Speak from experience or don’t speak at all

feminisimJessylyn Los Banos

In today’s world, being politically correct is a general expectation for almost everyone hoping to have a civil conversation. It’s easy to get caught up in discussions about race, gender and privilege without realizing where your opinions are coming from.

In the seventh episode of comedian Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix series “Master of None,” the characters discuss at length the issues that arise when men comment on the experiences of women. The episode discusses gender issues like men only addressing men during conversations and women having to take extra precautions when picking up a couch off Craigslist. The women in the show try to explain how different an experience women have in the world, compared to men.

This is a frequent issue in conversations not just about gender experiences, but also about race, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, age and socio-economic class. The bottom line is: if you’ve never experienced it, you don’t get to comment on it.

It’s always easier to have your opinions heard when you’re speaking from a position of power. Men in Congress have been making decisions about women’s health for as long as this country has existed. In 2012, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Leader Nancy Pelosi led a petition against House Republican leaders after they established a panel on women’s access to birth control that had five men and no women. White fashion icons have been using other cultures as fashion trends more successfully than they should be able to. Just last year, Kylie Jenner was applauded for wearing dreadlocks for a Teen Vogue cover. This power to control the dialogue about issues that don’t concern you stems from privilege.

Merriam-Webster defines privilege as “a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others.” This word gets thrown around a lot in conversations but many people seem to forget what recognizing it should mean. It’s one thing to say that you’re a man who is a feminist but it’s another thing to recognize that you have no idea what it’s like to be a woman and you shouldn’t have any opinions about the female experience. When you are an ally to a movement, it doesn’t mean you get to make decisions for the movement.

As Ansari’s character Dev learned by the end of the episode:

“I guess there’s no way I’ll ever really know what it’s like to be in your shoes, so I’ll try and do a better job of listening.”

Today, many communities that once felt silenced by their differences can now voice their opinions. What’s more, minority communities are often met with support from others who pledge to fight with them for equal rights. Being a feminist and standing up against police brutality are no longer just trendy, they’re required– and many of us stand as allies for those who don’t share our privileges. But let’s not forget that as allies we are still unable to fully experience what those without our same privileges are going through.

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