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The internet makes me better by making me feel stupid

8 September 2011

I just had an eye opening moment of Privilege awareness. Yes, that’s with a capital P, you can start your dismissiveness glands salivating, as I’ve a nice chewy thought for them to dissolve before it reaches your brain where it might infect.

This particular moment comes to us from the Scalzi Cloudmind: the amalgamated intelligence of all commenters on Whatever. Shut up, cloudmind is a real term, we live in the future dammit. Scalzi pointed out a really interesting comment (#255 from this thread, linked for your reading pleasure) on one of his articles while discussing privilege himself. The article is worth a read, as is practically everything Scalzi writes, damn him and his beautiful words.

But I want to point out a different part of the same comment. The short version: We’re talking about a woman walking across a parking lot to her car in the middle of the night. I’ve edited the comments a bit for brevity, but you can see the full versions at the links.

Here’s the commenter 255’s assessment of the safety of the parking lot:

  • Our office is in an office park in a suburban area where I have literally seen more deer (three […]) than anyone you could think was threatening (zero) — or, really any pedestrians who didn’t work in one of the buildings
  • The parking lot is very well lit, and as it turns out, her car was all of about 50 yards or so from the door
  • […]Our office has 24 hour security, and not just rent-a-cops with walkie-talkies. Our building is guarded by federal cops who routinely carry assault rifles and combat shotguns.

The really interesting part is the counterpoints in ensuing comments. In comment 256, Lila points out:

  • Clementine can be pretty confident you won’t assault her in the parking lot: the two of you just spent several hours alone together in an isolated space […].
  • A nonzero number of people know she’s working late, and I’m guessing the parking lot is empty enough that her car’s pretty easy to pick out. The deserted nature of the parking lot, if you’re worried more about an individual stalker than a random passerby, is a bug, not a feature. The deer are unlikely to come to her aid if she screams.
  • She, or someone she knows, may previously have been harassed by a security guard, either here or elsewhere. […]

and in comment 257, mythago points out some assumptions of 255:

  • The only possible threat to Clementine was a random stranger in the parking lot, and not another employee of the facility who had a right to be there (perhaps even someone she knew).
  • She had never received any threats or inappropriate behavior in the past (say, a co-worker following her asking ‘but why won’t you go out with me?’) that would make her especially wary of walking to her car alone.
  • If she *were* attacked, she would have the ability to alert the security personnel in sufficient time that they would be able to prevent any harm.
  • The threat to her was immediate – somebody jumping out at her on the walk to her car – and not potential, such as a co-worker seeing her go to her car alone and deciding to follow her.

Commenter 255 has a really great comment, and I’m not trying to paint him as an idiot. Indeed, his entire point is that he has a different perspective than women do. What hit home for me though was that I fell into the exact same trap. I read his assesment of the safty of the parking lot and thought “Yeah, that’s kind of silly to feel unsafe there.”

Then I read the other comments, and thought “Oh. Oh ouch. I’m a dumbass.”

Women really are different from Men. Men don’t have to think about this kind of stuff.

THAT, is a Privilege.

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