HBM's mom has sure stirred up a hornet's nest this week... and tons of bloggers are talking about the notion of privilege. It's something that has been discussed on and off a lot for the year I've been blogging, something that seems to be acknowledged with some wringing of hands and then passed over again, for really, what else do you do with it? Find someone less privileged and offer to drive them to the library and look after their kids so they can have some time to blog? They'd quite rightly think you were nuts. And perhaps that's the point, that we have the luxury of thinking blogging might be something really worth giving over time to, and perhaps not. Whatever. What I think is interesting, though, is that even while we are admitting that yes, we are privileged, we are not talking a lot about what we mean by that. Perhaps because we are people who are privileged in many different ways, so we can just nod and not delve. A couple of people, though, have started to dissect it a bit, to talk about what it means to be "privileged," and I think it's worth a look.
Toyfoto said in HBM's comments, Everyone is lucky. Everyone is unlucky. Bub&Pie just posted a longish piece about how she was, in some ways, very privileged, while in others, she was not. I quite agree. I think maybe this is why so many of us balk slightly at the label. It's not that we don't know we have it good. It's that it's not all good. And it's not that we don't know we're lucky, it's that we wonder why we should be made to feel bad about it. And why it matters. Back to that later.
I want to be clear here - we are all lucky on global terms. I recognize that. But I don't live in war-torn Sierra Leone, a slum of Calcutta, a child brothel in Bangkok. I live in Canada, and I am talking here in the context of developed nations, of comparable scenarios, of Canada, the U.S., the peace-enfolded regions of Western Europe. To say I'm privileged in terms of the entire planet is a platitude, frankly, and I don't think any of the discussions of privilege are really seeking to make this comparison. Just for context, so you know I'm aware. (and you know, so you don't think I'm a giant ass.)
So what are we talking about? Let's think about the label. White, educated, middle-class women with time and access. Okay. Let's look at those to start with.
White - many, most, yes, though some not. Whatever. I'm not sure how much race has to do with this, although I would say that perhaps those more "North-American-ized" are more inclined to blog, from what I see, than those not. Whatever colour they might be. I think culture more than race might be at play here? Anyone?
Educated - many, yes, though I think there's a wider range here than we know or think about. Some with high school, some working on undergrad, some with masters, some with docs. I haven't found this to have much bearing on the quality of the writing or my interest in it, nor the desire to write their own blog. As far as privilege is concerned, education to some level is a right here in Canada, and to go further is, indeed, a privilege, though there is certainly a lot to be said about the fact that it is not the same privilege as class or money. It is often connected to those automatically, but I think it's important to note that some very poor people have gone through a lot to get an education because they put value on it, while plenty of well-off people ride what they've got, without formal education, so I have to say that I'm not sure these are as intrinsically connected as we assume. To carry the presumption that one will naturally go off to university after high school, even without a definite goal, perhaps, is the privilege of the middle-class, so perhaps people are talking in this general way when they bandy that about. Okay.
Middle-class - well, mostly, yes, I would agree. Right now. The thing about wealth, though, (and I think when we talk class these days, for most people in North America, we are talking about finances, for class as caste is less deeply ingrained here) is that it ebbs and flows. Some of us have known more at other times, some have known less. Myself? As I said in HBM's comments, I have known times in childhood where we, my single mother and I, lived in communal housing and subsisted on home-grown bean sprouts, home-made pea soup, sardines, and powdered milk to keep us going as cheaply as possible. My clothing was hand-made or second-hand, most of my few toys crafted by my mother's hands. We traveled by bicycle in all weather. Conversely, I have known times in my late twenties when a $200 meal on a Friday night was not uncommon. And now, I find myself somewhere in the middle. Both much-reduced and much-improved. On a relative scale, privileged indeed, though it still feels like struggling some days.
Time - Time. Well, many of us work full-time, as well as trying to keep the house from floating away, but there is indeed time to be found for what you think is important. Some go to the gym, some read, some watch TV, some cook more elaborate meals than are strictly necessary, some go out, some make crafts, and so on. We have hobbies. One of them is blogging. There are indeed women with a lot more time - make that unscheduled, unscripted time - on their hands, but it is not all about leisure. There are indeed people who do not have the time to blog, for one reason or another, but mostly, time is something that can be found here and there if you make it a priority, I think. It depends on whether you think writing is important to you. Whether that's the feeding your soul that works for you. (But maybe that's privilege talking. heh.)
Access - It's assumed we all have computers in our homes. I do have an antiquated and inherited (thanks, FIL!) laptop at home, but at least as often, I blog on breaks at work, given that Misterpie needs that computer for school prep, too. However, that is, to some degree, neither here nor there. Thanks to Bill and Melinda, anyone who can make it to a library has access now. In a city like Toronto or New York, this means a library will be within 1.25 miles, an easy walking distance. Many areas of the city have two or three branches within walking distance. In the suburbs, distances may be greater, as it was assumed by urban planners that suburban dwellers travel by car (since you have to drive to get something as basic as milk in many suburbs, as they were laid out for a car-driven society long ago, though that is changing somewhat now). Libraries in cities and 'burbs are open late at least a couple nights a week, if not four or five nights, and at least Saturday, with some including Sundays, too. In rural areas, it all depends.
Okay, so we have these privileges. These labels. It seems to me that it is not just one privilege, but layers of many overlapping, that makes it possible for us to blog. We need time at the same time that we can get access. That might mean we need to have the money to have a computer in our own home. Or that we have time and/or transportation to make it to the library to blog there. It seems like many people have or could string together some combination, if it was something they really wanted to do - but that doesn't mean they will blog, does it? I mean, there are tons of people with time, access, and money who don't blog. And tons of people who make time and money for things that speak to them, even if those "privileges" are in short supply. Well, again, it's multi-faceted, this thing, and pointing out exceptions and shortcomings of the label is an exercise in futility, really. It doesn't say much, does it?
Besides that, this is not the only way I think we should look at privilege. I don't think it's just about the label. Because there are plenty of people who fit that label, but it's all about surface. There are people who fit that label now who have lived through a lot and struggled hard to get there. People who bear scars we'll never see. People who have wrestled with death, mental and physical illness, abuse of many kinds, disabilities of wide variety. I know bloggers who have suffered many of these things. Is that privilege? Would you trade places with someone who has had a hell of a time in their life, but now lives in a nice house with a computer? Was Anna Nicole privileged because she knew great wealth at times, great beauty at times, great adulation at times? Or not privileged because she also knew abuse, poverty, scorn, and heartache? Everyone is lucky. Everyone is unlucky.
Another thing I said in HBM's comments was that while my childhood was certainly not privileged in terms of wealth, I lived in abundance in other ways. I was awash in wonderful stories, in words read aloud and songs sung on high, in paintings made for me alone and shared moments of wonder. I was much-cuddled, much-adored. My mother made most of my few toys, as I said above, with her own hands - labours of love. Lovely wooden cars that Pumpkinpie plays with, a thread-spool-and-coat-hanger unicorn that sits in my bookshelf, a mobile of boiled and painted chicken bones that hung over my crib. A treasured photo shows me dangling in a jolly jumper, staring at a daffodil bought for me to look at while I jumped. How privileged, to be so beloved while some children are unwanted, abandoned, abused. How privileged, to have a mother who bathed my ears in so many words that I spoke and read early, making school a relatively easy prospect for most of my years. How privileged, to be surroundede by bits of beauty, even when at times we lived in squallor-filled houses and cracker-box apartments. How privileged, to be bounced and serenaded to my great delight so that music has delighted me ever since. How privileged. Years later, when I wrestled with her mental breakdown and the family-breaking fallout, I felt less blessed. Everyone is lucky. Everyone is unlucky.
In the end, though, whatever privilege means, I leave you with Bub&Pie's question, one that cuts to the core of this discussion: So what? So what if we are privileged? Does that make our voices less true, our experiences and stories less real, our writing less authentic? Does it make us less interesting, less accessible, just less? And why should it? Why should we feel apologetic for our lives, for our desire for something fulfilling, something reflective, something that feeds us? Why should we feel a need to point to the negatives in our lives to make our voices accepted as worthy? Why should we need to point out the very things that blogging helps us escape from, or that we seek to rise above at times rather than dwelling on the negatives? Everyone is lucky. Everyone is unlucky.
Some will say that it's about the less privileged not being represented. Okay, I take that point. But I go back to the question I began with - what is it that we should do about that? Stop writing for the shame of it? Hang our heads and wring our hands over something not of our making? Try to make opportunities for others, who would think such an attempt ridiculous anyhow, who, if they were drawn to blog might find a way, anyhow? What is the real point of this whole business of flinging around the label of privilege, in the end?