That Whole Privilege Thing

I realize a middle class white girl talking about privilege can go really, really wrong. I’m hoping that isn’t the case here. Quite frankly, I’m terrified of making an ass of myself. Which is why I’ve said nothing for a long time. Which is actually (heh) pretty privileged of me. I can afford to sit back and say nothing.

This isn’t for people who already know what privilege is and where they stand on that scale. This is for those friends who don’t really get what this “privilege” stuff is all about. The friends who may have heard the word tossed around, but never realized it applied to their lives (hint: it applies to everyone). Or the friends who’ve never heard the word tossed around, and are completely confused about why anyone would need to write about it. Mostly, this is for people who are privileged and don’t know it.

Okay. So. First off, if someone says you’re privileged, don’t get pissed off. Even if they sound angry or you think they’re insulting you, don’t get pissed off. There are a bunch of reasons for this:

  1. You may actually be privileged. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. That doesn’t make you evil or awful. That just means you have opportunities others don’t. There’s nothing wrong with appreciating those opportunities. And there’s quite a lot wrong with taking them for granted.
  2. Frustration often sounds like anger, and it often feels personal. Just as you want the chance to vent and be heard, so do other people. Give them the same kind of tolerance you’d want. Understand that they’ve faced challenges you don’t know about. Try listening.
  3. Giving in to anger almost always means you’ve lost your ability to think logically. Anger has a place, just don’t make it your first recourse. Wars, divorces, arguments… a lot of these things happen when they don’t need to because someone went to anger as their first response.

It may not feel like you were privileged, but take another look and really think about it. If you’d asked me 15 years ago if I was privileged, I might have laughed at you. And gotten defensive. And been an ass.

I am privileged. I’m white and middle class. I grew up in California, in an affluent area. My father is a physician. I had access to health care. My mom was a stay-at-home mom. I had access to schools. Fuck, I went to a private college. And I can (and will) point out that I could only afford it because of merit scholarships, because I’m damn proud of the work I did to get them… but the fact I even thought I could go to a college like that indicates a hell of a lot of privilege. And I had time in which to study or pursue extracurriculars so I could get that merit money. That time is a luxury. I never had to take a job to make ends meet when I was a kid or teen. My mom could drive me to debates because she had a car and she had time. She could also work with me on my homework and help me learn. Many things I took for granted when I was a kid were privileges I didn’t appreciate. Not then. Probably not enough now, either.



The First Defense

One of the most common responses I’ve seen to people being told they’re privileged is to list off all the ways in which they aren’t. As if having some hardships means you can’t also have some advantages. It’s a false dichotomy.

It is possible to be both privileged and disadvantaged. All the things I listed above are ways in which I’m privileged. I’m disadvantaged by being female and Jewish. Where I live and grew up, it was more being female that was a disadvantage. The Jewish thing, while it crops up from time to time, hasn’t often been an issue for me.

Just because I know what it’s like to be female in a male dominated society doesn’t mean I know what it’s like to be black. Or Asian. Or intersex. Or trans. Or gay. Or female in a different culture. Or anything other than what I am. Likewise, just because I have friends who are black, asian, intersex, trans, gay… that doesn’t mean I know what it’s like to be them. You can’t know what you haven’t experienced. You can imagine, sure. You can read books about it or listen to someone discuss their experiences. But that’s not the same thing.

The Second Defense

The next thing people do is fake apologize. You know, those apologies that aren’t apologies at all but are instead an attack? Saying, “Do you want me to apologize for being white/male/whatever? Fine. I’ll apologize. I’m sorry I was born white/male/whatever.” And they say it in that way that implies they’re being reasonable and everyone else is unreasonable. And that… is a red herring. It has nothing to do with the issue at hand, and instead escalates conflict and makes it personal.

I’m going to say this repeatedly, because it’s important: No one is asking you to apologize for your birth. No one is asking you to apologize for things out of your control. This isn’t about YOU. 

You are being asked to listen. To acknowledge. You don’t have to do anything other than say, “I hear you.” If you want to say you’re sorry, go ahead. But say it out of sympathy, not because you’re angry or feel like you’re getting blamed. Say, “I’m sorry it was so hard.” Or, “I’m sorry shit like that happens.” And mean it. Don’t follow up with anything beginning with “but”. Lose the word “but” from your vocabulary.

Privilege means having advantages you didn’t earn. Go ahead and make use of your advantages; you don’t need to apologize. You don’t need to waste them. Just don’t be an ass to people without those advantages. Don’t tell them they’ve failed or could do better. Don’t assume you’re better than they are. Don’t judge them using a system that’s rigged in your favor. Don’t sit by while a friend behaves like an ass. I’m not sorry I was born into privilege; I’m really fucking grateful. I got a head start because of it. This, right now, is me trying not to sit by while other people behave like asses. And trying to understand my own privilege, so I’m not an ass.

It’s those of us who are privileged who most need to hear about it. And who are least willing to listen.




My friend, Ari, made a great comment on the facebook thread that I am including below.

It’s not really that people with relatively more privilege don’t get to have opinions, but that because our opinion is generally more valued and heard in our culture, we need to be mindful about making space for, listening to, and amplifying less privileged voices, and–particularly in spaces belonging to those with less privilege–being quiet unless we are asked to weigh in. I get to talk, as a white person, but I shouldn’t talk over people of color when the subject is the structural oppression they struggle with and their personal experiences with injustice (just using race as an example here).

And that’s hard to be mindful of, because literally everything in our culture is constantly reinforcing the idea that my thoughts, feelings, and ideas are just *worth more*, because I’m white. Having privilege makes it hard to be aware of privilege, and it’s really easy to start feeling devalued and even attacked when that gets called out, or when it’s clear that my voice is not dominant and welcome in the way I’m taught to expect. I just try to remind myself, you know, getting called out and learning to be a better person and to use my systemic advantage for good may be hard, but it’s not as hard as lacking those same systemic advantages.

Rape Culture Doesn’t Have to Be

I would like to share a story from my college days. Relevant to the recent discussions of rape culture. (This shouldn’t be particularly triggery).

I’m hanging out with a group of friends at West Dorm, across the street from mine. It’s an engineering school, and the ratio is something like 4/1 male to female. So, the group is primarily male. I’m the only female in the room at this point. I think I’m also the youngest person present (I’m a sophomore, they’re all seniors). There has been drinking. Not me, because I haven’t been feeling great and I don’t really drink much anyway.

A few dorms away, there’s a party. Loud music. Lots of cheap booze. Some of the folks leaving the party will have to pass by West on their way home for the night. A guy and girl start arguing outside. It gets loud. It sounds like neither one is fully sober. It starts to get alarming. And you know what the guys I’m hanging out with do? These 22 year old guys who have been drinking and are not sober themselves, who live in a dorm that is known for partying hard and being crass? They go outside and SHUT THE GUY DOWN.

No violence. They tell him his behavior isn’t cool. They ask the girl if she’s okay and if she’d like an escort back to her dorm. She says yes and two of them walk her home. That’s all it takes. Just telling the guy it’s not cool. Walking a girl six blocks to make sure she gets home safe.

Those guys, the ones I was hanging out with? They got it. They spoke up when other guys behaved inappropriately toward women. They ostracized guys they knew to be sexual predators and backed up their female friends. They made sure to escort female friends they considered at risk. Hell, they did it for a total stranger. Even when drunk themselves.

I never felt at risk or unsafe with those guys. It sucks that their intervention, their protection, was necessary. But it was awesome that they did it and it was so intrinsic to who they were. Which is why, even though I haven’t seen or talked to most of them in ages, I still love them.

We don’t have to be trapped by rape culture. Those calls to action, asking men to speak up when they see other men harassing women? Those are completely on the money. It works.



Here are some excellent commentaries:

A Gentleman’s Guide to Rape Culture

Why Men Don’t See the Harassment Women Experience



I’m Moving

Tortuga-IconBack to Tortuga.

Jim and I are renting the front unit on one of the buildings, which is pretty much perfect. No yard for Ragnar, but he likes playing fetch in the courtyard, and it’s a great walking neighborhood.

Funny. This is the third time I’ve moved to Tortuga. Both prior times lasted six months. But, then, those were both intended to be temporary.

We move next week. In the meantime, I’m alternating between packing and playing Assassin’s Creed 2. Which, I swear, is actually relevant to my job hunt. (Talking to a company about an alternate history game).



There is too much. Let me sum up.

I’ve been working at this place since October.

I moved to this place. In large part because of this:Ragnar and The New Backyard.

I’ve become obsessed with setting up my place. Which means that Apartment Therapy has become my porn.

We’ve been doing a narrative sprint at work for the last week… two weeks? Time blurs. Which has landed me with both a tremendous sense of a relief and a sore throat.

I’m trying to adapt to my new place and get past the sense of isolation I have; which is only natural, moving from an intentional community where people dropped by in the evenings every day. Fortunately, I do know some folks in the area. Unfortunately, planning ahead has not been my strong suit lately. And I’m in nesting mode, which means I want to stay home rather than going out.

A bunch of folks (from completely different parts of my life) have all suddenly started calling me Di. And I’m okay with it. I may even like it, but don’t quote me on that. (As my brother-by-another-mother, Eric Hindes, can attest, I was very strongly opposed to nicknames as a kid).

Jay is dealing with cancer. Again. Which is not my story, but is something I think about every day. (Fair warning, the video on the other end of that link is emotionally devastating. But well worth watching.)

Here. On a cheerful-ish note, this is a picture from a coffee table set I’ve been refinishing (I got it from your mom nearly a decade ago, Eric!)

Unfinished and Refinished
Unfinished and Refinished

The table on the left hasn’t been touched, while the table on the right I refinished (oil finish, no stain). Before, they looked pretty much identical. I believe they’re teak, though they might be walnut.

On BDSM, Feminism, and Silly Statements

Apparently there is this erotica novel, 50 Shades of Grey, that’s causing a kerfluffle. I have nothing to say about that. Haven’t read it, not sure if I will. But then I read this article, and really, I have to rant. Let me share with you the section that provoked my ire:

Amy Robach for NBC News says that the novel answers the age old question of what do women really want. Never mind being left breathless or captivated, says Robach, this book makes it clear that domination and submission are on the minds of most American women (emphasis mine).

“We had the women’s movement which really was about empowering women not to be submissive to men anymore. Now we’ve moved onto a new generation where women are more empowered than ever before, the glass ceiling has been broken and we have as much control as we want. And what are we longing for? A little bodice ripping,” answers author Laura Berman to NBC.

Sounds possible, right? But the problem here is perspective. This analysis is focused entirely on women and sex (both of which are fascinating topics and hey, who can blame a journalist for wanting to talk about either, much less both?) The idea is that somehow this desire to be personally dominated contradicts the desire to be professionally powerful. But that’s an incredibly short-sighted view, even assuming the article is correct in the generalization that the majority of American women want to be dominated. It’s about power and responsibility. It’s about freedom.

Did you know, the vast majority of clients for dominatrices are powerful men? CEOs, VPs, managers, venture capitalists. Men who make decisions all-fracking-day long. Men who are in charge. They pay good money-sometimes excellent money-to be dominated by someone else. Sex is often a component. But the sex isn’t the point.

The point is freedom. Not having to make decisions or take responsibility. The point is escaping pressure and guilt. When you’re the one in charge, your decisions matter. They affect everyone around you. It’s your fault if the company does poorly and you need to lay-off one third of your employees. Your responsibility, your guilt. In that context, the fantasy of letting someone else dominate you makes a hell of a lot of sense. For that brief span of time you don’t have to make decisions or take responsibility. Someone else gets the blame. Someone else decides whether you deserve punishment or reward. All you have to do is follow orders.

BDSM isn’t only about freedom, but that is a huge part of its appeal.

If, in fact, there is any correlation between women having more power now and wanting to be dominated, it is in no way a reversal of feminism. If anything, it’s an indicator that women truly are gaining more power, whether that be corporate or personal power. It means that powerful women have the same fantasies as powerful men. That looks a heck of a lot more like equality, to me.

Spring and Fall: To a Young Child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

 – Gerard Manley Hopkins

It’s been a hard year. A hard few years. Mom’s cancer, Jay’s cancer, Donna Marie dying… And now one of Jason’s closest friends dying of adrenal cancer at 34. It’s not fair, but fair hardly matters outside of kindergarten and the constitution.


Puppy Dog Dreams

After a steady campaign of significantly less than six months, I’ve convinced J that fostering a dog is a good idea. Fostering, mind you, which isn’t the same thing as adopting.

I’ve already gone and talked to some folks at one of the local rescue groups about signing up to foster. Picked up a book on dog training (and wow, it’s come a long way from the dominance theory my father went by – and I’m so glad it has!). Talked to the landlord today, and he okayed it on the condition that, should the carpet be damaged, we will replace it. I love my landlords. They are by far the most laid back and logical of the landlords I’ve ever had.

I have no idea of what kind of dog we’re going to get, other than small to medium. And I have no idea of how long we’ll have the dog. It could be a week or two, or it could be months. And I expect it will be hard to say goodbye to a dog I’ve fostered. But right now I’m thinking about it a lot the way I thought about my students when I was teaching. They were mine for a finite period of time, and I did my best to make sure they were better off when they left me.

Hopefully this will work out well for all involved.



How to Buy a Waterbed

First, convince your boyfriend that his free flow waterbed of 20 years is not the ideal sleeping arrangement for two full grown adults who are light sleepers. This may take several years.

Second, compromise on buying a new waterbed with waveless technology instead of a conventional mattress.

Third, do research.

Fourth, briefly mourn the loss of Consumer Reports as your guide when you realize their mattress reviews do not include waterbeds.

Fifth, discover that most waterbed mattress review sites look like they were made in the 70s, although you’re pretty sure that the internet did not exist then. Contemplate the felicity of such color combinations as pink, yellow and orange all within the same comforter.

Sixth, learn that waterbed tech has indeed changed a great deal. There are now softside and hardside waterbeds. Realize that you want a hardside waterbed, even though the name for it is completely counter-intuitive. Because hardside waterbeds have no sides, they’re just the water filled bladders so they are in fact rather soft. Whereas softside waterbeds are actually within the frame of a rigid mattress. So they have firm sides.



Seventh, marvel at the variations available. You have your free flow, semi-waveless, waveless, and ultrawaveless.You have your hydraulic, your fiber layers, your foam layers, your coils, your lumbar support, and your tubes all lined up in a row.

A Plethora of Mattress Types

Free Flow



Hydraulic Ultra Waveless

Inner Coils

Eighth, you go to a Waterbed Store. These are hard to find. The first place you go used to be a waterbed store, but now is just a bed store, and while they have hardside waterbeds, they don’t have any you could try. You wander the store in desperation and find a Boyd softside. So you try it. You lie down on one side, your SO on the other, and take turns trying to make the bed slosh. And you discover that it is possible, hallelujah, to have a waterbed and not disrupt your partner when you move. The kindly salesman unzips the softside for you at which point you see a dual for the first time. Choirs of angels sing. But don’t relax just yet,  your quest has just begun.

Not actually this cheesy.

Ninth, you call the one other store in a hundred mile radius that was once listed as a waterbed store and ask if they have any on display. “We sure do,” they tell you, “come on down!” So you drive an hour in the opposite direction and discover they have three waterbeds on display, but all by the same brand (Land and Sky). Well, try them all you say. The 95% waveless, you discover as you try to bounce and make waves, feels an awful lot like a blanket on a concrete slab. But no waves. The 90% feels good, but when you move, it does jostle your partner. Only for a second. Not the violent slosh-slosh  motion of your current bed. But still. You don’t know why, but you still try the 80% waveless. Slosh-slosh. The salesman nearly convinces you to buy the 90%, he’s got a discounted floor model after all and this, he says, is the best brand. In spite of your skepticism, he’s starting to win you over. But then you learn that he has softsides of other brands. Great! you say.

1980s girl not included.

Tenth, you spend the next two hours hopping from bed to bed. Softside to softside and back to the hardsides. And you like the Boyd softsides better than any of the hardsides. Aside from the squeaking noise. Because it does squeak, with all the passion of vinyl against vinyl. Does this, you ask the salesman, come in a hardside? He does his best to steer you back to the Land and Sky, and so you spend some more time lying on beds in indecision. But then you remember, Aha! People are bad at knowing what they want in the moment. But given time, it’s easier to look back and see. So you’ll sleep on it, you say, back at home on your very own slosh-slosh. You buy fancy sheets, since after all, you did just spend hours in their store lying on their beds.

Eleventh, you go home and you fire up Google. And you don’t much like what you’re reading about the Land and Sky customer service. And you relearn that, really, there are no good review sites for any of these beds, although you do read them all. And each manufacturer has both positive and negative reviews, so it’s about to be a toss up. But then, hallelujah, you see a Boyd hardside dual. It does exist! Twelfth, you ponder for several days. Because while the internal components (the water bed bladder itself) are the same as the softside, the softside does have extra padding on top.

Thirteenth, you order the hardside dual from ABC Waterbed Outlet: 90% waveless, four layers of foam. You figure you’ll find a nice cushiony mattress pad, possibly even one more cushiony for your half than your beloved might prefer because, after all, it’s a dual, and you shall be happy on your side of the bed. And he shall be happy on his. And when you move, you will neither of you wake the other with slosh. All that remains is waiting for the bed to arrive.

Congratulations, you have bought a waterbed.