I was recently having a conversation with a good friend, who I’ll call Beth,* about the use of the word privilege and why we use it rather than the word advantage.
Beth maintains that if we used the word ‘advantage’ rather than ‘privilege’ when speaking about things like white/male privilege people wouldn’t get quite so het up about it.
Beth meant the people who have this privilege, by the way. Beth thinks the word privilege is loaded with insult and presumption due to its implication of wealth and power.
Is Beth right?
Would it matter if we said male/white advantage instead?
I do think the word privilege is more loaded because so often privilege = wealth. The privileged can have things the rest of us can’t have. And it’s very very hard to join the privileged, even if you make millions you may not be included in the ‘privileged classes’ because it’s not just wealth that creates privilege. Privilege is automatically gained through birth, skin colour, gender and other, less tangible things, that can’t be changed easily, if at all.
Advantage, though, that can be gained. Through study, through patronage, through your own gumption you can gain an advantage.
So I will never be male and attain male privilege. But I can do many many things to give me an advantage over a male. Not easily, for sure, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
However, the one advantage I will, mostly likely, never gain, is to become a man. I have no gender identity issues, I am a woman and I am happy being a woman. And so will remain a woman.
So male privilege is not something I can ever gain.
So should we change the word?
I like the fact that those with privilege get upset when I call them on their privilege.
Now, I am aware that we change language all the time to things that won’t offend people. But there is a huge difference between changing disabelist or racist language and changing this.
Because changing this? Would just be another privilege.
*Beth told me he/she had no problem with my writing this post, but she/he did not want to be identified. I’m not even saying Beth is actually a woman, it’s just the first name that popped into my head when I started writing.