Privilege, & Gender Equality

For months now I (Michael) have been meaning to write about one of the best TED Talks I’ve watched in a while, but it’s been hard to find the time. When I think about sharing my thoughts on a topic that is incredibly important to me, I realize “lack of time” isn’t a good excuse, but I want to be focused and clear as I write. Before I delve in, I really encourage you to take 16 minutes to watch this TED Talk from Michael Kimmel:

When I watched this TED Talk, I had a similar experience to Kimmel, coming to the jarring realization of what it means that I am a middle-class white male. Like Kimmel, my status isn’t something I’m always aware of.  After watching this talk, I mentioned to Helen that unlike women, I don’t have a reminder of my gender the way women do – no time of the month that brings stark focus on my identity as a male. In college I remember being so offended at the subtle message suggesting being a white middle class male made me the “bad guy,” but my very offense now only demonstrates to me just how blind I was to the privilege of my race, class and gender. I’m not suggesting white middle class males are the root of all oppression in the world, but instead I’ve come to realize that when you are daily made aware of the color of your skin, or your social class, or (especially) gender through the way you are restricted, it would be easy to grow in resentment. After all, these are uncontrollable factors, and when contrasted with someone who gets to move freely through his day because he happened to be born a white middle class male, frustration is understandable. The closest I can come to sympathize with this frustration is the tendency towards dislike I have for those who have grown up in a bubble of inherited wealth, especially those who do not realize their privilege. When Kimmel quoted the African-American woman in his story as saying, “Privilege is invisible to those who have it,” I was overwhelmed by how true that was for me.

As I thought about the sense of entitlement that once made me resist issues surrounding gender equality, I am reminded of how grateful I am to be part of a faith community that values and champions those who are best suited for specific roles, regardless of whether they are male or female. I have so come to value this that I would fight for it at almost any expense. The vocational path I am on at the moment (as a Bible teacher) is not one I am entitled to, but humbled to be given by God; this perspective has helped me to see that we have no right to say, “that woman/man stole my job.” My hope is that those given roles of leadership are given them because they are best suited for the roles. At times, gender might come into play for the sake of balanced perspective, but that could also be said of ethnic diversity in a work place or even social background and political preference. I think about being in an international missions organization, and though it causes tension at times, there is value in a diversity of perspectives represented in the leadership of our community. Allowing for this diversity and sharing the roles among a spectrum of different perspectives has great benefit for the health of our community also.

There is much more I could say both on the topic of gender equality and thoughts that arose for me out of this TED talk, but instead I urge you to be honest about where your privilege has built a sense of entitlement in your life, and then attempt to look past that to empathize with those who are not like you. For myself, I know I need to remember that challenge as I look into the mirror each day, so I will not be so blind to the privilege that comes with being a middle class white male.

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