Updated: Jan 22
Following the recent media coverage of Molly-Mae Hague's comments of "we all have the same twenty-four hours in a a day", the topic of privilege has been brought to the forefront. "Privilege" is the unearned advantage in society. It relates to a number of characteristics of our lives, often set out at birth though not always, that may give us an advantage of life based upon the unsaid "preferences" of society that lead to more social mobility and opportunity.
With a predominantly female audience, I write and speak to a group of people that are not privileged based on their gender, when compared to males. That said, the transgender community would not be as privileged owing to the challenges they face with traditionalist views of binary options for gender being the only way gender should be treated, and so cis-gendered women can then be deemed more privileged in that regard.
As a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual woman, from a middle class background with no disability, I sit on the privileged end of society in terms of the deck of cards I was dealt. I'm unsure of my families background before being middle class. Money, food, shelter, holidays, jobs, cars - they were rarely something to worry about. And even in the times a challenge was faced, there was usually a quick solution, though that doesn't take away from the shame of needing that help for those that were involved, regardless of privilege.
The problem with privilege
The difficulty with privilege is that it isn't something we are all so aware of. If you find yourself at a disadvantage in these categories, particularly if you are less privileged in a number of areas, I would imagine the concept of privilege is more obvious to you. You are subject to that disadvantage and see it playing out in society on a monthly, weekly or daily basis. There is an awareness of privilege because of the experiences you have gone through. On the other hand, if you are from a privileged position, unless this has been explicitly highlighted to you, through conversation, reading and learning, or as Molly-Mae is experiencing, through a direct response to choice phrasing, I would imagine it is less likely of you awareness.
"Privilege is invisible to those who have it." A quote from a 2016 article from The Guardian, citing American Sociologist, Professor Adam Kimmel. When you are disadvantaged, it's consistently highlighted to you. When you are on the privileged end of the scale, it isn't regularly mentioned or made the point of.
Those that have levels of privilege often don't see the disadvantages others go through. A 2020 study found that "white men are largely unaware of the impacts of race or gender on the pursuit of a STEM degree". That isn't to say all white men, but these studies allow us to see that without making privilege a talking point and raising awareness around it, it is possible that those that have privileges will remain unaware.
Who do you spend the most time with?
When I consider my own journey through privilege, I can't say I reflect upon it in this way until more recent years. As you grow up, you're often surrounded by people that are similar to you; or at least you assume they are. Why would you consider that your friends don't go home and have the same structures as you, such as playing on computers and phones until dinner is set and ready? It is part of the social interaction at school that we realise there are differences but it doesn't always highlight the extent of it. You are ofte natural drawn to those who you have things in common with, and those things may be certain privileges within society.
One clip of an audience member on Question Time brought the concept of financial privilege to my awareness. An audience member came at the Labour party for their proposed policy to tax the top 5% of people, in real-terms those that earn £80,000 a year. The audience member is in disbelief that he, earning more than £80,000, is in the top 5%. He says that "every doctor in this country earns more than that, every doctor, ever accountant, ever solicitor." And I remember, after watching this clip at 27 years old or so, being able to acknowledge how very wrong he was but also how easily he could've been mistaken to believe that he wasn't in the top 5% based on his possible life experiences and the people that surrounded him in his life. This and other global and national events, such as the Black Live Matters movement, or the circumstances surrounding both Grace Millane and Sarah Everard, prompted me to really start exploring the wider ideas around privilege and the experiences I had within it. I knew other people were from different backgrounds, but I didn't know to what extent and how far this could impact on their lives, their opportunities and experiences.
You don't know what you don't know
And so, following the recent commentary around Molly-Mae's comments, it felt right to support the conversation around privilege, and to prompt every reader, listener or follower to consider their privileges, be that class, gender, sexuality, ability, race or otherwise. Until it's brought to your awareness and you think about it, you might be completely oblivious. "You don't know what you don't know". You can't! Until you're aware of something to the contrary and that there are other perspectives and experiences to consider, you are none the wiser to life as it is through your experiences and perspectives.
Whether you're in a position of privilege across the board or in no situation at all, this is where the practice of compassion can be useful when dealing with one another. To acknowledge the circumstances each are in, to see the flaws in the system that lead to these disparities and understand that we're all just learning through very individual and different experiences in our lives. We can only be doing our best in any scenario, and it is worth noting that we know those that may have a number of privileges, yet still don't feel that the world is enough, whilst we also know those that have dealt with the disadvantages, maybe even still experience them today, yet are happy and grateful to be here even so.