An Alternative to the Presiding Theory of Privilege

Recently, debate about systemic privilege has been omnipresent, as fodder for political campaigning and millennial-dominated critique of culture. Peggy McIntosh first wrote about white privilege in a checklist that ultimately offered representation as privilege, e.g., if you can open a newspaper and see your race, if you learn about your civilization in the history books, etc. This classification has mostly been lost to simplifications that pervert its sensible message. Everydayfeminism, which exemplifies modern dogma in line with women’s studies courses, defines privilege as a “set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group.” This transliteration is still an interesting exercise in understanding social dynamics and has general applicability; however, when applied to issues such as the gender pay gap (whether the figure is the oft-cited 79%, 93%, lower or higher), often for a privilege of this categorization to be genuinely manifested every single individual involved has to be knowingly sexist, including the victim of the unlevel playing field.

For an example: Joanna is a secretary at a large business firm. She discovers her coworker Jim gets a larger paycheck for the exact same job, and they both take equal days off. She learns she is making $.79 to his one dollar. The federal Equal Pay Act and the 1964 Civil Rights Act make this illegal. Now, for Jim’s male privilege (the unearned benefit of larger pay) to continue:

  1. Joanna has to not report it to her boss or the authorities
  2. Jim has to not report it to his boss or the authorities
  3. Her boss has to stay intentionally sexist and not correct the disparity

Only if all of these conditions are met will the situation remain unrectified. This workplace privilege, built by a narrative that pay is different for the exact same job, relies on intentional sexism or surrender of all parties – it loses sight of subtlety completely. The current privilege hypothesis is also not very useful because different groups receive de facto and de jure benefits in different circumstances – no single sexual, racial or gendered group dominates every aspect of authority, though certainly a specific Caucasian demographic dominates most of it. The hypothesis is primitive in this sense, and it is also imprecise in that, because of political correctness, it entirely misses the true nature of “privilege,” more on that later.

Perhaps in recognition of the failures of this undeveloped adaptation, some modern feminist writers have employed the 1990’s idea of kyriarchy that more adequately describes the modality of experience through position in stratified society. Elisabeth Schüssler Florenza’s kyriarchal system sought to analyze layers of objective privilege overlapped in social milieu. Yet although all feminists cite privilege as an everyday occurrence, the few social justice warriors that have heard of kyriarchy can rarely be relied on to understand its nuanced applicability, and fewer still can appreciate the algorithmic complexity to determine actual systems of privilege. It has been simplified, again, into white, black, male, female, cis- and transgender, and so on. Intersectional feminism – a desperate linguistic attempt to avoid the egalitarian label – still alleges an all-encompassing subordination, and then seeks to recognize exchanges throughout other identity types that further enforce the oppression. This ideological branch could have been one of legitimate merit, except that again its white- and androcentric view of privilege, though broadly qualifiable, disallows further theorizing. The system lacks usefulness because its analysis, as interpreted by modern feminists, is embedded into its definition. Abstract discussion of privilege is unachievable.

Talking about privilege with intent to reach further conclusions is not only impossible, but it also feels like a competition just because of self-loathing and thoroughly brainwashed contributions from both sides of the debate. Moving past the caricatures of race, gender, sex or wealth: the only group that suffers on all fronts is the physically or mentally disabled, and their representation is horribly lacking, their image pitied, and advocates are few and far compared to organizations for other identities. However, if you want to be completely astute, the only group of people not privileged is those that are not customarily good-looking. It’s the conventionally attractive or wealthy people that own the power, when its not built on pure work or entrepreneurialism. Charisma is a part of this. People that are typically thought of as ugly never get the advantage and people of orthodox beauty standards often dominate the masses.  This conclusion can be arrived at from pure observance, and holds more empirical strength than the speculative nature of current privilege theory that consistently ignores the concept of individual cases.

Privilege boils down to beauty and humans divine facial attractiveness from symmetry. Plato thought that we find things beautiful when we infer virtues from gazing upon them: bridges can summon feelings of strength; sunsets, of harmony; our souls recognize our own need for these stabilities. It isn’t remarkable that humans find symmetry beautiful and then psychologically categorize faces into attractive and unattractive. (Nor does it mean, however, that asymmetric faces are not beautiful. Aesthetics would reveal more truths in this topic.) Applying this idea instantly collapses the perceived white hegemony, as beautiful people from any walk of life are flocked to from the average-looking majority. Beauty is power like sex is power. When privilege is observed it will be never be in the hands of the unattractive.

To extrapolate with the question of the largest burden of oppression and privilege: Where does racism actually come from? It’s intrinsically irrational, typically xenophobic, and ubiquitous across the continents. This theory could be interpreted to suggest that racists hold unreasonable views about other skin colors and ethnicities because of a lack of physical attraction, which coincides with an inability to relate familially and romantically. Systematic racial disparity and racist paradigms would then be caused by hyper-localized, non-diverse beauty standards. It could also be deducted that those of the natural default (without racist tendencies) are capable of nondiscriminatory and cosmopolitan attraction. Now here we see a definite connection between sexuality and bigotry, two contingents only meaninglessly juxtaposed by the mainstream privilege theory.

In conclusion, instead of challenging the conjecture of authoritative gendered dominion, progressives and activists could more benefit from challenging society’s standard of beauty. The standard that tells equally men and women what is and isn’t desirable. The advantages of injecting truth into the politics of self-worth are critical for a society concerned with honest evaluation and individual progress. The individual’s own conception of self-beauty is usually either bolstered by inflated confidence or hampered by poor self-image and has no overlap with how objectively beautiful they are, beauty that is uninvolved from ethnicity, sex or gender.

A note: I imagine myself to be, and from my life opportunities it would seem I am, decently attractive, so in either conviction of privilege I’m decently privileged, as a young white male or as a decently attractive person. Hopefully this grants more credibility to my writing, as if I was unattractive, it would probably come off as tormented and envious. Fortunately I have the chutzpah to stand on the line and propound these ideas regardless. Measures should be taken to highlight the identity group that will forever go without privilege or authority: the ugly people.

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2 thoughts on “An Alternative to the Presiding Theory of Privilege

  1. Racism arises because of differing standards of beauty? How does this make any sense historically? Was slavery and the parallel construction of white supremacist ideology in the United States a function of whites viewing blacks as ugly? How do we reconcile the fact that Columbus viewed the indigenous peoples he came across on his travels across the Atlantic as inferior, while at the same time raping young women that he found attractive?

    The different standards of attractiveness that we see today seem more of a symptom of racism, rather than the cause. Racism seems very obviously a system that has its roots in colonialism and the European elites’ quest for resources, land, and labor. It seems a bit odd to try to detach a theoretical understanding of racism from its deep historical roots and attempt to theorize about it purely from taking a snapshot of today; this misses all the historical momentum that has built up over decades and centuries.

    • I wasn’t attempting to transplant my ideas into the history of racism at all – that would indeed be ludicrous – but as you said, to look at this particular snapshot in time. The fact that there isn’t colonialism, isn’t resource-grabbing, isn’t segregation, and most people alive in America haven’t experienced any of those, but racism persists anyways, means something, don’t you think? Racist paradigms aren’t enforced by law anymore, we’re looking at a different type of prejudice. So I think we might as well start to think about it differently too. The rest of the world is. This is my separate take on it. If you can’t see the value of the ultimate point – that local beauty standards, right now, affect how racial privilege arises – you’re not reacting to the actual article, but to something I really wasn’t saying.

      Further, it was just an extrapolation of my main argument. Pure speculation, really, and I was fascinated by the implications enough to include it. Hence the flexible language.

      However, if I was going to argue that attractive-bias was the actual cause of historic oppression, I think it wouldn’t be extraordinarily difficult, particularly based on what you’ve said. There is an underlying reason why elitist and supremacist attitudes arise across the spectrum of race – I just provided a possibility. On your Columbus note: I purposefully never stated that the attractive are always in power. My point was that the unattractive are never in power. This doesn’t contradict observations of historical genocide and rape. But also, that observation was irrelevant, because being the victim of sexual assault has nothing to do with privilege. The only route it could be applicable as a counterargument would be if you believed I was saying the attractive have a right to rape (as opposed to being raped), which I definitely wasn’t.

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