My New Year’s resolution this January is to unequivocally examine privilege, my own and that of my communities.
Privilege is taking or possessing something that is not yours, that you did not work to achieve. Fundamentally, privilege is the warm, loving, secure home you were, or were not, born into. To be privileged implies being surrounded by other privileged individuals. Privilege shapes our prejudices and misconceptions of the world, and is in itself a misconception as it causes us to assume that those around us share the same privilege. Unfortunately for the majority of the global population, this assumption is a gross misperception of society.
By Madison Haussy
Like many others in my Boulder, CO, and Sciences Po communities who globalism has been good to, my privileged worldview impeded me from grasping the reality of the recent U.S. election. As a Franco-American from an economically-booming part of the United States studying abroad at a prestigious university, I could not fathom the devastating effects the new global organization of society has had on the majority of the population. Objectively, I knew the horrifying statistics concerning inequality in the United States. I knew that since the 1970s, inequality has increased in every state and that, from 2009 to 2013, the top one percent of the U.S. population accrued at least half of all income growth in twenty-four U.S. states.1 But, sitting by the warm wood-burning fire in my ecologically-friendly bamboo-floored living room, my privilege impeded me from truly understanding how these facts translate into reality. Not only did my privilege impede me from grasping the daily realities of the majority of the population, it incentivized me and my privileged counterparts to not to understand, but to ignore these realities. Understanding that we are the root of our society’s problems would imply our need to take decisive action. Instead, it is easier to rail against the “real” elites, the top “one percent,” and like cute Facebook memes about “Birdie Sanders.”
If I chose to ignore the realities of the majority of my society, I also chose to ignore their concrete manifestations in the political, or anti-political, sphere. I assumed that my liberal, feminist, progressive ideologies were shared by the rest of the U.S. population. Unfortunately for me, and for the rest of the global elites who have dreamed up an image of the U.S. in their own likeness, the other Americans have made their voices heard. Their voices may not be uniform, but they have unified behind a man who, despite his numerous other flaws, has to an extent managed to see past his own privilege to gauge the anger of ordinary Americans toward his class.
What is most shocking about Trump’s election to myself and most of the other women I know is his overt, crass, representation of misogyny in the United States. Here it is important to discuss the corollary of privilege: entitlement. Trump is just another example of the destructive sexual harassment and rape culture, rooted in entitlement, present in the U.S and Western society in general (I am not particularly qualified to discuss these trends elsewhere, though they undoubtedly exist). Rape culture and the incessant groping, whistling, catcalling, etc., stem from entitlement, the entitlement to a woman’s body and attention that certain men seem to feel. When a man reaches out to forcibly grab a woman on a train, in a bus, in a line to buy movie tickets, in his home, he takes something that is not his. When men like Trump use their wealth and power to coerce women, they abuse their privilege to take what is not theirs. These men, who I hope and believe constitute a loud minority, believe they are entitled to what is not theirs – a woman’s body, which is hers and hers alone.
Trump’s attitude toward women, the entitlement he feels toward women’s bodies, highlights the paradox of his election. Donald Trump may be an expression of anger at the privileged establishment, but his own privilege and pernicious entitlement will, I strongly believe, prevent him from solving the fundamental problems faced by our global, deeply divided society. As part of the global, privileged elite, it is not in Trump’s interests to alter the broken system that created his power. So, as the New Year approaches, I resolve to examine my own privilege and the role it played in bringing Donald Trump and his like to power. I hope that you may be inclined to do the same.
1 Sommeiller, Price, and Ellis Wazeter. “Income inequality in the U.S. by state, metropolitan area, and county.” Economic Policy Institute (2016).