Monday, May 26, 2008

A Long and Boring Rant About Privilege - Read at Your Own Risk

***Disclaimer: I wrote and rewrote this twenty times in my head, and it kept coming across as...arrogant, I guess, and judgemental. But I feel like my feelings on the issue are legitimate, and I wanted to express them anyway. So, sorry if this post makes me seem like an ass. I'm really not, most of the time.***

The Bound4Life people were back this Saturday. One of our escorts, the fantastic JF, went out with tape over his mouth that said "Choice" and just stood with them. Ballsy. Afterwards they were quite nice and a couple of them introduced themselves - including the ringleader, KT.

I've been thinking a lot about the B4L kids and I'm still rather torn. On the one hand, they only come on Saturdays so patients don't see them - they are harmless. They are different than the regular protesters; they're not there to harrass people, or even really to be seen, so much as they just want God to stop abortion. It's kind of sweet, in an ignorant and misguided way. I do respect their enthusiasm though, and their desire to avoid confrontation and offence, even though sometimes good intentions aren't quite enough.

So I do think they're okay. I don't have much of a problem with them. But then, on the other hand...

It's kind of complicated. I've discovered the concept of privilege relatively recently, and it's a bitch, let me tell you. It's an ongoing series of "aha!" moments, but not the fun ones, more like the "oh god, I'm talking out my big, pale, white ass again" ones. It is very, very difficult to escape one's own privilege; I'm not actually sure it can be done. However, you can examine your own privilege and be aware of it, which is something I've been working on over the last couple years. It's painful, especially when you've got so much of it - whiteness, money, education, opportunity, etc. etc.

Male privilege is pretty bad (just look at our regular protesters), but I think white privilege is the worst. Or at least, whatever you would call the kind of privilege that incorporates white skin, middle or upper middle class upbringing, and living in North America. I'll just call it WASP privilege, although that's not the best term as it is both too inclusive and not inclusive enough for the group I'm thinking of. Regardless, it's the group that includes me and people like me - including KT.

The point of all this is, I think what the B4L people do is kind of off-putting because it demonstrates such a painful lack of self-examination. These kids have no idea of their own privilege; if they did, they would be ashamed to be out there in public, being so ridiculously clueless. It's their idealism and their naivete that makes them so pathetic - you can tell that they really believe in saving the little babies, and that if they could have a few minutes alone with a woman considering abortion, they could not only change her mind, but also probably bring her to Christ.

Because they see the world through a lens of WASP privilege, however, they have no way of identifying with the situation at all. True, some women who come into the clinic are also born of privilege, but the vast majority are not - they are in far shittier situations than people like me could imagine. And people like KT, with her support network of friends and family, her money and social status, they think it's just a matter of changing her mind. They just have no concept of having NO OTHER OPTION.

Abortion is shitty, it's true. But for some people, it's the lesser of two evils. If you've never been in the situation, you won't understand. Hell I haven't, and I don't. But at least I'm not trying to undermine people's choices. At least I recognize that I am far too privileged to understand a given situation, and I have no right to interfere without permission into someone's life.

KT thinks she's helping people, but she isn't. Because they didn't ask for her help, and she doesn't know how to help. How do you talk from privilege? How do you ask someone to consider an option that their money, status and skin colour CANNOT buy? It's not an option at all!

The other thing that pisses me off (related to all this) is the whole idea of asking God to end abortion. I mean what the fuck, really? They're not asking Him to solve the problems that lead to abortion, or to help the women who choose abortion out of the shitty situation they are inevitably in. They don't give a shit, they just don't want the babies to die. They don't care about the women, nor do they try to care. They don't understand the complexities of the issue at all. They just identify a situation that doesn't fit in with their sunny, rosy, WASPy vision of the world, and they pray for it to end, without giving a flying fuck about the people that NEED the option to be there.

These are the people that, if they wanted to "help" people in Burma, would ask God to end cyclones. As if that's the problem. Not poverty, debt, oppressive government, first world apathy, nothing like that. Just fucking cyclones.

So my point is, I like their enthusiam, I am appalled by their arrogance, ignorance and lack of self-examination. It's not their fault they are born of privilege, just like it's not my fault I am either. But it is their fault that they have no interest in analysing an issue they supposedly care so much about, and it is their fault they can't see past their own privilege in order to actually help people. Sorry for sounding extremely privileged and intellectually elitist, and probably hypocritical, but some things make me really mad. So there.


Anonymous said...

I really liked this entry, though I like all of them, but this one in particular. I was never a anti-choicer, but I was someone who had always said I would never personally have an abortion, I suppose that makes me as idealistic and judgemental as the B4L kids. But as someone, who unexpectedly found herself possibly pregnant, I would like to meet any girl who does not, even for a moment, consider abortion. I did not ask to get raped, but none-the-less I was going to be the one who would have to face my life being totally different from then on regardless of the fact that I might have a small baby to care for. I don't know of anyone who faces that knowing that "God" will provide, if (s)he did have such power, why would I have been raped?

I like you, applaud these people for their idealism, but I also know that in my place, or in many of the woman who frequent the clinic's place, abortion may be the only way you could look at yourself in the mirror instead of having to face a child whose very existence is a reminder of your own violation. It's a harsh truth. We're only human after all.

Anonymous said...

Quite the post Pedge.

I think that you raise an interesting point. There is so much more to the issue of abortion than the ending of a potential life. There are the socio-economic factors that make some women feel that an abortion is a necessary evil. For a person in a privileged position, abortion is a choice that can be made, but for a person who has far less say over her situation, abortion is not a choice but the only realistic option.

I think that we can all agree that a world where abortions are not necessary would be ideal. However, ours is not a utopia. Until we've managed to cure that factors that make abortions necessary (poverty, sexual assault, physical abuse...) then it is indeed very shortsighted and naive to speak out against abortion. The evil is not the legal medical procedure, but rather the myriad of social ills that make abortion necessary.

You touched on an interesting point when you wrote about the futility of asking god to stop abortions. I agree with you. If you want to stop abortion, than get off your ass and fight against the factors that make it integral for so many women. It's much more effective to treat the cause than the symptom.


Unknown said...

Although "we" are "priveleged" because we are able to sit down and think about these things, and judge other people, I don't believe we should apologize for being able to do so.

Aside from helping every person in the entire world who is less "privileged" than "we" are, the best thing we can do -- and indeed the thing we are privileged enough to do -- is open a dialogue about why the world is the way it is, and how we should think differently about it.

There are many ways to come at the condemnation of abortion -- feminist, economical, medical, emotional, psychological, etc. -- and they all have valid points. I think you raise many of these points in your blog, although not always explicitly, and I thank you for that.

I have never had to get an abortion. I have never had to give birth either. I suppose I am what some people would call "privileged," although others may not think so. I am probably "upper-middle class." But I don't think anyone can tell/guilt/force/encourage a woman to carry a baby in her body for nine months and raise it for the rest of her life. I know what giving birth to a child might do to my life now: it would destroy it. It would destroy me. And that would destroy the child.

Perhaps not physically, but emotionally and psychologically. And I believe those things hurt more than abortion.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. It is really, really important to consider the position of extreme privilege (not to mention naivete) that the anti-choicers come from. And even more so to point that privilege and disregard for women at every possible chance.

Amy O said...

This one was good man.

Anonymous said...

I really loved this, Peg -- especially since the concept of my own privilege and trying to reconcile it is new-ish to me as well. Your post wasn't arrogant at all -- impassioned, obviously, but a thorough examination of the issue and a logically thought-out conclusion.

I think the point some people miss -- as you touched on -- is that a lack of knowledge about your own privilege invariably leads to a lens that lacks total context around a situation. That narrow world view -- though, because of privilege, how could it be anything but? -- can be a dangerous thing when it comes to taking such a strong stand on an issue like abortion.

I think the least anyone can do is recognize their privilege, let that knowledge colour their experiences and try to be a little more introspective into their own motivations.

Anyway, once again, great post. Wish more people/groups in the abortion debate had the same level of self-awareness as you!

Anonymous said...

I was considering the same thing in the context of opinions (a subject on a yet wholly unwritten article of mine). I was trying to figure out why I think I'm so much more right than anyone else.

I decided that as long as I'm willing to look at other viewpoints, admit when i'm wrong and be willing to change my position I'm allowed to say I'm the most right.

BlueBerry Pick'n said...

you know who drives me nuts?

The woman with the YouTube video whinging about how Dr.Morganthaler wasn't her psychologist.

"1st Degree Morgentaler Project Breakout-Finalist (Abortion)"
10:00 - Added: 4 months ago
From: AbortedArtist
Views: 450

the sniveling drives me nuts.

One can only presume that no man can be all things to all people.

If you're gonna hop up on the gurney, you can't whine because someone didn't stop you.

I've had three girlfriends who have had abortions. I also have a string of female relatives who have given children to adoption.

In every case, there were *circumstances* which needed assessment for an important decision. Not for a second would a 'committee' or 'authorizing group' have added anything but misery & chaos.

I find it odd that the people who oppose abortion are the same people who seem to be incapable of Trusting another person's decision-making.

They continually seek an 'unassailable position' on every issue... as if they *truly fear* being singled out as having an opinion worth debating.

Which didn't stop me a moment when I was lucky enough to meet Dr.Morgenthaler at a R.O.M. lecture (interestingly enough, a guest lecturing on the Egyptian Book of the Dead). I was able to thank him for his incredible strength & courage.

BlueBerry Pick'n
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"We, two, form a Multitude" ~ Ovid.
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