Planning for Success: A Virgin Story

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series about losing your virginity. This series was inspired by this Rookie Mag post. We hope it offers a glimpse at the experience of losing your virginity and all the complexities that come along with that. These pieces have hints of the explicit and are not for the easily offended.

This post, in particular, is not safe for work.

If there is one thing that Myers-Briggs got right about me it’s that I am a judger. I organize; I structure; I plan. At any point in my life I can tell you what my schedule is for the next five minutes or the next five years. I value knowing what’s coming and being in control of my circumstances. Having a solid plan under your belt—not to mention several contingencies— is my recipe for success.

Planning takes brainpower. You gotta consider the costs and benefits of any particular action. When I was younger, the risks of sex far outweighed any potential benefits. Growing up, I watched more than one of my friends get pregnant and drop out of school, perform a “home made” abortion, or contract an STI. Who knows what my parents would have done if I’d gotten pregnant? To top it all off, everything I heard about having sex, from my mother and my friends, made it sound pretty awful, particularly if you had to sneak around.No. At 15, sex wasn’t even on my agenda. No marriage. No sex. Ever.

But even the best made plans need to be flexible. By the time I hit 18, my priorities changed. Risks went down and benefits went up. Not only was I ready for sex, I was impatient for it. I even tossed around the idea of having my high school ex-boyfriend fly across the country to help me out. Oh, yeah. I wanted it bad.

Ultimately, though, there were still risk factors to mitigate. I needed someone who I could trust, was able to stick around, and invested enough to help me through whatever psychological issues I was expecting to have. Planning requires patience. I quelled my impulses, slid sex into the schedule, and waited.

Har. See what I did there?

So I walked my virgin self to a fraternity at Georgia Tech. There, a shy nerdy man with shoulder-length dreadlocks, a lean build, and the most beautiful brown skin I had ever laid eyes on expressed his interest in me. He was quiet, observant, and jaded—my opposite, on the surface. He spent the night on our second date, but before any “funny business” happened, I laid down the facts: Not only was I a virgin, but I had never had my breasts fondled, never given a blowjob, never received oral, or, pretty much, ever been naked in a room with another man. I wasn’t just a virgin; I was Supervirgin, and I had no intention of significantly changing my state that evening. He and I crossed the first experience off of my list before cuddling up to watch a movie and falling asleep.

After agreeing that we wanted to pursue a relationship, we made a plan: No intercourse for three months. He needed to build trust as much as I did.

For three months, he and I explored corners of our sexualities with the full understanding that we didn’t have to have intercourse to be intimate. I cried the first time I gave him a blowjob because I got frustrated and my mouth was sore.  Cunnilingus was a lot messier than I had expected. In the meantime, we made all the preparations: He went and got tested for STIs; I schluffed over to an OBGYN and got a diaphragm. Together, we crossed off all the items on my “to-do” list, and even found a few more things that I hadn’t even considered doing before, all without inserting a penis into a vagina.

I am, however, also a stickler for deadlines.

Don’t get me wrong. I was having fun, but by the time our three-month marker came up, “impatient” would have been a mild word to describe me. I was ready to get ‘er done, even if I was so nervous that he felt the need to give me a full body massage before the foreplay even started. My impatience might have been the cause of our less-than-adequate plan. We didn’t really think out what position beforehand, and that’s where the trouble began.

Missionary hurt. It burned. Like someone was stretching my skin past where it was supposed to go. I tensed, he backed off. Rinse and repeat until I was so aroused and frustrated and confused that I started to cry. He lay down next to me and pulled me into his arms, telling me that we could stop for now and try later.

Um, fuck no. I hadn’t put up with three months of perpetual foreplay with the hottest guy I had ever dated to give up because I had forgotten to work out a few steps. Sometimes, a little improvisation goes a long way. I flipped myself on top of him and positioned my partner’s half-slackened penis where it felt right, determined. This time, I had control. This time, it felt better. Before I knew it, the burning sensation was just one more feeling flooding my body, giving an edge to the satisfaction as we inched closer and closer to full insertion. Eventually our hips touched, and we smiled.

My mother once advised me that my first time would be awful. She said it would be awkward, painful, and traumatizing. I shouldn’t  expect to enjoy it. Out of all the things I have proven my mother wrong about in my life, I think this is my favorite. My partner panted in time with me as I moved, tentatively at first, then boldly. I moaned. Loudly. His housemates teased me for it afterwards, but it was worth it. To this day, the sound of my partner murmuring “Oh, I think she likes it” in my ear that night is the most erotic thing I have ever heard.

I announced my lack of virginity to the world the next day by leaving a group on Facebook called “The Sexy Virgins,” and I updated my status to say “Gina Luttrell is a little sore.” I wasn’t ashamed to announce it. Having sex was never a shameful thing to me. I planned; I followed through; I got an amazing return. Who wouldn’t be proud of that? I didn’t lose my virginity. I put it aside, proudly, unabashedly, and without regret, because the next section of the agenda was beginning.

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Does it Really Matter if Chick-Fil-A had a Change of Heart?

So, apparently this happened:

(Links to Huffington Post article)

I raised my eyebrow when I saw this. My hometown Baptist caterer of Jesus Chicken isn’t exactly known for its flexible attitude. See, I had known about CFA’s questionable political donations long before the huge kerfuffle earlier this year. CFA is a private entity, so all I could do was proclaim that I wouldn’t be giving my money to them for them to pass on to people who chose to lobby to deny people of their rights. I know how stubborn Baptists can be, so I fully expected the Cathy family to stand by their principles until the company folded as the world moved forward. So, yeah. I was surprised.

You know, I just might.

More surprising, though, was the lack of fervor this seemed to generate among my friends; I thought they’d be happy to see their boycotting efforts had prevailed. But, alas. It’s easy, in light of a company’s blatant disregard for a group of people, to get your righteous anger on and spew all over the internet. It’s harder to manage that anger and consider forgiving.

Because I am an optimist, though, let’s consider the best case scenario: Chick-Fil-A decides to clean up its internal hostile practices against gay people and cease funding “traditional” marriage and family groups. Woot. Say they do this only because they want more money and not because they genuinely care about LGBT equality—should we go back to sucking down lemonade out of giant styrofoam cups?

Absolutely. In fact, we should be encouraged that Chick-Fil-A is so responsive to its customers. It tells us several positive things:

  1. There are enough people in America who care about LGBT equality to put a significant dent in the CFA profit margin.
  2. We have the ability to affect institutions in our society that we don’t have a vote in.
  3. CFA employees, managers, and operators get the opportunity to interact with people of the LGBT community directly, and, thus, the opportunity to change their hearts as well as their actions.
  4. Most importantly, that money isn’t going to be going to the aforementioned groups. Wasn’t that the point?

It doesn’t particularly matter whether the bully who has been beating me up stops because the teacher forced the issue or if it’s because the bully suddenly likes me. Action makes a bully, not thought. As long as bad actions have stopped, we should be satisfied.

So, Chick-Fil-A, take some preliminary congratulations. You’ve taken your first step to a whole other level of profit margin, and, hopefully, acceptance. But know this: We’ve got our eyes on you.

Why are People Such Jerks about Food?

I should print this out and give it out to haters

I read Kate’s post last week about being a “chicken vegetarian,” and I found myself nodding in agreement. However, I loves me some meat. I eat paleo, which means I consume only meat, fruits, veggies, and nuts (I also tack on dairy). But even though I scarf down steak like a red-blooded American, I still get condescending remarks and “concerns” about my health. I’m pretty much ready for it to stop. Like, yesterday.

Obese and overweight people encounter this phenomenon all the time, and I’m sad to say it’s not just them. For thin people it’s the “eat a sandwich” movement. I’m neither of those things, and I still get it. It’s like everyone has a degree in nutrition they didn’t tell me about. So what’s the deal?

It’s not because these people care so much about the health of everyone around them. If it were, they’d kindly sit down the girl who chokes down six Red Bulls during the day. They wouldn’t be tolerant of the people who regularly come to work hungover. In fact, it’s more common to see contests with regards to these habits, to see who can abuse their bodies better than their friends.

When it comes right down to it, I think that, unlike our consumption of religion, politics, music, or sex, where most people recognize that there’s not one right way to do things, people tend to think that there is only a narrow set of foods to eat. The government Society has been selling us one diet since we were children, and we think that, since that information is based on government agricultural subsidies science, much like two plus two, there can only be one answer. This brings us to:

SOMEONE’S a little judgmental

News Flash #1

Scientists (and their work) don’t always agree. In fact, they more frequently disagree than agree. For just about every scientific study that comes out there are five others that produce different results. This puts your diet in just the same amount of flux as any other aspect of your life. You are not so right.

News Flash #2

Human bodies are different! If I proclaimed that no one ought to drink milk, you’d look at me funny—and for good reason. Not everyone is lactose intolerant. What constitutes an effective diet is going to differ based on genetics, psychology, and environment. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

We are lucky enough to live in a society that supports all manner of diets. We have a wealth of food available to us. Every person gets to choose what works best for them, just like our religions, philosophies, politics, and sex.

So, please, stop telling me that I’m going to die at 32 because bacon constitutes 30% of my lunch that day. You’re not a nutritionist, and even if you were I’d tell you that I feel great and that you can kindly fuck off. Henceforth, I will just assume you’re jealous of my food. Sucker.

Gorgeous Brunette Seeks Hair Care Products, Styling Tips, for Long, Luscious Locks

As previously mentioned, I am getting married. Notice how I didn’t say “soon.” One of my big goals between now and the Big Day is to grow my hair out so that I can achieve this “do.”

If you haven’t noticed, I have a thing for medieval fashion

However, as life would have it, I don’t actually have a lot of experience dealing with long hair; I chopped off my locks when I was 15 and rocked an angled bob until I was 21. Now I am nearly three years into my hair-growing experiment, and I find myself thinking that I should probably take better care of my hair. It’s breaking off, frizzing up, and sad that I don’t do more with it on a day-to-day basis.

So, friends, I put it to you.  Help a girl out?  What should I do to make my tresses love me again? Here’s my regular routine:

Cleaning

Its main appeal is that it’s usually $0.79 at CVS

Pantene is rich and creamy, hence its appeal

Styling

This was my attempt to get my frizz under control. I can’t vouch for its effectiveness.

I have a much higher-quality flat iron. However, it’s only 1″. This is 2″

I do currently dye my hair, mostly to cover up gray at this point. I am not so bad as to dye my own hair (anymore). I shell out the dolla-dollas to get it cut and dyed professionally, though I could probably stand to do it more often.

I am open to any and all suggestions, particularly new styling tips (ones that take no more than 30 minutes, please). I’m willing to spend a little more money on this, seeing as how I’m a grown up with a job and can afford such things.

Alright, Tea To Friends: Whatcha got for me?

Help me, Tea To Friends! You’re my only hope!

Why I Choose to Marry

Don't want no wedding

Much like smoking, just say no!

“I’m never getting married!”

When I was young, this was my battle cry. While other girls my age were painstakingly planning out weddings with fluffy white gowns, ornate flower arrangements, and faceless grooms, I dug in my heels and said “No thanks, not for me.” Marriage was a way to put women in the house and exploit them for their labor. Marriage was a trap, and I was determined not to fall for it.

You see, my mom didn’t exactly sell me on the whole marriage thing. In her two marriages she was expected to fulfill all the household duties: cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the kids. She could have a job if she wanted, but it was more like an extracurricular: something that she could do, but if she did, she couldn’t neglect her “real” job.

Whenever I asked her about it, she would just shrug and say that that was marriage. It was just the way things were. They way they ought to be.

Well, fuck that! I didn’t want a job; I wanted a career. I wanted to make a difference. That’s what I was here to do, not clean dishes and make babies. This whole marriage thing was a scam. I was okay to have relationships, but the idea of binding myself to a man – to that life – was downright repulsive.

Now I find myself imagining what I’d look like in this dress — just… not in white.

But then I met this guy. This wondrous man, who showed me that relationships are partnerships, and the terms were up to those involved, not some arbitrary set of “traditional” roles. He did not demand that we have children. He understood that my career was an extension of me and that it came first. We would split chores. We would take care of our home together.  We would share a life – equally.

It never even occurred to me that it could be like that. Imagine, living your life with someone who wanted you to be an individual outside of your relationship. Someone who doesn’t demand you sacrifice yourself to the marriage or the home. Living in a “traditional” home, I spent my life fearing I was going to become a housewife. Anthony would rather I be me.

And that was when I realized: I still don’t want a “marriage.” I want a person. I want him. Don’t get me wrong. The legal rights are important for us to exist in our society as a couple, but, with them or without them, I’d still choose to be with him (similar to many others who still cannot marry).

I never dreamed of a white gown. I never even thought to dream of a partner for my life until Anthony.  Marriage is not a paper; it’s not a ceremony; it’s not a party. It’s a person and a relationship, both of which I would be foolish to let slip away.

Of Mice and Mightiness (Part 2)

Me, coming into my apartment the night after I discovered the mouse

This is part 2 of a two-part essay. See “Of Mice and Mightiness (part 1)”

Walking into my apartment that night felt like walking into a trap. I knew the mouse was there, but I couldn’t see it or hear it. Small movements still had me scuttling for a chair, but I laid my traps diligently and scrambled into my safe haven: my bed.

I was familiar enough with the next part of the drama from the books I read. Waiting. Watching. Listening. The calm before the storm. My apartment seemed to teem with little sounds that I never realized were there before. The pop of my wooden cabinets adjusting to the temperature. People next door shifting  in their sleep. The refrigerator turning on and then back off again. Then, plastic rattling on the floor. I held my breath and listened. Sporadic clacking. The trap had caught its intended target.

I eased myself out of bed, breath coming in short gulps. What was I was going see when I turned the corner? I had only gotten glimpsed of the thing at this point. There was a great mass of Unknown in my kitchen, and I approached with caution.

The mouse was still struggling to get free. Its lower half had been caught in the glue, and it thrashed around in panic. It squeaked, much like I had not 24 hours before it.

If you didn’t already know, glue traps aren’t friendly. Most mice become so frantic that they break their own bones, chew off body parts, and pull joints out of sockets just to get free. I knew I had a moral duty to put it out of its misery before it started chewing off its own legs, but for several moments, all I could do was watch.

I wondered if this is what it felt like for protagonists who had pinned their enemies down and looked down at them as they begged for their lives. Caught, defeated, dismembered. Pathetic. I knew the merciful thing to do would be to put it out of its misery.

Another of my heroes, Sirius Black (as represented by Gary Oldman)

I’d like to say that I acted with cool, swift motions like the heroes I’ve admired since youth. I’d like to say that I swept up that mouse and dunked it in the bucket of water I’d prepared to drown it in. I’d like to say I didn’t make the situation worse than it already was. But of course at this point in the paragraph you know that I didn’t, so I’ll just tell you what I did do.

My first thought was to knock it out.  I grabbed my tennis shoe and threw it at the entrapped rodent. It bounced off the cabinet. I sighed. I picked up the shoe, and, extending my arm to its length while keeping my body as far away as I could, bopped the mouse on the head. It let out a pitiful, soft squeak.

This was about when I started to lose it. I backpedaled and gripped my hair. My breath heaved out of my chest in rasps. I felt that mouse’s pain and suffering, its pleading for me to just get it the fuck over with. I knew I couldn’t quit here. I had to press onward, for both our sakes.

I picked up a second trap from across the room and tossed it on the mouse. I took my tennis shoe and placed it on top of the mouse sandwich, gently this time, and wedged a letter opener under the bottom trap. This absurd machination enabled me to lift the mouse up and into the water. It sunk down. I put a lid on the tupperware. I collapsed onto the floor, and I sobbed.

That was my first episode dealing with genuine fear. It wasn’t exactly the way I expected it.

Fear shunted me into a corner and chained me there. It made me feel paralyzed, as if there was nothing I could have possibly done to make things better. Every time I acted, it was as if I was pulling on those chains. I would reach out to do something, and they would yank me back again. Eventually I figured out a way to pull and move to get the key for the lock, but it was a slow, painful, and halting process. This is what made my actions so clumsy, so awkward, and in so doing, cruel.

When you see heroes in your favorite movies, TV shows, or books, it always seems like there’s a calm that comes over them. It’s as if fear is something that they come to terms with and accept, and then they go steely-eyed into their final death match.

I don’t think fear works that way. If each of those people were real, I imagine they might have spent as much time shaking, crying, and retreating as I did. The thing that makes us brave is not necessarily how we face the challenge, but that we face it. Dry-eyed or in panic-stricken tears, both who step onto the battlefield are brave.

It doesn’t mean, though, that the things we do will be right. Courage gets us into the battle. Wisdom, knowledge, and ethics tell us what to do when we get there. Those things also help us do better in the future, and I already have my plan for the next time a mouse dares to darken my door again.

Folks, meet Sirius Lee Toph, my new hero!

Of Mice and Mightiness (Part 1)

Toph Bei Fong, from Avatar: The Last Airbender, is who I think of when I think of bravery

Though I have been described as such multiple times in my life, I never thought of myself as brave. Like any good nerd, I absorbed epic fantasy, anime, and adventure novels in which I not-so-sublty envisioned myself as the main character. I even wrote a book doing the same. Ultimately I knew: in any of those situations, I would likely freeze up in absolute terror, and everyone who was depending on me would die.

I have a couple of fears. I am afraid of storms, owing to the fact that growing up in trailers makes them a bit more dangerous than they were to my house-dwelling peers.  I am afraid of becoming like my parents, of losing my fiancé, of never achieving my hopes and dreams. Normal life fears.

It seems like I find a new fear every other week. I am used to living with them. Imagine my surprise, then, when, on a warm August evening as I sat in my desk chair, motion caught my eye. I turned just in time to see a gray blob scurry under my cabinet, a long tail trailing after it.

I jumped, every muscle tightening in my body as if I had been electrocuted. My feet seemed to hop up into my chair of their own accord. I turned to my computer, and, amidst the conversation with my friend about the death of her grandmother, I typed with shaking hands, “Holy fuck, there’s a mouse in my apartment.”

Yeah, a mouse. Not even a rat — a mouse. The one thing that turned my blood cold, that made me so terrified that I cowered in my bed all that night with the light on, that had me crying from sheer, unadulterated panic, was a mouse.

I seriously have a hard time looking at this. So creepy!

I stayed up into the morning, peering out into the kitchen of my apartment, eyes wide, ready for any bit of motion. The times that it caught me off guard, I squealed and convulsed. I broke down several times during my night of terror. It was just me in my dark studio, — me and the mouse. I don’t think I have been more terrified of anything in my life.

When the sun finally emerged to rescue me from my nocturnal intruder, I pulled myself from my bed. I was bleary-eyed, contacts sticking to my eyes every time I blinked.  Before my feet touched the floor, I slid them into sneakers. I walked across my studio, hunched, like stalked prey expecting a pounce from its predator. It was so quiet, but I couldn’t be sure.

My foot squeaked on the hardwood floor, which I met with a scream of my own. I gathered my stuff for work as soon as I could and got the hell out of there.

But it didn’t stop there. Clearly the mouse was following me. It was every lump of trash in the street, every slight sound in my office. Movement at the corner of my eye had me twitching. Clearly, I’d lost my mind. My landlord wasn’t calling me back. At 5 that day I was walking back to a hostile home.

As absurd as it may seem, it was at this moment when I first displayed something that I would call bravery. Instead of sitting around for someone else to fight my battle, I took action. I spent at least an hour in a hardware store with a very nice man who helped me piece together my options. Four traps and $10 later, I was ready to face my foe.

(Stay tuned for Part 2!)

That Unpleasant Moment When You are Completely Honest With Yourself

I hate my body. I hate the way it smolders and sweats in the summer, saturating my skin with filth, making me sticky. I hate the way it bloats — my face, my fingers, my feet, my knees — if the temperatures rises above 80 degrees.

I hate how no bra in the world fits my gigantic, bulbous breasts. I hate how they hang from my chest down to my stomach like an old woman’s, sagging like two sacks of flour from my shoulders. I hate that they force me into a hunch, making me look more grotesque than I already am. I hate that I have to wear a bra or my shoulders and back hurt.

I hate the way I jiggle with every step I take. Every molecule of fat in my body resonates with the shockwaves of my feet hitting the ground. Maybe it’s all this extra motion that’s really heating me up in the summer.

I hate my hair. How it breaks off and I have little pieces sticking up everywhere like I’m some child who got curious with a pair of scissors. I hate how the humidity frazzles it and blows it up like a goddamn A-bomb. I loathe how it curls up at the ends no matter how long it is or what the fuck I do with it.

I hate my thighs. Somewhere during college my they decided it would be cool to sweat and chafe painfully in the summer, making it virtually impossible to comfortably wear a skirt or a dress — which, ironically, would help me stay cooler.

I hate my face, how it can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be oval or heart-shaped, how my chin doubles up and sweat when I’m lying on my back.

I hate how my body never seems to respond the way I want it to. I can’t walk a couple of miles without feeling sweaty and miserable. I want it to get through a Muay Thai class — fuck, I would settle for getting through a warmup — without having to stop and catch my breath or without feeling like I’m going to hurl. I hate when I want to have sex but my body is “not in the mood.” Everything I do — or my fiance does — is wrong and mybody gives me a giant middle finger. I roll over and try to convince myself that Anthony isn’t disappointed — or that I’m not.

I hate the fact that I can’t eat whatever the fuck I want and not have to worry about getting fat and having the associated health concerns. I hate that by slipping up on healthy eating for only six months I bloated up eight pounds and gained an inch and a half on my waist. That’s not fucking fair. I can’t be perfect — why can’t my body cut me some fucking slack?

I hate that my pants don’t fit. I hate that most of my clothing looks terrible on me. I feel misshapen, lopsided. I hate seeing outfits and thinking “that’d look so great on me if I was smaller.” I hate not being able to wear pants on my hips. I hate that I can’t wear a summer dress and look good in it without having to put on heavy-duty underwear (read: bra or spanx), which, by the way completely defeats the point.

I miss having friends. Real friends, not people I watch drink whenever they feel inclined to invite me. Someone who might have gone shopping with me last week. Laughed with me, kept my mind off of how hot and miserable I was. I hate how all my attempts to reach out to people and make friends have ultimately failed.

I hate how I used to hate coming home alone at night and how now that’s all I really want to do. I hate how sometimes it seems like no matter what I do, even when I affectively make change, I will still be miserable. I hate that I’m afraid that if my fiance comes up to Philly, I’ll drag him down with me.

I hate that I spent my mile-and-a-half journey this afternoon thinking about what I would say at Dad’s funeral if he committed suicide. I hate that I did the most desperate thing I could to try and make him fix things with me, and he still doesn’t want to meet me half way.

It always seems to come back to that, doesn’t it?

Why I’m Not a Feminist

You’ve seen me around. You know that I get into that whole gender, race, and class deal. So it might surprise you to find that I do not consider myself a feminist. Why, you ask? Well here are a couple of examples of issues I have with the feminist movement.

Here the speaker makes the claim that feminism is just about equal rights for women. This is just not true.  Feminism has been more than that for a long, long time.

It has been my experience that the majority of contemporary feminists have a particular conception the nature and role of government (for example  demanding that maternity leave be codified into law or that pornography be banned), the way society is (“rape culture”), and the way people should interact with one another. I do not agree with many of those principles, so I cannot consider myself to be a feminist. That is pretty simple.

The second group of “gripes” I have with feminism can be anchored to this video:

The speaker here looks at this issue from a female perspective and fails to consider the male. This is a huge problem within the feminist movement. Take the trope in the video. In our society, men are seen as unable to control their sexuality. Because of this, we do not teach men how to control their sexual responses.

This leads to a world in which men may feel out of control of their own sexuality. Imagine being obviously, visibly responsive to a person who is psychologically unappealing, yet you have no control this response. Thus, the evil demon seductress might hit on men’s fears that they cannot control their physical reactions to something that is bad for them.

Considering the above interpretation of the “evil demon seductress” trope makes the discussion a little more dynamic, and we begin to understand things a little better. We get closer to the truth.

There is little attempt to understand the ways in which men are oppressed by gender in the feminist movement, and that deeply disturbs me. While I agree that men benefit from sexism more than women do, I do not think we should ignore the ways in which sexism affects men. Everyone should be able to live free of gender oppression, not just women.

I am not saying, nor will you ever hear me say that feminism is wrong, outdated, or unneeded. All genders owe a great debt of gratitude to feminists for putting down the groundwork for us. They questioned the social construction of gender, pushed for other genders to have voice, and got legal rights for their descendants. But it’s time for feminists to look beyond the tree, begin to see the forest and realize that our gendered society goes beyond the feminist construct of the world. We will never reach gender equality — even for women — if we keep making these mistakes.

A Primer on Privilege in 500 Words or Fewer

When I wrote my last post, I got a few questions about privilege. Since my fellow Tea-Servers are in the middle of finals and moves across the country, I figured I’d explain to the best of my limited ability.

And because my last post was so long, I’m going to attempt to do this in 500 words or fewer. Game time!

Privilege Starts with Power

Power is the ability to influence your world. This works both on micro– and macro– levels. People with power have the most influence over their own lives as well as the ability to shape the larger world. People with power have more authority in any given situation than those who don’t. Their opinions are respected more. Their experiences are considered more valid.  The kinds of experiences they have are inherently shaped by their power.

Power is Inherited

Power tends to concentrate and grow. This is particularly true for sociological power, which is not obvious to most. When a system is created in which people with certain characteristics are valued above others, a cycle is created in which the next generation of people who have those characteristics obtain that power without even really knowing it.

Inheritance is Systemic

Who gets power and who doesn’t depends entirely on the society that is constructed, and that is not something that individuals control. There is no mastermind waving a wand, and there is no conspiracy. Oppression is societal — the result of massive numbers of actions combining to create patterns of behavior.  Most people who have power don’t realize it, didn’t ask for it, and don’t know how to acknowledge it.

Systems Create Power

Large-scale patterns of behavior that favor particular groups of people over others generate people use that power (however unconsciously). Use of the power reinforces the system. Those group narratives become favored over others, unrepresented narratives become undervalued, and the power remains with the groups of people who had it in the first place.

And so on, and so forth.

For Example…

I criticized Lindy West for not acknowledging her privilege. Lindy West is a self-described middle-class white woman. Because she has power, the ways racism effect her are patently different than the ways racism affects others. Racism affects real people in serious ways. There might be things that people of color would prefer to talk about instead of hipster racism. Maybe hipster racism isn’t all that important to them. Instead of asking this first, West wrote about racism with respect to how it affected her as a white person, without acknowledging the desires of people who are more seriously affected by it.

More importantly, because she has the privilege of a white person’s perspective, people listened. She used her privilege to shift the debate from topics that peoples of color might have wanted to talk about to topics that she as a white person cared about. By doing this, she perpetuated the cycle of privilege.

And that’s not cool.

(497 words, including this sentence — word.)