Identifying Positions of Privilege

In a recent class discussion, I called out a classmate for pontificating on women’s issues from a position of privilege. He was arguing that women are never discouraged from studying Computer Science because he had never seen it happen.

To me, privilege is about not thinking about how other people (people without my privilege) see the world. After that class, I started trying to think about what kinds of privilege I have that I am not conscious of (I am pretty conscious of my “white privilege” and “heterosexual privilege“). I tried to think about times every day when I inconvenience people unnecessarily because I assume they are like me in this privilege.

My biggest privilege? Height.

This is not an uncommon privilege, and it is one with measurable benefits: Tall people make $789 more per inch per year, and are 90% more likely to ascend to the CEO chairs of Fortune 500 Companies, according to Arianne Cohen, author of The Tall Book.” says blogger and entrepreneur Penelope Trunk.

My housemates probably suffer more than anyone else because of this privilege, every time I put at the good tupperware on the top shelf, or the garbage bags on the top right of our deep pantry, or the brown sugar on top of the flour, right at my eye height but signifigantly above the heads of most of my housemates. I work on my bike, assuming they can use it–then remember it is the wrong size. I offer to lend them dresses–but realize formal gowns for my 5’8″ frame will not work for my 5’0″ friend.

The weirdest place when I caught myself exercising this privilege was when we were recently decorating our dining-room with Firefly posters. I wanted to hang them so the focus of the poster was at my eye-height, which is approximately an inch higher than my co-hanger’s heads. We had to negotiate their height so no one would feel hunched or dwarfed over breakfast (low posters feel like low ceilings to me, and high posters make everyone feel like children in our own home).

I feel a responsibility to examine my positions of privilege, because then I will understand how other people enact their privilege, and what I can do about it. For an awesome examination of male privilege, check out Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “If I Were a Man”.

Inspirational Quote:

The heights by great men reached and kept,
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1858

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