I have what is an unusual question sparked in part by this ljidol post
, this paper on white priviledge
, and my own recent personal experiences of being a strong-minded female in an overwhelmingly male corporate culture. It's been in the back of my mind since the Open-Source Boob fiasco
and all the meta it spawned
a few months ago, but I didn't ask it then because I was still trying to wrap my head around my thoughts and didn't want to inadvertently add more fuel to a fire that was blazing well enough without me.
Before I get to that, though, I feel I need to set some levels on my own personal experience and awareness:
I am a white female who was raised in a overwhelmingly white and middle- to upper-class small city. I am somewhat conscious of the impact of my white privilege and understand intellectually that, just by virtue of being white, some things are automatically made easier and simpler for me.
I am (for lack of a better way to express the concept) aware that I am generally unaware of the broad impacts being white has had on my life and my social interactions. Expressed in another way, I admit that I am largely ignorant of the ways race can and does impact people's lives, probably because I've had so little experience of being consciously aware that it has impacted mine.
Up until the last few years, I might have said the same thing about being female. I would have argued with feminists that I did not feel at any particular disadvantage because of my sex, because up recently I hadn't had any significant experiences to draw from in order to understand what feminists are talking about.
This changed when I started working in a corporate environment that is run by males and has a very strong "boys' club" feel to it; here, women are (subconsciously and consciously) treated differently than men, and for the first time in my life I found myself acutely aware of my sex in ways I never was before. I am conscious of the fact that, because I am a woman, I do have to prove myself capable in some ways that are given as automatic baselines for men. I have experienced the fine and blurry line of sexual innuendo and comment that on the surface seem innocuous, yet leaves me uncomfortable and troubled.
I am still not completely sure how I define myself sexually. I know for sure that I am strongly attracted physically and sexually to men. What I don't fully understand yet is to what degree I am attracted to women. I often feel strong physical and personal attraction to females, but haven't had the opportunity to discover if I am as sexually drawn to females; a situation that would permit me to explore my sexuality in this way has simply not presented itself yet. Based on the broad spectrum of things I find arousing visually and mentally, I suspect it's entirely possible that I am bisexual.
What's most confusing here is that I'm not entirely sure how I'm supposed to find out. How do I approach the exploration of this possible side of my sexuality that allows me the opportunity for full discovery but isn't disrespectful if it turns out not to be the case? I know plenty of gay men but almost no gay or bisexual women, and am not sure how to approach the task of seeking them out without appearing presumptuous, rude or offensive.
The broader question I have is this:
What is the best and most respectful way for a person of majority privilege to broach the topics of race, gender or sexuality with a member of that minority? How does a white person or a straight person seek meaningful dialogue? Talking about these things with straight, white females is somewhat cathartic but doesn't allow for any exchange of understanding. Similarly, there are things I will never and just cannot experience being white, but I do genuinely want to understand the experiences as best I can so I can become less ignorant, and the only way I can do that is by listening to others who have these experiences and probing where I don't understand.
There are times I will say things (and perhaps I have in this post, and do apologize for it) that reek of and betray my privilege without realizing it. I don't intend to offend, but the very fact that I'm ignorant means sometimes I will, and I absolutely want to be corrected and criticised when I do so. I know these are very personal issues for many people in a way they can't be for me and I want to be sensitive to that, but I also want to understand better and understand more. I feel being passive about these issues does nothing to help change them, but also that I have no right to speak out about something I can't fully comprehend.
Is it better for me to say nothing and continue to observe and listen only (the "sit down and shut up" approach), or is it better to actively seek out a dialogue with best intentions that might turn foul and create anger?
If any part of this post has offended or troubled you, please tell me so. I can't change for the better if I don't know where I have failed.
Apologies to the flist in general for the length.