Tag Archives: privilege

What Is Privilege? Let My Fat Pants Explain

Casual Friday is supposed to be a treat, right? It hasn’t been for me lately, but at least Casual Friday taught me a fresh lesson about privilege and how hard it can be to see when you’re wrapped up in it.

travel clothes

What time is brunch?

I guess this story started many years ago, back when I was a world traveler who went to fancy places. Whether it was tea on the veranda in Bermuda, climbing to the top of the Acropolis in Athens, or dinner at a quaint Icelandic restaurant in Prague, I didn’t want to dress like a tourist. I discovered the perfect line of clothes for a woman on the go–the Travelers line from Chico’s. Their market is a little on the older side, but it’s hard to beat the non-wrinkle fabric, classic colors and cuts, washable in the sink, drip dry, cool, comfortable, easy to dress up with some small accessories kind of clothes. I started buying a few pieces a year and building my travel wardrobe.

But y’all. The best part of these clothes for rich retirees? Elastic waists. Who’s got time for buttons that pop off or zippers that might get stuck when you’re headed to the midnight buffet on a cruise? Not me.

For years, I have fallen under the spell of the elastic waistband. When I started having babies, I didn’t buy maternity clothes–I bought more Travelers stuff. When I quit having babies but kept on eating for two? I stayed in the Travelers clothes. Soooo comfy! Pretty soon, all my pants were fat pants.

Then along came Casual Friday to ruin it. I put on a pair of jeans a couple of weeks ago and thought I would suffocate by lunch time. Whew! That waistband didn’t have any GIVE to it. Every time I bent over, I lost my breath. There was no comfortable way to sit without that stiff fabric cutting into my side meat. Every part of me struggled against the confines…of my jeans.

zipper-574008_1280

As I sat behind my desk after lunch, I popped open the button and snuck the zipper down so my bellybutton could get back to its normal shape. When the sweet rush of freedom tingled over me, I remembered a powerful statement I heard at BlogHer:

“The absence of privilege feels like oppression to them.”

Brianna Wu, a developer of gaming about women and for women, said that in relation to sexism in the workplace, how when privileged white males have to play on a level field, they feel like they are being robbed.

So…what IS privilege? We talk about it a lot lately as we try to talk about inequalities in our society. White privilege, male privilege, cis privilege, economic privilege, the privilege of access. Privilege is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.”

What does that have to do with my fat pants and Casual Friday? Well, for years, I’ve lived with a special advantage, an immunity to my own choices. I’ve gained 50 pounds and I’m still wearing the same pants. In my mind, I am not living with any special advantage. I just seem to be able to eat whatever I want and never exercise and my pants still fit! No matter what choices I make, my world (or at least my pants) adapted itself to allow those choices. To excuse those choices.

The simplest definition of privilege is–wiggle room. Having the space to move through the world and feeling confident that the world will allow you some grace. Being able to change lanes without signaling and not worrying about being arrested. Being able to laugh with your book club without being kicked off a train. Being able to invite friends to a pool party.

When you have grown up with privilege, the absence of privilege feels like oppression.

When’s the last time you felt oppressed? Was it true unfairness or was it a removal of privilege? I remember when our hospital made all employees start clocking in, even salaried. I was kind of miffed…that I was going to have to do the same procedure everyone else was expected to do to prove I was at work. Or when we had to start parking in a specific place…I had always been able to park closer to the building. (Note to self: think about parking farther away re: fat pants)

Privilege can be really tough to see when you are living inside it. Like the princess, who when told that starving peasants rioted because they didn’t have bread, replied, “Then let them eat cake!” Duh. That’s privilege. Life wouldn’t be so hard for you if you would just….be me.

So there you have it. Fat pants, privilege, oppression, a little history, and cake.

Mmmm…did somebody say CAKE?

 

Blind Spots and Fish

TDS_Image_17This weekend, I learned that nothing improves my driving like a 15 year old in the passenger seat. The girls and I took a road trip to Wesleyan and Victoria rode shotgun. She’s preparing to take the learner’s permit test so she’s paying attention.

Knowing that she was watching, and being on my best behavior so that I modeled only good practices…well, it helped me see my own mistakes through new eyes. I used cruise control to keep my speed within the posted limit. I only looked at my phone at long red lights. Hands at 10 and 2. No fiddlin’ with the radio.

I signaled any and every lane change and I looked over my shoulder for good measure, even if the mirrors showed all clear.  My mother taught me to drive and she made the point over and over that whatever was happening behind me was just as important as what was happening in front of me. She taught me about blind spots–how people will sometimes ride in that spot that the mirror doesn’t show. How it’s my responsibility to turn my head and check, even if I’ve already checked the mirror.

So…I’ve been thinking about blind spots a lot this week. About how easy it is to crash into someone because you’re cruising along in your blind spot and forget to look, forget to take the responsibility to check twice and really SEE the people around you.

It’s so easy to get convinced that the angle from which I see the world is not even an angle–it’s the center.

In 2005, David Foster Wallace gave a commencement speech at Kenyon College about the ceaseless challenge of living a life of empathy. The speech was later published under the title “This Is Water.” The title is taken from the opening story:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

 

Portrait of a fishI can’t get that image out of my mind–the difficulty of seeing that which surrounds us. The difficulty of seeing what we ARE IN from any angle other than where we are.

Blind spots and fish. They’re all tangled up in my mind with the idea of privilege and some of the verbal gaffes that have made the news this week (Giuliana Rancic insulting Zendaya Coleman’s locs, Patricia Arquette creating an “us/not us” dichotomy, a news reporter in Cleveland calling Lady Gaga’s style “jigaboo music”…good grief, people!). Sometimes we open our mouths and say things without checking to see if we have a blind spot. Talking can be just as dangerous as driving. It requires checking our mirrors, figuring our moves before we make them, then looking again over our shoulder, just to be sure.