Intersectionality and privilege: Dispatches from a body positivist on the frontlines

May 16 | Guest post by Minerva Siegel
Check your privilege pin by RiotCreeps

I've heard a lot of people express frustration within various communities lately because people aren't "checking their privilege." For example, cis-gender, white, able-bodied women on the small end of the plus size spectrum are trying to speak for everybody within body positive circles. They're making broad generalizations about the movement that are harmful and exclusionary of trans babes, the disabled, fat people, people of color, and those who don't conform to gender binaries. This kind of behavior is transforming the movement into something ugly that a lot of people don't want to identify with any longer.

So, how do you keep online spaces (like Instagram or Facebook) healthy while making minorities and other underrepresented people feel heard and welcome? Let's talk about how you can be a voice in a community, while being sure to check your own privilege within that particular space…

There's nothing wrong with having privilege

Let me start out by saying that there's nothing wrong with having privilege. Everyone has some degree of privilege in some spaces, and that's A-okay! What matters is what you decide to do with that privilege, and whether or not you are taking up too much space in a community in which you have lots of it — thereby trampling over marginalized voices that deserve to be heard.

Let's break it down with an example

I always give this example when trying to help people determine how much privilege they have within a space:

I'm disabled. I have a permanently immobile wrist due to a bone disease, and I have autism. While I'm a part of the disabled community, I don't feel that my voice should be the loudest within that space, or that I have a right to speak for everyone, because I recognize that I'm mostly able-bodied. The people who should have the most voice are the ones that are least represented. While I can totally add valuable insight to conversations in disabled spaces, I'm so careful not to speak for anyone else or be the loudest voice in that group.

Your voice is valuable

Your voice deserves to be heard. However, this doesn't mean that you should stomp all over minorities by speaking over them, or making broad, exclusionary statements about the community. Intersectionality is vitally important to the health and strength of any community. We need to hear from minority voices. We need to hear from underrepresented people.

Respect is the name of the game, and by checking our privilege within a space, and deferring to people with less privilege than us when appropriate, we can all make our communities more positive, healthy online spaces for everybody!

Who else has good, easily-understandable tips on how to check your privilege?

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  1. Social Marxism? Why?

    There are actual problems to face in the world and much more productive uses of energy than everyone worrying about over exercising their talking "privilege."

    Anyhow, you should take this message to Berkeley and all the other leftist colleges, where they go so far as to engage in physical violence to prevent minority viewpoints from being heard.

    1 agrees
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    • Hey Kevin… Kinda feeling a lot of anger coming off in waves from your comment. I'm not sure if it was meant to be that way, but yikes.

      As it stands, yes there are oodles of problems in the world, and yes *SOME* people take privilege to the extreme… that doesn't mean it isn't a real issue, or that people don't have the right to feel upset when someone more privileged than them makes them feel like crap.

      I feel from your comment, like you're on the opposite end of the spectrum from the "snowflake" side of things… like you're the suck it up and don't talk about your feelings because we got shit to do, side of things. Personally I think the world would be a greater place if everyone from both extremes moved more towards the middle. Understand that though you may not understand why something upsets another person, it did upset them and you (not YOU, but the general "you") should be more careful in the future… but also, that if something upsets you, to not fly off the handle and assume that everyone is trying to silence your voice.

      Anyway, I'm not sure if it meant it to come off as harsh as you sounded, so feel free to explain if I'm wrong.. but I hope that you can see/understand my point too.

      Have a great day 🙂

      1 agrees
  2. I like this very much and can identify with it. I have Interstitial Cystitis / Painful Bladder Syndrome. So I feel like I'm qualified for speak for that group of people in SOME general terms … but I'm also definitely not the MOST qualified. My case is very mild compared to many others who have it and I was only diagnosed 2 years ago so I really haven't been living with it for very long in the grand scheme of things.
    I think that's a good thing to keep in mind to keep privilege in check. Everyone's journey with any given thing (illness, disability, body positivity, etc) is different and falls somewhere along a spectrum. Whenever I speak about my IC/PBS I try to keep it in terms of "These are MY symptoms, these remedies help ME, this was MY path to diagnosis" because I certainly can't speak for everyone … nor would I want to!

    3 agree
  3. I tried to remain calm while writing this response, but to be completely honest, the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. So I'm sorry if my experiences and feelings about them are offensive. There, I checked my privilege.

    Let's start by disclaiming that I am a white, cis, straight woman on the low end of the plus size spectrum. I also have genetically triggered Type 2 Diabetes and Hypertension, as well as menstrual migraines. So I've got lots of privilege, according to this piece, and according to every other liberal blog, instagram account, or other public forum/social media THING, which means any time I want to voice my experience or point of view, I basically get stamped on. I'm not plus enough. My illnesses aren't visible. I'm white & straight, so being an ally is being pretentious.

    So basically I never say anything, and I lurk on a lot of places. I just don't have the energy to do the mental gymnastics to argue over having a legitimate point of view when people on the extremes want to tell me how bad it "really" is. Every once in awhile I will defend plus brands for using size 16/18 models, because YES THEY ARE PLUS SIZED, but otherwise I generally say nothing. I shouldn't have to stay quiet for fear of being completely invalidated by people who are "more marginalized" than I am. So no, I'm not going to check my privilege, because all my "privilege" gets me is the idea that I should feel guilty for identifying with any of these groups, because I don't belong, according to to vocal people in them. The entire idea that a group of people can invalidate me for identifying with them, EVEN THOUGH I FIT THE PARAMETERS, is completely obnoxious.

    Do I have a legitimate voice in being an ally, even though I've never questioned that I'm straight/cis? I have LGBTQ family and friends that I love and support fully, and I want them to have the same benefits that I do. Can I be called plus sized? Well, I shop primarily at Torrid, a plus size shop, so you tell me. If they carry my size and call themselves a plus store, how can you tell me that I'm not plus? Can I be a valued voice in discussion of chronic illness? I mean, I struggle! Just because it's not visible, doesn't mean I don't know what it's like to have to decide between joining in on Happy Hour or seeming stuck up for being exhausted and having out of whack blood sugar on a business trip.

    No one should not have to check anything before saying, "This is My Experience, and I want to share." Obviously no one should speak for anyone else, but I don't think that has anything to do with perceived privilege. That has more to do with being a decent human and not being narcissistic.

    5 agree
  4. Ugh I wrote a whole thing.. but there were so many side notes to explain myself that I'm just going to start again.
    I'm on the fence when it comes to privilege.. While I agree to a certain extent… I also do feel as though some people in marginalized communities use "privilege" as a way to bully others.. and that I'm not OK with.

    Now.. for the record, short form I'm a white cis-female (who is not fully cis but that's too long a story), pansexual AF, but married to a cis-male who's super vanilla. I'm also morbidly obese and disabled (which led to the weight gain because I can't walk more than a few feet without sheer agony) AND I've been battling binge eating disorder, anxiety disorders, PTSD, and depression .

    So am I privileged? In some ways yes… in others, I'm in the minority.. and I get both sides of the coin.

    On the one hand, I agree that someone "privileged" shouldn't take a voice away from someone marginalized, especially not in their own community.

    On the other hand, I don't believe that people should use this term to bully people into silence, or to hurt ally's for trying to help. If an ally says something that is problematic TEACH THEM, don't attack them!

    Hell I've had friends in the LGBTQ+ community go on epic rants about how straight people should be banned from gay pride parades.. BANNED… their reasoning? It's "their parade" and straight people shouldn't take their one thing away from them.

    My response to that is, how the eff do you know if the person is straight or not?!?! I'm pan, and married to a cis-male.. I look straight… but I've known I was gay my whole life. Should I be banned?

    Those who are in the closet, and pride is the one time a year they can go out and celebrate their culture freely, even if they're going stealth.. should they be banned? And how gay, is gay enough? It's insane!

    When a man opens a door for a woman, and she freaks out at him because she's a strong woman who can take care of herself.. that's wrong, because the man was just being nice.. He'd have held the door for anyone. Calm your tiddies!

    When I speak up in the FTM (female to male) groups that I'm in, and either get ignored, or told to check my privilege, on comments where I'm congratulating someone for their first shot of T (testosterone)… Holy crap man, calm down!

    When I think of how privilege is perceived today, I think it's a perversion of what the original intent was (this is just my opinion)… when I think of someone who is privileged… I think of someone who speaks over someone and stomps them down when they try to correct them, or speak for themselves… I think of someone who has it all, and makes you feel like crap for not having any.. I think of someone who will drive around in a poor neighborhood, with a bugati, and post pics to his insta making fun of the poor people… I think of jerks.

    When you take that, and become overly sensitive to the point where you accuse ally's of needing to check their privilege, it does more harm than good. I'm a HUGE advocate for the FTM community, and do my best to support them in any way that I can.. through money, through social media, through general words of encouragement to my friends/followers on various social media platforms… I try to lend my voice to theirs, to preach acceptance to those who may be ignorant and may listen more because I'm "cis"… I try to support, to love, to stay back and let the light shine on them when they are in the limelight… and yet I STILL get beat down verbally for not checking my privilege often because I'm not trans so shouldn't be there.. or in LGBTQ+ chats where I'm not "gay enough"… etc etc.

    I fully understand that someone who is a minority for whatever reason, may be sensitive, or may feel as though people are trying to talk over them… but for me personally, I think if the message that person is saying is a good one.. or if that person is trying to help… that you shouldn't knock them down or make them feel like crap. Everyone starts somewhere, and most of the time that person, especially in the beginning of their journey… will make mistakes. They'll say things that are problematic without meaning to , or realizing.. and yes it can hurt.. but that hurt wasn't intentional.. and if you took 5 mins to private message them, or to comment publicly, and try to educate… then that ally will become a stronger ally in the future. For example, when I first "found" the FTM community, I admit that I accidentally told someone that they looked super masc and I would have never known they weren't a CIS male… To me, at the time, I thought that was a nice thing to say, I felt like it was true… But after speaking to them, they told me that in saying that, it can trigger dysphoria and act as a reminder that they aren't cis.. something they wish desperately that they could be.. and that it kinda made him feel shitty about himself, even though he knew I didn't mean to offend. From that moment on I have never said that again to either an FTM or MTF..
    It's just like one time someone came up to me and said "OMG you are so beautiful for a plus sized girl! Truly gorgeous"… I know they meant it as a compliment, but it still hurt because it felt like there was an addendum… I'm only pretty "for a fat chick"… and that my beauty wouldn't compare if placed next to someone skinny.. It took the compliment, though fully genuine and not said with malice, and broke my heart.

    Sometimes people say stuff because they don't know better. There is no malice.. and it's your job to either see that and not internalize how it made you feel, but rather the intent of their words… OR for you to speak up and educate so they won't make the same mistake in the future.

    Some people will need many reminders.. and as long as they are trying.. don't be a dick and rip them to shreds. It's not easy for someone who isn't in the community to fully realize how things can effect you… that's just part of human nature. Some people are naturals and will be able to flip a switch and be better going forward.. others, who maybe aren't as good with empathy as others, will need more time and more patience and reminders when they slip. If they are trying, and if they are genuine… then please try not to freak out and call them out on not checking their privilege.

    Sorry for the novel, and thanks if you read up to this point <3

    4 agree
    • Thank you for posting your experiences, and for allowing it to validate mine. I'm sort of morbidly glad that I'm not the only one who has been marginalized by groups that I identify with.

      2 agree

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