On Privilege

I think there’s an aspect of privilege that a lot of people haven’t really paid attention to: there are at least two kinds of it.

I see some people in the social justice community saying things like, “cis people benefit from transphobia.” But the thing is, they really, really don’t. Everything cis people have that trans people don’t– from the low chance of being murdered to the ability to have people respect their pronouns– is something that cis people are going to have come the Tranny Revolution.  Like, literally, I have sat here for five minutes attempting to figure out every benefit that cis people get from transphobia, and the list looks like this:

And Ace Ventura Pet Detective isn’t that funny of a movie anyway.

Now, I’m not saying that privileged people never get any sort of benefit from privilege whatsoever. My clothes are cheaper than they would have been if the nice workers in China had been paid a living wage, and that’s my class and country privilege acting up. In a Social Justice Utopia, my clothes would probably be more expensive.

But I do think that privilege is best understood as a two-tiered system. There are some people, and some types of privilege,for which you got benefits you didn’t have to earn and in a perfect world wouldn’t have– think about the thankfully-no-longer-existent right of men to have sex with their wives whenever they liked, without the wives having to consent. That kind of privilege deserves to disappear and should be given up or used for the benefit of greater equality, as much as is possible, by those who have it.

And there are the types of privilege for which you just don’t have to put up with the shit other people do or have the basic human rights that they don’t. The right to not get pulled over for driving while black. The right to get married to the person you love. The right to choose what will happen to your own body. That kind of privilege doesn’t need to be given up, obviously. It needs to be extended to everyone.

I wonder if people would be more willing to accept the concept of privilege if it were presented less as “you have advantages other people don’t” and more as “other people have disadvantages you have escaped.”

About ozyfrantz

Ozy Frantz is a student at a well-respected Hippie College in the United States. Zie bases most of zir life decisions on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and identifies more closely with Pinkie Pie than is probably necessary. Ozy can be contacted at ozyfrantz@gmail.com or on Twitter as @ozyfrantz. Writing is presently Ozy's primary means of support, so to tip the blogger, click here.


  1. Exactly right, Ozy. Lots of things that social justice discourse calls ‘privileges’ would be called ‘rights’ in ordinary English: the right not to be harassed by the police, the right to bodily integrity, the right to reasonable accommodation…

    These are privileges in the SJ sense of being afforded to some people and not others on the basis of group membership, but they are not privileges in the ordinary sense of being undeserved. In fact, they’re deserved by everyone!

  2. PRIVILEGE: if you are fired on the basis of gender as a cis person, you get to sue. In most states in the USA, trans* people can be fired for their gender and it’s completely legal. (Hopefully the recent EEOC ruling will make a difference there, but for now…)

    • Eliminating transphobia won’t cause cis people to start getting fired for their gender. In utopia, no one would be fired for their gender. That’s not really cis people benefiting from transphobia (except to the tiny extent that they can very occasionally get hired for a job opening that was created by such a firing). That’s cis people having the basic respect due to every person (which is unfairly denied to some).

      • Kristine says:

        In that case Germany is utopia: It’s simply illegal here to fire someone for their gender, race, sexual orientation, political ideology, hair color, hobby, clothing, name … whatever hasn’t got to do with work itself (and even then it’s not easy). I would assume that at least in Scandinavian countries it’s the same thing.

  3. Isn’t the major issue with privilege discussions really the fact that the privilege discussionm attempts to address groups of people at a high level where as we generally talk at an individual level. It’s quite hard to see privilege in your situation when you know for a fact that there are events and scholarships (as an example) for other groups that could really benefit you but you are barred from applying because of a characteristic you share with a group you may not really identify with. Working early on to change perceptions might work but when you start to change things later on it starts to look really unfair to those people who went through the same system.

    Correcting societal level events at an individual level feels really unfair… look at the UK – we have Feminist organisations calling for a reassessment of the budget cuts because they disproportionately affect women, yet women are disproprtionately benefited by the system so how do we assess changes fairly? It’s great to be told you have privilege but at the same time the ivory tower version of it doesn’t seem to reflect a lot of people’s realities.

    • “It’s great to be told you have privilege but at the same time the ivory tower version of it doesn’t seem to reflect a lot of people’s realities.

      And this is where I think a lot of people give up on the concept.

      I’m white. I’ve had privilege individually and institutionally. Does that mean I’m rich, my life is easy, nothing goes wrong?

      No. Does that mean there are only whites above me and people of color below? No, in fact I know many individual POC ranking higher than me.

      Does that mean I don’t have privileges that come with being white? No, I still have them, but they aren’t in play all the time.

      Being aware of something doesn’t mean you are a bad person, have to give things up,etc. It just means being aware so that you can work to maximize equality when you can.

      • Julie – this is a double edged sword. As many of the privilege discussions don’t talk about equality. They often twist to demand reparation or blame-and-shame.

        This discussion (to me) seems to be a red herring and a distraction to a few other issues. The only true way to end the ‘privilege’ would be to equally distribute the ‘wealth’. That would also cause an equal separation of accountability, but is unlikely to happen. As people would have no one to blame but them selves.

        Your examples, highlight some of the ‘facts’ that get discarded quickly in the discussion to back certain points.

        Not sure what I am saying, and hope it makes some sense.

  4. “I wonder if people would be more willing to accept the concept of privilege if it were presented less as “you have advantages other people don’t” and more as “other people have disadvantages you have escaped.””

    Wow, wonderful article Ozy. I think this word and concept is important. I just do.

  5. toastedtofu says:

    I always say that I am very privileged, and I hope for the day that everyone can be so lucky.

  6. @ik: I see this especially often with masculinity. I always wonder how those people expect people to react when told “we want to destroy your identity”.

    • Does your identity depend on beer “being manly”, because it tastes bad? Hard liquor being manly, because it tastes bad? Sports being exclusively manly (save for a few feminine exceptions like roller derby, gymnastics and dancing) is necessary for your identity?

      Personally, I’m all for destroying make-up as feminine and for women-only. I’m all for destroying the entirely western notion that dresses should be for women only (skirted garments are worn, the world over (think India for example, they’re just 1.1 billion people), by men as well as by women, as a matter of course, not just on special occasions like kilts). I’m all for destroying the notion that pink is a girl-only color (a recent notion if there’s any). That arts are feminine (funny how most professional-level artists history remembers are men, they must not be sufficiently manly or something. Poor Mozart, he’s effeminate apparently).

      My identity as a woman, even a trans woman, doesn’t depend on those things. I don’t need to have exclusive “markers” of my sex to display in public to be confident in my own identity. If you do, maybe you should question the basis of your identity, because it’s shaky as hell if it relies on stereotypes.

      • I’m not talking about my identity personally since I don’t identify much with masculinity, but attacks on masculinity are not in my experience focusing on making it open to women too, or allowing men to reject it, but about ending the behaviours themselves. I was saying that those who do should expect the people who have those behaviours as part of their identity (not necessarily gender identity) to be angry.

        • Short of putting all of the planet’s people’s brains in jars, we can’t prevent those behaviors. Only remove the meaning that says its feminine, or masculine, or “something men should do”, “something that proves you’re a real man”, “something that makes you a pussy”, etc are gone.

          You could do ballet as a guy and have no one even blink in this world. People wouldn’t think behind your back or outright in your face that it means you’re gay, or feminine, or anything. It just means you like a form of dancing. Same as liking hockey would only mean anything as per the sport itself. It wouldn’t make boys manly, or girls butch to like it.

          • I agree, but when people say they want to “destroy masculinity” that’s not what people hear. Especially not if masculitinity is singled out.

            • “masculitinity”

              Don’t drink and post people.

            • Here’s what people like, totally fail to understand…outside of radfemhub types…the same people who might say they want to get rid of traditional masculinity are also saying they want to get rid of traditional femininity. They wan’t to get rid of the kyrarchy…or sometimes they’ll call it the patriarchy. The reason early feminists were accused of trying to destroy families and the “natural order” is precisely because they were rejecting femininity.

              • I really don’t want to get rid of either of those. I do want departures from them to be tolerated, and I do want the traditions to be something that people will generally find agreeable.

                If it MUST be decided that they have to die, I am going to dedicate myself to creating the most hardcore 24-7-ish fetish community EVER.

          • … Male roles in ballet… Do not seem unmasculine to me?

  7. This is a critical distinction that needs to be made. Especially as the definition seems to have diffused a little.

    Incidentally, one of the frustrating things that I think is connected to this is what I call ‘norm-busting’. Meaning attempts not just to make breaking norms more acceptable or end the privileging of the norms, but attempts to destroy the norms themselves and even destroy the common adherence to norms that people actually like. For example, the various types wishing to destroy gender. I cannot help but find this very threatening.

    It would probably help. A little. Best if we had a word other than privilege.

  8. I don’t think acceptance of the privilege concept would be any greater if presented in this way. There will still be resistance to the idea that the accomplishments in your life that you’re proud of working so hard for are instead just the products of inequality and luck.

    • That’s completely missing the point. Ozy’s point is that not all things called privilege would be lost if people were treated equally. Instead, some would be shared by everybody, instead of the privileged few. So not only does framing the issue that way induce resistance, the idea “that the accomplishments in your life that you’re proud of working so hard for are instead just the products of inequality” is actually wrong, at least to an extent. If inequality were eradicated, those accomplishments would still exist, even if those accomplishments would not have been possible without (that kind of) privilege.

  9. This is slightly off-topic, but does anyone else think that an Ozyfrantz video series in the style of Zero Punctuation would be unbelievably awesome? It just seems like a great format for the hilarious educational rant.

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