“hello, my name’s male privilege, excuse me while I shut down the press”

Once upon a time, not that long ago, I could churn out words. Every week a by-line, some deep purple ruminations, with the accompanying research, (an hour at most), doing its best to hoist up the sails of the latest vessel. Flimsy skeletons. Anyway, it’s hard to imagine now. Often if we were down on the week’s commission it’d be back to the office on Thursday night, beer in my rucksack, to burn the midnight oil, and come up with just one more editorial. Had to fill the space somehow. Student journalism: it was a culture that bred laziness; that honed the ability to write quickly and with some semblance of argument, but in the end it was little better than filling all those columns with the pig-Latin placeholder. Often I said very little, only what I wrote had conferred upon it the implicit understanding that it deserved to be read, as if the authenticity of paper was enough.

But that was a while back now. It’s July 14th, 2011. My graduation will have been a year ago next week. I suppose on paper I’ve had a pretty good year so far: the Guardian and Red Pepper both picked up 500 words from me on why Lockheed Martin need to get their fucking hands off the census. I got into the Red Pepper hardcopy with a short review of the Mutiny’s ‘Violence on Trial’ in Bethnal Green. (The cliff notes on that one: artsy anarchists nod their heads when someone says capitalism and patriarchy are bad; listen in awe to the woman from Tahrir Square…)

Still, I feel like the musician working on the tricky second album. For someone who at least casually entertains thoughts of becoming a writer, there’s mounting pressure for an encore. I haven’t lifted my pen in months. The record company threatens the axe.

I’ve never really had many epiphanies before, so it was satisfying when I came to a conclusion as to why I’ve had nothing to say since March. My activism and reading trickle on as ever, and, in great part thanks to my anarcho-feminist house of joy, this has taken an increasingly feminist –at the least, a highly gender-conscious- direction.

Like a barely-sentient child waking up from a good long sleep, I’ve been taking my first baby steps into a world where everything is gendered. It’s not just a lens you pick up and put down at will, filtering your understanding of certain issues, and not others; it’s not something you can relegate to a backwater chapter in your textbook. Neither too, apparently, can you carry on writing the same old radical diatribes you used to, with the same unthinking regularity.

The paralysis has a name and it is Male Privilege. It is a cold bucket of water, a CD of wall-to-wall power ballads, low-fi acoustic weepies and despondency. It’s hard to work yourself up into a good head of polemic steam when beyond the verge of every metaphor, every Ciceroean flourish languishes the challenge:

What do you have to say, that hasn’t already been said, or that couldn’t be said better by someone else? You’re another cis, middle-class British white man… the world’s hardly gasping for your analysis.

But just because something’s a fucking drag doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, and doesn’t mean we can ignore it.

It all comes back to that conferring of legitimacy and importance that publication brings upon the written word. It’s why the Metro’s loose, editorialising use of the word “hooligans” to refer to disaffected youth in its banner headlines makes my blood boil. But it’s also a genuine problem if you are a privileged white man taking away column inches from someone who knows a given subject far more intimately than you ever will –because of your privilege.

It really does paralyse your work, though I like the sad music analogy better. But there’s only so many times your housemate can tell you, with a familiar tone that speaks of everyday experience, how she was followed in the street again or accosted by drunk men. That veneer of shared experience, of genuine equality between men and women, that some of us delude ourselves into thinking exists in our society is quickly blown away. Any self-confidence that you really know anything at all, outside your own tiny window of experience, evaporates –how the hell can you commit pen to paper when something so basic as the grinding regularity of street harassment manages to pass you by blissfully unawares for the first 21 years of your life?

It’s pretty heinous. It explains why I wrote nothing about Slutwalk, nothing about the impact of the Tory government’s brutal cuts, nothing about anything much in fact –because everything we experience arrives through an intersecting mesh of our race, class, gender, sexual-orientation, and disability, and even though I’ve faced greater hardships these last few months than at any previous time, I haven’t had the worst experience of these cuts, and I never will. Even though I self-identify as both a feminist and an anarchist I will never come to know the true meaning of oppression, the thin edge of the wedge.

It seems hypocritical and not a little bit reactionary to rage and declaim about the injustice of a system that consistently squeezes and keeps down various minorities, when I cannot truly count myself among them; when no matter how acute my own grievance or desire to talk about the lives of others, the very act of writing and demanding to be read; of speaking and demanding to be heard is to rob someone else of a voice. It is a quixotic exercise. Emancipation is striven for –it cannot be the gift of benevolent rich white men.

So for now I am at least reconciled to writing less, and thinking and listening more. If this seems like nothing more than a thousand-word excuse note for some good old-fashioned laziness there is maybe a little truth in that. But only a little.


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