So yesterday, I tweeted:

I knew this was true. I thought it was an amusing example of the complex way privilege works and how opportunities and success in art tend to concentrate around people who have certain advantages- usually, straight white men from privileged backgrounds, who are over-represented in every major and commercially successful artform in Australia.

It wasn’t a comment about St Kevins. It wasn’t a comment about either artist’s merit. It was simply a reflection of the way success correlates closely with privilege.

Here is what privilege doesn’t mean: that if you went to private school or were born straight and white and male, you were handed everything. It doesn’t mean you didn’t work. It doesn’t mean things were easy. It doesn’t mean you don’t deserve your success.

Here is what privilege means: systems work together in complex ways to make success easier for some people. It doesn’t necessarily mean someone says to you “hey, you went to this school, have an opportunity.” It’s more that a whole bunch of factors: for example, gender, race, access to tertiary education, financial support through education, and not having to worry about supporting their families.

I really didn’t think this was a revolutionary idea, yet the reaction I had to this pretty simple tweet was far more aggressive and, frankly, abusive than anything I experienced after I published a piece about sexism and cricket a few weeks ago.

It’s important to recognise how privilege works in art: that the opportunity to create, that the position on the playlist, the audience- the whole audience- listening to the story. No single aspect of being privileged explains any of these benefits.  But together, they work to mean wealthy white men are overrepresented in art. And that’s a problem.



9 Responses

  1. How privileged are you? Where were you educated? I note you have a university degree. Where did you go to school? I ask out of interest, more than anything else.

    1. I think this is important, and I’d like to address it. The answer is complicated though (as most privilege-related things are).

      The basics: I am CIS gender and I am white. That’s a pretty good hand to start with.

      The wealth and education components are more complicated. I am from a working class extended family, but with a first generation university-educated father who became increasingly professionally successful over my childhood and young adulthood. My primary school was Oak Flats Primary, which was a pretty poor school, and I was there from K-6. My secondary educational history is really complicated (five schools across two countries), but it was in public schools until year 11, when we returned to Australia. We had issues with enrolment without permanent addresses, but I was privileged that my parents could afford to send us to a Parent Controlled Christian School (a kind of private school that is usually quite cheap, as opposed to say an Anglican school, which tend to be a bit more elite.)

      After school, I travelled 3 hours a day from our family home in the Blue Mountains to attend the University of NSW. I am the first female in my family to go to university, and the first on my Dad’s side (second after my Dad) and second on my mum’s, after my grandmother, to go past year 10 at school. I largely supported myself through my final two years of uni, as my parents moved overseas again and I didn’t qualify for AusStudy, but I was still able to go and my parents provided some assistance.

      But I was also incredibly fortunate to come into contact with other worlds very early in my adult life, which taught me a lot about how to act and what was possible. And despite having some health issues, for the most part I am well and have been able to cultivate my interests in writing with encouragement. I have always had good relationships with my siblings and I was able to develop good networks.

      And even when I was young and sharing a room in a tiny two-bedroom house with my two brothers, I had parents who read to me every night, and who loved each other and us. That’s probably one of the most significant way I am privileged.

      1. What a beautifully generous reply. Congratulations on all your success from such loving and hardworking foundations. Regards, Sandra

  2. There will always be privilege in some way or form. Money doesn’t necessary mean you will be successful but it does mean that you can dedicate more time to your art. if you set quotas to help offset that privilege how will that help the ones that are not included in the quotas. How do we determine who should be helped? We recognize more and more diversity, you even write I am a CIS gender, to not offend, but when do we stop not offending this diversity. Are we not at risk of becoming a grey society where you can’t utter a word because somewhere someone will take offense to that because they identify as x.

    I am not trying to take anything away from you argument about privilege or gender because there are issues. But I look at your arguments and the way you write and wonder when does the political correctness stop. People identify in new ways and because of the internet we now have a voice to speak out when we feel marginalized and offended. But at what point do we say it is ok to be offended by “this” but not by “that”?

    Otherwise interesting points.

  3. The obvious (unless you’re Chet Faker) point of your tweet aside, is it completely factual? I don’t track St Kevin’s graduates, but two female fronted bands have had the number one spot, plus a third number one (although I reckon the song is a bit of a number two) was achieved by Angus and Julia Stone, which is a duo with a female member and she sings on the track. Does it matter if people are soloists or not? The vast majority of acts played on the station aren’t, just as soloists are in the minority in general for rock music, which is what the station traditionally has played. Surely we consider Dolores O’Riordan, Janet English and Julia Stone to be winners?

    1. So your point is that there might be the same number of female winners as graduates of St Kevins College, Toorak? Well, that completely undoes Erin’s point. (picture me rolling my eyes)

  4. There’s no excuse for the male privilege in the media/entertainment.

    But unfortunately for a lot of people who love to cry the ‘white man rules all’ narrative, the white domination of Australian media/entertainment can be explained by demographics.

    Audiences want to see stories of people who look like them. You go to Korea, and you could argue the ‘Korean privilege’ as 99% of entertainers are Korean. (Try getting an acting role in a Korean film).

    In Russia, it’s the Russian privilege. China is dominated by Chinese. Holland? You been to Holland? You can guess. Same with Nigeria. Nigerian media has its own local celebs who are Nigerian. Thailand love their local soapies. Big time ‘Thai privilege’ there.

    Australia is overly dominantly an anglo-country.

    The entertainment/media culture is dominated by its people.

    Show me someone in Australia who cries about the ‘white’ privilege in media/entertainment in Australia, and I’ll show you someone who hasn’t lived abroad as an adult.

    1. If that were true, half the entertainment industry would feature women. But it doesn’t. Not to mention that the Australian demographic has shifted enormously over recent years. Break down the numbers and they don’t reflect actual proportions at all – unless the Australian population was 95% white men. Last time I checked, it wasn’t this at all.

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