Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Sudden Burst of Insight

As you might guess from looking at the link lists on the side of this page, I spend a lot of time reading (and sometimes speaking up) in the world of feminist blogging. You may even have found this blog through clicking on my name at Feministing, perhaps out of an urge to see what sort of verbal and philosophical train wrecks I cause in my own space. ;) Anyway, every so often there's a discussion of the most recent rectal haberdashery* perpetrated by various Christians, whether it's protests outside of a clinic that provides abortions, a sexual abuse scandal, more misogynistic tripe from the Vatican or the latest hate-mongering by the Phelps crew. A lot of these discussions tend to involve people who are atheists or members of other faiths, some (many?) of whom are ex-Christians. A lot of the time, they express anger towards Christians and Christianity in general. (I can understand this. I was angry at Christianity for several years myself—in fact, for some reasons, I still am.) And sometimes when an openly-Christian member of these communities comments on these discussion threads and they indicate that what's happened has upset them too, and that the anger that the non-Christians are expressing towards Christianity is hurting them as well, they're told to check their privilege and listen to the people who've really been hurt by whatever these Christians have done.

Just to be clear, I don't think it's done in bad faith; I think it's an understandable reaction by members of a less-privileged group to a perceived display of privilege by members of a privileged group. But although I've long understood the importance of checking one's privilege, this has bothered me for a long time. I wasn't sure why until this afternoon, but then suddenly it came to me.

It bothers me because when those Christians do hurtful things, they hurt me, too, and the Christian privilege I have from being Christo-Pagan doesn't shield me from it, and not just because of the Pagan part of my spirituality. Yet because of the Christian part of my spiritual identity and the privilege it entails—even if it's not as pronounced for Canadians as it is for our Neighbours-Mostly-to-the-South—if I say anything at all, I have to be very careful not to be one of those people whose posts, however phrased, mean something like "Oh, but we're not all like that, most of us are good people and I don't see why you're being so mean to all of us Good Christian Believers". That isn't what bothers me, though; there's nothing wrong with watching what you say in order to not offend people and make yourself into some sort of "wounded saint" who delights in seeing yourself as being persecuted. What bothers me is that acknowledging that Christians—or, in my case, Christo-Pagans—can also be hurt by the destructive actions of other Christians is too easily interpreted as a privileged person making the discussion "all about them" instead of discussing the thing that's happened. The line between authentic hurt and revealed privilege is sometimes very difficult to see.

The thing is, the world isn't divided into categories named "Christians" and "People Hurt By Christians". Hatred of LGBTQ (etc.) people, when expressed by Christians, hurts me—and several of my friends, some of whom come from various Christian denominations themselves—because we belong to one or more of the groups in the short or long acronym. Because I'm a woman, anti-abortion activists hurt me although I don't think I'd have an abortion unless my life was threatened by a pregnancy I doubt I'll ever have in the first place; they hurt me because they want to control what I can and cannot do with my own body.

And to be told that we're not among the people hurt by these Christians is, quite frankly, a slap in the face when we need support as much as any other person hurt by those people's actions. Far be it for me to suggest that we're being silenced—I can't believe that because the Christian perspective on most things is as easily found, even in Canada, as the male perspective is—but by treating us as nothing more than unthinking (and easily-offended) pieces of a monolithic and atrociously malicious whole, nobody's best interests are being served.

When it's necessary, remind us to check our privilege, by all means. Even the best intentions are often obscured by the filter of privilege, even if the person who has it has examined it and is trying not to let it get in the way of them being a decent person. Privilege is one of the worst excuses in the world for being an asshole. But don't assume that just because we've got something significant in common with the people who've hurt you, that means we haven't been hurt by them too.

Incidentally, just for fun, try switching the word "Christian" for the name of any other privileged group and many of my points here will probably stand.

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*I don't recall who first used this phrase, but I suspect that it might be someone from Shakesville.

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