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Benevolent Sexism from a Different Angle

Posted by Curt on Friday, 28 May 2010

This post is the third 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 benevolent sexism.

I have a story.  Studying male privilege a few years ago, I couldn’t help but to think of the privileges women seem to enjoy.  I couldn’t help but to think of how women generally live longer, how women are generally regarded as the best caregivers, and how women are not as pressured as men to find a well paying job and using that as a measure of their own personal self worth.  Indeed, in the way male privilege was presented, it appeared extremely one-sided because it presented men generally as better off and women generally as victims (although I should note that the author of the male privilege checklist did state this was not the case in his introduction – however, that point is often ignored by many feminists and anti-feminists all around).  So I sought out a female privilege checklist on Google that contradicted this notion and sure enough, I did find a number of them.  None of them were official, so I took some of the best points I saw (and created one or two of my own – I forget which ones) and compiled them into a female privilege checklist:

“1. I have a much lower chance of being murdered than a man.

2. I have a much lower chance of being driven to successfully commit suicide than a man.

3. I have a lower chance of being a victim of a violent assault than a man.

4. I have probably been taught that it is acceptable to cry.

5. I will probably live longer than the average man.

6. Most people in society probably will not see my overall worthiness as a person being exclusively tied to how high up in the hierarchy I rise.

7. I have a much better chance of being considered to be a worthy mate for someone, even if I’m unemployed with little money, than a man.

Women are indeed less likely to die on the job.

8. I am given much greater latitude to form close, intimate friendships with members of my own sex than a man is.

9. My chance of suffering a work-related injury or illness is significantly lower than a man’s.

10. My chance of being killed on the job is a tiny fraction of a man’s.

11. I do not feel obligated to sacrifice a career I may enjoy for a higher paying career, and if I choose a lower paying career, I do not have to fear my personal self worth being called into question by society.

12. If I shy away from fights, it is unlikely that this will damage my standing in my peer group or call into question my worthiness as a sex partner.

13. If I see someone else being attacked, I’m not expected to risk my own safety to defend them. It’s okay for me to wait for others to intervene, and it’s also okay for me to criticize others if they don’t.

14. I am not generally expected to be capable of violence. If I lack this capacity, this will generally not be seen as a damning personal deficiency.

15. I’m entitled to the benefits of a safe, orderly society, but no one expects me to risk my personal safety to maintain it.

16. If I was born in North America since WWII, I can be almost certain that my genitals were not mutilated soon after birth, without anesthesia.

17. If I attempt to hug a friend in joy, it’s much less likely that my friend will wonder about my sexuality or pull away in unease.

18. If I seek a hug in solace from a close friend, I’ll have much less concern about how my friend will interpret the gesture or whether my worthiness as a member of my gender will be called into question.

19. I generally am not compelled by the rules of my gender to wear emotional armor in interactions with most people.

20. I am allowed to BE vulnerable, playful, and soft without calling my worthiness as a human being into question.

21. If I interact with other people’s children — particularly people I don’t know very well — I do not have to worry much about the interaction being misinterpreted.

22. If I commit a crime, I will likely be treated much more leniently in a court of law than would a man who had committed the same crime.

23. If I have trouble accommodating to some aspects of gender demands, I have a much greater chance than a man does of having a sympathetic audience to discuss the unreasonableness of the demand, and a much lower chance that this failure to accommodate will be seen as signifying my fundamental inadequacy as a member of my gender.

24. I am less likely to be shamed for being sexually inactive than a man.

25. From my late teens through menopause, for most levels of sexual attractiveness, it is easier for me to find a sex partner at my attractiveness level than it is for a man.

26. My role in my child’s life is generally seen as more important than the child’s father’s role.

27. If I am caring for a baby in public, my restroom is more likely to have a changing table.

28. While on a date or out at dinner with a friend of the opposite sex, I can expect him to pay for the entire bill regardless of my income or his income.

29. If I become pregnant, I and I alone choose whether to terminate the pregnancy or have the baby. As a result, I can be reasonably certain that I will never be held financially responsible for a child I didn’t want to have, and that I will never have my unborn child aborted without my consent.”

And my all time favorite:

“30. Although I am every bit as likely as a man to allow my sex drive to compromise my judgment, I will never be accused of thinking with my clitoris.”

If only it were so simple, right?  As I explained in the last post on male privilege, “privilege” needs to somehow be both a manifestation of and reinforcement of the social stratification of society (patriarchy) in a way that favors the group in power.  This thus disqualifies female privilege as a legitimate system of privilege according to many feminists.  Finally Feminism 101 explains below:

“[W]hat is commonly called “female privilege” is better described as benevolent sexism. Systems like the draft and chivalry often seem advantageous to women at first glance, but when examined more closely they in fact reinforce sexist institutions that keep both women and men from true equality. Also, it should be noted that, while men have what’s called male privilege that doesn’t mean that there must logically be a ‘female privilege’ counterpart.”

It goes on:

“While feminists do agree that the practices that are commonly ascribed to “female privilege” (such as women being the recipients of chivalric practices) are expressions of inequality, they disagree that such practices should be considered a form of institutionalized privilege. This is because being rewarded for not going against the status quo and being the recipient of institutional privilege are not the same thing. The system of privilege uses that kind of reward system in order to perpetuate itself, but the existence of a reward isn’t proof in of itself of privilege. Instead, they use the term benevolent sexism to describe the practices because of how they are tied to the greater narrative of sexism in traditions/the status quo.”

To put in simpler words, female privilege should be regarded as “benevolent sexism” because, while women do benefit from it, those “privileges” are a manifestation and reinforcement of patriarchy – and, as we know, patriarchy is what benefits men overall, not women.  It is created by men for men (hence the “benevolence” – men were kind of enough to give women those rewards).  Therefore, calling it female privilege is missing the point according to most feminists because acknowledging it as such would suggest that women get an equal share of rewards overall from that patriarchy, which they do not think is true (hence the “sexism”).  Feminism attacking male privilege, therefore, would consequently lead to the end of female privileges in the minds of many feminists as it should be attacking the patriarchy itself by extension.


Divorce courts are said to favor women.

Personally, I think a lot of that is a terribly one-sided.  As I’ve mentioned in my post on patriarchy, patriarchy appears more like a broader cultural tendency rather than a system that specifically favors males.  And you know, I think feminists would agree with my characterization of it as a broader cultural tendency – but the point is, it’s how they spin it.  If Finally Feminism 101 is to be believed, feminists generally do recognize that women get a certain set of privileges; they simply spin it as benevolent sexism.  So it would be unfair to say that feminists deny this, and in conjunction with their overall viewpoint of society, this does make sense.  But it’s that overall viewpoint I take issue with and thus the spin itself.

Sometimes these privileges are downplayed by feminists, and other times they’re out right rejected.  Feminists aren’t exactly being hypocrites here.  You will notice that a lot of feminists dislike chivalry (the man insisting on paying for the dinner) because they’ll see how leaves the implication that women are dependent on men, whether for money, protection, or what have you.

But that’s just from one angle, a female centric angle.  What does the man paying for dinner suggest to men?  You will notice from the graph on the right that it’s men who typically reinforce this notion, who believe that they should be the ones paying for the date – very similar to how slut bashing seems to be primarily reinforced by women more than men, as I mentioned in the last post.  Why is this?  It leaves a very different sort of implication to men than women from what I can tell.  Because so many men are inclined to measure their own personal self worth according to how much money they make (how much they win, you could say), paying for a date seems to be almost showing that how much they can afford.  Failure to do so may perhaps leave many men feeling inadequate – not necessarily because they feel weak compared to their date (how would they if they paid an equal share?), but because they feel like it makes them look and feel bad as a result of what I’ve described.

Thus from a male centric angle, men paying for a dinner suggests that this is a manifestation of men being accustomed to defining themselves according to how much money they make, rather than trying to make women be dependent on them.  Of course, one could argue that the two complement each other quite well, and indeed, I think they do.  However, that is hardly a reason to simply ignore a male centric perspective outright and act on a completely female centric perspective.  A balanced perspective is absolutely necessary for a movement toward any kind of gender equality, and, as I’ve made clear already, is what I think feminism completely fails to do and is generally unwilling to reform itself to better incorporate it.

And indeed, let us not ignore the benefits feminism has brought women.  Women are now able to cross over into many traditionally male roles without very many social repercussions, but the reverse is not true.  Could this not be seen as a privilege in and of itself?  This is empowerment, and while women are certainly not fully empowered yet, men have not even begun to be empowered despite whatever privileges men may generally have as a gender.  This is why I keep hammering this point over and over – it is absolutely essential to see in order to comprehend my dissatisfaction with feminism and genesis of this blog.  And this is not to suggest that feminists somehow created these privileges; rather, it’s simply that they approach it from such a female centric perspective that they blind themselves to it and thus what I believe is the real approach to gender equality.

I should note, female privileges extend beyond chivalry itself, though it is perhaps the most popular example.  Reading through the checklist would make that clear – women certainly do live longer, suffer from work related deaths far less, are victims of violent assault in fewer numbers, generally not discouraged from showing emotion, are favored in divorce courts, etc.  But I think it’s foolhardy to downplay these privileges as if they’re not as important (who defines these values?) or as “benevolent sexism”.  This kind of one-sidedness will not lead to gender equality; in fact, it will lead nothing more than what’s likely a perpetual victim mentality among women, at least until women become so much more empowered over men that it’s no longer possible to ignore it.


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