I'll soon write more about the conversation I had with these two women, but sufficed to say for now that the proposed discussion never happened (as far as I know) and that I was taught a great lesson that day on gender privilege and privilege in general. Here's what I took away from it.
I need to recognize that I have privilege. I've already listed my privileges in previous entries - I have a lot. And it's important for me to keep the reality of these in full view, especially when engaging people who do not have my privileges.
At OWS, some people often spoke of checking privilege - "check your privilege at the door" - which basically meant for one to recognize the privileges s/he had before entering a space for discussion or action and then to behave as though those privileges never existed. Some believed that this was the only way that a truly horizontal and egalitarian structure could be achieved.
On many occasions, this prerequisite was not met by me and my privileged comrades at OWS (privilege was a concept that was rarely discussed by those who actually had it) and indeed this failure would prove to be one of the greatest obstructions to the kind of community we all sought to create.
But my failures didn't end there. In the conversation I also learned that it is my responsibility, as a person of privilege, to teach others about the privileges they also possess. That is to say - the onus is not on women to teach men about patriarchy and male privilege; people of color are not responsible to explain white privilege to white people; etc; but it is still essential that the discussion be had.
Therefore, it is up to me and people like me to spearhead the public discourse on privilege. Unfortunately, this did not happen nearly as much as it should have at OWS. At least not when I was around. And if the Occupy movement will be proved to have been a failure, this will certainly be one of the primary reasons.
But I don't think hope is lost just yet. Not for the Occupy movement, not for our broader society, not for our planet. In fact, I believe that the discussion is only just beginning - and that it's in this very discussion that we with privilege will find the greatest leverage to use our privilege for the common good.
My hope is that through this discussion we can finally bring privilege to the fore of the public consciousness. Perhaps then those of us with privilege will remember to "check it at the door" and maybe - just maybe - we can reach the kind of community that we really only dreamed of at Zuccotti Park.
That is the reason that this blog now exists.
I encourage people of all stripes to engage in this discussion, to help steer me in the right direction; but let it be known that this blog is especially intended for those of you with privilege (of all kinds - male, white, middle class, cis, able-bodied, etc). Let's talk more about these traits which artificially empower us and figure out how we can work in solidarity with all the Others who we've been taught to loathe and fear.
I don't think hope is lost. Not yet...