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Male Privilege or One-Sided Nonsense?

Posted by Curt on Wednesday, 26 May 2010

This post is the second of a series of three posts dealing with three central tenants of (third wave) feminism.  They include that of patriarchy, male privilege, and benevolent sexism (also known as “female privilege”).  These concepts are often misunderstood by non-feminists, to which feminists scoff at when presented with such a misinformed critique.  It is therefore my goal for these three posts to explain and analyze these three tenants so as to better enable myself and my readers to approach feminism fully informed and fair-mindedly.  This post will deal with male privilege.

Male privilege is perhaps best seen as an extension of the patriarchy, how it beneficially impacts men in their everyday lives.  It is what allows patriarchy to exist, for it is both the manifestation of patriarchy and reinforces it.  Finally Feminism 101 defines privilege itself as such:

“Privilege, at its core, is the advantages that people benefit from based solely on their social status. It is a status that is conferred by society to certain groups, not seized by individuals, which is why it can be difficult sometimes to see one’s own privilege.

Male privilege, therefore, is:

“Male privilege is a set of privileges that are given to men as a class due to their institutional power in relation to women as a class. While every man experiences privilege differently due to his own individual position in the social hierarchy, every man, by virtue of being read as male by society, benefits from male privilege.”

Essentially, it is a series of privilege given to men by society which all men share due to their gender.  By definition, women are thus excluded from these privileges and cannot enjoy them.  This ultimately puts women at a disadvantage, on balance, to men in society.  This is why many feminists consistently point out male privilege and fight it so vigorously.

And to be fair, Finally Feminism 101 does note that privilege is very situational – two white, heterosexual males might not necessarily benefit from the same privilege because it’s extremely dynamic, always dependent on the situation itself.

Male privilege is a crucial tenant to third wave feminism.  Unlike patriarchy, male privilege was not conceived under second wavers for the most part – it was first conceived during the late 80s, around the same time white privilege and other institutional privileges were conceived.  Peggy McIntosh’s landmark study “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”, published in 1990, explains white privilege, from which she also noted that a male privilege exists and intersects very much with white privilege.  Barry Deutsch, on Alas, a Blog, inspired by this, organized male privilege into a checklist similar to McIntosh’s white privilege checklist to better highlight it to those who otherwise wouldn’t understand the theory behind it.

Below is a list of a few of the points made to highlight it:

“My odds of being hired for a job, when competing against female applicants, are probably skewed in my favor. The more prestigious the job, the larger the odds are skewed.

I am far less likely to face sexual harassment at work than my female co-workers are.

On average, I am taught to fear walking alone after dark in average public spaces much less than my female counterparts are.

If I seek political office, my relationship with my children, or who I hire to take care of them, will probably not be scrutinized by the press.

Even if I sleep with a lot of women, there is no chance that I will be seriously labeled a “slut,” nor is there any male counterpart to “slut-bashing”.

If I have a wife or live-in girlfriend, chances are we’ll divide up household chores so that she does most of the labor, and in particular the most repetitive and unrewarding tasks.”

It should be noted that male privilege is about more than just these checklists.  Specifically, they must relate back to patriarchy, both being a manifestation of it and reinforcing it.  This is essential to the theory – if they do not relate back to patriarchy in any way at all, they are thus inconsequential to it.  This will be important to bear in mind for the next post.


How feminists envision male privilege works.

Male privilege is easy enough to understand, and perhaps there is some truth to it.  I can see some truth in saying that men running for political office are less likely to bescrutinized by the press (or rather, the electorate opposing that candidate), than women about their relationship with their children.  Sarah Palin back in 2008 comes to mind on this, though such remarks were put forward by the seemingly pro-women rights left rather than the right; admittedly however, feminists themselves were usually consistent about not resorting to that even if they generally didn’t like her platform.  All the more reason why gender equality (or the opposition to it) is hardly limited to just one side of the political spectrum.

Either way, it’s good that feminists fight such privileges and seek to grant them to women as well – gender equality would demand nothing less, no?  Of course, I can’t help but to think that feminists may exaggerate it a bit at times.  Women may be shamed from having “too much” (depends on who you’re talking to) sex by calling her a slut, and though true that there is no equivalent word for men with the same connotation, it’s hardly as if men aren’t shamed for having “too much” sex.  The phrase “thinking with his dick” comes to mind, and typically the shame comes from women (though I’ve seen men shame other men for it, usually with a mix of humor in making fun of them for it).  Granted however, it is not on the same extreme as the so called slut bashing, but to ignore it completely is foolish.  You should never dismiss such things because they do not appear “as bad”, unless you wish to fall victim to a one-sided worldview.

I also have a difficult time taking seriously how patriarchy, and by extension male privilege, is something manmade and reinforced by men when I find that more often than not it’s women who engage in things like slut bashing on other women.  If you look at society from an ivory tower, it may not appear that way because you will see it be pushed by men in the media (usually more implicitly, though).  In real life?  Not usually the case.  This brings me back to my high school days, where a girl who got a lot of guys’ attentions was often labeled a “slut” by other girls, regardless of her sexual endeavors.  Most guys as I remember it did not label a girl a slut unless most tended to agree that she slept around a lot or dressed very provocatively (too little both on bottom and top, when I know the unspoken rule is either little on top, much on bottom or vice versa – women tend to police each other on this far more than men, who often aren’t aware of it), and even then did not generally regard is as a degrading characteristic per se.  This is becoming even truer as the fact that it’s perfectly normal and acceptable for women to desire and have sex is becoming acknowledged more and more all around, which, believe it or not, guys generally are perfectly fine with.

This all is not to say that women can’t be “anti-women” as feminists would describe it – but more like if this all is going to be spun as something by men for men, you would think that such reinforcements were pushed more ardently by women than men.  This to me suggests that “patriarchy” is perhaps a misnomer – the better word may simply be our culture in general, which for the longest time has been stuck in a “separate in function, equal in respect” stance that needs to be done away with.  To call it all “patriarchy”, as I’ve stated constantly, is part of what screams of a one-sidedness that I can’t get over in feminism and that you can be sure turns a lot of men off to feminism.

Indeed, it is hardly as if men are the only ones who enjoy the benefits of this so called “patriarchy”.  More on that later.


One Response to “Male Privilege or One-Sided Nonsense?”

  1. said

    If a person reads The Myth of Male Power and Glenn Sacks website, I don’t know how she /he could ever see how feminism ever became a credible topic of discusion, or a credible movement.

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