The Lowest Difficulty Setting as Teaching Tool

This is interesting: Writer and teacher Samantha Allen assigns my “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is” piece in her Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies 100 class (along with her own, similar article) and then as a teaching exercise runs her students through Halo, with the game set at varying difficulties, to see if a video game can actually be a useful teaching tool with regard to discussing privilege and intersectionality.

Did it work? Read for yourself. This is worth sharing around, I think.

156 thoughts on “The Lowest Difficulty Setting as Teaching Tool

  1. So straight white males have the BFG and down at the other end you are using just the chainsaw?

  2. Oo, that sounds like an awesome course plan! Once, when I had my freshmen studying rhetoric, I had my students read and analyze your “Who Gets to be a Geek?” post, and they thought it was rich both in discussion material and in rhetorical features. This semester I had them play through Bioshock for its literary value. I wish we could have talked more about gender and sexuality, which is my own research focus, but they were more interested in analyzing the game from economic, political, and philosophical standpoints. Remarkably, we had better class discussions about the game than we did about the two novels we read (Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five).

  3. @Captain Button; Yes, exactly but chainsaw on hard mode with people distracting you.

    John, this post was really educational and I’ve got a lot of thinking to do. Thanks.

  4. That’s a brilliant way to adapt the story.

    Funny side point: At one point, a friend of mine recommended the Border House blog to me. I went and looked. I read their comment policy. I noted that it stated that they do not tolerate “slurs against members of marginalized groups”. I wrote to ask them whether they allow slurs against members of non-marginalized groups. I never heard back.

    I have in the past mentioned this, and generally gotten derisive replies asserting that the answer is obvious. And it is. It’s just that, if I press people to tell me which answer is obvious, they seem roughly evenly split between “it is obvious that they allow those, because they don’t do any harm” and “it is obvious that they do not allow those, because slurs are always bad”.

    And I can’t tell. Possibly because I lack neurotypical privilege…

  5. [Deleted. Scorpius, if you would like to try again to make your point without superfluously insulting people, go ahead -- JS]

  6. Only in academia. These kids are paying hundreds of dollars in tuition to play Halo to learn about oppression. If you want to learn about privilege, try interacting with people who are less privileged than you, such as tutoring inner-city children. This upper white-class “teaching tool” is a mockery of the very the concept of what it means to live life with a “low difficulty setting.

  7. I don’t agree, Aaron. Talking to people who lack privileges gives you second-hand awareness only; it’s easy to disregard it. It’s the hands-on experience of what it is like for “the same thing” to be suddenly harder or easier that tends to give people a hook on which to hang those accounts. Once you’ve got that experience, it’s a lot easier to accept people’s accounts of the difficulties they face.

  8. I had to learn most of this the hard way.

    A heads-up to the younger among us – it might help you realize sooner what you’re up against. THAT is the key to any kind of progress through the minefield, understanding reality.

    Opening eyes and changing minds is the hardest thing a teacher faces. This went at them with a sledgehammer the kids already understand – saves time.

  9. That’s an awesome article. And a really good idea.

    Aaron- just because there might be “better” ways to learn doesn’t mean this was a bad way. It’s not a mockery, it’s just one way of teaching. This professor used the tools they had available. Forcing the class to tutor inner city children is probably not an option.

  10. I like the “lowest difficulty setting” metaphor, because I look at it as highlighting the issue from a systemic poitn of view, and player stats is a good way to describe it. But I think I was thinking of games more on the lines of RPG’s.

    But playing Halo on extreme difficulty isn’t exactly the same as dealing with discrimination, because, in a game like Halo, when you’re on extreme difficulty, *everything* is harder, every single NPC is harder to get past. that doesn’t map to the metaphor of discrimination, unless one assumes that literally *everyone* is discriminatory in some outward way. And I’m not buying that.

  11. Interesting. Not really surprising, but nonetheless interesting. What I take away most from this is the reaction of the students. That is promising. Illumination and enlightenment come in many forms. If it works, use it. Forget about the envelope.

  12. Greg,
    But it maps the mindset of someone who is discriminated upon heavily. Once discrimination takes hold in the mind, ones world is seen in a much harsher light regardless any variations due to reality.

  13. The metaphor works best in a game like Crusader Kings 2. Being a straight-white male is like starting as the Holy Roman Emperor, as opposed to starting as the Count of Oldenburg. In the one case, you’ve got a huge army to do your bidding and Kings hoping to marry your daughters. In the other, one wrong move and suddenly you’ve got 2000 knights laying siege to your only castle, without an ally in the world.

  14. @Seebs — obvious because of how it’s stated; some slurs are not allowed, implying that some are. That may not be what they meant, but that’s what it says.

    This reminds me, in some ways, of Jane Elliot’s blue-eyes v brown-eyes exercise.

  15. gleongerrero: But it maps the mindset of someone who is discriminated upon heavily.

    I’m more interested in metaphors that describe a complex problem in an easy to understand way, and accurately captures the real world problem. Metaphors like that help people find solutions.

    I read somewhere that when Eurpeans modeled the world as “flat” and that you could sail off the edge of the ocean, the Vikings model was that the world was a “cup” that held the water of the oceans. Neither model was correct, but the model/metaphor of a “cup” was suggested as the reason why the vikings discovered the new world long before columbus did. The vikings believed that they if they just sailed far enough, they had to hit land.

    Metaphors of the real world don’t have to be 100% accurate to be useful.

    “lowest difficulty setting” can model the real world issue of systemic discimination in a way that is simplified enough that people (at least people with experience with video games) could fairly easily grasp it. But if one takes the metaphor too far, it breaks. The instructor using Halo as an example of systemic discrimination may be instructive to grasp the concept, but it’s also partially misleading. Not everyone turns into a raging racist, sexist, homophobic when you’re stuck in a more difficult game setting of being female, gay, or a person of color.

    Having read the article linked above, the author points out a couple of different times that on the more difficult settings, *everything* is harder. Every NPC is more a pain in the ass to kill. The metaphor breaks down at that level of detail.

    It models the issue of systemic discrimination fairly well. But at the individual level, the level of the NPC’s you as a player run into, it’s way, way, inaccurate.

  16. @Aaron
    It is very easy in those situations to feel like the Great White Hope, which probably isn’t something we want to be doing. And exposure may not be enough: working with women on a daily basis, for example, doesn’t seem to make many men aware of women’s higher difficulty setting.

  17. This is what they teach at university these days? I mean, John’s analogy is fine and perfect for a discussion on a blog, but building a university class around it?

  18. here’s Scalzi’s original post:
    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/15/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is/

    the thing I like about it is it captures two real world isses about discrimination in game metaphor.

    The first is the initial condition. In a role playing game, you usually get a bucket of points and you build your character from tehre. If the GM wants a “fair” game, all players start with the same number of points. In the real world, poor people end up giving birth to children who grow up poor. In the real world, when a family doesn’t have any family members who went to college, or who are in positions of power, then the children don’t have the same initial condition of people who are born into families with those kinds of advantages. This can show up when women are rare in engineering fields, and therefore girls have no connections, no encouragement, no assists, to get into engineering, that some men might have. It becomes a systemic situation that reinforces itself.

    The second thing the metaphor models well is the choices available to the players and the challenges thrown at them. In an RPG, or game, this shows up as a game just plays as more difficult. There are racists and sexists in the world, and when a player in a minority runs into them, that NPC is just a lot harder to get around. Straight, white, males generally dont feel the direct effects of a discriminatory NPC. which isnt to say there aren’t reverse racists, people who don’t like men, or people who are wary of heterosexuals, but it’s usually a much lower occurence. The game metaphor captures this extremely well. A person playing on easy setting can still run into hard challenges, and random AI’s can sometimes make it really hard even on the easiest setting. But usually, just restart the level, and you’ll get through. on the hard setting, you just run into it a lot more.

  19. Greg, just FWIW, she isn’t using Halo as a metaphor to explain systemic discrimination, but as a way to help students understand intersectionality–which is something she says isn’t clear in “Straight White Male.” I don’t play Halo, so I’ve really know idea if what she says about how the “skulls” can work, or be made to work, is accurate or helpful, but if you link to the “FPS” article she wrote, and that she refers to, that might explain some of the problems you have with her use of the metaphor. Or not.

  20. nicoleandmaggie,
    Agreed, and exactly why I still think this is a good metaphor. Discrimination is primarily an effect experienced upon ones mind. It’s not something tangible that you can grab at. But, you will see it deeply seated in the mind of those discriminated upon. That is the world they see and interpret. How they respond and act in that world is up to them, but that is what they see.

    This may appear to make it less appealing as a metaphor, since it doesn’t really address the causal aspects of discrimination. I see it more importantly as the psychological aspect of discrimination, which is where the damage is really done. Through this ‘halo/LASO’ metaphor one can see the crushing effect discrimination can have upon ones mind. The cost is in the waste of human potential by a large factor.

  21. Discrimination is primarily an effect experienced upon ones mind. It’s not something tangible that you can grab at. But, you will see it deeply seated in the mind of those discriminated upon. That is the world they see and interpret. How they respond and act in that world is up to them, but that is what they see.

    gleonguerrero, are you seriously suggesting that the widest impact of discrimination is all in the mind of the recipients of the discrimination?? That it’s not the tangible effects of discrimination that’s the problem but that they see the whole world as lined up against them whether or not it is AND then choose how (and by implication, whether) to be affected by it? Didn’t we just have this conversation about victim-blaming with that guy bringing in the Stoic thing?

  22. gleonguerrero says: Discrimination is primarily an effect experienced upon ones mind. It’s not something tangible that you can grab at.

    Say what? If it isn’t tangible and if it can’t be objectively measured, then getting rid of what you call “discrimination” would boil down to thought police of the “discriminators” or defining discrimination as anyone who feels discriminated against is discriminated against.

    Either way, I think you’ve got the entire wrong end of the stick.

    Blacks get pulled over by police disproportionate to the percentage of blacks in the local population. That’s objective. that’s measurable. And that’s tangible. That’s something a person can point to and say “this is racism”.

    Fixing racism is a function of fixing behavior of racists and fixin the initial conditions that are an outcome of inertial racism. They can think whatever they want to think. They just can’t behave in certain ways. I’m not interested in looking at discrimination as a function of being the thought police.

  23. Mary: Greg, just FWIW, she isn’t using Halo as a metaphor to explain systemic discrimination, but as a way to help students understand intersectionality

    Well, not JUST intersectionality, but also privilege and oppression… and seductive privilege.

    From the article: The Halo Station’s primary purpose was to function as an engaging, interactive metaphor for students to think about privilege, oppression and intersectionality. I wanted the Casual Halo: Reach players to experience the seductive privilege of triumphantly moving through space as obstacles practically eliminated themselves.

    The word “privilege” occurs more than half a dozen times in the article. Scalzi’s “Lowest Difficulty Setting” was a metaphor he created specifically to replace the notion of “privilege”.

  24. From what I gathered from the article, straight white men are incredibly bored with their lives and end up staring off into the sky. Maybe something to that.

  25. gleonguerrero says: Discrimination is primarily an effect experienced upon ones mind. It’s not something tangible that you can grab at.

    The problem with this may be the word “primarily”. While to the bystander, the primary effect may be that the victim (say) does not receive an expected promotion, to the victim the damage is much more long lasting. The loss of expectations, that work produces promised rewards, that what they do does not matter, exceeding expectations does not matter, … these will linger long, long after that promotion arrives six months later, when the company isn’t heading into the tank and the quazi-secret freeze on promotions is lifted. “Get over it!” may be good advice, but it’s nearly impossible to do. Do this to someone several times and you’re making someone — even someone playing at the lowest difficulty setting — who is heading for failures. Not because they didn’t get the promotion, but because you’ve contaminated their hope.

  26. Interesting article. A creative teacher is a boon to both the students and the school.

    I didn’t agree with the argument put forth in “Straight White Male”, because I think it is used as a justification for envy. I think it oversimplifies Life and humanity, and plays into the idea that this game is rigged against everyone else but straight white males. It’s that idea that its terrible that the monolithic mass of straight, white males all live the good life with no challenges, and everyone who isn’t a straight white male has it far harder. Life is hard for a vast majority of people, some bear it with grace, some crack under the strain, but until you know each one as an individual, know their struggles and pain, if you assume they have an easier life based on appearance alone, how is that any different than a straight, white, male with a bigoted opinion?

    It plays into the idea that those individuals who succeed in life, as well as those in the minority who speak against identity politics are trying to appease the Straight While Male world. Look at some of the of the aspersions cast at certain successful or at least prominent non white, non-gay, non-males: “tokens”, “sell-outs”, and far worse.

  27. htom: See, that’s the thing. It seems obvious from the way it’s phrased, but my first intuition was to think “of course they mean that bigoted slurs in general are not tolerated, because who likes to tolerate bigotry?” But then I realized it was ambiguous. And I did try in my query to point out that, being autistic, I really *can’t* tell what people think is obvious, in the hopes that they wouldn’t just disregard it because obviously I’m a troll. But I never did get a response. (I think I even wrote back a couple of months later, but don’t remember for sure now.)

  28. I use it in my Human Diversity Class – I have them read SWM, and summarize it. You may recall that I asked if I could use it in class at the time. Then, when we have studied race, gender and sexual orientation, I have them write about it again – do they think you were right in terms of what we have learned about the above topics? Why or why not. I will be assigning it at the end of this week, in fact. They have various readings on the topics, as well as class lectures and their text book. I have done this in several classes over the last year and it makes most of them think, which is what I am after. I’ve never thought of having them actually play a game and test the ideas though…. Hmmmmm.

  29. @Seebs — it’s not ambiguous at all. It’s explicit. “All slurs are banned.” is what we hope they meant, and they may have meant that, but that’s not what they said. That they didn’t reply, saying “Opps! We’ll fix that.” pretty much confirms what they said. Of course, they may have just ignored you, but that, in its own way, is confirming.

  30. I also use SWM in my classes at University. The integration of Halo is a delightful idea, although it would be difficult in my case.

    I am now in double debt to Mr. Scalzi, for making my job easier and entertaining me.

  31. Rob G, you wrote: “It’s that idea that its terrible that the monolithic mass of straight, white males all live the good life with no challenges, and everyone who isn’t a straight white male has it far harder.” And that shows that you’re still missing the point. Scalzi did not say “straight white males all live the good life with no challenges.” If you delete all of your sentence prior to the word “everyone” you get something like what he actually said. Saying that straight white males have it easier is not at all the same as saying that they have it easy, and it doesn’t reflect well on readers when they conflate this.

  32. And that’s really kind of what the point of the original article meant. A Straight White Male is not some Platonic concept; all SWMs aren’t alike. There’s a gulf of difference in difficulty between, say, Donald Trump and the guy panhandling at the intersection. There’s no doubt in the mind of anyone who uses the term ‘privilege’ in this sense properly, that life is undoubtedly harder for the panhandler than it is for Donald Trump.

    Now take that panhandler, and see how much more difficult his life is if he’s a person of color (one skull) and gay (two skulls) and female (three…) or even transsex/transgender (too many skulls.) And for the sake of argument, let’s take Donny Trump. His life is anything but hard, but we can turn up the difficulty by making Trump a person of color, gay, or any gender and/or sex other than male.

    It’s not that Straight White Males all have it easy. We know that’s not true, not for all Straight White Males by any stretch of the imagination. Its that any given Straight White Male’s life can be made still harder by applying any number of skulls to his game, or rather by changing any of a number of particular attributes in his life.

  33. Rob: It’s that idea that its terrible that the monolithic mass of straight, white males all live the good life with no challenges, and everyone who isn’t a straight white male has it far harder.

    Uh, no. One of the reasons I really like the “Lowest Difficulty Setting” is because it points to and highlights the differences between systemic and individual. Role playing games have to deal with sytsemic and individual all the time. Combat is reduced to dice rolls. If you’re a warrior with a strength stat of 16, you’re going to do better OVER THE LONG HAUL than a warrior with a strength stat of 8.

    But in individual actions, that warrior with a strength of 8 could still roll a 20, get a crit hit, and slay the dragon.

    It’s not that monolithic mass of straight, white males all live the good life. That’s a blatant logical fallacy, taking a statistically probability and turning it into 100% of something that no one’s saying. It’s that if you’re black, you get a -2 modifier to all charisma rolls dealing with white people, because some of those white people are racist.

    And the way to boil it down to the individual level is a -2 modifier.

    Life is hard for a vast majority of people,

    This is just silly. With a wave of the hand, you’re trying to say systemic differences in the way people are treated don’t exist. Blacks are statistically far more likely to get pulled over by cops compared to white people in proportion to the local popualtion. You don’t get to handwave that away because you’re white and you’re poor, and therefore “life’s hard” for everyone.

    You don’t get to hide the systemic differences of discrimination under the rug of “a vast majority of people” as if gender discrimination doesn’t happen at a systemic level, or racial discrimination doesn’t happen at a systemic level.

    some bear it with grace, some crack under the strain, but until you know each one as an individual

    And here you dive completely into nonsense. I don’t have to know you as an individual to know that systemic discrimation occurs. Racial profiling by cops exists. It doesn’t mean at the individual level that every white cop that pulls over a black man is a racist cop. But it does mean that as a whole, blacks have to deal with something that whites don’t have to deal with.

  34. @Aaron: That’s certainly an ideal way to demonstrate the concept to these students, but it’s also a little like dropping the inexperienced player straight into the LASO chair. if you’re asking somebody who is unprepared to understand a condition to “learn on the job,” so to speak, by, say, making them tutor inner-city kids on their homework a half hour after school ends, some of them will pick it up quickly. Most will probably fail to recognize that the kids don’t want to do their work because they haven’t eaten since breakfast and are pre-occupied with a difficult family life and so on. Rather, they will see that they are reaching out to a student who is, as far as is visibly clear, rejecting them–often cruelly so–decide that it’s the child’s problem, and spike the metaphorical XBox controller at the metaphorical TV. Metaphorically. I mean, they’ll put the game away, say it’s no fun, and never go back.

    Sometimes the path to practical experience involves laying a theoretical groundwork. Which is one of the nice things Academia makes available.

  35. Greg,
    I agree that ‘fixing’ racism is a task that involves a legal aspect, but that’s more the short, or initial, term solution–at least to me. The real, the long-range, solution is one where people can empathize and understand what being discriminated upon does to people. It’s a crushing, slow-bleed experience. Sure, slavery is illegal now but I suspect the very thought of owning a slave is repulsive to most people. That is the long term solution to slavery. Empathy (or compassion). I’m not talking about thought police, but self-awareness.

  36. Greg

    What I find interesting is the sheer number of people who, like Rob, clearly haven’t actually bothered to read what John actually wrote, turn up to complain about him writing things which he did not, as a question of fact, write.

    This isn’t a one off on this post, because exactly the same thing happens whenever John writes about these issues; it’s almost as if there are people so convinced of their superiority that they actually believe that they need not bother reading what he has written because they are so brilliant that they know what he has written without having to read it.

    In the absence of scientific evidence proving that they are telepathic, this suggests that they really are in dire need of Reality 101…

  37. Misha Burnette

    You are yet another of our fly bys who just really are too busy to read what John actually wrote, so they make it up as they go along, just like you.

    Clue: you have omitted a rather important word: straight. Ignorance matched with conceit is not an attractive position…

  38. @Seebs: people, especially if neurotypical, tend not to speak in a way that is premeditated, exacting and thus deliberately crafting their statements to convey a narrow meaning. “We do not permit slurs against members of marginalized groups” was most likely said with no intent other than ‘hey, marginalized groups often are the targets of slurs and we aren’t going to allow that’. So your statement about ‘do you permit slurs against non-marginalized groups’ does not come across as an honest request for clarification (even if that is exactly what you meant!); it comes across as snark.

    Re the Halo exercise, it’s particularly interesting because it’s not a simple easy/hard setting or a gradation of difficulty; apparently you can toggle ‘skulls’ which set particular disadvantages, and can choose some or all of them. This is a good model not only for considering multiple disadvantages – the world is not straight white dudes/everybody else – but, as the instructor said, intersectionality. That is, the way in which the disadvantages stack.

  39. gleonguerrero: Empathy (or compassion). I’m not talking about thought police, but self-awareness.

    Ah. I misread that.

    the very thought of owning a slave is repulsive to most people. That is the long term solution to slavery.

    I think “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” had a huge impact on that by portraying slavery in a realistic light while providing characters that readers could empathize. So, I get your point.

    And sometimes a specific, objective, measurable injustice creates empathy. Rosa Parks going to jail for refusing to give up her seat. Showing black protesters in the South getting hit with firehoses can do it.

    The picture of Phan Thi Kim Phuc did it for a lot of people. Kent State did it for some. The pentagon has learned to keep the specifics out of the debate. Pictures of dead americans can’t be published. Journalists are embedded to get editorial control of their stories.

    Empathy and compassion are important, but without the specific injustices, without the objective images documenting the specific injustices, empathy has nowhere to focus.

  40. I thought the difficulty setting article was OK, if very simplistic. I think it got a shit-ton of attention, and some people took it as The Final Word on the subject, whereas I personally read it as very 101 and/or an introduction to a much more complex discussion. Unfortunately, because of idiots, you’ve now got a lot of the dumbass Tumblr Social Justice Warriors using the phrase “straight white man” as a euphenism for “all the privilege” which is kind of annoying. It’s one reason I only really hang out on Reddit these days.

    In my opinion, these presumptuous e-feminists need to check their privilege.

  41. @mythago: Well, that’s the thing. I clarified as best I could that I was sincere, and I’ve now seen a handful of good arguments either way as to which way it was “obviously” intended. And the thing is, deciding that people are being snarky instead of literal is sort of… well, it’s not a thing that helps autistics adapt to their environment so much. :)

  42. I’m surprised how many people are against my comment of tutoring inner-city children to learn about privilege and instead support working with theory/metaphors by messing around with a video game. I was actually required to tutor inner-city children during one of my undergrad university courses (child development), so having these type of out-of-class assignments is not an unreasonable way to be exposed to different groups of people and relate it back to classroom material.

  43. Hi folks, I don’t have time to respond to all of these comments (I did respond to Aaron’s over on The Border House already, where he double-posted it.)

    I do want to thank John Scalzi for sharing the post with all of you. I’ve been pleased with the discussion, the compliments and most of the criticisms.

    I’ll stress that this is an exercise that augments but does not replace more traditional methods of learning about intersectionality. We read Kimberle Crenshaw’s classic article on the subject in addition to Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” They also worked through a lot of reading during the activity itself.

    Halo is not a panacea for all our social ills, but it is an interesting hook into thinking systemically. I think games are great tools for thinking systemically and for observing systems at work.

    Like most people who have been at this vocal feminism thing for a long time, I have zero interest in tiring discussions about how good or bad straight white men have it as a totality. The point of Scalzi’s article, and I certainly agree, is not to discredit the fact that straight white men have problems, it’s to point out that they have certain automatic advantages in many social situations. Intersectionality is one of many examples of a way in which feminist theory does, in fact, offer tools to think through the situation of struggling straight white men along vectors such as class and ability.

    Thank you all for discussing and thank you especially to those of you who participated in the conversation over on The Border House.

  44. Seebs: whether they allow slurs against members of non-marginalized groups. I never heard back. .. they seem roughly evenly split between “it is obvious that they allow those, because they don’t do any harm” and “it is obvious that they do not allow those, because slurs are always bad”.

    I think that sometimes people in a minority feel they are SUCH a minority that they are willing to take whatever allies they can find. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” can win a war, but it got the CIA in bed with some really nasty people. Since it works, and since even the government is willing to engage the strategy, it’s not entirely unsurprising that others adopt the same strategy.

    Aaron: I’m surprised how many people are against my comment of tutoring inner-city children

    Well, lets review the tape:

    Only in academia. … This upper white-class “teaching tool” is a mockery of the very the concept of what it means to live life with a “low difficulty setting.

    I assume you got the reaction you got because you start out being dismissive of Academia as a whole, and ended by putting “teaching tool” in scare quotes, calling it a mockery, and dismissing any and all possible benefit to the execise.

    I gather from the external link that the video game exercise was only a single day in a semester course. I might have misread. But if you’re so dismissive of an entire course, I can only imagine what you would think of something like someone just writing a blog post about privilege like Scalzi’s “lowest difficulty setting”.

    Any positive suggestion you may have dropped in the middle of all that likely got lost with the double barrel blast on either end.

  45. I’m surprised how many people are against my comment of tutoring inner-city children to learn about privilege and instead support working with theory/metaphors by messing around with a video game.

    In addition, the fact that you completely dismissed one out of hand without considering how they could be combined together rather defeated your point. Personally, I have tutored low income kids and the commenter above who commented that this can easily turn into a “Great White Hope” issue is totally right. It’s easy to come in there and think that you can help solve all of this poor little girl or boy’s problems and not ever actually understand or even truly listen to said problems. It’s extremely difficult to shake the middle class kid from the suburbs perspective. The experience alone does not teach the lesson – you need critical thinking to back it up. Roleplaying different levels of privilege, by playing Halo, participating in a hunger banquet or actually living it, can also improve understanding and complement volunteer experience well.

  46. Samantha: in addition to Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”

    Ugh. I despise that paper. “Privilege” has as one of its most common meanings some right granted that can be taken away. McIntosh lists two-dozen examples she calls “privilege”, but almost none of them are things to be taken away to achieve equality. For example:

    “If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.”

    If this is a “privilege” enjoyed by white people, then achieving equality requires taking that “privilege” away. If black people have to worry about being singled out because of their race, then white people should have to worry about that too. If not worrying about racist cops is a privilege, then equality requires that privilege be revoked.

    Nearly every “privilege” in McIntosh’s paper isn’t a privilege to be revoked to achieve equality but rather something that EVERYONE should have. NO ONE should have ot worry about being racially profiled by the cops. It isn’t a privilege. It shouldn’t be revoked.

    http://www.warhw.com/equality-waterline/

  47. Okay, Stevie, I’ll add “straight” if it makes you feel better. So I’m a straight white male, this means that I have some kind of invisible “privilege” that makes my life easier than other people’s lives. I still submit that this is the same thing that I heard growing up, that somehow being a Jew made me rich, even though I did not actually have money. I have yet to be given any evidence of how, exactly, the fact of my gender, race, and sexual identity gives me an advantage over another person. Which, I suppose, is why this lesson has to be delivered within the context of the imaginary world of a video game.

  48. Peggy McIntosh framed “privilege” as something men have to give up.

    She complains that men won’t “lessen” their privilege:

    They [men] may say they will work to improve women’s status, in the society, the
    university, or the curriculum, but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s.

    She portrays her mission as asking men to give up some of their power:

    we in Women’s Studies work to reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some of their power,

    She recalls charges that white women are oppressive to women of color.

    frequent charges from women of color that white women whom they encounter are oppressive.

    She says she:

    began to understand why we are justly seen as oppressive

    This is how McIntosh frames the discussion of “privilege”: Men need to “lessen” their “power” over women. This is McIntosh’s portrayal of “privilege”. She asks men to “give up some of their power”, but men won’t do it. Whites are “oppressive” to people of color. That we are “justly seen as oppressive”.

    In her paper, “privilege” is truly a privilege, a thing that has to be given up to achieve equality.

    And yet, her examples of privilege are anytthing but that. Her examples of the “power” that men have to “lessen” or “give up”? Her examples of “oppressive” examples of “privilege”???

    People of color being pulled over by police for their skin color.

    This isn’t a privilege. This isn’t something that I have any incentive to keep in place. I achieve absolutely ZERO power from there being racist cops in the world. I have absolutely ZERO incentive for resisting attempts to get rid of racist cops. Racist cops isn’t some “power” I have over people of color. Racist cops isn’t something that I can “give up”. Racist cops isn’t in any way a reflection of me being “justly seen as oppressive”.

    McIntosh’s paper brings horrendous charges against people she sees as having “privilege”, we have undeserved power that we refuse to give up, that we refuse to lessen, that we hold onto because it puts us at an advantage, we are “oppressive”, and justly seen as oppressive. And yet, with all these charges, her specific examples of these crimes are completely out of alignment with what she’s saying.

    Her paper essentially taints the well of any discussion about “privilege”. Her paper is one of the reasons I despise “privilege” being used to discuss discrimination. Her paper is one of the MAIN reasons I liked Scalzi’s “Lowest Difficulty Setting”. And unfortunately, every time a discussion of “privilege” comes up, her paper invariably gets referenced as the originator of the term. And then her approach of making unfounded accusations, framing people who are not in the minority as actively opposing equality specifically because we refuse to give up some unidentified magical power, framing anyone who is not in the minority group as “justly viewed as oppressors”, usually gets adopted by at least one person in teh conversation and reinjected into the discussion in some form or another.

    One of the reason’s I liked “Lowest Difficulty Setting” is because it talks about advantage and disadvantages on a systemic and individual level, without accusing anyone not at a disadvantage as being in on the system of disadvantage. It talks about systemic and indivual disadvantages without having to accuse all straight, white, males of being part of some oppressive organization that made it happen.

    Ugh.

  49. The nice thing about “Lowest Difficulty Setting” is that some people still fail on the lowest difficulty setting while others win the game while playing ultra-hard mode. It even makes sense to talk about how people might play the game better when trying to beat that ultra-hard mode. Yet given all that, it’s completely intuitive that far more of the people playing on the lowest difficulty settings are going to beat the game.

  50. Who generally takes a gender studies class? Is it a required class for some majors? I guess what I’m getting at, are the students in the class going to people who are receptive to the subject matter? Is this preaching to the converted?

  51. @Kelly, I assume it’s mostly students who are vaguely interested in the subject matter but not like fluent in Social Justice 501. Also, it’s going to probably be some peoples’ randomly selected gen ed course. And so it clarifies concepts for them, and if they like what they hear they can share their insights with friends and family, and it spreads like Corrupted Blood.

  52. MishaBurnett: “Okay, Stevie, I’ll add “straight” if it makes you feel better. So I’m a straight white male, this means that I have some kind of invisible “privilege” that makes my life easier than other people’s lives. I still submit that this is the same thing that I heard growing up, that somehow being a Jew made me rich, even though I did not actually have money. I have yet to be given any evidence of how, exactly, the fact of my gender, race, and sexual identity gives me an advantage over another person. Which, I suppose, is why this lesson has to be delivered within the context of the imaginary world of a video game.”

    Well, as a Jewish person, you aren’t at the lowest default setting. You have one skull as the member of a minority that is discriminated against and oppressed systemically by the society, (if I’m following the gaming nomenclature correctly.) Gentile white straight males are not discriminated against the way you have been discriminated against regarding crude stereotypes such as that you must be rich, that you should be given less opportunity than a Christian, etc. But you still have a relatively low setting because you are straight, white and male. So advantages that you have:

    If you are driving a car, police are unlikely to stop you just because you were driving the car or driving the car in certain neighborhoods, unlike black people and particularly black men.

    If you are stopped by cops for something specific like speeding, it is unlikely that your car will be searched, you will have to get out of your car with your hands on your head, you will be searched, you will be arrested and spend time in jail, you will be shot by the cops. It is not unlikely statistically for black males.

    If you are convicted of a crime, you are less likely to go to jail for it. You are less likely to be arrested and convicted in the first place. If you somehow end up going to jail, your sentence will be shorter than a non-white person’s for the same crime statistically.

    If you go to a store, you will not be watched by security. Non-whites are watched by security. If you want to flag a taxi, you can do so. Black people, particularly males, have a hard time getting any taxi to take them, no matter what they wear.

    If you want a loan or mortgage from a bank, you are statistically more likely to get it than a non-white or a woman. You are more likely to be interviewed, hired, promoted, reach management position and executive level then a woman or non-white in any profession. You will be paid more than a woman for doing the same job, with the same amount of experience. If you are in academia, you are more likely to be hired, promoted, given tenure and be able to rise in the administration if you are male. You never have to worry about not getting hired or being fired because you could become or are pregnant.

    You will not be threatened with rape by people you disagree with. You have good odds of never actually being raped, whereas women have very bad odds of being raped. You will not be physically beaten because of your sex life, unlike a gay person. You will not be fired for your sex life, unlike a gay person. (However, you have decent odds of being beaten for your ethnicity and/or religion, unlike a non-Hebrew Christian.) You will not have to fight for the right to control your own medical treatment and to have that medical treatment be private, unlike women, and be faced with the possibility of going to jail if you attempt to control your own medical treatment. The bulk of medical and pharmaceutical research is geared around men’s health.

    We can go on for, oh years, but the point is that you are part of a traditionally discriminated group (Jews,) and so are not at the lowest default setting, but you are at a lower setting in the society than non-whites, non-straights and women because the society is systemically geared to favor white, straight males because of ingrained biases towards those who are not. So a white, male straight Christian has a better shot at opportunities than you, but you have a better shot than me, and we both have a better shot than a black person in North American/Western society. Whatever our initial family income level, we start with those bonus points. They can’t be taken away — the society regards us more favorably and is less suspicious of us as people because we are white. A black executive will be treated as a black executive, not just an executive, and evaluated as a black person first and discriminated against as an other, a black person, even though he or she is successful. The black executive will still get stopped by the cops for driving a nice car in nice neighborhoods and the black executive will still have trouble getting a taxi, because he is black. He has to climb over more obstacles on the basis of his race. He may have fewer other obstacles in life to deal with than you, but he will always have the obstacle of his race to deal with, and a white person will not, which is an advantage based on race.

  53. If you are driving a car, police are unlikely to stop you just because you were driving the car or driving the car in certain neighborhoods, unlike black people and particularly black men.

    If you are stopped by cops for something specific like speeding, it is unlikely that your car will be searched, you will have to get out of your car with your hands on your head, you will be searched, you will be arrested and spend time in jail, you will be shot by the cops. It is not unlikely statistically for black males.

    I think the problem here is that a lot of people think these are costs that can be overcome and thus can be ignored.

    The problem here is that there is a cost, period. And you spend energy to pay those costs, energy that could be used to being successful. The question then becomes why should be acceptable to have those costs, whether they’re trivial or substantial?

  54. Misha: now it’s “all white males are privileged.” Same thing.

    Misha: So I’m a straight white male, this means that I have some kind of invisible “privilege”

    gwangung: Still missing the point. Rather aggressively, too.

    No, you’re clinging to McIntosh’s fallacy.

    McIntosh packs the original conversation about “privilege” as undeserved power that all men have over women, that all men refuse to give this power up, that all men actively oppose giving this power up, that all men oppress women, and that all men are justifiably called oppressive.

    McIntosh’s accusations of this “power” I get because a racist cop somewhere pulls over a black driver is nothing more than spectral evidence. It is impossible to deny because it is nothing more than the soul of a witch appearing in McIntosh’s dream and admitted into court. It is impossible to disprove because it doesn’t exist. And then because this imaginary “power” I get due to racist cops pulling over black drivers is entirely imaginary, there is no way to disprove her second accuation that I actively oppose equality because I don’t want to give up this power.

    Reading the first page of “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” and all the accusations she makes against whites and men is like reading witness testimony at a witch trial. Yes, discrimination is real. No, it doesn’t give me power. Yes, racism is real. No, I don’t actively oppose equality in order to keep that secret magical racism power flowing towards me. Yes, sexism is real. No, you don’t get to say I’m “justly seen as oppressive” merely because I’m straight, white, and male, and yet, its right there in black and white in McIntosh’s paper that everyone loves to point to.

  55. I keep getting smacked over the head with an unpalatable reality: no matter how smart or empathetic I am (and I’m both, relatively) I just am not going to understand a great many things as well as I think I do, until I have the experience myself. Or at least an experience that gives me a visceral similarity.

    For example, I found (to my displeasure) that I empathized much more with my beloved husband’s chronic asthma after an episode in which I overdid the codeine cough syrup to the point that it started to suppress my breathing, making me feel much the same way that he felt regularly (he’s doing better now.)

    I think Ms. Allen’s idea is a clever way to inject some viscerality into a theoretical discussion setting.

  56. MishaBurnett

    You seem to have a serious problem with the concept of truth, and until you grasp the fact that meaningful discussion requires you to actually read the article, before you favour us with your pearls of wisdom, you are going to carry on showing your ass, and people will continue to point out that you are showing your ass.

    Incidentally, self pity is one of those emotions which comes across very clearly in this sort of discussion, and you are wallowing in it. At some point you may grasp the fact that it is a singularly unattractive characteristic, and stop doing it, but I’m not holding my breath…

  57. @Aaron
    In addition to what the previous commenters said about your slamming the exercise, teaching in inner city schools can show that some people have unequal access to educational benefits. It can even show that kids have different socio-economic realities. It, however, shows very little about sexism, racism, and all the tiny cuts that even middle-class kids who are not straight white males face.

    Yes, tutoring in inner-city schools is a good thing to do– I did it myself quite a bit during my teens and in my 20s before I moved to a rural area and had kids. But it doesn’t give the same lesson that this in-class Halo lesson does. It is, dare I say, naive to think that it is a substitute.

  58. MishaBurnett, Stevie, et al:

    We’re beginning to wander off from the primary topic (and get personal about it). Reel it in, please, and get back on topic.

  59. Kelly,
    A number of students take Gender Studies as a required general studies course – I think here (University of Akron, Oh), it can be used for part of the necessary hours they must have in Diversity. Others may take it as part of their major – either because it is required (Women’s Studies) or it is on the list of possible electives (they are required to take a certain number of approved electives). Sadly, given college costs and concerns about finishing in a timely fashion, a relatively small number of students here take it simply because it interests them. I teach anthropology, and a number of my students have taken Gender Studies courses. Since some of the materials in my Human Cultures and Human Diversity courses “cross-over” with gender issues, it makes for interesting discussions, as they provide a different view point than mine (we try not to repeat material too much across courses).
    Preaching to the choir? For some students, probably. But again, at Akron U, at least, there are likely to be students in the class who genuinely do not know much about the topic. Over the last few years, for reasons of budget, we have not offered many sections of most courses, so students who have to fulfill the diversity requirement by taking 4 hours, often get placed in classes because other classes they prefer have filled. They need to get the requirement out of the way, so they take them.

    Greg: If you think Halo is not an appropriate match for Lowest Difficulty Setting, is there a game you prefer?

    Aaron: Given that your major was child development, requiring you to tutor children makes sense. It allowed you to put your class room studies into practice. Requiring students to do so for a 100 level general studies course probably would not work, as at least some students would find it too much work/effort, too foreign to their intended profession, complain and not sign up for the class. Then the department chair would step in and in the short term, cancel the class that semester. In the long term, the teacher would lose the class, or be told to drop that requirement. Classes that don’t fill don’t get taught. In a 100 level class, spending 1 day out of the semester playing a video/computer game wouldn’t be a problem. Requiring students to spend several weeks tutoring (1 session would not be useful for the children being tutored) would be. Sadly, that is the way things are in academia today. You have to pick your battles carefully.

  60. I’ll stress that this is an exercise that augments but does not replace more traditional methods of learning about intersectionality. We read Kimberle Crenshaw’s classic article on the subject in addition to Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” They also worked through a lot of reading during the activity itself.

    Bingo. This is like when my sophomore-year science class gave us this little game to play at our computers (or, rather, in groups of three huddled around a computer) after we’d dissected frogs in class – the game had us dissect a frog, and then put it back together again. If we put every organ back in the right place, the frog would come back to life, grab a top hat and do a dance. It was cute and fun and all, but the teacher did not give us that to do instead of dissecting a frog, we did it as well as dissecting a frog.

    This game was a supplement to actual teaching, not a replacement of actual teaching.

  61. First world answers o first world problems you gotta love it. It’s actually pretty simple folks: I got problems; you got problems; all God’s children got problems; the world is a hard place and people can be assholes. Whether you’re a straight white male or a lesbian minority female the answer is the same. You adapt, overcome, and move forward. You take any opportunity you can get and you exploit it to the fullest. And if you have a chance to help someone you do it because a) it’s the right thing to do, b) good karma always beats bad karma, and c) someday, somewhere whether it’s you or someone else that person you helped is going to be in a position to help someone and pay it forward. Live a good life, show some character, and do the right thing otherwise you’re just taking up space and wasting oxygen.

  62. bonelady: Greg: If you think Halo is not an appropriate match for Lowest Difficulty Setting, is there a game you prefer?

    Most video games I know have ALL the NPC’s get harder as difficulty setting goes up, even the mooks start turning into bad asses if you turn the difficulty up high enough. That doesn’t map to real life discrimination unless EVERYONE is racist/sexist/homophobic or whatever.

    When I read “Lowest Difficulty Setting”, I actually had various role playing games in mind, like D&D and others. You have your initial conditions of the character that you have to explicitly deal with when you generate your character sheet. If you start with fewer points than others, due to historical discrimination, then it really shows up. And then there are characters you run into who are actively discriminatory towards some some races and not others.

    A decent DM will make all that happen well.

    But the idea that *everyone* actively discriminates fails to model reality. Halo on high difficulty will have every mook turn into a badass against you. In real life that requires every white person to be racist.

    Unfortunately, McIntosh’s paper, the paper that originated the notion of “privilege”, forwards *exactly* that model of the world. All men actively oppose equality for women because that would require they give up some mystical, magical, ineffable “power”, and therefore all men are justly called oppressors of women. This is nuts. And it’s exactly the same problem with Samantha Allen using Halo: every NPC attacks you that much more.

    Samantha seems to be focusing on using Halo and skulls to show intersectionality. But D&D does that a whole lot better. Because it has racial modifiers. And a DM can start characters with different initial numbers of charactre points to build with. It has many, many layers of ways to have one charcter have a harder time than another, without requiring every NPC being discriminatory.

    Problem is D&D isn’t something you can knock off in a one-hour class.

    Jason: It’s actually pretty simple folks: I got problems; you got problems; all God’s children got problems

    And with a wave of his “We’re all equal” incantation, Jason magically makes racism, sexism, and homophobia all dissappear.

    Thanks Jason. People have been trying to get rid of discrimination for hundreds of years. Slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, women’s suffrage, homosexuality defined as a mental illness, police profiling, pay differences, glass ceiling, rape, sex slaves, hate crimes. But now that you weighed in, it’s all gone.

    poof!

    A powerful wizard you are.

  63. The best fit I can think of is Kingdom of Loathing. Aside from the basic differences like choice of class (Pastamancers, say, have a much harder time than Accordion Thieves or Disco Bandits), some ascension challenges will change how a variety of NPCs interact with you. You can also take on additional challenges like foregoing your inheritance (poverty), bringing fewer or no skills (education), not being able to use certain classes of buff items (health problems), and having difficult enemies spontaneously come up and attack you out of nowhere.

  64. I think the problem with games like Halo is that, all else being equal, the difference between a SWM and a GBF is not at all comparable to, say, Easy and Legendary. In those kinds of games, difficulty setting is basically all that matters, and that breaks the analogy beyond any sort of usefulness. (FWIW, I also think that might be one reason a lot of people blew up at the original article). It’s much more applicable if we think of Real Life as an RPG (which, of course, it is). Often, in that type of game, initial difficulty setting matters- it matters significantly, and will have consequences throughout the game- but it’s also just one factor among others.

  65. Yeah, like a KoL “Bad Moon” run. Monsters are generally no harder, but you have fewer resources and weird bad things happen to you at random.

    Someone ought to create a “real life” RPG with modifiers that map to actual effects. “Person of Color: +50 Resume rejection, +10% wrongful arrest,…”

  66. Reblogged this on The Blunt Instrument and commented:
    Hubs and I had quite the conversation about this, this morning. Especially interesting, since he’s a white, heterosexual male and we live in the small community where he grew up. That’s not to say he enjoys all the privilege possible–he grew up quite poor, and the son of a European immigrant. But, he’s still got more than I do–a white, heterosexual female, who did not grow up in his small, somewhat hidebound community. Not that this means I can fully understand the experience of a black lesbian. It does mean that I can use my writer’s imagination to extrapolate to what that must be like, and probably only fall a couple of kilometres short of the real experience. My own opinion–I think everyone should have to go someplace, live somewhere, where their natural privilege doesn’t exist. We should all have that experience at least once in our lives. I think it would make us much less cruel, in the end. Anyway, read Scalzi’s blog, click on the link and read the story about the teaching exercise. In today’s gamer generation, it really makes sense.

    Synopsis done, query mostly done, final draft waiting on a final readthrough to catch an dropped words or weird grammar. It’s almost done–hooray!

  67. Along the same lines of games to put you in someone else’s shoes, ProPublica just posted a fascinating item about “Newsgaming,” in which they “learned how to use game mechanics to create an interactive experience that went beyond badges and reputation systems to explore a complex accountability story in fun and engaging way.” Their subject: access to good emergency care. Details (and how to play the game) here: http://bit.ly/ZKfiGq

  68. I enjoyed the article and have appreciated the “Lowest Difficulty Setting” essay for what I have been able to learn from it. As a middle class white hetero male I originally was uncomfortable with the essay. I then examined why that might be. I agree with Mr. Scalzi. Why would I be defensive or threatened? Why isn’t Mr. Scalzi threatened? I think that my discomfort was not from disagreement with the premise but from fear that I was undeserving. Some may feel that every white male is undeserving, indeed in the article it says, “the level was so unchallenging that he felt like the game was simply handing her an undeserved victory.” I choose to think that most who have achieved deserve, but that most who have not achieved are also deserving, or deserving of an equal chance. Fairness is not threatening.

  69. Kate: I think everyone should have to go someplace, live somewhere, where their natural privilege doesn’t exist.

    Really??? OK. Lets say I go live somewhere where cops don’t pull over black people because they’re black. How does that change my day-to-day experience if I’m white? I wasn’t getting pulled over for being white before. I’m not getting pulled over for being white now.

    The ONLY way my day to day experience would be different is if “natural privilege” involves active racism on the part of people I interact with.

    I dare anyone to try this challenge. Go read McIntosh’s laundry list of “privileges” and explain how the life of a straight white male would be different were that straight white male transported to a magical world where discrimination didn’t exist.

    http://www.deanza.edu/faculty/lewisjulie/White%20Priviledge%20Unpacking%20the%20Invisible%20Knapsack.pdf

    1. I can hang out with other SWM’s?
    no change
    2. I can avoid people who aren’t SWM’s?
    no change
    3. Will be able to buy a home as a SWM?
    no change
    4. neighbors will be pleasant to me as a SWM?
    no change
    5. shop without being harrassed?
    no change
    6. SWM represetned on TV?
    no change
    7. SWM represetned in history class?
    no change
    8. SWM’s represented in history class?
    no change
    9. SWM gets published?
    no change
    10 SWM gets heard in a conversation?
    no change
    12 can find Single White Male music, Single white male food, single white male hair style?
    no change
    13. can write a check as a SWM?
    no change
    14 protect my children against people who don’t like SWM children?
    no change
    15 don’t havae to educate my SWM children about safety?
    no change
    16 teachers an employers will accept my SWM children?
    no change
    17 talk with my mouth full as a SWM?
    no change
    18 do bad things and not have people attribute it to being SWM?
    no change

    and so on and so forth. If I, as a SWM, go someplace, live somewhere, where my SWM privilege doesn’t exist, my day to day experience does not change. The only way my day to day experience changes is if I go someplace, somewhere, where straight white males are discriminated against.

    This is the nonsense of McIntosh’s notion of “privilege”. It assumes that I’m getting power, raw and unfiltered, from having racist cops pull black people over. It assumes that I actively OPPOSE efforts for equality specifically because I don’t want to give up this raw power of the dark side that makes me so strong. And it assumes, just like you are assuming in this post, that if we take this “privilege” away, that I will have to give up oh so much of this raw power, and boy oh boy won’t I be sorry the day that happens? It assumes that if I go somewhere where my “privilege” doesn’t exist that my day-to-day experience would be so fundamentally different from what it is now.

    but that’s just not true.

    We can see this quite easily by looking at McIntosh’s very own list of all the “privileges” I get as a straight white male, and imagine what would happen if we magically transformed the world where discrimination was completely eliminated, and any power of privilege I recieve is removed. There is no change, in almost every instance of McIntosh’s accusation of “privilege”.

    That’s because it’s not removing my “privilege” that would make my day-to-day life change in any significant way. The only way you could change my day-to-day life as a result of me being a straight white male is if you have me go someplace, live somewhere, where straights, or whites, or males are discriminated against.

    The kind of “privilege” that McIntosh talks about is a myth. It is immeasurable. It is spectral evidence. And when people like you assert that my life would be so drastically and fundamentally altered if I were forced to give up my “privilege”, its only because you have bought into McIntosh’s assumptions packed into her definition of “privilege”. The biggest one is that I somehow draw magical, mystical, power from the dark side because of my privilege, and removing privielge would remove that power and alter my life in major and fundamental ways. And that’s simply not the case.

    The only way you could alter my life in major and fundamental ways is if, rather than removing this ineffable thing called “privilege”, you subjected me to reverse discrimination of some sort.

  70. “Whether you’re a straight white male or a lesbian minority female the answer is the same.”

    Maybe, but the problems aren’t. Are you actually reading what people are saying in this discussion?

    I can say, without certainty, that I have never, ever, EVER been in an elevator and feared, even for a nano-second, that I might be raped. Even when there were gay dudes in the elevator as well. Never crossed my mind.

    This, I think, is the essence of this so-called privilege. It’s that most of the problems that I have in life don’t come from other people (police, employers, leather-clad chaps in elevators) making problems for me. They are my own problems. It’s not really that I have life easy (which, IMHO, is why calling it “privilege” is problematic), it’s that other people have problems that don’t even exist for me.

  71. One of the hard things to get people on lower difficulty settings in society to understand through gender and ethnic studies is that the person in the ruling class are in the society people first, ruling class identity second, whereas a person in the subverted class always has to be the subverted class first, and a person second if at all. Consequently, people in ruling classes think of themselves as the default, as the normal objective neutral person, with no particular identity, ethnicity beyond person. They are part of the ruling class but it is not part of them, they are just people. They are not the oppressors unless they do directly oppressive things, and when people in the subverted class bring up the oppression they face in the system, the person in the ruling class wants to be exempted from being oppressive as the objective neutral, as a person first rather than a white, straight male for instance, wants to insist that identities don’t matter (because it doesn’t matter to them because they have the ruling class identity and thus the privilege of not worrying about it,) and wants people in the subverted class to accept, pay attention to first and generally kowtow to their pain before any discussion of the pain of the person in the subverted class for being in the subverted class (which they call whining and oversensitivity,) can take place. This is a form of controlling the discussion, which is part of the control the person in the ruling class believes he has for being in the ruling class. As the objective neutral — as a person who is not running around engaging in extreme oppression — they insist that you’re not allow to say that person is in the ruling class that oppresses others, you’re not allowed to be angry or critical or dismissive of that person in the ruling class and their pain, and you’re not allowed to belabor your own from being in the subjected class. I just read a really interesting article on this: http://www.salon.com/2013/04/25/how_can_white_americans_be_free/

    Jason Tyler: Actually, they are also third world problems and are even worse in the third world. That they are somewhat better in the first world is because those who were being discriminated against didn’t just suck it up and accept the discrimination as something they had to live with forever. I can vote because women and their male allies fought against that discrimination and didn’t accept that intolerance and legal and financial disempowerment of it. I am seen as more of a person in the society, culturally and legally, because of young people actually talking about and better understanding the artificial obstacles women face through things like gender studies courses. It is, in fact, a very powerful way to adapt, overcome and move forward. It is not only seizing opportunities but creating them, opportunities that have been kept from me on the basis of my gender. And those barriers have been successfully maintained by the repression of women to keep them silent and compliant, a chief tactic of which is telling women and others they already have it good enough and so should stop speaking and trying to improve things and mutual understanding. Because many people do not care about karma and helping someone when they can and in fact actively fought to keep women from voting, working, being in politics, etc., and they are still doing it. So gender and ethnic studies courses seize an opportunity, start a dialogue against intolerance, adapt, overcome and move forward and improve both the first world and the third world for all peoples, not just those in certain groups.

  72. Kat: They are not the oppressors unless they do directly oppressive things

    By all means, unabashedly embrace the accusation you’re hiding in the above statement. Start a comment with the following:

    Greg, you’re an oppressor for no other reason than for being white.

    Why dance around what you’re really saying? Out with it.

  73. Ah, but we now live in the postmodern world where “self” is an illusion, only a social construct imposed on each of us from the outside by our culture. So, instead of agonizing over all this, simply start taking actions to socially construct all those you encounter around you, each and every person, as simply another human being entitled to the same “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in our foundational documents as you seek. So long as we keep pigeon-holing fok into separte genders, economic status, ethnicities, et. al. we are being complicit in continuing to socially construct those around us in mostly negative ways-the same old same old. In short, treat everyone with respect and dignity. Actively ignore the things that have created all this privilege and non-privilege we see. Over time we can kill this privilege thing within our newly constructed “selves.”

  74. @Kat Goodwin: May I point out that one of the drivers behind Scalzi’s original “lowest difficulty setting” post was what seemed to be unusual offense at the term “privilege”.

    You are framing the issue in terms of “ruling classes”, “oppressors” and “subverted classes”, which are a helluva lot more loaded words than “privilege”. Your intro to this was both condescending and not a little passive-aggressive: “One of the hard things to get people on the lower difficulty settings to understand…”

    Understanding your contention – which, as a small point, would be slightly easier if you used paragraphing – is not the same as agreeing with it in its entirety.

    Basically, to return to Ms. Allen’s experiment, you have just laid out several “skulls” that will be active whenever a lower-difficulty-setting player enters your game. And posted instructions that any attempt to turn those skulls off other than by one specific course of action – i.e. complete acceptance of and agreement with your contention – will simply lock them to active mode for the duration.

    Not a game I care to play.

  75. Don, I can see why you might read Kat’s post as condescending or passive-aggressive, but I didn’t get that vibe myself — in part because one of the more verbose participants in this thread had just demonstrated, at length, exactly that lack of understanding. And while I do not believe that her post was solely directed at him, no matter how he tries to claim it’s All About Him, his posts do illustrate the problems she discusses. But please note that Greg’s loud and aggrieved protestations are not unique to him; there are many lower/lowest-difficulty-setting people who express the same angry bewilderment for exactly the reasons she mentions. When you’re the unmarked class, to use a linguistics term, the focus of the marked class [in the general sense] on its marked feature seems out of proportion to you because you just don’t need to think about the existence of that feature. I mean, look at how many straight people just don’t get why gay marriage is a big deal politically, when obviously it’s nowhere near as important as the economy — this example coming to mind because I’ve been rereading threads from last year with exactly those comments from folks who clearly don’t have their civil rights impacted by their orientation. Kat is generalizing that kind of blinkeredness.

    And yeah, the words are strong. But two notes: 1) There aren’t a whole lot of options of vocabulary to express these concepts, even in a language as rich as English, and using softer but less accurate language or more obscure terms will not help comprehension. 2) Both that part of your post and Greg’s thousands of words harping on “privilege” read a whole lot like tone-trolling. Shrill feminists, and all that. If you have accurate terms that are less likely to result in a defensive reaction than the ones Kat used, by all means present them — but don’t use your reaction to them as an excuse to dismiss the actual content. (I mean that generally, not an accusation of you personally, Don.)

  76. Samantha’s article is awesome and the comments discussion is awesome. Hooray for a place where “don’t read the comments” doesn’t apply!

    I think privilege is a great word for what we’re discussing, but then I think Greg’s opposition to it comes from misunderstanding what it refers to. The unearned privilege handed to white people isn’t simply that of not getting pulled over for spurious reasons, but rather that of being unthinkingly treated as more trustworthy than people of color. The privilege men need to give up isn’t “having their expertise respected,” but rather that of “being automatically respected as an expert by virtue of being male, especially in comparison to any females present in the conversation.” And so forth.

    No one wants SWMs to give up the so-called privilege of “Being treated like a human being.” That’s not a privilege; that’s a right. Acknowledging that right in the case of all people of every description will of necessity erase the unearned privilege that SWMs currently enjoy, which is that of “Being treated like the only real human beings.”

  77. @Robin: Whoosh, where to begin?

    “Kat is generalizing that kind of blinkeredness.” – Yes. And that kind of generalizing tends to Piss Off those of us who shook off those blinkers a long damned time ago, but are not willing to buy into being The Mighty Whitey, to borrow an expression from my kidhood.

    Second: What pisses me off is not necessarily the same as what pisses Greg off. “Tone-trolling” is your term, not mine. I don’t like being spoken down to, regardless of who’s doing it. (“Shrill feminists”? Please. Again, disagreeing does NOT mean wholly discounting.)

    And again – it is not my job, past a certain point, to come up with better terminology and approaches for advancing feminism. My job as a professional and a human is to treat everyone I deal with as a person first and everything else second.

  78. Don — Sorry if I came across as antagonistic; I didn’t mean to. I do understand your frustration. But a lot of posts here aren’t really addressed to single people or even to the people participating in the thread, but to all readers — and there are a lot of people who HAVEN’T shed the blinkers, who don’t even realize they have blinkers. Those are Kat’s audience for that explanation, not those who have. I like to think of myself as being blinker-free, but I know that a) I still trip over things and b) even when I already agree with what I’m reading, seeing it stated by someone else can still help clarify it in my own head. I found her post personally useful for that.

    I wasn’t trying to accuse you of tone-trolling, just pointing out that the comments of language (not just yours) are on a continuum with that. Shrillness being an archetypal accusation for using terms that tick people off. I do apologize for inadvertently lumping you in. As I mentioned, I’ve been rereading older posts (like this one) which have a lot of comments of people stressing out about the term “bigot” and other people saying really??? So it’s on my mind.

    And no, it’s not your job to come up with better terminology — but it’s not necessarily Kat’s to come up with more comfortable terminology either. I would like to see a better way to have this conversation, but I personally really don’t know what better words there are. If you do have suggestions, I for one am open to them… but no, you are certainly not required to provide them. I think Kat’s points are valid, just as I think Peggy McIntosh’s are (though it’s been a while since I read her article), and I still don’t think she was talking down to anyone, but I agree that if the language currently in use is actually impeding the conversation that better language would be helpful. I just honestly don’t know what that would be.

    N.b., while I used “shrill feminist” as an example of tone argument, I really don’t think this is about feminism to the exclusion of other considerations. So I don’t see a point in grouping the above as “advancing feminism”. The article wasn’t just “Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting”, after all.

  79. I am always a little astounded that this is difficult to understand. You, straight white male – look at your life – whether you have it easy or hard, rich or poor, what have you – would your life be easier or harder if you were gay, not white, or female?

    I swear, doesn’t John even distill it down like that IN the article?

  80. Robin: that lack of understanding

    Oh, I understant McIntosh’s accusations just fine. Let’s paraphrase and quote them, shall we?

    All men get “power” from women being discriminated against. Because all men get power from this discrimination, and because all men refuse to “give up some of their power”, all men resist efforts to achieve gender equality. Because all men resist efforts to achieve gender equality,
    all men are “justly seen as oppressors.”

    Her accusatoins are fairly straightforward. There is nothing difficult to understand.

    And yeah, the words are strong.

    Except the problem is they’re also wrong. All men get power from sexism? All men oppose gender equality because they don’t want to “give up some of their power”? All men are therefore “justly seen as oppressors”? That’s just wrong.

    Have you ever read the actual words in McIntosh’s paper? The words that people complain about?

    If you have accurate terms that are less likely to result in a defensive reaction

    Uhm, that’s like accusing someone of witchcraft and then saying, well, if you have a more accurate term to describe your witchcrat that won’t make you all defensive and shit, please let me know.

    McIntosh’s accusations are like accusations of witchcraft to explain why a neighbor got sick or someone’s cow died. yeah, someone did in fact get sick. No, the accusation of witchcraft is complete nonsense. Yeah, there is systemic discrimination. No, McIntosh’s explanation that everyone resists equality because they don’t want to give up the magical jedi powers they get from others being discriminated against, is nonsense.

    Nicole: I think Greg’s opposition to it comes from misunderstanding what it refers to.

    Well, I am one of the few people in this thread who is actually quoting McIntosh.

    All men get “power” from women being discriminated against. Because all men get power from this discrimination, and because all men refuse to “give up some of their power”, all men resist efforts to achieve gender equality. Because all men resist efforts to achieve gender equality,
    all men are “justly seen as oppressors.”

    I think McIntosh is pretty clear. I mean,The quoted parts seem pretty unambiguous to me.

    The privilege men need to give up isn’t “having their expertise respected,” but rather that of “being automatically respected as an expert by virtue of being male, especially in comparison to any females present in the conversation.”

    Here’s on on McIntosh’s list: 19. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

    What POWER do I get as a white man that racist cops are pulling over black drivers? What incentive do I have? What is the allure of allowing this to continue that is such a strong allure that I resist efforts to stop racial profiling? That’s the problem. It doesn’t exist. The only reason I would oppose racial profiling is if I was in fact a racist myself. Otherwise, there is no reason, no benefit, no POWER, for me to support it. It is a practice that, in fact, sickens me. And yet, here is McIntosh, accusing all whites of supporting the continuation of this “privilege” because it gives them some sort of magical “power”. It doesn’t exist.

    So, McIntosh lists two dozen examples of what she says is “privilege” that gives men and whites some kind of power. If you want to quote her actual paper, and quote her list, and explain them them to me, I’m all ears. I quoted most of them further up the thread.

    But usually what happens, is people explaining McIntosh’s concept of “privilege”? Almost unanimously they avoid quoting her. Almost unanimously, they avoid her examples, her words, her description and explanation of the terms. They often provide a link to her paper, but they more often than not avoid quoting the actual text.

    Men refuse to “give up some of their power”. that’s her actual words.
    Men are “justly seen as oppressors”. That’s her actual words.

    I think those words are entirely unambiguous and entirely wrong.

  81. The only reason I would oppose efforts to stop racial profiling is if I was in fact a racist myself.

    crap.

  82. Greg, I wasn’t talking about McIntosh’s paper in the post of mine you quoted, so I’m skipping your post arguing against stuff I didn’t say. The thing I was referring to was the rest of Kat’s sentence that Don quoted: “…the person in the ruling class are in the society people first, ruling class identity second, whereas a person in the subverted class always has to be the subverted class first, and a person second if at all.” That’s not “McIntosh’s accusations”, that’s Kat’s comment. Likewise, the strong words I referred to are the ones of Kat’s that Don quoted. I didn’t even refer to McIntosh’s paper until my later post, not the one you were quoting.

    You have a tendency to turn every comment back toward your personal topic of choice, but this really is rather extreme even for you. You’re so obsessed with the idea that McIntosh is accusing everyone of being deliberately, maliciously complicit that you’re taking posts that don’t even mention her as referring to her. And seriously, quoting “If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.” and turning that into a comment about POWER, to use your emphasis? There’s no there there. And while it’s hardly my place to say your posts are off-topic, once McIntosh got brought into the thread peripherally you started expending thousands of words on her with a rather disturbing intensity. I wish I could say this was a surprise, but it’s not the first time you’ve done this.

  83. I am legally a second-class citizen in my country, so men rule over me legally in the society, whether they want to or not. I am routinely discriminated against in my society because of my gender at every level, so I am in a subverted class in the society, whether men want that or not. The society does not treat me as equal — and the society says that I cannot speak to it as an equal, that I do not have the right to cause offense in males who get to decide what is offensive from me and what is not. If I do speak as an equal, I get scolded on my tone and how I’m being mean. I’m legally subservient to you in the society, but I’m being mean and that’s way more awful.

    That’s not really removing blinkers; it’s just changing them. Declaring that you see women, gays or non-whites as people is great, but it doesn’t solve the problems in the society where they are legally not people. It instead pretends that those problems aren’t pervasive and don’t require strong language. That a man demands that I praise him for seeing me as an equal, which is something that should be normal and require no praise, that’s not treating me as an equal. When a man tries to pretend that because he’s willing to consider me as an equal that he therefore understands the situation I face and does not need to consider a thing I say if he doesn’t like it, that’s not treating me as an equal. When a man is more concerned with whether all consider him to be a good guy than with the discrimination and threats those not like him face, that’s not treating the discriminated not-people as equals. When a man pretends that the fact that he is legally a person and I am not legally a person is not an issue of power, that’s not treating me as an equal who is suffering from an injustice. It’s treating me as a second class citizen who better be nice to the kinder full citizens if I want any help dismantling that injustice. If someone doesn’t want to read the article or consider what I say, fine. You don’t have to put yourself in another person’s shoes, even for a sec. You can try to divert the conversation to say that talking about how hard it is to get someone who is a full citizen to understand living in a society as not a full citizen is talking down to you, and again, that’s way more important to you.

    What I know is (and look, another paragraph,) is that as long as guys go instantly defensive and screaming outrage instead of listening about actual discrimination, working towards full equality is going to continue to be slow going. Steady, but slow.

  84. Robin: I’m skipping your post arguing against stuff I didn’t say.

    Speaking of stuff someone didn’t say:

    Greg’s thousands of words harping on “privilege” read a whole lot like tone-trolling. Shrill feminists, and all that. …. I used “shrill feminist” as an example of tone argument

    The first occurrence of the word “shrill”? Comes from you. I made no “tone-trolling” comments. I called no one a “shrill” anything. What I did do, was disagree. But you’re strawmanning that into calling people shrill and tone trolling.

    And seriously, quoting “If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.” and turning that into a comment about POWER

    I’m not turning anything into a comment about power. I’m pointing out how messed up McIntosh’s point is by quoting it. Have you even read her paper?

    Describing white privilege makes one newly accountable. As we in Women’s Studies work to reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some of their power, so one who writes about having white privilege must ask, “ Having described it what will I do to lessen or end it?”

    Male privilege is male power.

    White privilege is white power.

    We usually think of privilege as being a favored state, whether earned or conferred by birth or luck. Yet some of the conditions I have described here work to systematically over empower certain groups. Such privilege simply confers dominance

    privilege isn’t a favored state. it’s power. it’s dominance.

    As we know from watching men, it is an open question whether
    we will choose to use unearned advantage to weaken hidden systems of advantage and whether we will use any of our arbitrarily-awarded power to reconstruct power systems on a broader base.

    McIntosh couldn’t be any more unambiguous about it.

    It’s all about power.

  85. Mythago,

    Presumably it means that while we understand the arguments being advanced, and don’t have any truck with racism, gender discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, etc., that isn’t the same thing as saying “yes, I have straight white male privilege and your argument is totally correct”.

    Part of that is because the world isn’t straight-up “all effects of non-privileged conditions are bad!”, precisely because most people aren’t horrible and have done things to try to ameliorate some of those bad conditions. Let’s extend the video game metaphor, shall we?

    Start with your initial condition as what was described in the article – some people have a starting point where things are just plumb more difficult, they get more grenades thrown at them and the enemies have extra HP and higher aggression and whatnot. Let’s also vary the effects somewhat, so that some parts of the game aren’t all that affected (in fact, some places you can’t tell at all), but other places are just Damned Bad, making it no fun at all if you’re one of the poor players who has two or three skulls on.

    Some of the developers say “gee, this sucks to be them; let’s see if we can improve the situation for them. We can’t turn the skulls off (remember, for the sake of our metaphor, that they’re directly tied in with the individual’s identity), but we CAN make it so that the game notices you’ve got skulls on and compensates by giving you extra medical kits and ammo and occasionally thumping the hell out of an enemy. (This is analogous to the actions of minority-interest groups, the provision of minority-preferential employment practices, scholarships, etc etc.)

    Other developers, mostly working independently from the first lot, say “gee, we can’t turn the skulls off, but can we turn them down? So that instead of you walking in the room and everyone immediately throws a grenade, maybe make it so that only one of them throws a grenade, sometimes, when his buddies aren’t looking?” (This would be actions taken to reduce the offensive practices directly – getting rid of redlining, of white-only social clubs and organizations, reducing sexism in the workplace, etc.)

    The efforts of the two very different kinds of effects will reduce the difficulty gap. And in some cases, depending on how you’ve got your game structured, you’re going to run into some people who say “man, just turn the skull on for being black, it’s easier and you can just skip the Deep South level anyway”, and some non-skull players are gonna scratch their heads a little.

    And that’s the world we really live in. Are there horrible bigots out there? Sure. Are there skeevy old guys who keep pawing women they oughta leave alone? Unfortunately yes. Are there guys who think that someone being gay is a reason to start a fight? Regrettably true. But there are a lot less of all three of these than there were in the past, and at the same time there are a lot of special set-asides for the people in (most of) these categories, and so people whose experience mostly includes nobody being horribly racist or woman-oppressing or gay-bashing (because this is exactly the kind of world we’re trying to make here!) may occasionally say “uh, wait a moment, exactly what is my privilege getting me here?”

    The other problem with this kind of privilege-oriented thinking is thus; saying “white males are the ruling class” is rather oversimplifying the situation. True, the ruling class is mostly made up of white males, but just having light skin and testicles is not the key to entry. Generalizing the power that people who are -actually- privileged enjoy to every person who happens to be white and male is, in its own way, the same kind of thinking as saying “lots of criminals are black so ALL BLACKS ARE CRIMINALS” or other such nonsense. Scalzi does a good job in saying that there’s at least something to the “nobody is actively discriminating against you” privilege, but that ain’t enough to perch you at the apex of society…

  86. @Avatar, a few things:

    – Playing on the Lowest Difficulty Setting, or All Skulls Off, does not put one at the “apex of the game”. You may still be bad at the game. You may still get flattened by the boss. Your friend who bought the Collector’s Edition and got all the DLC is probably going to do at least as well as you, if not better, even though he’s playing on Hard Mode. Heck, your ten-year-old cousin the game wizard might kick your butt even with all skulls on because she’s just that good. Nevertheless: playing on Easy Mode/All Skulls Off is just that, and the game just plain isn’t throwing in the extra patrols, the smarter monster AI, or the friendly-fire damage that you would get if you flipped on a few of those skulls.

    -“Less than in the past” is, of course, relative. Yes, the developers fixed the worst bugs so the first boss fight isn’t immune to bullets anymore, but they still haven’t taken out the problem where on your server, he still has five times the hit points he has on all the other servers, so it’s still way harder for you to take him out, it takes longer, and you get exactly the same hit points as if you were on a server where that bug didn’t exist. Plus, you have to use up more of your healing potions just to make it through the fight. (This is the ‘work twice as hard to be thought half as good’ problem; or, if you go back to the Being Poor essay, it costs you a hell of a lot more to get the same result.)

    – Oh, that easy server your brother plays on? There was an exploit where everybody got double XP for a week, but the devs felt so bad about how long they let it go that they just decided to fix it going forward and not roll the XP gain back, and to make it up to everybody else on the broken servers, they threw you a 5% chance of any named creature dropping. And then the first time this happens, your brother starts whining about how his server never got that bonus and it’s so unfair and why do the devs like you better WTF HAX. (This is “how come you guys have a Black Engineers’ Society and stuff, nobody gives ME anything for being white?!” complaint, and I have personally heard this sort of rant from someone who in the next breath bragged to me about the awesome summer job he was getting by way of his dad’s golfing buddy.

    So “what is my privilege getting me here?!” as an actual question, rather than a complaint, is: You’re playing on Easy Mode. That’s what it gets you, and no, being a straight white dude is not the entire or only form of privilege there is.

  87. Hey, I’m trying to have a conversation about discrimination in society, which the gender course is looking at and your article was looking at, Scalzi, but as usual, there is a group that wants to focus on how they are not properly loved and respected as SWM’s who don’t grope or make slurs. The argument seems to be against your article, as always, that 1) society is better now, even if legally you’re not equal so you shouldn’t say that I have an advantage in the society even though legally I do; 2) there may be biases in the society that totally screw up your lives but some of you have done okay anyway while some of us haven’t, so again you shouldn’t say that I have an advantage in the society and more opportunities and control of the laws (power) even though legally I do; and 3) I am a nice guy and not doing malicious, obvious attacks on you so you can’t talk about discrimination in the society and me having a legal advantage because of that discrimination because then you’re saying that I’m a criminal by my identity and that’s wrong. I only have the legal advantage if I engage in acts of overt, nasty discrimination with a song in my heart.

    But that isn’t true; you still have the legal advantage even if you don’t want it and that’s what the video game analogy is about and what this particular course using Scalzi’s piece is about. The legal advantage has nothing to do with how happy you are to have it or how well you do with it. It’s that you have it simply for being part of a particular group who is in power and in charge nearly all of the time.

    Again, people don’t like to deal with numbers. They prefer personal stories like they had a horrible black, female supervisor, so obviously it’s not so bad for black people. But black female supervisors are rare compared to other groups and they are statistically more often put in charge of other black people and women, rather than white males, and are paid less on average than all other groups. White males dominate all the way up and collectively if not always directly, those white males make sure white males stay in the majority in leadership positions. Does that mean that if you’re a white male, you automatically get to be a supervisor? No, but it does mean that if you are up for a supervisor position as a white male, you are more likely to get the job over females and non-whites, be paid more than females and non-whites with the same track record, and be promoted beyond supervisor. Statistically, you have a better setting, better odds of getting to the next level of the game because you are white and male. When you get to level five, most of your fellow players will be white males. When you get to level ten, nearly all of your fellow players will be white males. Males make up only half the population in the U.S. and whites (non-Latino) make up about sixty, sixty-five percent of the population in the U.S. and dropping fast. Their predominance in managerial, executive, financial, academic, professional, political, etc. areas, where they make up some eighty percent of top perches at all levels, is skewed and that skewing is deliberate. They win the game and they rig the game so that they can win more often (and they may often be doing it unconsciously, having a preference for white males without realizing that they do because the society teaches them that preference.)

    One of the ways they are rigging the game is to use a white male majority in power to cut wages, let employers fire workers for nearly any reason (such as they don’t like your tone and guess whose tone they don’t like more often?;) outlaw unions that work for worker rights and wages, etc. The other way is less overt — they preference and trust white males over others. Laws and regs that prevent them from rigging the game help some. It lets non-SWM’s more openly compete, but these have been being dismantled for the last twenty years. Until these sorts of stats change, SWM’s have the better setting in the game — they are more likely to progress and win on the basis of being straight, white and male, even if all of them do not progress and win. They are less likely to be physically harmed for their identity. They are more likely to get people to back them financially. They are less likely to go to prison. Pick an area besides the ability to birth a baby and SWM’s always statistically have the better setting in the game of life in most of the western world, no matter what your own personality and behavior.

  88. To be fair, I’m personally playing on Cream Puff mode (“did you _see_ his INT stat? H4x…”), so it’s not like I’m unaware I’m rocking the unearned privilege here… ;p Then again, if we’re talking “membership in discriminated-against minority communities”, being a nerd surely qualifies, no?

  89. “Then again, if we’re talking “membership in discriminated-against minority communities”, being a nerd surely qualifies, no?”

    Also: http://nihilistic-kid.livejournal.com/1755841.html

    With a snip for emphasis:

    “Geeks are not an oppressed minority. There are certainly many members of oppressed minorities who are geeks, but geeks are not an oppressed minority. The n in “N-word” does not stand for nerd, or neckbeard. You are not owed attention for the “real you”, especially if you insist that a hard drive full of scanlated manga is the real you.”

  90. I’m sure a discussion of why “geek” and “nerd” don’t mean the same thing is sufficiently off-topic that we shouldn’t indulge at this time, lest our esteemed host go for his mallet. It’s certainly fair to say that just being into geeky stuff does not drop you into an oppressed sub-group. I could also go on to say that your conflation of the two terms is itself a display of normative anti-nerd privilege etc., but that would identify me as not just a nerd but also something of a jerk (in sober reflection, probably truthfully…)

    Probably at the bottom of everything, what I’m trying to assert is that while it’s certainly fair to say that it’s rougher to be black than white, to be a woman rather than a man, to be gay rather than straight, and it doesn’t do us any harm to think about that… but these things are not the only way that life can be rough, and just because you see someone who’s white and male and likes women doesn’t mean you see someone who’s had an easy-mode life. Especially with regards to money, there are a lot of white men who don’t have it (and of those who do, not nearly all of them grew up that way), and it’s fair to say this: society has definitely made it to the point where a wealthy woman, a wealthy black man, or a wealthy gay man is far better off than a poor white one.

    Some of these guys have beat cancer, or worse, haven’t and won’t. Some of these guys have mentally ill family members that they’re taking care of. Some of these guys are single fathers (yeah, it happens). Some of these guys just aren’t very bright and are workin’ like hell to stay even. Some of ‘em are just lonely and awkward. Some of them have a record and will have to bust their chops the rest of their life to overcome that. Some of them made a bad decision and are poor as a churchmouse because all their pay goes to raise kids they don’t even get to see.

    Y’know, compared to those guys, I feel like I’m damned lucky. And yeah, I know that black people have the same problems and they’re not any easier for being black, and women have the same problems and they’re not any easier for being women either. But if you want to take one of those people and tell them, from the comfort of what I’m (possibly incorrectly) assuming to be a middle-class lifestyle, that they’ve been living in easy mode, that probably says more about you than it says about them.

    If you look at someone and say “I don’t know anything about your circumstances in particular, but you have this skin color and this set of gonads and this sexual preference, so I can automatically assign a position in society to you and treat you accordingly,” well then.

    Though for me, it’s a fair cop – definitely easy mode here. Even I’ve got my own scars, though; just because you think it’s easy mode doesn’t mean that it ain’t sometimes damned hard to live.

  91. Kat: but as usual, there is a group that wants to focus on how they are not properly loved and respected as SWM’s

    Yes, yes, it’s all about me not getting enough love.

    Again, people don’t like to deal with numbers.

    If anyone wants to deal with the ALL MEN ARE OPPRESSORS conversation, we can move it to here:

    http://www.warhw.com/2011/09/10/the-privileged-dishwasher/

    Louis C.K. can really capture the insanity of some people’s thinking. Everytime I watch it, it makes me laugh.

  92. @Greg. From reading your posts, I get the impression you’re really invested in denying the existence of privilege and I have to wonder why. What does it mean for you personally to acknowledge privilege exists? And you seem stuck on McIntosh, if she’s not working for you, she isn’t the only person to write on the concepts of privilege and power and intersectionality. If it makes it any easier for you, how about this-

    http://brown-betty.livejournal.com/305643.html

    I want to talk about privilege today, because it’s fundamental to most modern discussions of racism. And sexism, and ableism, and lookism, and classism, and dot dot dot. And because I’ve seen some pretty odd definitions of privilege out there. The standard resource on privilege is White Privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. But I think that resource is clearly not working for some people based on some very defensive reactions I’ve seen, so I’m going to be presumptuous and try on my own.

    Privilege is not: About you. Privilege is not your fault. Privilege is not anything you’ve done, or thought, or said. It may have allowed you to do, or think, or say things, but it’s not those things, and it’s not because of those things. Privilege is not about taking advantage, or cheating, although privilege may make this easier. Privilege is not negated. I can’t balance my white privilege against my female disadvantage and come out neutral. Privilege is not something you can be exempt from by having had a difficult life. Privilege is not inherently bad. It really isn’t.

    Or this

    http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2007/03/11/faq-what-is-male-privilege/

    It’s possible to be both simultaneously privileged in one area (ex. race) and un-privileged in another (ex. class). Hence the hard-working, poor straight white man you seem to like to reference as being powerless. This is where intersectionality comes into play. By virtue of his race and gender, the poor straight white man has certain advantages or power (ex. more likely to be reviewed by NY Times, can get married, lesser sentence for drug charge) as compared to the women, gays and non-white men. But by virtue of his class he has certain disadvantages or lack of power (ex. lack of healthcare or access to higher education) when compared to affluent gays, non-white men and women. It’s important to remember these systems of oppression are established by societal and cultural norms, not necessarily enacted by any individual (well, unless you’re Hitler). Individuals can both consciously and/or subconsciously reinforce these norms.

    Imagine the challenges faced by the disabled, black, transgender woman as compared to those faced by the straight, white, cis male and let’s say class is the same for both. Who is going to have an easier time of it? As I’ve never played Halo, I’m assuming this is what the gaming exercise is meant to illustrate with the different skull settings and difficulties. It’s a brilliant idea and I hope it catches on.

  93. CG your impression has nothing to do with anything I actually wrote. so congratulations. the omly reason you’re wondering about anything is because you havent read what i wrote.

  94. @Avatar – I get what you are saying, but the things you list as not being easy? We all get them. The difference comes not in what diseases hit our bodies and our minds, but the treatment we are afforded. For example, until very, very recently, most clinical trials were biased towards white men. It is only in the last half dozen years have we come to appreciate that heart disease and heart attacks are very different in women mainly because there were just no definitive studies. According to a study by the National Cancer Institute, African Americans are 33% more likely to die from cancer, (http://bit.ly/17mU8Uj), which appears to have both a clinical bias AND a genetic component.

    Mental health treatment and acceptance is also lower among minorities according to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Some of this is cultural, as in stigma on seeking mental health treatment; but then again, African Americans alone are more likely to be misdiagnosed and to be in situations that lead to mental health issues (such as foster care, incarceration, and extreme poverty).

    So yes, as individuals, white men (and women) as humans get sick and deal with mental illness and that is hard. We are also more likely to get adequate treatment for those things. This is what is so insidious about privilege, quite often we are unaware of how much we have. We grumble and groan about hey, my life isn’t easy either, and yet in many ways as hard as it is, you probably still have it somewhat better. I say this as a white female. I face sexism on a fairly regular basis, some of it passive, some of it overt. And yet as irritating as that is, it is light years ahead of what minority women face – in all socioeconomic strata.

  95. Avatar: As has been explained numerous times, “easy mode” does not mean that SWMs have life easy. It means that whatever hardships you experience, the society doesn’t put you through ADDITIONAL hardships just because you aren’t a SWM. It means that whatever you are trying to do that is hard, if you are not a SWM, the society makes it even harder to try and do. It means that the society doesn’t create laws that lessen your legal status and take away your rights on the basis of you being a SWM, whereas the society does do this to people for not being a SWM. Your being a SWM means you don’t get the penalties that non-SWM’s do. You have an immunity idol from those particular penalties (but not from all penalties in life.)

    So if you have cancer, it’s life and death stakes. If you are not a SWM and have cancer, you face additional hardships fighting cancer, fighting for your life, for not being a SWM in the society. There are more poor women then poor men, for instance, because the society makes it harder for women to earn money and get out of poverty (the wage gap and many other issues.) So statistically, there are more poor women having trouble getting medical treatment for cancer than there are poor men having trouble getting medical treatment for cancer. More women are dying because they are women and because being a woman means you are more likely to be poor. It does not mean there are not poor men. It means there are fewer poor men, fewer poor whites. Collectively, not individually, men are less penalized in the fight against cancer. Additionally, there are unconstitutional laws that take women’s rights away from them concerning reproductive health, which can effect their ability to get medical treatment for various types of cancer. That again penalizes women for being women and causes more women to die. Additionally, women’s health problems are less funded and researched than male health problems, another penalty. This again effects treatment available, which means again more women die from cancer not just because of the cancer but because they are women with cancer.

    If you have a middle class white person trying to get a mortgage and a middle class black person trying to get a mortgage, that’s not an easy thing for either of them. They have to save money, have collateral, etc. But the black middle class person faces an ADDITIONAL penalty for being black and therefore not as trusted about being able to pay a mortgage, even if the black person makes more money than the white person. So collectively, not individually, more white middle class people get mortgages than black middle class people. The black person can’t own property (and the prosperity that could come with owning such assets,) because he is black, even if he overcomes all the other hurdles that both he and the white person face to try and get a mortgage. (And when the real estate market collapses, the media will blame the black people with mortgages for it, even though the bubble crash was caused by mostly SWM bankers.)

    So if you are SWM, you have plenty of things in life that you have to worry about — food, shelter, medicine, education, money, family, career. Horrible things may happen to you as an individual. But there will be additional things that you don’t have to worry about that non-SWM’s do and that can cost them their futures, their freedom and their lives. And they have to worry about them not because they have bad luck, not because of mistakes that they made, but because they aren’t SWM’s.

    Nobody here, I think, likes this. We don’t like discrimination. We all here understand how it damages the society, cripples it. And yet, when we try to talk about it, there is always the cry that bad things happen to everyone, as if we don’t know this. But we’re not talking about bad things happening to people. We’re talking about discriminatory things that happen to non-SWM’s in addition to the bad things that can happen to people who are SWM or not-SWM. That’s what the article and gaming metaphor is about (and I’m not sure it’s a great one.) It’s about the penalty of discrimination, the immunity SWM’s get from discriminatory penalties, not from all penalties in life. It’s about the penalty of discrimination that is ingrained in our culture and our laws and that has to be slowly dismantled.

    This week so far, and these are just some of the ones I’ve heard of, we’ve had:

    1) A beloved teacher fired after twenty years from a Catholic private school because she got accidentally outed as gay. She had to hide her life and her partner to keep her job.

    2) The state of Kansas passing an unconstitutional law that now has to be fought that life begins at conception. This legally means a woman who has a miscarriage has committed manslaughter. It also means legally that as soon as you”re pregnant, the government owns your body and will control your healthcare, such as the Hindu woman who died after three days of agony in an Irish hospital because her stillborn child still had a residual heartbeat and so removing the fetus would go against a law.

    3) Federal congresspeople arguing that we should suspend the Constitution and persecute all Muslim Americans and immigrants because of the bombing in Boston.

    4) This: http://www.aclu.org/blog/womens-rights-lgbt-rights-racial-justice-criminal-law-reform/shut-or-get-out-pa-city-punishes

    It is a constant, ever pushing wall of penalties for not being a SWM. It effects the way that people talk to you and what you will be allowed to do, your opportunity to live, your legal status as a person, etc.. And it is in addition to all the other penalties all of us may encounter in life.

  96. CG: I get the impression you’re really invested in denying the existence of privilege

    And I get the impression that you haven’t actually read McIntosh’s definition of Priviilege.

    Privilege is not: About you. Privilege is not your fault. Privilege is not anything you’ve done

    McIntosh’s paper says nothing of the sort. In fact, her definition is almost entirely the antithesis of what you wrote. McIntosh is abundantly clear that it really IS about men, that it really IS their fault, they it really IS something they’ve done, and that they really ARE justly seen as oppressors.

    The only way you can say “privilege” means the definition you give is if you completely and totally ignore the actual words written by McIntosh. YOu cannot quote McIntosh and find your definiiton. If you quote McIntosh, you will in fact disprove your own definiiton.

    If you can find a quote from McIntosh’s paper that supports your definition, by all means, post it here:

    http://www.warhw.com/2011/09/10/the-privileged-dishwasher/

    My guess is, you wont, because you can’t.

  97. For fuck’s sake. Greg, since you haven’t taken the hint in two previous messages: Stop with the conversation about McIntosh. Now. Everyone else, stop talking to Greg about McIntosh.

  98. Sorry. I was trying move the conversation off the thread. I’ll just post a link next time and reply over there.

  99. @ Greg. Ah, actually I’ve read all the comments on this post, but not all in the same day. So going back and rereading, I think where my impression came from is your, erm…impassioned dismissal of McIntosh’s treatment of privilege, as a dismissal of privilege in general. As to that-

    Ugh. I despise that paper. “Privilege” has as one of its most common meanings some right granted that can be taken away. McIntosh lists two-dozen examples she calls “privilege”, but almost none of them are things to be taken away to achieve equality. For example:…

    So what, she also goes on to say, “But not all of the privileges on my list are inevitably damaging. Some, like the expectation that neighbors will be decent to you, or that your race will not count against you in court, should be the norm in a just society. Others, like the privilege to ignore less powerful people, distort the humanity of the holders as well as the ignored groups” So no, she doesn’t demand most of them be taken away to achieve equality, but that some should be the norm for everyone. I’m on board with that.

    If I, as a SWM, go someplace, live somewhere, where my SWM privilege doesn’t exist, my day to day experience does not change. The only way my day to day experience changes is if I go someplace, somewhere, where straight white males are discriminated against.

    But this just isn’t true, and it goes to SWM giving up power or advantages. For example, if you live somewhere your SWM privilege doesn’t exist you would be less likely to be promoted over a woman or minority as compared to IRL. And that’s not discrimination against SWM, it’s equality. As an actor, you’d be less likely to receive the higher paying roles if they were equally open to women and minorities. If you’re a writer writing in SF, you’d have a lesser chance of being published if men and women were equally represented. What this means in terms of real life is that there’d be a greater chance you would lose out on the opportunities you enjoy now as a result of privilege. That is power and that is a meaningful difference.

    Having said all that, I can see how her generalizations around men and race could put some on the defensive. But that shouldn’t be used as a justification to dismiss her point. I think ultimately what she is asking for when she asks SWM to give up power or privilege is, “Having described it what will I do to lessen or end it?”

  100. Er, not cross-posted but posted without updating thread when I was working on my response to Greg.Sorry, again, new to commenting and it takes me a while.

  101. @Kelly: You ask: “I guess what I’m getting at, are the students in the class going to people who are receptive to the subject matter? Is this preaching to the converted?”
    Back in 1990 or so I was one of two male students in a class on philosophy of feminism. I was curious and I liked the prof. (It was taught by a guy. He informed us that some people might think he was the wrong person to teach that class, but then, he wasn’t sure teaching really existed at all. Great guy to take philosophy courses from.) I thought it was really interesting, although a lot of what I saw in the literature was stuff I was pretty hostile to then, and frankly, time has not mellowed me much on a lot of that. I am much more active in opposing gender discrimination than I was then, but a lot of what was on offer struck me as replacing one set of discriminations with another, and not really an improvement. It was interesting, though.

    An example like this, I think, would have been really helpful to the class, since I think the class was about 95% white, 90% female, and 90%+ straight and cis. And, well. Obviously, we could all afford to go to college.

  102. Catching up after a long day (and a previous evening where a crash, a restart and a touchpad wipe killed three attempts at a response):

    @mythago: “The Mighty Whitey” was a fairly common expression amongst black and Latino folks on the (urban) West Coast from the ’70s to the early ’90s (my early years.) Frequently applied to white cops, but also generally applied to white guys throwing their weight around on the job, or just in general, based on their self-perceived superiority by dint of race. (I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch, given the context, to extend that to “by dint of gender” as well.) Maybe showing my age a bit.

    @Robin: It’s not about Greg. You are right that it extends well beyond gender – blame me writing too fast and addressing the prominent bits. But if you truly “understand my frustration” you will understand the following, for starters:

    – You understand that I grew up in a household run by women: one a rocket engineer who was never allowed to work to her full ability, the other her mother (who was the daughter of a mining camp and took no crap from anyone.)

    -You understand that the environment and the media of my childhood hammered home that gender and race DO NOT MATTER in the question of competency, nor of equal treatment.

    -You understand that well over 50% of the officers and NCOs I worked for in the service (20 years ago) were women and/or persons of color, and that most of them were damned good at their job, and that I learned a helluva lot from them. And learned (if I didn’t know already) that shit like that didn’t matter.

    -You understand that this continued into civilian life (read ‘managers’ and ‘supervisors’ for ‘officers’ and ‘NCOs’.)

    -You understand that I served as a gay man before and during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era.

    “Strong words” are one thing. Writing off an entire category of people is another, and that’s pretty well the vibe I get in parts of this discussion.

    I will cop to ‘privilege’, no question: Teh Gay aside, I know damn well that plenty of people have it a helluva lot harder than I ever have or ever will, through no fault of their own. But what I will not cop to is the concept that by my very existence I am an ‘oppressor’.

  103. My mom was, among other things, a deputy sheriff. Small farming area, but still. She was in it long enough that others had suggested she run for sheriff herself. But she said she wasn’t into politics and retired instead. She was also a volunteer emergency medical technician. Long enough that she ended up managing that for a few years, before retiring from it as well. I have no idea how many lives she saved. I don’t think she was keeping count, but I’d say it was a lot. I don’t know if its true, but the story was when she called for an ambulance when she was having a heart attack, every EMT in town showed up at her house, enough to run several ambulances.

    And some people want to suggest that I want to take away any of her accomplishments, take away any of the service she gave, take away any of the lives she saved, take away any of the amazing things she’s done, and I want to take away all those things just because she’s a woman and somehow I get off on keeping all women down? That any man gets advantages from sexism and therefore are sexist?

    This is the point where I have to start channelling Louis CK: Do you realize how much of a fucking asshole you’re accusing me of being???

    God damn…..

    Or, shorter version: What Don said.

  104. Don Hillard: “But what I will not cop to is the concept that by my very existence I am an ‘oppressor’.”

    If you think that’s what Scalzi’s article and the conversation is about, then you don’t understand what the conversation is about. What I do know is that a guy ordered me to apologize to him for my tone when I wasn’t even talking to him on someone else’s private blog, with apparently no awareness that he was a male trying to intimidate a female with the oldest routine to do that in the books. If you don’t want to try to understand what people are actually saying, then don’t. But the only person here who can dictate how others can talk is Scalzi. (For the record, when I am talking to a person directly here, I put their screenname first, as I just did above, like most people here do.)

    HelenS brought up a very relevant quote of a comment on Coates’ article: “One of the reasons that racism is such a hard topic to address is that too many people focus on their own personal lack of animus as a stand-in for how American society has dealt with race more broadly. Who you may have had more in common with has nothing to do with problems like redlining.” — This is what Scalzi’s article was talking about, which is why it does, flaws that it may have (and no analogy on these topics can really escape having flaws,) make a good teaching tool for a gender/rights studies class, in my view. However, it is a limited tool, as a lot of people don’t want to listen to what it’s talking about regarding society and instead invent a different, personal meaning for it. Every objection I’ve heard to this article has ignored the society basis for it and for comments expanding on it and instead focused on an invented personalized meaning, such as Avatar’s interpretation that it says all SWMs have it easy in life. I’m sure that the professor will have this problem too, but that’s part and parcel of these kinds of classes.

  105. [Dude was trolling while I was away -- I went ahead and snipped him out where he showed up - JS]

  106. Jeeeeezus, this thread is a pitch-perfect example of how unwieldy the word “privilege” is. Everyone projects their own personal interpretation on it, and then they spend thousands of words talking past each other.

  107. CG, I kept thinking about your post and I saw something I never noticed before. You, like many people, frame equality as a zero-sum-game. For women to gain equality, men must lose something. This assumption is built into almost every conversation I’ve seen about discrimination. And it’s quite clearly wrong. A simple counter example is that straight people lose nothing for gays to gain marriage rights.

    The framing is so obvious to me now. But I’d never noticed it until your post.

    So, thank you for that.

    http://www.warhw.com/2013/04/26/equality-is-not-a-zero-sum-game/

  108. @Greg: just because it’s not a zero sum game doesn’t mean there isn’t some loss by one of the parties involved – it just means that it doesn’t exactly cancel out the gain of the other side. In the example of gay marriage, straight people would lose the privilege of being the only people who can get married. That might not mean much to most of them. It might not be a privilege many of them want (though some clearly still do), but it is nevertheless a loss of privilege. Similarly with the issue of the police stopping black drivers more frequently. If the police stop doing this (and yet keep stopping drivers at a similar rate because presumably they want to keep their jobs) then more white drivers will be stopped. This is a loss of privilege (the privilege of being stopped less). Again, most might consider this insignificant.

    Just because you lose something you may not particularly want doesn’t mean you haven’t lost anything. Or that you never had it in the first place.

  109. But what I will not cop to is the concept that by my very existence I am an ‘oppressor’.

    So, to put this in the gaming context, this is like saying “I resent the suggestion that just because I can get a super high score while on Casual Mode, that I must be using cheat codes. Look, I know that the actual discussion is ‘it’s easier to get a high score on Casual Mode’, and that none of you said I used cheat codes, but it feels like you could be implying that. Anyway, a while ago I was on a thread over at Penny Arcade and a bunch of people who play on Nightmare Mode were calling me a carebear and saying that anybody who plays on Casual is haxx0ring, so you guys MIGHT be thinking the same thing.”

    And saying this in response to articles that have, over and over, said “Keep in mind that playing on Casual Mode is not a guaranteed win, that somebody playing on Nightmare with DLC or using a cheat code could well kick the ass of a Casual Mode player, and that you can still make things pretty tough for yourself if you toggle some skulls.”

  110. angharad: straight people would lose the privilege of being the only people who can get married.

    You… You really missed the point, didn’t you?

    then more white drivers will be stopped.

    Oh. My. God. This kind of shit is exactly why I hate the conversation about “privilege”.

    mythago: this is like saying “….none of you said I used cheat codes, but it feels like you could be implying that…”

    In a criminal trial, the prosecution must show the accused had means, motive, and opportunity before guilt can be determined. If I get a payoff while others discriminate, then I have MOTIVE for there to be discrimination. And if I get that payoff DOING NOTHING, then that’s means and opportunity right there.

    If I were to go on TV and say that you received money every time a racist cop pulled over a black driver, that would be such a clear cut case of slander that it would make a person’s head spin. Why? Because I tried to establish that you have MOTIVE for racism when you do not, because I tried to establish that you are GUILTY of something that you are not.

    That’s exactly what “privilege” does by framing the discussion of equality as a zero sum game. For every advance in equality, “privilege” insists that the individuals in the majority group must sacrifice something. This sacrifice is perfectly reflected on this thread by comments by angharad and CG.

    And saying this in response to articles that have, over and over, said

    Right. Because if I went on TV and said you got a dollar every time a racist cop pulls over a black driver, that would totally be negated if I also said, over and over, that it wasn’t enough to retire on, that you still had to keep your day job, and that others could probably make more money working 9 to 5.

    Now, seriously, what do straight people have to sacrifice for gays to get married???

    Absolutely fucking nothing.

    There is no juicy payoff every time a gay couple is denied the right to get married.

    But all one has to do is look at CG’s comment and angharad’s comment and get that the idea of juicy-payoff-for-discrimination and the idea of sacrifice-for-equality is ingrained in their thinking. It is how the entire conversation of “privilege” frames the issue. I said straights have to sacrifice nothing for gays to have the right to marry, and angharad is all up in arms about it.

    The framing of “privilege” insists that there is a payoff.

    And that is so fucked up.

  111. @Greg: Ask any fundamentalist straight Christian what they stand to lose if gay marriage becomes legal and I’m sure you’ll hear all about it.

    Or think about what Mitt Romney and John McCain lost now that race is less of a skull than it was in the 20th century. And on that note, I think I’m done with this. It’s like beating my head against a brick wall, accomplishes nothing and only gets me a headache.

  112. CG: Ask any fundamentalist straight Christian what they stand to lose if gay marriage becomes legal and I’m sure you’ll hear all about it.

    You perfectly demonstrate the problem around “privilege” conversations.

    I asked: what do straight people have to sacrifice for gays to get married???

    And you answered: Ask any fundamentalist straight Christian what they stand to lose

    Privilege doesn’t take aim at “fundamentalist straight Christians”. Privilege takes aim at all straights. And I SPECIFICALLY ASKED what do ALL STRAIGHTS have to sacrifice to allow gay marriage? And because “privilege” frames the issue as all straights are getting some payoff for discrimination, you didn’t miss a beat and answered that BIGOTTED HOMOPHOBES get some payoff, as if that answered the question of what payoff ALL STRAIGHTS get.

    By framing equality as a zero sum game, by framing discrimination as creating some payoff for every individual in the majority, by framing equality as requiring every individual in the majority to sacrifice their payoff before equality can be achieved, the framing of “privilege” automatically implies that every member of the majority has motive to keep discrimination in place and that every member of the majority can be assumed to be guilty of supporting discrimination. Privilege automatically frames every straight person as a homophobe or actively benefiting from homophobia.

    What do straight people get as a payoff for gays being denied the right to marry?

    Absolutely nothing.

    What do straight people have to sacrifice for gays to be married?

    Absolutely nothing.

    Yet “privilege” cannot see it that way, as you perfectly demonstrated.

  113. @mythago: The hyperbole and snark aside, you’re not entirely wrong with the metaphor. In fact, that’s exactly the problem with framing the issue in terms of “oppressor”, “oppressed” and “subverted” classes: the implication of those terms is that the oppressor has all the cheat codes, the oppressed have few or none, and the subverted have whatever additional cheat codes the oppressor has given them (and aren’t inclined to share.)

    Thing is, you know that angry white guy? The one who’s convinced that the woman got the promotion instead of him because she’s a woman and the company’s going to bend over backwards for her? He’s operating under exactly the same thesis, except that he’s cast himself as the oppressed, her as the oppressor, and maybe the manager as subverted (i.e, the boss was always a good guy, he must have been told to promote her or get into trouble himself. Or maybe she wiggled her butt at him…)

    And good luck convincing him otherwise, because the other problem is that it’s a perfectly circular and self-justifying thesis. If one has defined oneself as the oppressed, any challenge to that view can be immediately negated as proof of oppression or subversion. Which, @Kat Goodwin, you just provided a very good example of, if criticism of your ideas and your means of expressing them are immediately redefined as “intimidation” and “demanding apologies.”

    Which is why, as I think I’ve already said, the “lowest difficulty setting” metaphor is a lot more useful as far as I’m concerned, because it does not use the same loaded terms, is far less reductionist, and (as we’ve seen with the article that started this thread) lends itself to teaching without creating division in the process. (And hopefully the opposite: if Ms. Allen is still reading here…I noted that in the intro to the experiment, the player having his levels kicked up from “casual” to “legendary” was being cheered on by his classmates. How much of the same did you see as things progressed?)

  114. I think I begin to see the root of your disagreement. Privilege is not about why you do something. It just sits on you, like your clothes. I’m not saying that white drivers are somehow influencing police officers to stop black drivers so that they get stopped less often. The police do this because there is a general assumption that black people are more likely to be criminals. But white drivers gain a privilege that arises from this assumption (a bunch of them actually). Now you could address this assumption (in whatever way seems most fit, though mind control is generally frowned upon) or you could address this particular situation more directly (change police procedures so they stop random cars). Either way, white drivers lose the privilege that arises from it.

    The thing is, privilege is not about explaining bigotry or discrimination. It is about explaining why some people don’t see it very well. And explaining how it effects the lives of people involved (all the people in this case, not just those who are the victims). Yes there can be positive effects for some people because others are discriminated against (to the white drivers in this particular example one might also add the police who might feel this makes their jobs easier). But there is no suggestion that these positive effects are actually causing the discrimination.

    And now I’m late for work…

  115. angharad: Privilege is not about why you do something.

    Exactly. The entire point of “privilege” is to create a payoff for everyone in the majority group, which then creates a motive for supporting discrimination, which is needed to assign guilt of discrimination to everyone in the majority group, even those who do not actively discriminate. The entire point of “privilege” is to assign guilt of discrimination, even to people who do nothing discriminatory.

    . It just sits on you, like your clothes.

    Again, we couldn’t agree more. The entire point of inventing a magical, mystical, payoff as a result of discrimination that everyone in the majority group receives is so that payoff sits on every single individual in the majority group, whether they belong to the KKK, or whether they march for civil rights. Privilege creates a payoff that it dresses everyone up in.

    But white drivers gain a privilege that arises from this assumption (a bunch of them actually).

    If there were any real objective incentive that rewards me every time a racist cop pulls over a black driver, and if this payoff was so strong that it would give me incentive to oppose racial equality, and if you were seriously interested in ending racial profiling by cops, then you sure as fuck should be able to name it, label it, point to it, identify it, quantify it.

    Because if there is an payoff so strong that it incentives whites to oppose racial equality, then you’d be going into battle blind if you couldn’t accurately and rapidly identify the target and neutralize it.

    So, either you’re horrendously bad at addressing the payoff to the point that you can’t even pass me target coordinates so I can identify it myself, or, it doesn’t actually exist. I’m going with that last option.

    It is about explaining why some people don’t see it very well.

    People can’t see it very well because after asking multiple times for specific examples of racial profiling payoffs, no one here has given a single specific target description. And I say that’s because it doesn’t actually exist. There is no incentive payoff for whites to support racist cops pulling over black drivers.

    They don’t see it very well, because it doesn’t exist.

    What payoff acts as incentive for straights to oppose gay marriage??? I’ve asked multiple times for specific descriptions of these payoff/incentives and no one has ever enumerated what they are. If you can’t see them, then how do you expect anyone else to see them?

    They don’t exist.

  116. Mythago: It was a nice attempt, but he’s not listening to you either. :)

    Don Hilliard: Several people here have politely tried to explain to you how you’re not getting what I’m saying, and you haven’t listened to them either. Sometimes politeness works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes bluntness works, sometimes it doesn’t, so regulating my tone and watching whether all my words are acceptable frames to everyone is not my big concern. You mentioned that it wasn’t your job to come up with good terms for the social structures we’re talking about. But you seem to think it’s my job to do so and to do so in ways of which you approve and dictate. You were not so much criticizing my lines of argument — which again you don’t seemed to have followed — as calling me things like condescending and passive aggressive. This is the sort of thing that has routinely been said to women to get them to defer to men or shut up all together. So yes, it is intimidating, especially as there is the threat of other males who might take it up as a war cry towards me; to you, it’s simply taking me to task, which again neatly illustrate problems the article and these types of courses look at. You did this because you thought I was calling you — and me — people in dominant groups one way or another — oppressors, the personal.

    Oppressors are not the same as oppression, which is social oppression. What I was trying to do in talking about “oppressors” was the difficulties that we’re having now, in trying to talk about social oppression, privilege, bias, etc. with people ranting that we are therefore calling them oppressors like Hollywood B-movie villains, which I find highly reductionist of a very complex problem. I was trying to talk about the way that they seem to interpret it, how they try to make it all about the personal, about starting a war, how they confuse their personal “lack of animus” with discussions about social inequality and power structures — the things that Scalzi’s article is about, and feel that if they treat people as equal that they are exempt from the discussion of those larger social structures which we are all a part of. Dominant groups “rule” — they dominate and control the political, legal and social — they are factually and numerically the ruling group. Dominated groups are subjected to discrimination — oppression, both legal and social, that greatly impacts their lives, and to change that discrimination, they usually have to subvert the existing, unequal system (subverted group.) Switch out whatever terms you like, if my terms are too social sciency; we’re talking about the same social structures. This is not, as numerous people here have tried to explain, about personal behavior or just about overt bigotry — it’s about the larger social system that Scalzi’s article looked at.

    During a discussion on this blog about a gender issue, a woman commented that I was focusing on the cis-gendered in what I was saying, because it was the default normal and I was cis-gendered, that trans-gendered were being left out, as they were as part of them being the other, ignored, not considered. I argued on one point because she’d misunderstood what I said, and she listened to that, but on the other point I listened to her about that cis-gender privilege showing, unthinkingly, and I have from that been more aware and tried to think about that, about trans-genders as part of the discussion, equally there as the normal, their perspective not unthinkingly ignored. She was not polite, she was irritated and blunt and trying to communicate. I did not try to dictate her words or feel she was insulting me or calling me personally an oppressor. She was however talking about social oppression, discrimination and exclusion, not the overt or malicious, but the simply unthinking because of what the society considers normal and dominant and we get used to thinking in those terms.

    A man can be raped, but when my husband leaves our house, he doesn’t scan for that threat. But I and my daughter do. We have to have a different sort of thinking that my husband does not have to have. A straight couple who go to a bar and hold hands and kiss doesn’t have to keep an eye out because they might get beaten up for doing that; a gay couple does. The straight couple is the default normal — the society is built around them. They have the privilege of being able not to think about such a threat and to be part of the “normal”, which is oppressive to those not included. It’s not a personal privilege because there is no such thing as personal privilege. Privilege is social privilege. It is a type of power, the power to walk into a bar with your significant other and be unthreatened because you are the default normal, a power as many here have pointed out unasked for and unwanted, but also a power that we don’t think about, take for granted and don’t try to understand because it’s just normal life. There are many types of power, but this is social power, political, legal, with huge impact on the lives of the dominated groups and yet, it may be discounted, ignored or not understood by those in the groups who control the society we’re all in.

    Overt bigotry is fairly easy to squash if the society as a whole wants to do so. You ban through law and regulation the discrimination, investigate groups that would upend those laws, like the KKK, and shake your head and sigh at the declining minority who express overt bigotry. But our society has largely failed in this, though they keep inching toward it. And part of that is the much trickier unthinking, accidental social norms that keep discrimination in place and which involve all of us. The statistical bias to hire males, for instance, comes only partly from overt bigotry. Most of it comes from people who see males and females as “equals” but have the unthinking bias that males are the default normal — more comfortable, trustworthy, worth more. They just feel more right.

    So you don’t like my terms, you keep reframing my arguments and then complaining about your reframe and ignoring people who explain you’re reframing, and you don’t think discrimination should be called oppression because an overt bigot might argue that he’s the oppressed, and I better damn sure not call you an oppressor who doesn’t treat people equally — which I never did. Here’s my position: I am going to continue to be wordy probably. I’m going to continue to refer to social and legal discrimination sometimes as oppression because it is and I’m not real worried about the overt bigot, who would still claim he was oppressed even if I never used the word oppression. And this subject will always be divisive because it’s about how we live. Which is why Scalzi’s article should be good meat for the gender studies course.

  117. Kat: You mentioned that it wasn’t your job to come up with good terms for the social structures we’re talking about. But you seem to think it’s my job to do so

    Kat, sometimes you can be quite hilarious in your abuse of logic.

    You were not so much criticizing my lines of argument — which again you don’t seemed to have followed — as calling me things like condescending and passive aggressive.

    Well, isn’t the problem essentially that you have no actual logical argument? And then you seem shocked, shocked I tell you, to find that Don thinks you have the burden to prove your own argument rather than just assert it?

    talking about “oppressors” was the difficulties that we’re having now, in trying to talk about social oppression, privilege, bias, etc. with people ranting that we are therefore calling them oppressors like Hollywood B-movie villains,

    You know what’s funny, Kat? Hilarious actually? If there were anyone on this thread that I would list as the most likely to be most adamant about no one telling them how they should react to someone else’s words, it would be you, Kat.

    If someone said something and you, Kat, were offended by it, felt it was condescending to women by it, thought it was some form of bias seeping through, then you, Kat, would be absolutely adamant about not letting ANYONE tell you how those words should land for you. And you, Kat, would be the person on this thread I would award the prize as mostly likely to get enraged at anyone suggesting that you’re taking it too seriously, it was just a joke, it wasn’t meant the way you took it, etc, etc.

    And yet, here you are, telling all the men how they’re ranting and how we’re over-reacting as if you’d literally called us Hollywood B-movie Villians.

    That’s pretty funny.

    It’s not a personal privilege because there is no such thing as personal privilege. Privilege is social privilege. It is a type of power, the power to walk into a bar with your significant other and be unthreatened

    privilege isn’t personal, and at the same time, its a type of power that I and my wife get when we walk into a bar. A complete contradiction separated by a single sentence.

    Hilarious.

    It’s impossible to talk about power without it being personal. There is no such thing as a “power” that benefits a collective but does not benefit the individual members. That would be some horrendously bad math. Exactly the kind of bad math people often use around “privilege” conversaions.

    you keep reframing my arguments and then complaining about your reframe

    We’re not reframing your argument because you’ve made no argument. You’ve made contradictory assertions and people try to explain that to you. You’ve made baseless assertions with no proof, and people have tried to explain that to you. You’ve made word salad nonsense like trying to say privilege isn’t personal while giving an example of where it would personally benefit me.

  118. Tim:

    Agreed.

    Everyone, take some breaths and ask yourselves what you’re trying to accomplish at this point. Because from this end it’s looking like arguing to argue.

    May I suggest closing statements and a graceful exist at this point?

  119. Closing statement: I thought mythago’s last comment was brilliant and very clear. That is exactly what a certain kind of argument is on these kinds of topics. Thank you for that.

  120. I don’t think “privilege” implies zero-sum, I think people who start with zero-sum thinking use it to interpret the concept of privilege, along with everything else. Mostly, I think the problem comes from connotations and overloading; the word “privilege” as used in theoretical and academic work is only peripherally connected to the conventional English meaning of the word. (I am told it is a translation of a word we didn’t have. From everything I’ve seen, “default” would be a better translation of what people are trying to get at usually.)

  121. closing statement?

    The term “privilege”, with regard to discrimination, has always meant that equality is a zero-sum-game. It is there, over and over, in the original document that creates the term and defines it. Women Studies asks men to “give up some of their power”. Men won’t support the idea of “lessening” their power. Men have “advantages that they gain from women’s disadvantages”.

    Firstly, this is inaccurate. Straights for example sacrifice nothing of value if gays are allowed to marry. Gay marriage does not “destroy” the institution of marriage. Gay marriage does not create any cost or value or burden that all straight people must bear to allow it. So, framing equality as a zero sum game is flat out wrong. And yet, we see it repeatedly in the McIntosh’s document. We see it repeatedly by people on this thread.

    And secondly, framing equality as a zero sum game has a consistently employed side effect. By portraying all discrimination as actively benefitting all members of the majority group, “privilege” is consistently used to create motive for every member of the majority group to want that discrimination to continue. Normally, one would consider only people who are actively discriminating against people as culpable for discrimination. But discrimination frames the issue such that even if I am not actively discriminating, I recieve some payoff of sufficient value that I am seen as conspiring with the discriminators. Even if I do not discriminate against anyone, I am lumped in with the discriminators. Even if I do not actively oppress anyone, I am “justly seen as oppressive”.

    The only way anyone can argue that “privilege” does not frame equality as a zero-sum-game is if they ignore the original document that defined the term. The only way anyone can argue that “privilege” does not frame equality as a zero sum game is if they ignore the many comments on this very thread that argue that very thing. CG (3:30) and angharad (8:05) provide perfect examples of comments arguing that there is always SOMETHING that must be given up for the minority to make an advance in equality.

    http://www.warhw.com/2013/04/26/equality-is-not-a-zero-sum-game/

  122. My closing statement is that I think Mythago, Robin and a number of others made really good points. And Jason Collins of the NBA came out today, the first time for someone on a major American sports team, and I wish him well. I do think your article had value that you are seeing played out, and sorry we did one of these while you were out of town in Chicago.

  123. When (Australian) AFL player Jason Ball started a campaign against homophobia in AFL last year, it was big news to some Australians. But despite pretending he had a girlfriend, and ignoring homophobic slurs, his teammates had already “figured it out and were supportive.”

    The desire to fit in to the (privileged) majority is understandable, particularly in professional sports, and particularly for players who don’t “know any footballers who are gay” (and therefore make the obvious assumption that there aren’t any).

    But the most interesting part of the article is the call to use the AFL itself as a teaching tool about homophobia, just like the AFL has supported other minorities in the past. The reactions to this campaign are interesting – similar to “how/why would you use Halo to talk about privilege?” – “isn’t this out of place in sport?” – “does the AFL have to take the lead on every major social issue?”

    But for people who view the world through football, it can be a powerful tool to assist those who’d normally tune out to consider the issues. Because it’s a completely different context, it’s disarming – just like Halo.

    Sometimes games speak louder than words.

  124. Some commenters were shocked last year when a writer with a male pen name outed himself as a woman. (I don’t have any other examples handy, but apparently it happens reasonably often.)

    Why do women persist with male pen names – surely it would be easier to just have one name?
    In this case, the woman’s male pen name “James” was paid more, and given more jobs, than the woman under her own name.

    So, to shamelessly paraphrase Eddie Murphy: the next man you meet on the Internet might be a woman…

  125. Tim: “So, to shamelessly paraphrase Eddie Murphy: the next man you meet on the Internet might be a woman…”

    Yeah, usually it works the other way around.

  126. It’s killing me that I can’t remember enough of the thread with at least one and maybe multiple people commenting that damn straight they weren’t giving up the advantages they knew they received from [whatever majority membership they had] and that were received at the detriment of people not in that membership, because they’d be fools to do so. (Maybe during RaceFail?) Instead we get this obsession with whether there’s a tangible advantage to whites when blacks are pulled over for Driving While Black, because clearly that’s the only reasonable indicator of whether “white privilege” exists. Bah.

    Thank you so much, Kat, for fighting the good fight. None so deaf as those who will not hear. It’s particularly frustrating to see in people who are otherwise mostly reasonable.

  127. From the link:

    “A gay or lesbian person of color, they realized, can be fired based on their sexual orientation and then have a more difficult time regaining employment than a white gay or lesbian person would when trying to find a job.”

    As a straight Black female, I have to admit that it is jarring to think that there are people in this country (gays/lesbians who have little job protection in some states — even in 2013. It’s great that Ms. Allen is allowing her students to think about the privilege/oppression which exists today.

  128. Final comment on this topic: quoting the original (British, Channel 4) Queer as Folk by Russell T Davies:

    NATHAN: You wouldn’t understand, you’re just part of the Fascist Heterosexual Orthodoxy!

    DONNA: I’m black, and I’m a girl. Try that for a week.

    Which is absolutely accurate, in more ways than one. (Both in reality – Donna – and in perception, i.e. Nathan.)

    I don’t deny the concept of “privilege”, nor its application to me as a white guy. ( Again, I think the “lowest difficulty setting” metaphor is a better description, but as you will.) I’m not jumping up and down with glee over it; it exists by accident of birth, and I neither revel in it nor am consumed by guilt over it; I learned decades ago that it should not, and at best does not, matter. I simply will not buy a reductionist version of it that ignores any factors other than race and/or gender, and anything that I have done from birth to date. (Basically, I do not like having my 40+years of human experience and human interaction discounted for a generalized thesis.)

    To put it more bluntly, @Kat etc. – I am generally on your side, FFS. Is a unilateral agreement with your personal politics required, or can you accept an ally who may not agree with you 100% of the time?

  129. Um, I’m not sure I’m allowed a second closing statement, but since you asked me a question, Don, I’ll respond and hope it’s okay with Scalzi. And my response is, dude, you served your country in the military, and as a gay man. The question is whether I’m your ally, not the other way around, and the answer is, I certainly hope I’m seen as such. Social privilege, the discriminatory structures in society, are what are reductionist, taking the individual and all that person is, all their experiences, and reducing them to only their worth being membership in a dominant group. Discussion of how we deal with those social structures is complex and seldom is going to result in full agreement. It’s the social structures that postulate discrimination as necessary as a zero sum game, that there can only be one brand of normal that is acceptable and controls the society. To change the concept of zero sum, we have to challenge our unconscious and unthinking possession of what’s normal and good — our social privilege. Which involves a lot of listening and giving up control of the conversation to dominated groups. Which can be hard, not because we don’t want to, but because we just resist it automatically as that’s the way we’ve always lived. We get defensive and we turn it into only personal criticism of us as individuals, instead of social criticism about what we are taught.

    Take the cops stopping black drivers — calling them racist is erasing their individuality and reducing them to a name over something very complicated. Some of them may be personally overt racists and enjoy and abuse the right to stop black drivers, but some of them are black cops and some of them are white cops who object to the profiling and are trying to change things. They are doing what they’ve been ordered to do, with quotas no less, to keep their jobs, by mostly white bosses and mostly white politicians in a mostly controlled by whites society. And that society does so not because of animus towards the individuals, but because of a basic, biased thinking about blacks as a whole in the society. Black people may be successful, but they are more likely to be poor, more likely to be in gangs and be criminals, goes this social thinking, so if it’s a black man driving an expensive car, even in a nice suit, we’d better just check, etc. Because a white man driving a nice car in a nice neighborhood is ingrained as normal. And we still don’t see a black man driving a nice car in a nice neighborhood as normal. Instead, it’s unusual, possibly okay but not to be fully trusted.

    That’s the social thinking. Individually, millions of us see a black man driving a nice car as perfectly normal. But those individuals have to keep talking and challenge the social norms to get it changed so the society sees a black man driving a nice car as normal. Challenge the social norms that creep up in our own thinking such as that black guys getting stopped is somebody else’s problem, or that pointing out and talking about the social bias means all us white people are being called greedy racist oppressors, or that black people who are most effected by this designation as not normal should really be more polite to us in talking about it. We feel uncomfortable (because we didn’t choose the social dominance or want it,) and we feel helpless (because we don’t know how to fix it and we are technically members of the group that socially is controlling it.) But it’s okay to be uncomfortable — it’s good. And we’re not helpless as long as we keep talking.

    I’m rambling again, but it’s because these issues are actually complex (and I’m verbose.) Many individual straight soldiers knew that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was crap. But the social and legal structure was that a gay soldier was not normal standard, not as good, not as trustworthy and would cause dissension and problems by his or her (open) existence. It took gay soldiers, straight soldiers, military commanders, politicians and constituents screaming, talking, being condescending and passive aggressive :), often risking their necks, challenging the norm to fix the legal discrimination and start to change the social discrimination, to have gay soldiers be seen — in the society — as normal, just as good, and with just as much right to openly brag about their significant others. Professional team male athletes are straight is normal, Jason Collins sticks his neck out first and flips it, starting a change. Segregated proms in a Georgia town is normal and traditional, four black and white teens stick their necks out, their fellow students with them, and change it.

    Overt bigots understand this. That’s what the “gay agenda” stuff they fear is — the agenda to change, widen what is normal (and thus free and legally equal.) But people who have one or more dominant axises (which is a lot of us,) who want to end discrimination and widen the normal still have trouble seeing their assumptions and ways of speaking from that normal they want to change because we’ve lived in that normal; it’s hard to step outside it. But that social norm doesn’t change unless we keep questioning it in ourselves and others, unless we keep talking about not just big issues but minor ones too. That’s what Scalzi tried to do in the article. Instead of focusing on our individual lives, he used an analogy to show the social normal of privilege we don’t think about, all the little things that someone on another axis has to deal with as the abnormal, that we don’t as the normal. To do this, we cannot pretend that the discriminated against have not had the experiences and history that they’ve had in the society, just because we see them as and want them to be treated as equal to us. When we’re in a dominant axis, and we say something to someone on a dominated axis, it can mean something different — something more hurtful or intimidating or presumptuous, something accidentally stereotypical and us taking advantage of the inequality — than it does to us. And that makes us feel uncomfortable, helpless, uncertain, defensive. That’s when we demand that the other person isn’t allowed to be angry, harsh, upset, have that view. That’s when it’s hard to listen and that’s probably when we most need to. We don’t have to have it perfect or agree. We just have to try. And we will yell at each other in the process.

    Robin: “It’s particularly frustrating to see in people who are otherwise mostly reasonable.” — I keep arguing directly with people I feel are reachable and I don’t assume we’ll have perfect clarity or that I’m right in all things when I do it, especially since I’m in several dominant axises. But since I’m not a deferential teenage girl, I am rude apparently and a big meanie. But at least we’re still talking. :)

  130. For my closing statement, I’d like to “ditto” what Kat just said, because I can only hope to be half as articulate and that’s on a good day.

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