05/27/14

The Privilege to Deny Privilege: You Are No Bruce Wayne

In the video below Army Colonel and lawyer Kurt Schlichter, attempts to shut down the notion of white privilege while a guest on Tucker Carlson’s show. However, it’s clear from the video that he doesn’t really understand what the use of the word ‘privilege’ actually means when used in a critical way. Too privileged, I guess. Check out the video below and then read on, and let’s see if we can’t get a better handle on what having a critical understanding of privilege means and what we should do with that understanding. Hint: It’s not guilt.

For the article from where this video was found, click here

Schlichter’s bias is on full display at the end when he trashes gender studies courses (another clear sign of privilege, but we’ll get to that), but based on his explanation of what is meant by privilege, he either has never taken a gender studies course (or other course on critical race studies, ethnic studies, Native American studies, etc.) or if he has taken one of these courses, drastically missed the point of the class.

Privilege, as a critical tool, is used to better understand the ways in which we actually go through the world in different ways, as much as we would like to think that we don’t. Contrary to what we are always told, we are not simply blank slates or empty vessels that merely get filled up with our individual achievements and then are judged solely based on these achievements. We enter the world with a race, gender, nationality, ethnicity, economic class, sexuality, (dis)ability, etc., and the world we enter has views, beliefs, and biases based on these categories. Thinking that this is not the case is part of the nature of privilege.

Schlichter depicts privilege as something we have (which of course he thinks is made up), but it’s more accurate to think of privilege as something we experience (or fail to experience) each and every moment. We cannot simply divide everyone up into two groups, those that are privileged and those that are not. Schlichter claims this very thing when he says that it “makes you stuck into one category as either good or bad.” It’s this type of either/or thinking that is the problem.

Privilege or hard work. That’s the false either/or choice that sends us down the wrong path. If someone starts from this idea and is told to become aware of his privilege, he sees this as a claim that he has not worked hard in his life. This is clearly evident when Schlichter starts listing his resume of achievements. Again, as if the presence of hard work removes the possibility of privilege. Privilege is not a gimme, a ticket to just kick back and do nothing and have things simply handed to you. Privilege is more nuanced than that, and since Schlichter claims he likes arguments, I am sure he can appreciate nuance. (that is more wishful thinking, rather than a statement of fact)

Let’s use an example… Batman…

the-dark-knight-rises-batman

Yes, Batman. Now, we would all agree that Bruce Wayne works very hard what with the late nights fighting crime, years away learning the ways of the League of Shadows, and figuring out how to work all the cool gadgets from Wayne Enterprises. However, we would also agree that Bruce Wayne experiences privilege, the most obvious being economic privilege. A poor citizen of Gotham would have more obstacles to overcome if he wanted to become a vigilante superhero. Hence, why a poor superhero, like Spiderman, gets his super power by super natural means. He does not have a multi-national corporation to raid like Bruce Wayne. Again, both work hard and both experience different kinds of privilege or lack of privilege. However, unlike Schlichter, Bruce Wayne was aware of his privilege.

Now when it comes to the non-superheroes among us, it is the same way. Saying that whites experience privilege does not mean that whites haven’t done any hard work. Saying that there is heterosexual privilege, does not mean that straight people have been handed everything. It does mean however that there are obstacles experienced by those that identify as gay or lesbian. It does mean that identifying as heterosexual has advantages in our society. If you disagree (and you identify as heterosexual), just ask yourself if anyone has ever questioned your right to get married, or your right to be with your partner in public, or even questioned your right to exist. This does not mean that every heterosexual has it better than every gay or lesbian individual. Again, it’s not about putting people into either/or categories. It’s about being aware of these obstacles or lack of them.

And that really is the key to the whole notion of privilege, the privilege of being ignorant and unaware of these obstacles. That is what experiences of privilege really buy you, the ability to deny the existence of obstacles experienced in this world by certain groups of people, but not others. Privilege is not just about what happened generations ago (as Schlichter would have us believe), it is about experiences occurring right now at this moment. It’s about resumes with white sounding names getting a higher call back rate than similar resumes with African-American sounding names. See more here. But, we don’t see or feel this as we go about our day if we are on the privileged side of any given experience. We just see it as our hard work paying off. But this is not the whole story.

The goal of realizing that you do experience certain privileges by being white, a male, a US citizen, or heterosexual is to break the constant reciting of the myth that it is all and only about individual hard work and effort. Schlichter claims that the charge of privilege is a “tool to adjudicate your value,” but it’s Schlichter and other privilege deniers that are adjudicating people’s value when he says, “what you call privilege, I just call being better than you.” A better example of privilege would be hard to find. But, then again what do I know, I am just a privileged cisgender, white, male, US veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq who according to Schlichter cannot “have any track record of success” because I am “babbling about privilege.” Oh and its time for my gender studies seminar.

12/2/13

Women in the Infantry: Rape Victims in the Making?

TRIGGER WARNING – DISCUSSIONS OF RAPE, ABUSE, AND BULLYING

Recently three female marines completed infantry training as part of the lifting of the restriction of women serving in direct ground combat units earlier this year. However, these women will not be assigned to actual infantry units despite completing the required training. You can read more about this here, here, and here. But why the hesitation to allow these women to serve in the units for which they qualified?

What is striking, if we pay attention to it, is the vast amount of comments on social media sites, many by current and prior military service members, claiming that if these women were allowed in actual infantry units, they would be violated and raped in a matter of minutes. Whenever the discussion of women entering all-male combat units arises, whether in casual conversation, on social media, or in formal political or governmental hearings, someone will inevitably bring up the great risk to the women of being harassed, abused, or raped. If we stop for a minute and think about this all-too common concern, it teaches us a lot about the current state of masculinity.

The fact that we can all talk about, hear, and respond to this obvious risk of rape to women in all-male units without really stopping to think about it, shows how rape is simply thought of as an occupational hazard for women. Everyone just states it as a given. Rape just happens. Duh. What do you expect from a group of male soldiers? Get over it. This type of thinking is dangerous, wrong, and displays a fundamental aspect of rape culture.

The military is filled with talk of honor, integrity, selfless service, courage, etc. When I was in Army infantry basic training we had to memorize the Ranger Creed, which has lines like:

Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight.

And…

I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.

There was constant talk of duty and never failing to complete the mission. These core values are portrayed as the foundation of unit cohesion and effectiveness, and what separates the soldier from the civilian. Why then would a woman, who has been deemed by the command part of the unit and thus a fellow comrade, run the risk of sexual violence and rape?

This must either make us question the claims held up by military units about honor, integrity, duty, and loyalty or make us realize that maybe some other motivation overrides these responsibilities, namely the protection of a space for men to prove their manhood.

get back to the kitchen

The message seems to be, this is our place, and the pervasive “obviousness” of the threat of sexual assault and rape functions as a warning that expresses this “fact.” Stay where you belong, or face the consequences, which is not far from this:

WomenDeserveEqualRightsAndLefts

We are told to protect our comrades and never let them fall into the hands of the enemy. However, a woman in a combat unit is not viewed as a comrade. Rather the woman is seen as the enemy, which threatens this tenuous, insecure idea of masculinity. This is the true threat.

 

 

10/21/13

The Masculine Marketing Formula

I am a vegan. This means I don’t eat animals or any food that’s obtained from animals. It also means I don’t use any items made with animal products or items tested on animals, as much as possible. I say that because it is an ongoing process of learning what exactly contains animal products. I was quite surprised to learn that many beers and wines contain stomach acids obtained from animals to assist the fermentation process and that black tattoo ink uses animal bone char (For a great vegan tattoo shop check out Scapegoat Tattoo in Portland, Oregon).

Now I haven’t always been a vegan. For most of my life, minus the last 3 years, I followed the Standard American Diet. As I have said elsewhere, though, our complicity cannot prevent our current ability to critique. In order to change ourselves, we will, by definition, have to contradict our former actions. What I want to discuss here is not veganism specifically, but rather the pressures that keep many of us from even entertaining the idea, as it’s a process I went through myself. We’ve all heard it before…

 “Real Men Eat Meat”

What men eat is strongly connected with ideas of manhood. The power of masculinity is so strong, the choices, if we can even call them that, that we make about food many times are made based more on the worry of “not being a man” over other concerns such as taste, health or ethics. This restriction, this pressure, this narrow box put upon us by the cultural demands of masculinity restricts our individual freedom, reducing our ability to choose.

Its important to realize how strong this pressure is. You may be shaking your head, saying, “no, you are completely free to eat how you wish. There is no law against it one way or the other. Nobody is physically forcing you to eat meat.” When we speak and think like this, we miss how strong family, culture, gender, and society pressure actually is. When fathers forbid their sons from even trying a meat-less hot dog at a family bar-b-que, when commercials market products based on ideas of manliness, or when reasons given for not wanting a particular thing is that it’s ‘chic food,’ we don’t have freedom of choice, rather we have a tyranny of manhood. This Burger King commercial is a good example:

It has all the aspects mentioned above as is made even worse by the fact that it is a remake of the song, I am Woman, by Helen Reddy from 1972, which focuses on women empowerment and became an anthem of the women’s movement.

Eating animals has become another way for achieving this narrow standard of masculinity, the making of men by requiring constant swagger, shows of aggression, and “manning up.” Putting animals on our plates becomes another way to wear that “Tough Guise,” the constant performance of manhood driven by the never-ending fear of being thought less than a man. In the current set-up of masculinity, being a man is not something you are, but is always in danger of being taken away.  This is not a positive identity, but an identity defined by anxiety.

If the standard for which food men consume is based on the amount of violence that went into getting it onto the plate (“The bloodier the better.”), what does that tell us about the notion of manhood we are being given? It certainly makes comments related to rape and sexual violence such as, “he treated me like a piece of meat,” have even more significance. A manhood that requires continual displays of violence, aggression, and dominance, as we see in the eating of animals, is one that contributes to an epidemic of seeing women as things, sexual violence, and rape. It’s not the food itself; it’s the motivations behind it. All too often eating animals and sex are linked, like in this commercial from Carl’s Jr.

A preoccupation with food and its relation to manhood shows how tenuous, how fragile, the current idea of masculinity really is. Having a plate of food without some kind of dead animal on it is enough to call one’s manhood into question. When we take a step back, the insanity of it becomes extremely visible. Once we break out of the restrictive, pre-given standards of masculinity, only then can we begin to have the discussion about what we should or should not be eating and why. As it currently stands the all-encompassing pull of manhood prevents us from freely choosing, and it’s not just the animals that are harmed.

 

10/9/13

The Case Against the P-Word

“When you men get home and face an anti-war protester, look him in the eyes and shake his hand. Then, wink at his girlfriend, because she knows she’s dating a pussy.”

I have seen this quotation a number of times online, and while it is usually attached to a picture of retired Marine Corps General James N. Mattis, I have been unable to find any actual, proper citation linking it to him directly. However, the more important point is not whether he said it or not, but the comment itself, the meaning behind it, and the fact that many look up to and agree with the message behind the statement.

What is this statement saying? And more importantly what are the words in this sentence doing? Let’s break it down a little…

The term ‘pussy’ has become so common that we probably never even think about it when we use it. It has even lost the label of being a swear or curse word. But we must not forget from where this word comes. We have so associated the term ‘pussy’ with being cowardly and weak that we forget who have pussies, namely women. So, what is really being said in the above statement is that the anti-war protester is a woman. The anti-war protester is not simply a coward, he has been made into a woman. The comment is not just labeling soldiers and anti-war protesters, with statements like the above one, we are defining men and women.

The logic of the statement seems to go like this: The war protester is made to seem like a woman, and no man wants to be a woman, thus if you want to be a man, you should be a soldier. And if you are already a soldier, you can feel good about the fact that you are, in fact, a man. So, what’s the problem? Isn’t courage, bravery, and a willingness to fight all good qualities and ones any man should be striving for?

When I was in the infantry, many of my fellow soldiers were unsure about the value of the particular war we were in or were simply indifferent to the rightness or wrongness of the conflict. But somehow, someone from the outside speaking out against the war is seen and felt as a threat. Why is this so? We should all be war protesters. It should be difficult to take the country to war and every one of us, if it is needed, should be reluctant. And that doesn’t make us weak; it makes us involved, conscious citizens, the very strength of a democracy.

We need to stop using the insult ‘pussy’ to describe people. If boys are growing up learning that being a ‘pussy,’ a woman, is bad, then we are teaching boys and men to not value women. By trying to make sure boys become “men” by making sure they don’t turn out to be women, we are not creating good human beings. We are hurting women and harming men. We all are worse off.

10/4/13

Welcome to The Critical Veteran

TRIGGER WARNING – DISCUSSIONS OF RAPE, ABUSE, AND BULLYING

“I’m gonna make him a man.”

“You don’t want to be a pussy, do you?”

“What are you a fag?”

We have all heard these before at some point, and most of us have dismissed it as part of the normal way we talk to each other in society. We probably never even think about statements, where they came from, what they mean, or most importantly, what these phrases are doing when we use them. Words have effects. Christopher Kilmartin, professor of psychology, tells us: “The worst insult you can give to a boy is that ‘you run like, act like, look like, dance like, throw like a girl.’ So when we tell little boys that being like a girl diminishes you, what kind of attitude are we building? We are teaching them to disrespect women.” This abusive push for manhood hurts both women and men, to the point where here in the United States, “being a man” means a constant anxiety about achieving and defending one’s manhood, a manhood that is defined by aggression and violence. Man up! Be Tough!

Both men and women experience the negative effects of the violent standard of masculinity. Women (and some men) suffer through sexual harassment, sexism, economic inequality, and rape, among many other things. Men suffer by being denied the freedom to be a full human being. This constant pressure to ‘Man Up’ prevents feeling and showing emotions and forces men to follow a strict script of what is acceptable.

One of the most dangerous aspects of the requirement placed on men to defend and prove their manliness is the constant show of strength, power, and aggression, which limits critical reflection. Admitting that you may not have the answer is not allowed. Anyone that questions the accepted standard of masculinity gets labeled as unmanly, a pussy, a fag. For masculinity to thrive, it must crush any negative criticism, keeping men imprisoned with anxiety to either follow or be thrown out of the “boy’s club.”  This is anti-human and anti-freedom.

I wish to challenge this anti-critical masculinity, and The Critical Veteran is this challenge. A little bit about me; I was an infantry paratrooper at the 82nd Airborne Division. I have served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. I have been a high school and middle school teacher. I have been a bartender. I have been uncertain about choices. I have been certain. I have been a bad boyfriend. I have been a good boyfriend. I have been to strip clubs and watched porn. I have enjoyed firing a gun. I have questioned the 2nd Amendment. I am not perfect. I strive for understanding.

An important point right from the outset is realizing that I am not above the pressures and influences of our culture, which strongly pushes to divide and label genders. Many of the jokes, words, activities, and practices investigated here, I have participated in at one time or another. However, our complicity cannot cripple our current ability to critique. Like addiction, no change can be made until we admit there is a problem and come to terms with the fact that we are not above the problem. I write from the position of a human being situated within a culture that constantly pushes masculinity. This space, this blog, is a vehicle for me to explore my own understanding of masculinity and its effect on me as a person. My hope is that by peering into my process, the act of questioning masculinity, instead of just trying to achieve and defend it, will become easier for others. The process of “becoming a happy human being” should be a free and unrestricted journey, not a pre-scripted, oppressive one.

Welcome to The Critical Veteran.