5 – Privilege and being ‘Human’


After viewing this image in class and the discussions that surrounded it, I found this interesting point in my research for my midterm paper which seemed to relate and take up a slightly different standpoint to what we had considered. In “Playing Up Being a Woman”: Femme Performance and the Potential for Ironic Representation by Elizabeth Galewski she states ‘Judith Butler takes a similar tack, suggesting that the definition of the “human” has been over determined in order to privilege some human beings over others. For her, radical democracy does not just mean expanding the definition of the “human” to include those who had previously been left out. Rather, it means a complete rethinking of political community in terms of subjects who are “dispossessed,” thereby changing the commonplace definition of the “human” itself.’ (Galewski, 282)

This quotation brings up the idea that one could argue that to claim the identity of ‘human’ means an already prevalent form of privilege that allows one to do this. This could be applied to those who the dominant hegemonic discourse do not consider ‘important’ enough to be a part of it. If one cannot be viewed as worthy of life, an example could be such as in situations of war that are based on racial or religious identities and hierarchies of supremacy, then one could be considered to not be a part of this privileged group that calls itself ‘human’. As Galewski and Butler consider that the definition of human itself has been created by ordering some people over others and that those subjects who are not included or seen as ‘lesser’ are considered ‘dispossessed’ and to fix this we must have radical reform to change the ‘commonplace’ definition of human. (Galewski, 282)

I feel as though this way of thinking has come up a lot in the articles of Nobody Passes with concepts of hierarchy and not being considered valid are seen again and again, for example the ranking of masculinity over femininity explored in Jen Cross’s Surface Tensions as she states, ‘when I say I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction, I mean that I don’t want to give them any more power over me: the power of recognition, of surety, the power of the masculine over the feminine.’ (Bernstein, 277) . Both these quotations can be seen to bring up themes we spoke of, the quote by Galewski brings forth the concept of someone having the privilege to not need to affiliate with the community groups attached to their identity, e.g lesbian or more so with issues of race, African-American etc. This highlights the fact that these people are ‘safe’ enough in their privilege to be able to take the label of ‘human’ and continue as part of society that is ‘protected’ from the dangers that are forced by that same society onto others or the ‘other’. The very existence of the concept of the ‘other’ exemplifies this hierarchy of ‘human’ that does not include all.

  • Galewski, Elizabeth. “” Playing Up Being a Woman”: Femme Performance and the Potential for Ironic Representation.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 11.2 (2008): 279-302.
  •  Bernstein, Mattilda Sycamore,. Nobody passes: Rejecting the rules of gender and conformity. Seal Press, 2006.



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