I always have a hard time understanding it whenever someone invokes the word privilege in an accusatory tone. When I was growing up in NJ, I remember sitting in my mother's car and reading the back of the inspection sticker that was on the windshield. It said: "Driving is not a right. It is a privilege." I always took that to mean "something you earn." You have to pass the test and be knowledgeable about road signs, symbols, traffic laws, and then you are given the privilege of driving. If you fuck up, the privilege is taken away.
So, even though the dictionary defines privilege as a "special right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most" (as in the privileges of the wealthy), and a "special right, immunity, or exemption granted to persons in authority or office to free them from certain obligations or liabilities," (such as when UN diplomats can park their cars anywhere they like in NYC without getting ticketed), it also defines privilege as "a grant to an individual, corporation, etc., of a special right or immunity, under certain conditions."
What would those certain conditions be? To have the privilege of driving, the conditions are learning how to drive and proving your ability by passing a test, and then staying within the law to keep that privilege. It isn't just something given willy-nilly because you want to drive.
I once was called a "privileged white woman" by a black woman who wanted her table to herself in a crowded Starbuck's. She got mad at me when I sat in the chair across from her and did not comply when she asked me to leave (no one was joining her). I couldn't believe she said that, as if I was dominating her and abusing my "power" as a white person just to sit down in an empty chair. Do I have privileges just because I appear white (even though I am of mixed-race ancestry)? Sometimes, but my being white and her being black had nothing to do with my tired bones needing to sit down at that moment. Privileged in certain ways, perhaps, but then I am disregarded and dismissed for other reasons (being older, fat, etc.). No one person can understand everyone else's viewpoint, and know what their background is.
Often in this forum, the term "hetero privilege" has come up to point out that a straight person will never know what LGBT people will go through because of their "privilege." Of course I don't know what it's like to have to live hiding one's sexual orientation and not being allowed to love whomever one loves, but I have experienced discrimination and ridicule in my life, for other reasons. I had a shitty childhood where extreme poverty and mental illness played a serious part in my development and world view - I never, ever felt privileged in the way these accusers use the word. I just think that people get angry about things, stay stuck in their anger without resolving it, and point the finger at others for no reason. "Privilege! You are privileged and therefore not worthy of asking for anything!" Hogwash.
Yes, married people have privileges. Not all married people lord those privileges over single people. Couples who have been together a long time have a rhythm and mutual understanding, but is that a privilege? I would not wish to get involved with a man who is in another relationship that he holds higher and more important than the one he has with me, as I prefer egalitarian poly, but I would call that a couple-centric attitude, not "couple privilege." I think that some people are specifically talking about veto power when they cry couple privilege. And while, yes, I would walk away as fast as my legs could take me if a guy told me his wife or gf had veto power, and I myself have used the term "Holy Dyad" to refer to couples who have these sorts of couple-centric relationships, I don't go crying about privilege. I just think it's unnecessary.
We all have various privileges and we all have various benefits and places from which we've been excluded. Everything someone does isn't wrapped up in feeling privileged just because they are a member of a particular group. I feel like the word privilege has come to be overused in the last few years. To keep crying "privilege!" is just lazy and unimaginative, I think, and basically equates to name-calling, which doesn't do anyone any good.
Last edited by nycindie; 04-25-2013 at 06:44 PM.