Politics, Privilege

Now that I have checked my male privilege…

As a graduate student, I have been checking my male privilege for several years. As a man I am more likely to run governments and corporations due to my gender, and I have the privilege of not seeing much of that privilege.

Overlapping dimensions such as race, sexual orientation, and sex/gender can shape my male privilege in a variety of ways. However, as of late I have been deeply intrigued by dissent on the topic, including Emma C. Williams’s article suggesting that making someone “check their privilege” has become a polemic bludgeon against freedom of thought, which could promote resentment from powerless groups.

There is a tendency for many feminists to essentialize gender victimization into simplistic binary camps – of good and evil – even though privilege is an under-developed concept.

The flagship thinking on male privilege is the male privilege checklist, a revised version of Peggy McIntosh’s brilliant White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. McIntosh discusses how privilege enjoyed by white people is invisible to them. The male privilege checklist simply substitutes “white” for “men,” but it’s not that simple. Race and gender are experienced in different ways. White people are not racialized, but men are gendered under patriarchy. Men in child custody disputes, criminal courts, and caring occupations (clearly a non-exhaustive list) routinely see their gender as a disadvantage. As a white male, I find it much harder to be male than white. When bloggers can compile a reactionary, but convincing, “female privilege checklist,” any kind of gendered privilege checklist only proves privileges within specific social contexts. For every women who is called a derogatory label, there is a man being called a creep or loser.

Privilege is two sides of the same coin. Men are privileged at the macro-level of social interaction. In short, men run society because they hold the vast majority of power. The other side of the privilege coin is the micro-level. There is a successful resistance against historical privileges enjoyed by men as a group.

As Michel Foucault states, power in (post)modernity is constantly resisted and is not possessed by individuals. For instance, university professors as a group have “power” over students as a group, but this is not necessarily always the case because the student has documented rights and student associations, which can resist the power and privilege of a professor. The same goes for gender. Men’s macro power has been rightfully resisted through bureaucratization from a strong feminist lobby, government programs for women and girls, and the like. Men’s power does not automatically translate into a privileged experience, there is some turbulence between the two.

Both the resistance against, and promotion of, patriarchy can deem men (and women) both powerful and powerless due to situational context. Men are powerless in many contexts, including the context of men being around children. They are often seen as abusive or predatory. Men face airline policies that make them change seats when seated beside an unaccompanied minor. Men who shop in bookstores alone can be kicked out of the children’s section. Frustrated fathers are much more likely to be seen as abusers. Male educators teaching younger children are seen as potentially predatory. This is ‘androphobia’ – the socially constructed fear of men.

At a micro level – in everyday interactions – women have the privilege of not being feared based on their gender. This privilege does not mean that women are privileged as a group, far from it. But the privilege discourse is obsessed with the macro privilege and greatly neglects micro/situational privilege(s). Other situational privileges could include individuals who have an articulate command of the dominant language, while others do not.  Certainly a well-dressed individual will be treated better than if she wears a sports hoodie. What about overweight individuals, who may be healthy, getting overlooked for jobs or dates because they are deemed a “slob?”

These examples often sit outside the strict vertical hierarchy of privileged identity. (Certainly, one can go down the intersectional rabbit-hole until the ideal “privileged” individual is found, but that individual would only exist in conceptual thinking). Privilege as a concept, is constructed as a “fact” or “truth” through language and shared meanings when used over and over again. Yet there is no objective formula for finding it. Men are taught to not think about gender – especially when their masculinity or self-expression is mocked as “male tears” by dogmatic activists.

After checking my male privilege, I’ve learned that men are unable to see their privilege, but they are also unable to see their disadvantage.

 

J.J. Vaughan is a graduate student in sociology. You can follow him on Twitter @Redtoryism

Latest posts by Jim Vaughan (see all)

9 Comments

  1. Pingback: Now That I Have Checked My Male Privilege… -

  2. “Men face airline policies that make them change seats when seated beside an unaccompanied minors. Men who shop in bookstores alone can be kicked out of the children’s section. Frustrated fathers are much more likely to be seen as abusers. Male educators teaching younger children are seen as potentially predatory.”

    This is all important, but don’t be afraid to to go for the jugular. While men occupy the top, they also occupy the bottom, i.e. more likely be homeless, dead and maimed in war, and working the most dangerous occupations.

    • Andres says

      “Muffins with Mom” sounds like a great day for an elementary school parent unless of course you are a single Dad.

      • Joe Dokes says

        Our kids school has both Muffins with mom and Dads and Doughnuts (spelled incorrectly as donuts naturally).

        So although I’m not a single dad, I do take time off work to attend Dads and Doughnuts. The other thing I notice is that there are a lot of fathers who come to a variety of activity well beyond Dads and Doughnuts.

  3. aeilea says

    In recent years, it has been refreshing to see how so many North American and European men have put a lot of effort in building gender equity… like Jimmy Carter (http://www.bustle.com/articles/104161-7-wonderful-jimmy-carter-quotes-on-womens-rights-that-will-make-him-your-new-favorite-feminist ) and Jackson Katz (http://www.jacksonkatz.com/) Yet, this cannot really be said for many other countries in the world. (http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/ng-interactive/2014/feb/04/womens-rights-country-by-country-interactive )

    Male privilege exists not only on the marco level, it also exists on a micro level. For example: feeling safe enough to walk down the street alone at night in most any country in the world, being paid equally to others based on merit, being able to not attract attention from most rapists/predators (https://rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-victims ), being respected as the boss at the workplace and not expected to also take care of all the house and child work at the same time, getting cheaper dry cleaning and hair cuts, not expected to wear uncomfortable heeled shoes to look taller and/or make up to be more attractive,…. the list goes on as any could.

    Privileges, whether micro or macro, need to come to an equitable balance. It needs to become a part of our human evolution. A Feminist is equal to Masculinist. They both believe in equal and equitable rights. That is why I appreciate this type of article. It helps women understand men’s struggles with the female push for equity. There needs to be a balance. Together in partnership is the only way we will ever overcome the obstacles and stereotypes that are holding both men and women all back on all macro or micro levels. Women need men to champion that, but not in a way that becomes harmful to them.

    • Joe Dokes says

      It’s funny how you quickly rattle off a variety of “Micro” Privilege supposedly enjoyed by men. Few of which are supported by actual evidence.

      While men may feel confident or unafraid to walk down the street at night that doesn’t make it a smart thing to do. A man is FAR more likely to be a victim of a violent crime than a woman. Thus, while women are more likely to be raped, men are much more likely to be murdered, be the victim of attempted murder, and be the victim of aggravated assault. Thus, it is women who are actually smart or at least careful. By avoiding that dark street late at night they are preventing themselves from being the victim. Men on the other hand are more likely to throw caution to the wind and end up a victim.

      As far as being paid equally, when one factors in the reality of time off and career choice the 78 cents on the dollar magically become 97 cents on the dollar, still a slightly inequitable situation but far from a gross injustice that 78 cents is.

      As others have stated the reality of “checking ones privilege” is that in totality it is a way to demean someones opinion and to shut down discourse before it can even begin. By asking someone to “Check their Privilege” it implies that they have some unmistakable privilege to assert. This simply isn’t always the case. For example, it has been revealed that one of the leading black protesters at Missouri University was the son of a railroad executive with an 8 million dollar annual salary. I wonder how often he feels it necessary to “Check his 1/10 of 1% privilege?

      The key to ending the stupidity of things like “Check Your Privilege” is something as simple as changing it to, “Have a little empathy.” And guess what, white people are capable of empathizing with people of color. Straight people are capable of empathizing with gay and lesbian people. And men are capable of empathizing with women. Just as importantly People of Color, women, and gays can all learn to empathize with their counterparts as well. In many settings at the university it is assumed that minorities automatically know and understand the dominant culture. As a result, there is not effort in explaining to women the notion of male or masculinity. For people of color there is no effort to explain the dominant culture it is simply assumed that people of color understand the dominant culture. The reality is that women frequently don’t understand men, and people of color don’t understand whites (for lack of a better term).

  4. Will Shetterly says

    The problem with privilege lists is they ignore social class. A working-class man is far less likely to run governments or corporations than a woman from the economic elite.

  5. If you’re going to start with the defective notion of “privilege,” you’re likely to end up considering pseudo-problems, hence, arriving, at best, at pseudo-solutions. Discrimination of various kinds is real and important in various places, but “privilege” is generally illusory or trivial or irrelevant. If police unjustly target blacks, that’s discrimination/oppression against/of blacks; it’s not a “privilege” of whites. One way to see this is that if A has an indefensible privilege relative to B, any injustice in the situation can be eliminated by taking the advantage way from A. But, for example, disenfranchisement of blacks is not a problem that can be solved by disenfranchising whites at the same rate. That won’t solve the problem in question. The more accurate, relevant and useful concepts in this vicinity are the ordinary ones of injustice, disadvantage, and discrimination.
    Furthermore, as is so often the case with the shoddy terminology, concepts and theories produced by activist sectors of the academy, the term ‘privilege’ trails a theory along behind it, and is a way to get the theory entrenched in thought as a result of the acceptance of the trendy terminology. “Privilege theory” generally includes the claim that the “privileged” gain from the fact that others are non-privileged. But this isn’t so. Whites don’t gain anything *qua* whites from black disenfranchisement. It’s not a zero-sum game. (Of course you can always make up a just-so story in such a case…and that’s how such things survive.)
    The real point of all this is probably that the illiberal left would like to shift attention from the challenges associated with being black or a woman and onto a kind of oblique criticism of e.g. whites and men. This is a fairly common attribute of that sector of the spectrum: they’re commonly more interested in criticizing members of groups they dislike than they are in addressing the real problems of those who face discrimination and injustice.
    Finally, part of the problem here is that the relevant political views are strongly influenced by e.g. postmodernism, Foucault, etc., as mentioned in the piece. These are not movements/people known for their careful analytical thought…
    And the claim that the embarrassing bit about the “invisible knapsack” is “brilliant”…well…that’s something that the author really ought to re-think.
    Consequently, I don’t think that the right course of action here is to enter into some kind of fine-grained discussion of imaginary “male privilege” and countervailing effects of “female privilege”… Rather, it’s to dump the whole approach. “Privilege” just isn’t the right concept with which to think about the relevant phenomena. Sometimes I think that the concept itself is promoted merely because it functions in the annoying “check your…” context to block criticism of certain trendy positions.

  6. Alex says

    “The problem with privilege lists is they ignore social class. A working-class man is far less likely to run governments or corporations than a woman from the economic elite.”

    Previous campaigns of the sort focused overwhelmingly on class, and such relatively recent rhetoric was supposed to address this imbalance. Unfortunately, in many cases this goes too far and leaves class out of the picture completely. More recently, however, privilege checklists do acknowledge class.

    “privilege” is generally illusory or trivial or irrelevant. If police unjustly target blacks, that’s discrimination/oppression against/of blacks; it’s not a “privilege” of whites.”

    If you’re able to avoid being unjustly targeted by police, that’s a privilege of sorts.

    “Privilege theory” generally includes the claim that the “privileged” gain from the fact that others are non-privileged. But this isn’t so. ”

    It depends wholly on the circumstances in question, and gaining from oppression isn’t a rare phenomenon or a hypothetical. Some white people gain from black disenfranchisement; others do not.

    “They’re commonly more interested in criticizing members of groups they dislike than they are in addressing the real problems of those who face discrimination and injustice.”

    Well, the two are often interrelated, so criticism isn’t necessarily a distraction. But of course it’s easier to criticise than come up with solutions.

    “The key to ending the stupidity of things like “Check Your Privilege” is something as simple as changing it to, “Have a little empathy.”

    The point is the division in circumstances, not just what the oppressed person faces.

    “In many settings at the university it is assumed that minorities automatically know and understand the dominant culture. As a result, there is not effort in explaining…”

    Why should oppressed groups bear the brunt of having to understand? Communication requires two sides.

    “This is all important, but don’t be afraid to to go for the jugular. While men occupy the top, they also occupy the bottom, i.e. more likely be homeless, dead and maimed in war, and working the most dangerous occupations.”

    Although true, this is highly misleading. Men are more likely to be dead or maimed in war because armies won’t allow women to fight. Men work in the most dangerous occupations either because they discriminate against women or because more men choose to go into them, knowing full well what challenges they bring – not because they are forced into doing dangerous work (they may face this as well, but that isn’t the point).

Comments are closed.