All manifestations of privilege – micro-aggressions, jokes at the expense of marginalized groups, taking advantage of the unequal playing field, and denying your own privilege, which is the core mechanic of privilege itself – require Sartrean ‘bad faith’. Bad faith is when you fool yourself, when you tell yourself lies because it’s easier that way. Good faith is when you face up to the reality before you, no matter how hard.
It is necessary for the maintenance of privilege that it function invisibly. Any attempts to question privilege – “don’t tell me to smile, asshole” – can thus be painted as weird over-reactions, and feminism can be seen as the problem rather than the diagnosis. Any power that must function invisibly, I want to argue, is a power that depends upon bad faith. Deep down, we guys know that women are people like us, not subhuman Sex and the City gigglers or incomprehensible angelic beings. But we won’t and can’t admit it to ourselves. Privilege is powerful, yes, but it relies on this fragile self-deception. A look can shatter it.