Be sure to take care of people who enjoy social privilege, as they are quite fragile and often victims of your meany mean pants-ness

One of the great joys of my life is that when I see privilege, I have an itch that causes me to point it out. This makes you tremendously popular.

You will get talking-tos about how you need “be gentler” and “learn to how to couch your message” and “learn to pick your battles.”

Because, of course, the burden is on you to make people who have privilege feel ok about how they have and use privilege. The burden is never on people to learn to recognize privilege and work against it.

Deb Neimeier took this up in her blog. People like to think of themselves as good people. She discusses the supposedly simple question of parents working on a yearbook:

Today, I received an email from the parents organizing the yearbook asking for ‘high resolution’ photos for the 6th grade yearbook. I wrote an email to the teacher (I thought) saying that perhaps not all under-privileged kids would have access to ‘high resolution’ photos, or maybe even photos at all (e.g., adopted kids, kids in foster care, migrant worker families). I wrote that if someone would collect hard copy photos I could at least take these to a photo place and have digital images made (at my expense).

Deb accidentally sent the email to the larger group of parents–rather than just the teacher, which was her intent. Nobody who has any class sensitivity whatsoever would see a problem with this email: Deb simply pointed out the reality of many impoverished students and tried to do what should have been done in the first place—come up a strategy that allows foster kids or adopted kids or immigrant kids to participate on equal footing with their peers.

At her own expense.

But instead of responding with “Oh, I didn’t even think of that! Thanks for the offer. Can we take you up on it? I really appreciate it! This will be much more fun if everybody can be included!”, the dudgeon that ensues takes the inevitable, all-to-predictable form as the privileged person decides they are the victim here:

1) Anger that somebody has raised the issue because it’s unreasonable ever to have to think about privilege when you’ve decided you’re a good person who doesn’t have it;
2) Superficial apologies expressing regret that the world is unfair and that is quite regrettable but also conveying the idea that there is nothing one can do personally to help make the world more decent or compassionate when being more thoughtful and more reflexive COULD EASILY AND WITH LITTLE EFFORT make a difference in this situation; and
3) Reframing the request to make accommodations for those who don’t fit the standard mold as completely unreasonable and “spoiling the fun for everybody.”

Ah yes, here:

“…I am sorry that some children do not have access to photos of themselves as babies, [the email] does state the photos can be from early school years, which would include kindergarten. But you can not penalize those who do have photos, and you can not expect [the organizers] to stop asking for them…”

When you are confronted with somebody pointing out privilege, you have choices. You can act like this. Chances are, you will get away with it. People will validate you, and they will frame the person who pointed out the problem as a “bitch” or “overly sensitive about race” or “a problem” and my personal favorite, “politically correct.”

And that will be that.

A nice, reinforcing web of righteous annoyance will unify around you as being one of the privileged, homogeneous majority who would rather not ever have to think you have unearned status simply by being a white among whites, a liberal among liberals, a youth among youth–or, in this case, the wonderful family that has gotten its kids in heteronormatively approved ways.

Congratulations. You have just helped reinforce those webs of privilege that you’d say you hate in the abstract.

Or you can take a breath and think twice about why you are reacting with anger. You can stop and think: you know, nobody ever actually died from acknowledging that they have, with all the best intentions in the world, made a mistake. Nobody has ever died from reacting with humility rather than anger. Nobody has ever died from making more room for compassion and listening, rather than less.

I’m pretty sure of it.

Body image, mothers, classism, fashion, Karl Lagerfield, and social inclusion

I guess I am digressing today, but given that I study social inclusion in sustainability, the issue of body imagery does matter.

In response to the trend towards larger than size 0 models on runways and in magazines, Karl Lagerfeld (lead designer for both Chanel and Fendi), commented:

No one wants to see curvy women,” Lagerfeld was quoted as saying on the website of news magazine Focus on Sunday.

“You’ve got fat mothers with their bags of chips sitting in front of the television and saying that thin models are ugly,” he added.

The world of fashion is about “dreams and illusions”…

This has been quoted all over the web, along with commentaries, such as this and this. The latter includes some images of the exceptional plus-size visions from Jean Paul Gaultier and John Galliano.

Here’s what interests me. In all the (legitimate) outrage directed at Lagerfeld among we podgy writers, nobody to my knowledge has called him out on the misogyny and classism of his comments. Fat mothers sitting in front of TVs eating chips? Oh really? That’s what mothers do? Really? Because the last time I checked in, mothers were working their asses off. Some of those mothers are fat and some of them are thin, but they deserve to have their role, work and contributions treated with respect. The only things he doesn’t mention are cigarettes, welfare checks, and feeding Pepsi to their grubby babies. You know why he doesn’t mention those? He doesn’t have to; it’s already there in the subtext.

Moreover, why does Karl assume that dreams and illusions require the exclusion of fat people or mothers, or their children for that matter? Planning, my field, is about dreams, too; city dreams. When people dream about the city, they tend to leave people out of those dreams, too; poor people, people of color, anybody who is unpopular, for whatever reasons. Is it that real people with real lives don’t belong in dreams, or are our dreams messed up if they don’t involve real people at least at some level?

Finally, I don’t think anybody, mothers or anybody else, has ever seriously said that slender models are “ugly.” Karl’s self serving comments try to frame this discussion as a reflection of ugly step-sisterhood and sour grapes rather than what it is: a legitimate critique of the body homogeneity in an influential industry. Size 0 models are women who fall towards the extremes of multiple, joint statistical distributions (height, weight, age) and as such they are not representative of a wide range of women. It’s fair to point that out and be concerned about what these types of largely unattainable standards communicate about women’s bodies. It’s not about the chips, Karl.

Crystal Renn is a size 12. Isn’t she magnificent? That skin! Those brows; her bone structure. My my.