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Straight White Males oppressed by blog post

So straight white science fiction author dude John Scalzi has created a bit of a hubbub amongst straight white dudes on the interwebs with a blog post called Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.  The post, later reposted on Kotaku, is basically an attempt to talk to fellow dudes in their own language about the concept of privilege “without invoking the dreaded word ‘privilege,’ to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon.” (And they do.)

Scalzi’s thesis:

Dudes. Imagine life here in the US – or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world – is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?

Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.

This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it’s easier to get.

Scalzi should have added “cis” to “straight white male,” but otherwise I’d say that’s fairly spot-on.

Of course, as Scalzi himself points out, life for straight white (cis) dudes is not always peaches and cream. They may have any of a number of disadvantages in life that make things difficult for them. They may have been born poor, or in a war zone; they may have been abused as children or the victim of crime or violence as an adult. Or faced any number of other problems and conditions and disadvantages.

Scalzi deals with this issue a little more obliquely than he could have, noting that some people begin the grand game of “The Real World” with more points than others, and that this can make a good deal of difference.

But do straight white cis males face disadvantages stemming from being straight white cis men? I honestly can’t think of any that have affected my life in any serious way, and these small disadvantages pale in comparison to the many advantages. Yeah, I had to register for the draft when I turned 18. Of course, when I registered there was no draft, and there still isn’t one, and the draft has virtually no chance of being resurrected in the foreseeable future, so I can’t say this requirement has affected my life in any tangible way.

As Scalzi puts it:

If you start with fewer points and fewer of them in critical stat categories, or choose poorly regarding the skills you decide to level up on, then the game will still be difficult for you. But because you’re playing on the “Straight White Male” setting, gaining points and leveling up will still by default be easier, all other things being equal, than for another player using a higher difficulty setting.

Anyway, Scalzi got a lot of responses to his post, many of them from straight white dudes outraged by his assertions. So he wrote a followup taking some of these critics to task. He was particularly amused by the criticism that by “picking on” straight white males he was being racist and sexist.

This particular comment was lobbed at me primarily from aggrieved straight white males. Leaving aside entirely that the piece was neither, let me just say that I think it’s delightful that these straight white males are now engaged on issues of racism and sexism. It would be additionally delightful if they were engaged on issues of racism and sexism even when they did not feel it was being applied to them — say, for example,when it’s regarding people who historically have most often had to deal with racism and sexism (i.e., not white males). Keep at it, straight white males! You’re on the path now!

I am sure there are many gems of obtuseosity in the comments, and in the Reddit thread on his original post. But it’s Friday night, and I have a  migraine — which sucks, but it’s not because I’m a straight white cis dude —  so I’m going to let you guys find them for me.

EDITED TO ADD: Thinking a bit more about Scalzi’s central metaphor here, and I don’t think it completely works: he assumes that obstacles other than racism, sexism, and homophobia can be explained as the equivalent of having started the game with fewer points. But it you have, for example, a disability, that’s something that makes you life harder every day; it’s more akin to raising the difficulty level than to starting off with fewer points. (Not to mention that you’re likely to face bigotry because of it as well.) This doesn’t erase the privileges a straight white male with disabilities gets from being straight, white, and male, of course, but it does ratchet up the difficulty.

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Posted on May 18, 2012, in narcissism, oppressed white men, racism, reddit. Bookmark the permalink. 448 Comments.

  1. Polliwog: Very good points about Faramir in the book–but of course film is a different medium, and one could argue (as i have with my partner in an article coff coff) that generally speaking all the characters are “modernized” into characters more recognizable than epic hero counterparts for viewers in the film–that is, Tolkien modernized many elements in his novel (not an epic poem–and he could have written an epic poem–he did write a bunch of the SILM tales in epic verse, including OLD ENGLISH EPIC VERSE!@!!!!!!), and Jackson modernized even more.

    ARagorn: self doubting dude! (Boromir and Arwen there to bolster ego and reassure him that yes he CAN BE KING)

    Faramir: more like Boromir (and in some ways, Boromir in interaction with hobbits at start ofjourney OMG adorable, more like Faramir).

    B. gets Faramir’s line from teh book (MY KING).

    Arwen more kick ass!

    So one can debate whether it’s good/bad to do that–but it’s possible (in film adaptation theory) to argue that such changes are consistent across the text, for a reason, that can connect to context film is made in.

    Actually, coff coff, I write all sorts of LOTR fic (including RPS threesomes with Sean Bean, VIggo MOrtensen, and David Wenham).

    BECAUSE OMG SO SEXY. (I saw FELLOWSHIP 45 times in the theatres when it came out).

  2. @Argenti: The fellowship remaining together.

    Pippin and Merry at the end of their long lives (they rise in prominence as does Sam) hand their stuff over to their heirs and ride to Gondor where they are given a place by Aragorn’s side in the catacombs/tombs. *sniffles*

  3. Also… Manboobz: come for the mockery, stay for the detailed literary analysis of LOTR

    Indeed. And this, among other reasons, is why I love all of you. Seriously, ya’ll are awesome.

  4. @Argenti: More about elves: Elrond’s annoyance his daughter wanted to stay, it made me assume she’d be the last of her people.

    In Tolkien’s storyverse, like in the early Middle Ages after the fall of Rome, there is a sense that things will keep getting worse–that the great peoples and empires and deeds were in the past, and all that are left are their ruins (walking through Middle-earth seeing all the ruins is the world of northern/eastern Europe after the fall of Rome).

    The Elves are the First Children of Eru/Iluvatar (God). They have their time on Earth (long and complicated and as Pratchett would say, myffic), and are leaving–as Galadriel says in book and I think film, she can choose to stay in the mortal world and diminish, or sail into the West and lose the land she loved (she was born in Valinor and left on the Great March).

    Tolkein talks (essay on FAIRY STORIES) and elsewhere about how the cultural narratives people have of Elves/Fae/Fairie showed the diminishing from the warriors and heroes of the Germanic mythologies into, well, Tinkerbell.

    He didn’t like what the Victorians did to fairies.

    So I think he has that decline in mind.

    The Human/Elven mixes (always male human, female Elf as someone else said) are a complex issue–basically Arwen and Aragorn are cousins, hee!

    But the idea is that with this last human/Elven marriage, some of the Elvish spiritualities (and Elves are NOT pefect in Tolkien’s world–he was surprised by some of the responses) pass into the human race. But yes, no Elves; and the ending of Arwen’s tale is horribly sad for that reason.

    I know at least one reader in the fandom who claims ARwen in the book AND film is braver than Eowyn or anybody else because she gives up immortality for love.

    I spent a lot of time when the film first came out telling people complaining about Arwen in the film to read Appendix B because (except for the Glordindel rescue), a lot of what they show about her in the film is in canon (just not the main novel).

    Mumble mumble people who don’t read the poetry either grrrumb.e

  5. Not only mockery and LOTR but QUANTUM PHYSICS fer crying out loud. I didn’t comment because I’m a dud, but WOW, that was interesting to see.

    Cool group!

  6. Never read LOTR, can’t contribute to the conversation, so slightly-related thing people here might think is awesome:

    At my undergrad college, they had a (very popular) course on the languages of Tolkien in the linguistics department. It was AWESOME. Sadly, I missed it and it’d been replaced with Klingon when I arrived

  7. Polliwog: Very good points about Faramir in the book–but of course film is a different medium, and one could argue (as i have with my partner in an article coff coff) that generally speaking all the characters are “modernized” into characters more recognizable than epic hero counterparts for viewers in the film–that is, Tolkien modernized many elements in his novel (not an epic poem–and he could have written an epic poem–he did write a bunch of the SILM tales in epic verse, including OLD ENGLISH EPIC VERSE!@!!!!!!), and Jackson modernized even more.

    ARagorn: self doubting dude! (Boromir and Arwen there to bolster ego and reassure him that yes he CAN BE KING)

    Faramir: more like Boromir (and in some ways, Boromir in interaction with hobbits at start ofjourney OMG adorable, more like Faramir).

    B. gets Faramir’s line from teh book (MY KING).

    Arwen more kick ass!

    So one can debate whether it’s good/bad to do that–but it’s possible (in film adaptation theory) to argue that such changes are consistent across the text, for a reason, that can connect to context film is made in.

    That makes a lot of sense. And like I said, overall I think Jackson’s trilogy were genuinely excellent adaptations, in spite of and sometimes because of the changes. (Not that I don’t love the books exactly as they are, but you’re quite right that different things work in different media – to use what’s probably the most obvious example, I certainly missed Tom Bombadil, but that sequence simply wouldn’t have worked on film the way it does in the book.) I think adaptation is generally a balancing act between faithfulness to the source material and making good use of the medium you’re in, and really the only two places where the balance tipped too far for me and broke into my enjoyment of the films were Faramir and the snap-decision-making Ents. I could happily have dealt with some changes to both (I’m totally fine with Faramir’s expanded daddy complex, for one), but the changes that were made just pushed past “reinterpretation” and into “ignoring the traits that make these characters who they are” territory for me. It’s like making a version of Moby-Dick where Ahab’s approach is “Eh, if we find the white whale and kill it, that’d be cool, but no biggie.” That may still be an interesting character, but it’s definitely not Ahab. :-p

    (I do wish Jackson had left in the Scouring of the Shire, too, though not having it didn’t bother me per se – in that particular way, I’d say Jackson’s story is arguably less modern than Tolkien’s, since Jackson allows the Shire to stay utterly untouched, whereas Tolkien with his real-world experience of the devastation of war in the 20th century very specifically made it clear that nowhere is ever completely safe, and that fighting evil isn’t some “take out the Big Bad and then you’re done and everything is wonderful forever” thing, but an ongoing process. Seeing war as something you can’t ever be completely insulated from is darker, more real, and more interesting to me. That said, Jackson is very probably right that mainstream audiences would have found that ending bizarre, because we’re so used to stories that tie everything up in a nice climactic bow rather than saying, “it’s not over, it’ll NEVER totally be over, the best one can hope for is that you can keep evil at bay if you keep working at it.”)

  8. At my undergrad college, they had a (very popular) course on the languages of Tolkien in the linguistics department. It was AWESOME. Sadly, I missed it and it’d been replaced with Klingon when I arrived

    Geeky ridiculousness incoming:

    The most awesomely, bizarrely geeky job I ever had was actually working as the official translator for a major performance of Howard Shore’s LOTR symphony – my job was to teach the choir what the words they were singing meant and how to pronounce them, and to give them some background on the languages, cultures, and context of what they were singing. It was kind of hilarious. (Also kind of sad, seeing as various choir members kept having questions like, “Wait, there was a BOOK of this story? Is it based on the movies?” *headdesk*)

  9. Back to the original topic, which is in no way meant to discourage this fascinating continuing discussion of LOTR which I am enjoying very much, did you all see the New Statesman article on the MRM? Predictably, MRAs are swarming the comments section with their usual talking points.

    http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/lifestyle/2012/05/mens-rights-zeitgeist

  10. Argenti Aertheri

    Pecunium — ok, I think I sort of understand what you’re trying to get at then — it would explain then why Frodo doesn’t tell Sam he’s leaving until he’s actually leaving.

    ithiliana —
    “I know at least one reader in the fandom who claims ARwen in the book AND film is braver than Eowyn or anybody else because she gives up immortality for love. ”

    IDK, I just really love Eowyn, she gets mad every time she’s told not to fight, and when it really matters, she goes anyways and saves the day big time. And that Arwen is All About Aragorn is kind of…too disney? Maybe she’s more a tragic character in the rest of her story though and LoTR just doesn’t show enough of her.

    And re the hobbits: nice, I am glad that they met up again, separating them probably permanently was what was irking me.

  11. DragonsBeHere

    LOTR is racist and you really should stop. Where’s Rutee at!?

  12. wut?
    We should stop speaking about something many really because you said so?
    And saying “it’s racist” without any argument, after all this extended and informed discussion on the subject, that’s just lazy.

  13. LOTR is racist and you really should stop. Where’s Rutee at!?

    Did it still sting to be called a racist? ouch! cry me a river.

  14. Well if it isn’t our old friend TrollsBeTrollin. Sure do know how to hold onto a grudge, don’t you?

  15. It’s weird that they think “your life is easier than a POC/woman/queer person’s would be in the same position” is some kind of mortal insult.

    I think they’re hearing it as “your life is so super easy you’ve never suffered or worked at all,” which I could totally sympathize with if there weren’t hundreds of people constantly trying to explain that’s not what anyone said.

    It’s because it’s disrespectful, presumptive, and not really true anyway. I mean sure, on a macro level, from a sociological perspective, sure. That is, if you took Average Man and Average Woman, it’s probably better to be Average Man. But sociology is the study of society… not individuals, and you can’t apply sociological principles to individuals. And that’s what Scalzi is doing… talking directly to his audience and saying YOU (you personally) are on the easiest difficulty setting. It’s rude and obnoxious, and doesn’t work, because everyone’s life is unique. There are many cases where it could, in a particular instance, be beneficial to be female, or black, or whatever. For example- and this is off the top of my head, because I just finished watching The Guild- Felicia Day. She seems nice, and she’s a good actress- but a mediocre writer at best. Most of the adoration she gets (and don’t bother denying it; it’s true) is a direct result of fascinated guys with geek-crushes on her. And yes, that translates into recognition, money, etc. So indeed, in that particular sense, it pays for her to be a (white; nerdy-hot) female. If she were male (or unattractive, or whatever) and remained on the same career path, she would not have the exposure she does now.

    Scalzi is an ass. If you want to talk about sociological realities, fine; but those do not apply to individuals (or they may, but you can’t assert that they do in any given case, they are tailored to fit a macro lens) On a micro level, Scalzi doesn’t get to speak for anyone but himself.

  16. @Mewthree

    I mean sure, on a macro level, from a sociological perspective, sure. That is, if you took Average Man and Average Woman, it’s probably better to be Average Man.

    That’s what privilege IS, and that’s what the article is fucking saying. It specifically addresses the fact that everyone’s life is different and that you can be a straight white male and still have your life suck. If you had bothered to read the article you would know.

  17. Mewthree, as a white male (not straight) my life is definitely a lot easier then it would be if I was a poc or a woman or both. It’s called privilege, it doesn’t mean I’m a horrible person. It doesn’t reflect on the stuff I’ve been through in my life that was hard. Maybe you should read the actual article instead of fantasizing about Felicia Day.

  18. Maybe you should read the actual article instead of fantasizing about Felicia Day.

    This.

  19. Mewthree, I love that your own helpful example of the benefits of femaleness is actually, “If you’re a woman who writes and directs and stars in your own highly successful, award-winning show, people will claim that the actual reason you are successful is that men want to fuck you.” Women: totally privileged, you guys!

  20. Mewthree…. This was a discussion of a group. Go back and read it, and the comments made here (and there) about it.

    When you have understood what was said, we will be more than willing to accept your apologies.

  21. The racism in LotR didn’t pass without comment. It was mentioned already, by the people who actually like LotR.

    @Mewthree: You are a fucking slowbro.

    It’s because it’s disrespectful, presumptive, and not really true anyway. I mean sure, on a macro level, from a sociological perspective, sure.

    You do realize this isn’t an abstract claim that doesn’t actually mean anything outside academia, yes?

    But sociology is the study of society… not individuals, and you can’t apply sociological principles to individuals.

    This is a complete misinterpretation of what that means. It means studying about the society doesn’t necessarily tell us about the individuals in it. Except we’re not really talking about the individuals in it, we’re talking about how society reacts to them. White dudes don’t have it easier due to innate differences, it’s because society eases them into life.

    There are many cases where it could, in a particular instance, be beneficial to be female, or black, or whatever.

    And they’re never, ever equivalent. Fuck, ordinary employment will always, always trump free drinks.

    If she were male (or unattractive, or whatever) and remained on the same career path, she would not have the exposure she does now.

    Have you heard of Seth Green, off the top of my head?

  22. Seriously, fucking ignorant trolls. “OH THIS NERD WOMAN IS ONLY POPULAR BECAUSE SHE’S A WOMAN THERE IS NO WAY A DUDE LIKE THAT COULD BE POPULAR FOR BEING ADORABLY AWKWARD”. Yeah, because you assholes really keep up with dudes who are considered hot. Perfect fucking example of how men’s sex drives are considered important, womens’ aren’t.

  23. CassandraSays

    Hey, I called it several pages back – these guys really do think that being considered attractive is the One Ring of privileges. If they want to fuck a woman, they think that means she must be super mega privileged and have a life that’s almost comically easy.

    Their response to any counterexamples demonstrating the ways in which this is not true is always, always BUT MY ERECTION, IT IS NOT BEING TENDED TO.

  24. …. can’t apply sociological principles to individuals?

    What?

    Sociology is not so neatly divided that it only considers some average of people. Social sciences are not that regimented that you step back and claim something else when using a different lens to observe people. Interdisciplinary bro, they bleed into each other (Econ, Anthropology, Political Science, and Sociology have all sorts of intersections, to name a few big categories)

    Hell, if you actually still believe sociology only works as a macro lens I’m going to point at Erving Goffman and laugh in your face. A lot of different tools and conceptual models incorporate individuals and institutions. Hell, look at Risman’s “Gender as a Social Structure” for some gender theory examples.

  25. I’m late to the party but I did try to follow up on the “so what am I supposed to do, feel guilty for having privilege?” question here even though I know a certain percentage of the questions probably weren’t asked in good faith. Perhaps some were, you know?

  26. Also incredibly late to the party (er, also delurking), but this comment thread on the Kotaku re-post of Scalzi’s follow-up post is eerily, uncomfortably familiar. The first commenter is totally fine, but the pile-on that follows gets scarily unhinged, scarily fast, including the reappearance of a Manboobz troll talking point (or possibly just a Manboobz troll posting under a new pseud).

    Obligatory LOTR books/movies comment: A long-ago gentleman friend noted both that he loved Tom Bombadil more than just about anyone else in all three books, or possibly in any book he’d ever read, and that Tom Bombadil probably would have thought it hilarious and delightful that he was completely left out of the movies.

  27. The comments at Kotaku are a classic example of Anil Dash’s “If your website’s full of assholes, it’s your fault” argument.

    Is there an obligatory LOTR comment requirement now? I thought it was cat videos.

    I would offer “One does not just MEOW into Mordor” but the featured kittens are Rory the Nose, Leggs, and John Smith, and I understand it’s dangerous to cross fandoms.

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