archives, poetry

To the Men in the Room: A Poem About Privilege. {poetry}


The men in the room, I applaud you
For not taking the floor to do so for me
For not running away from my anger and pain

Sisters bloody and bruised and raped in huge numbers
No, we’re not better off than those other countries, where women are really oppressed
This is life for one-third of all women no matter in which country you find us
It’s only worse if you’re black or disabled, but more on this further down the track of denial

Because of course it’s not you; no, you’re a good guy
Just getting criticized and attacked
Where can you hide from this tirade of abuse?
It’s not fair
It’s so easy to be privileged and celebrated widely
But being blamed for the violence of those other guys?
You don’t deserve this
No, you didn’t choose to be born into these systems of power
But unless you have searched high and low for the privilege you’re blind to
You are in denial

And I know this because I live with you here in this bubble of love, light, and whiteness

Born with this skin, not earned, but also not my design that this skin that I’m in defines me as privileged and lets me win at so much I would love to believe that I earned through my blood, sweat, and tears… my grit, grime, and dirt

And yes I’ve worked hard and I’ve cried tears of guilt for the freedom I have in this land that my father could come to, escaping the violence in the war-torn country of our ancestors, and be welcomed in peace to this land without question… because he was white

And this stark example is only one of the ways that my skin opens doors, as well as all the other privilege it affords

And I don’t even know what it’s like not to have this

And neither will I ever pretend to

Yes I’ve sat on the ground, around fires, and in buildings, with the first peoples of this country, and I’ve sat with their stories of trauma and violence; yes I know that these women carry much more than I do, that their sisters are beaten and raped at rates that I can hardly even face, and I’ve done what I can to support them but please don’t applaud me

The ones with the courage and strength in this story are those who go on in the face of this trauma, who are there to support the many around them who are falling, with women knocking on their door in the night with their wounds bleeding, with eight kids at home because other mothers around them are falling, all this while grieving the losses of their ancestors and the loss of the young leaders who have taken their own lives because how can they carry all this for their people… and yet these strong women go on

And I can come in and say Well, I’ll help you, but with my bullshit ideas of superiority still with me, be careful

So the men in this room, take this as a lesson, what you can do with your privilege: Don’t help those who are falling do what they can do for themselves, but support them

Don’t take to the stage to be saviors, but applaud the voices not usually applauded

And yes you have your own pain because this game hurts us all — I’m not trying to deny that — but you are not innocent, and still not to blame

But you do need to change

And no, I will not applaud you.


Jaclyn Cunningham is a privileged straight, white, cis, able-bodied, middle class woman living in Byron Bay, Australia (a spiritual tourist mecca). Her father’s family immigrated to Australia from Belfast in the early 1970s (in the era of the White Australia Policy) and her mother’s family is of all British ancestry. Jaclyn is a high school teacher and social worker who is passionate about working with young people. She has studied adolescent development in depth and has co-created Radiant Woman: A Mother Daughter Rite of Passage Retreat. This is a transformational program for girls aged 14-17 years old and their mum/female mentor. Jaclyn also writes a regular blog for parents of teenagers, and has discovered a love of the written medium as a way to express her passions, truth, and confusion.


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