese am I doing it to?  And how can I expect others to self-examine if I won’t?

I am not sure if this was just a thinly veiled excuse to blog about what woke me up, or to make it seem more important or more glorified.  I do know that this incident and my own problems with gender are insignificant in the scheme not only of the world, but of my own life.  Comfortable middle-class existence, and all that.  I am thankful for that. 

But it has made me think about the way I relate to privilege.

White woman, like men of colour, have a special advantage if only we will use it.  We get to see privilege from both sides.  We get to see it interacting in complicated ways.  We get to examine our own position to privilege, our owning of it and our lacking of it.  How it helps us and how it trips us.  How we can use it against someone else without even meaning to.  How what we think are innocent words and actions can hurt other people directly and indirectly.  It’s precisely the small nature of this incident that highlights to me how important this is – even here, my workplace that I consider one of the most fair and considerate places in the world, this tripped me up.  I had to argue with MC for about three minutes before he accepted that there even might be something wrong with all those earlier examples being female or children.  (btw, am I overreacting on this one?  Input appreciated)

It’s hard to step out of things and see it.  And sometimes, like this time, it’s not even a big player in the situation.  Other, more specific things, require our attention and deserve their own weight.  It needs to be more about the personal relationships than the gender ones, for example.

That doesn’t mean that the privilege isn’t there.  And that it isn’t harmful.    Sneaky bastard.


3 thoughts on “It’s 5.30am and I’m blogging. About privilage.

  1. Totally not overreacting!

    “And that it did is as much his fault as mine, since we both bought into it as much. Me maybe more: I should have pushed back.”

    No, no, no. You are not more at fault, women are not to blame for the patriarchy, women are the oppressed within the patriarchy.

    It always feels easy to blame ourselves – I should have said something, I should have stood up for myself, I let it happen – but in actual fact we are acting within the bounds of patriarchy, and blaming ourselves for being the victims of it is not logical, Captain!

  2. Wow, very complex, humans.
    Mum often comes home complaining about similar things, especially the male colleagues.
    Sounds like you got the work stress – like Mum. She gets so stressed about work that she can’t sleep at night and often gets migrane.
    Lots of guinea pig hugs from us both.

  3. What would Freud say indeed. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar?

    I guess the question is not whether this was privilage or not or who was to blame, but whether thinking about it in those terms is going to help you. It seems to me that framing it this way has identified for you a course of action (next time I won’t…) and so regardless of who is right or wrong, it is helping.

    Lack of sleep totally sucks though.

Whadya reckon?

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