A friend and I were having a good old grouch-and-moan session over a couple of beers. We were being snide and petty about all the people who’d ticked us off that week.
“And another thing!” I proclaimed, “Have you seen their Twitter bio? It’s all ‘Forbes 30-under-30’ and ‘Global Speaker’ and ‘Best Selling Author’! Bah! Why can their bio just say ‘I like cheese!’?”
My friend took a glug of beer. And said he agreed with me – and that made him feel bad.
We’re a pair of straight-white-cis-posh-sounding men. We’re festooned with privilege. The person we were discussing, bluntly, is not.
When we walk into a room, we’re judged in one way. When our frenemy makes a first impression, it’s often under different circumstances.
I can get away with my Twitter bio saying I’m a “Digital Idiot”. When people see my scruffy beard and stained t-shirt, they think “Ah! A real geek. He must know what he’s talking about!”
That’s not a privilege granted to everyone.
Of course, there are competing tensions at play. British culture values self-depreciation. American culture places huge emphasis on self-confidence. The Kiwis call it “Tall Poppy Syndrome“. I think it’s best illustrated in this gif showing the difference between British and American athletes.
I remember, a couple of years ago, witnessing a small revolution on Twitter. A bunch of academic women realised that they were avoiding using their earned title of “Doctor” in their Twitter bios – and then made sure to correct that.
After reading some of the replies to this perfectly reasonable tweet, I’ve finally bothered to change my own twitter name to ‘Dr’ out of delight at the thought of all the men it may upset. Go Fern! 💪🏼 https://t.co/FYXvfs40LC
— Dr. Sophie Coulombeau (@SMCoulombeau) June 13, 2018
My friend was much more eloquent at explaining this than I have been in this blog post. But the point is that some people have to be relentlessly self-promoting.
The shield of privilege may not be available to them; it is absolutely right that they make sure everyone knows that they have the right to be taken seriously.