Restricted Knowledge

I’m not really sure how to tell this story. I’ll start with the event that got me writing this post, but there’s a lot of backstory that explains why I even started writing, and then there are my observations of my changed thoughts and feelings about the phenomenon. It’s untidy in my mind; it doesn’t make a clean narrative.

Today’s observation: for the second time in as many days I saw a phrase on Facebook: “Ladies (and non-binary folks)”. It struck me that “non-binary” somehow has a meaning of which I’m unaware, and context suggests that whatever it means, I don’t belong in whatever category of humans it describes.

Backstory: when I was in my early twenties, I had this idea that all knowledge and all fields of endeavor should be open to all humans. I was offended by the idea of “women’s work” and “men’s knowledge,” considering such categories as oppressive as “whites only” facilities. I briefly dated a woman who, among other things, was big into herbal medicine. She had some herbal abortifacient that she was preparing for someone and I asked her about it and she told me it was none of my business, that it was women’s knowledge, and there was no good reason that I should know it. At the time, I was outraged.

More backstory: I’m a white man. I grew up in a secure economic environment. I had no trouble getting an education, nor really any long-term trouble getting a job. So, I’m a member of the privileged class, and I always have been. I have this ideal of equality that means I encounter people telling their own stories about coming from a place of less privilege and I am sympathetic, but I know that I don’t have equivalent experience and that I can’t really say anything useful about their stories.

And now, my evolved position: there are some discussions in which it is not helpful for me to contribute. While I still feel like it’s wrong to categorically exclude all men, all women, all people of <fill in the color> from any profession or access to a particular book, I also feel like it’s best to consider first whether agitating for access is even something I want. Do I have anything useful to say on the topic of black women’s experience in academia? Not really. Nor do I feel like I have any enlightenment to offer in many other situations. There are terms that I encounter that are utterly mysterious to me — “intersectional feminism”, “non-binary people” — and now instead of feeling offended at being cut off from the conversation, I feel relieved. These terms are code and they are reliable markers of stories and discussions to which I have nothing useful to contribute. Check it out! There’s a conversation where I don’t have to worry about untangling what’s going on and then trying to come up with something insightful to say! It’s not about me. That, right there, is a gift.

Published by pirateguillermo

I play the bagpipes. I program computers. I support my family in their various endeavors, and I enjoy my wonderful life.

One thought on “Restricted Knowledge

  1. Lise Quintana – Northern California – Lise Quintana, head of Zoetic Press, is a writer, editor, and podcaster from Santa Cruz. She blogs about her own weight journey at
    Lise Quintana says:

    I think that you’re getting the wrong message. It’s not that you’re being excluded, but that this is specifically not your experience. Therefore, you’re right, you probably won’t have any relevant experience to contribute to a conversation, but I think that it’s important to be able to *hear* the conversations, if only so that you can understand other people’s perspectives. You don’t know what you don’t know until someone else tells it to you. But I agree that it’s a mistake to dismiss anyone who is explicitly asking to be included in the discussion. If we want white men to acknowledge our problems and our stories, shouldn’t white men be allowed to hear them?

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