Monday, October 10, 2011

It Would Be My Privilege

I'm a regular reader of The Blag Hag and generally enjoy Jen's blog.  I do however find it hard to relate when she starts talking about feminism.  I often find myself rolling my eyes and thinking that she really needs to get a life.  Harsh I know, but my opinion nonetheless.

One such occasion related to a post by The Friendly Atheist (another favourite of mine).   Hemant had written a post discussing an interview with Kari Byron from Mythbusters.  He ended the post with "This whole post was really just an excuse to post a picture of Kari."  It was an obvious tongue in cheek comment about someone that Hemant admires for her mind and views but who also happens to be a very attractive woman.  I read the comment and laughed.

Jen's response was "only appreciating a woman for her looks and not for her intelligence is not a joke - it's a negative mindset that joking helps perpetuate."

To this my response was "Enough already!" <eyes rolling>

These posts were written several months ago and I had pretty much forgotten about them until the fairly recent "Elevatorgate" scandal.  A good summary of all the craziness that ensued can be found here.  In short, Rebecca Watson (Skepchick) was propositioned by a man she didn't know while alone in an elevator with him in the middle of the night after a conference.  All of the comments surrounding this situation really got me thinking.  The one that really tipped the scales for me was Jen's response to Richard Dawkins after he pretty much blew off Rebecca Watson's point that this incident made her feel at best uncomfortable and at worst fearful.

With that background, I'll get to my point.  Jen pointed out that Richard has the privilege in this situation of being a man and therefore couldn't possibly fully understand what it feels like as a woman to be vulnerable to a man:  "You don't live in fear of rape, knowing that one wrong misinterpretation of a couple words could lead down that road."  I, as a woman, completely understand how Rebecca felt in that elevator.  It's the same reason that I don't go out alone at night.  I acknowledge that most men are probably good, but what if I happen to run into one that wants to hurt me?  How can I defend myself against someone who is most likely larger and stronger than me?

This concept of privilege in turn got me thinking about feminism.  In my fairly sheltered life I haven't really had the misfortune of having to deal with much sexism.  I have been taught all my life that women are equal to men.  I found myself in a profession where men and women are fairly equally represented.  Of the four managers in my department, two are men and two are women.  The Assistant Vice President is a man, but the Vice President is a woman.  I feel no sexual discrimination whatsoever.  It never really occurred to me, in this day and age, that this was in any way out of the ordinary.

Then I thought about the life of The Blag Hag.  Jen is a student at the University of Washington working towards her PhD in Genome Sciences.  She's a scientist.  Now how many female scientists can you think of?  Not one other than Marie Curie actually comes to my mind - not a good thing.  She is in an extremely male dominated field.  I would hazard a guess that she feels sexual discrimination first hand on a regular basis.  It's no wonder she's so much more sensitive to it. 

So in the end, I realize that my privilege has blinded me to the fact that gender discrimination is alive and well.  We women need to continue fighting for equal rights and respect.  I still strongly disagree with Jen's reaction to Hemant on the Kari Byron comment - it was after all an innocent joke from a man who consistently shows respect and admiration for women.  In taking a step back though, I can now see where Jen is coming from and why she reacts the way she does to situations that I find trivial.  Perspective is a good thing.

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