The first time I heard the word privilege used in place of an -ist word, I thought it was a great refinement. Instead of “racist” you can have “white privilege.” Instead of being “weightist” you can “thin privilege,” instead of being a “male chauvinist” you have “male privilege.” It works for just about everything, and as such it’s been overused.
It’s also been misused. An -ist word seems to subscribe to a certain kind of philosophy, whereas “privilege” suggests a kind of obliviousness. It says you don’t know because you’ve never been there. It describes the kinds of assumptions we make because we incorrectly extrapolate our experiences on to everyone else. But most people just seem to have done a search-and-replace, shouting privilege when they used to shout -ist. The only advantage there is that it is jargony and takes longer to say.
We need to step back a bit from it. When we are talking about how people talk, it’s really handy. But we should never say to someone’s face “you have x privilege.” We need to speak more plainly and directly about it:
Because you are skinny, no one as ever sighed as you sat down next to them on a plane. Because you are male, you’ve never been threatened with sexual assault just for expressing an opinion.
It’s harder to write this way when you have all those spiffy jargon words that express ideas so much more succinctly between people who speak the language. But it has more of a chance of actually making a difference.