Privilege and Shame

Photo by Chris Slupski on Unsplash

My first book of 2020 was a book called Can We All Be Feminists. It is a collection of essays examining, dissecting and discussing intersectionality and feminism. It is a stellar book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who identifies with the word “feminist”.

The concept of intersectionality got me thinking about my own privilege.

Yes, as an Indian woman I face gender-based discrimination, I face unwanted attention from men sometimes in professional settings where it is hard to mitigate, and I look over my shoulder when I find myself alone in dark lonely spaces.

But I am also privileged.

I am privileged never to have been the victim of any serious sexual assault. I am privileged to have a family that supported me in education and in living and working for myself, a family that did not define my success in life by my ability to bring home a suitable husband.

I am privileged to have the means to have access to an education, a roof over my head, food to eat and access to clothing.

I am privileged to have a partner that treats me as an equal, that doesn’t put me down, respects me and as far as I know is loyal to me.

Though I have been fat-shamed and body-shamed, there is a privilege to having a body size that is close to the norm. I am trying to choose my words carefully on this one, as the essay by Selina Thompson on fatness and feminism, and our own agency over our bodies. The further you are away, the more dehumanised you become.

I am privileged to have had many opportunities to live and work abroad as well as the privilege of growing up in India. I am privileged to belong to a sexuality and a gender identity that does not expose me to the ugly whims of insecure prejudice.

I am privileged in a seemingly infinite number of ways.

If I claim to be a feminist, an identity I struggle with often for a while host of other reasons, I want to be a feminist in the pluralistic sense of the word, at least to the best extent that I can be as a flawed, biased human being.

I think it’s important we recognise our own privilege – because the privileged rarely like to admit they are so. As someone who is as infinitely privileged as I have described above, I know I don’t like to admit mine.

But admit it we must, because it is only when we recognise the good fortune, we have in ourselves, that we can empathise with those who are oppressed for reasons we would never be. It is only when we can understand this, that we can help others.

The shame, at least for me, comes from guilt. I feel guilty for my abundance, and it makes me want to deny and hide it. It’s difficult, at least for me, to admit that I am fortunate. It is easier to focus on what I don’t have.

I don’t like feeling like I’ve had things handed to me. I’ve worked very hard for a lot of the things in my life, and I want to feel I can celebrate my accomplishments. But if I’m to be totally honest, I had some advantages that helped me in doing those things – access to resources that is far from equal.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t fight against the oppression we face. If we don’t fight for ourselves, who will? But in my humble opinion, we could consider recognising the oppression we don’t face, because someone out there is facing it, and wishing we would just understand how lucky we are.

I am making this pledge this year, to be more sensitive to the experiences of other human beings, and my own blind spots that have led me there because of my privilege.

2 thoughts on “Privilege and Shame

    1. Thank you so much! Yes, it is hard for me even to admit I am privileged – but it’s important so that we recognise it too we can have more empathy for others. And I don’t mean in a condescending way but a respectful one 🙂

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