Posted by: mzbitca | August 19, 2008

Ross and Monica: An example of Privilege

So, over the past month there has been a rousing challenge (rightfully so) for those of us who have it to check our privilege.  We have been called to check our race privilege, class privilege and, most recently, our cis privilege. So last night, after being introduced to Ren through feministe for the first time, and persuing her blog, I started thinking about examples of privilege in pop culture. It just so happens that an episode of Friends was on that i felt illustrated privilege and especially our desire to hold onto it.  

A little background: Ross and Monica are siblings who are treated very differently by their parents (Judy and Jack).  Ross is “the king” and can do no wrong in his parents eyes.  They constantly talk about how great he is, belittle Monica’s achievements, and find ways to turn his faults into Monica’s problem.  Monica is meanwhile treated like a second class citizen, constantly being criticized or left as a second thought, if she is a thought at all.

Ross constantly tries to diminish the favoritism showed him or to make excuses for why he gets the preferential treatment, but he also thrives on it.  He will occasionally stick up for Monica to his parents, to the point where it doesn’t compromise his status as favorite. In this particular epsiode, Ross and Monica go to their parents house to pick up boxes of their childhood memories.  Ross’s are discovered intact while the father has used all of Monica’s to block water from his car during a flood.  While alone in the garage with his dad, Ross becomes the impassioned defender of Monica. Berating his father for the unfairness of his treatment of the siblngs and sympathizing with Monica’s plight.  He even rejects hearing his fathers justification for favoring him over her.  However, Ross’s tune soon changes.  See when the father realizes the damage he has done he apologizes to Monica and offers her his car as a way of attempting to make up for his actions (his possession, for which her possesions were sacrificed.). Monica is excited and her and her dad go out to take the car for a ride, meanwhile, Ross is pissed and immediately starts bellowing that what Monica has been given is not fair and that he is the one that deserves it due to his status.

The whole time I watched this episode I wanted to yell at Ross to “check his privilege.”  We are all guilty of it, and to say you don’t feel you have a privilege in this world probably means you haven’t looked at yourself hard enough. The fact is we are all guilty of yelling at others who are creating problems and advocating for change but there are definite occasions where, when it sometimes hits too close to home we are quick to challenge our privilege.  It has been discussed over and over about intent vs impact and how people think that if we “mean well” it shouldn’t matter if it hurts someone, they just need to “get over it.”  That’s the thing, we say we want to do the right thing but often times the right thing to do is to listen and respect what others ask of us, not try to justify our own actions to convince ourselves and others how great and nice and well-meaning we are.  We want to fight the fight, but we don’t want to lose things like our ability to speak without thinking, or lose the attention and praise we think we deserve.  I constantly find myself having to check my privilege. I want to work very hard at being the best person I can be but at times I find myself wanting credit for my actions….I post on blogs about racism and transgender rights or sex worker rights and I find myself becoming disappointed if I don’t get credit from other commenters on being right and making a good point.  That’s my privilege. As a white straight women, who was relatively well off, I’m not used to not getting my voice heard or getting reinforcement for my statements.  What do I expect someone to post and say “way to go, you’ve finally learned to treat other people with the same respect you think you deserve.” It shouldn’t need to be said and it is something I am still struggling with to this day and I think I am getting better at.

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Responses

  1. I have to check mine too…and it’s cool that you realize that checking is good!

  2. Checking your privilege is an awesome thing to do and a great place to start. I have to do it all the time…and sometimes I disappoint myself.

    I love pop culture, and was a huge fan of “Friends” when it was on. I recently re-watched the entire series from start to finish, the first time w/ my feminist/progressive lens. It was a huge shocker. There were a few shining moments, but mostly a lot of stuff that made me ask “why did I love this so much?”.

    Great blog here. Found you randomly on WordPress’ dashboard.

  3. True that, on all counts. I’ve felt that disappointment too…


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