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.
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.
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?