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Letter sent on Aug 29, 2016

Conversations: Your Privilege

Flickr: omoo

Your Privilege was written the day I had a conversation with a friend about our differing experiences in tech. There were a bunch of factors that made that discussion difficult, including different communication styles, an emotionally charged topic, and yes, a few glasses of wine.

So when I wrote the article, I suspected that I was escalating a rift in a friendship that I care about a lot. I wasn’t wrong. Privilege is a difficult thing to talk about, both on and offline. The story started several conversations:

The semantics of the word “privilege” make it difficult to talk about.

Commenters on Medium agreed:

Largely, I don’t buy too much into privilege. It’s never been properly defined for me. Now that it has been, I can understand the idea.
- Richard David
I think calling it privilege makes it more difficult for people to accept it, and can create an unhelpful mental filter in people who might have otherwise listened.
- Andrew

If one of our biggest challenges in discussing privilege is our word choice, that’s a huge problem. If anyone has any suggestions for other ways to frame the conversation, I would love to hear them!

However, it could be that it’s the discussion that’s emotional and challenging, not the word. Thoughts?

Being an ally is challenging.

The story I wrote was emotional, and expressed my frustration. As part of a very interesting conversation, Chris raised the issue:

For me, securing allies is all about making them feel welcome from the get-go. There are some oppressed folks who have a strong tendency to lash out at those closest to them. 
- Chris Cook
In my opinion though, being a privileged ally (as a white, cisgender, heterosexual women) means not adding to an oppressed group’s burden. It means that I have to get used to being uncomfortable if I’m called out, apologizing for my mistake, and trying to understand where they are coming from by doing my own research.
- Kristina

So, we’d love your thoughts on Chris’ question:

How can we reach males who have empathy for women’s causes, but are oblivious to male privilege?
- Chris Cook

How do we approach allyship and what are our responsibilities? When is it ok to ask questions, and when should I prioritize educating myself?

We have a problem that’s preventing us from talking effectively about privilege.

The struggle of explaining privilege is one that I am also familiar with. People often get defensive when confronted with the idea of being privileged and I think a big part of why that occurs is because “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality can feel like oppression.” That, and people also take it as an attack because they aren’t personally responsible for the systematic oppression of other groups.
- Michaela Zanello
the proponents of “privilege” that I have dealt with to do seem to blame the beneficiary of privilege.
- Christian Sanchez

This isn’t constructive. Is it possible to bridge the gap?

What we’re publishing at Code Like A Girl might just look like stories, but they have real implications for our lives.

I was a bit disappointed you never went into detail on your friend’s reaction — how did he take it? Has he changed since then? Have you noticed him act differently, or call out others on privilege?
- Patrick Callahan

My response to Patrick was that my friend’s reaction and the state of our relationship merited its own story. I’d like to say that we were both able to see the situation from the other person’s perspective, but honestly I think we were having two different conversations.

More interesting to me was the number of men I work and spend time with who asked me if the article was about them! The widespread appeal of the article (and the number of shares by women) prompted many conversations about how the men I know are perceived by the women around them. I had to do a lot of reassuring.

Before I published this story, I talked to my two amazing male business partners. I knew that there was a chance that some people might not want to work with me after hearing my thoughts. Because we run a marketing agency, my point of view could have an affect on our bottom line.

We had a very interesting conversation about what positions we’re comfortable taking publicly, and how we’d manage any backlash to them. To their credit, that conversation can be boiled down to “we trust and support you — do what you think is right”.

There were a lot of relationships I had to consider before publishing, not just my friendship with the person I had the original discussion with.

So, in responding to Patrick, I stated:

I’m just happy that we’re starting to talk about things that we normally keep silent about — even in front of our friends.

That’s still important to me, and it was the reason I published this story. The conversations I shared above were so interesting to take part in, and I hope they continue! Please share your thoughts with us here, or the social platform you love most!

Other conversations we hope you’re participating in:


Conversations is a monthly letter from Code Like A Girl where we take a look at some of the discussions that our stories have generated. Follow us for great articles from women in tech and look for the next letter in September!