I recently came across something that made me wonder why I haven’t yet written anything about male privilege. It’s very topical amongst the Tumblr blogs I follow at the moment and I’m going to jump on the bandwagon and write a little post about my thoughts and experiences. If I fuck up because of my own privilege at any point, please don’t be afraid to call me out on it.
So what exactly is privilege? In an anti-oppression context, it can be summarised as advantages which people have based on their social status. As Betty eloquently explains here:
Privilege is not: About you. Privilege is not your fault. Privilege is not anything you’ve done, or thought, or said. It may have allowed you to do, or think, or say things, but it’s not those things, and it’s not because of those things. Privilege is not about taking advantage, or cheating, although privilege may make this easier. Privilege is not negated. I can’t balance my white privilege against my female disadvantage and come out neutral. Privilege is not something you can be exempt from by having had a difficult life. Privilege is not inherently bad. It really isn’t.
Privilege is: About how society accommodates you. It’s about advantages you have that you think are normal. It’s about you being normal, and others being the deviation from normal. It’s about fate dealing from the bottom of the deck on your behalf.
There are numerous types of privilege: white, male, heterosexual, monosexual, cissexual, thin. (Cissexual) male privilege is the advantages afforded to a male by society purely because of his gender. There is a basic checklist here for those who would like examples.
The reason why I’m blogging about this is because one of my male pro-feminist friends posted a Facebook status shortly after being called out on privilege during a discussion about a film with a friend. The status said that he was taking a break from politics, partially because of being “nagged and complained about for ‘sexist’ subtext more than pro-lifers and masculinists and people who call feminists man-hating lesbians”.
Ignoring the obvious exaggeration of the amount of time that was spent pointing out the offensiveness of his remark, his choice of language alone just screams privilege. It’s all too easy to paint feminists as whining bitches when they say something you don’t want to hear and to attempt to undermine their legitimate concerns about sexism. And as women we don’t have the luxury of taking a break from it all. Oppression is not something we can ignore. It is an everyday reality.
By his own admittance, feeling guilty and hypocritical isn’t pleasant. It usually provokes an instinctively defensive reaction, such as in the case of Laci Green, the feminist YouTube blogger who was called out on transphobia, Islamophobia and fat-shaming. Her defensive and patronising ‘apologies’ provoked outcry. It’s also not unusual for a person with privilege to feel sorry for themselves when they’re called out on something, especially when they consider themselves an ally of an oppressed group. But being an ally means questioning your own privilege and acknowledging the constructive criticism of people from that group. Who cares if you feel sore about the fact that you’ve been called out on it? Contributing to the feminist movement and holding feminist beliefs does not mean that you should be immune from criticism. Facing your privilege isn’t fun, either. It isn’t supposed to be. I’ve had to face my thin privilege and cissexual privilege and I’m not proud of it, but I accept that I need to educate myself on oppression which I have never faced and which I will never truly understand. If someone calls me out on it, I swallow my pride and learn from it. So if you forget your privilege in the future, don’t be hurt or offended. Apologise, take note, and learn. You can be a male pro-feminist with a burning desire to smash the patriarchy, but how is this going to happen if you don’t acknowledge and learn from your own mistakes, if you don’t question the set of privileges afforded to you as a man? All About Male Privilege hits the nail on the head:
“Male privilege is declaring that “you’re not like those other men!” while in the same breath shifting the focus of the conversation from women to how you’re such a good ally look at me and all I do for women. Sit down and shut the fuck up, let women speak for themselves and stop derailing.”
On a similar note, I recently talked to a pro-feminist man who was offended by someone on Twitter. She reportedly said it was disgusting that a man was hitting on her sister; that it was the reason her sister wore the hijab – because she felt safer; and that all men hit on women they find attractive. He felt it was unfair that all men were being tarred with the same brush.
It’s unsurprising that he reacted in this way. But when you’re part of an oppressed group which is constantly undermined, marginalised and ignored, you’re going to get angry. For example, when trans people use the phrase ‘die cis scum’, I know they aren’t talking to me; they’re talking about transphobes. I don’t feel the need to say to them “WE’RE NOT ALL BAD, OMG STOP GENERALISING, MY FEELINGS ARE SO HURT STOP OPPRESSING ME YOU’RE JUST AS BAD AS I AM”. Being an ally means recognising someone’s anger because they are sick of being treated as second class citizens. From a feminist’s perspective, as a man you owe nothing to them. You’re someone who will never truly understand what it’s like to be so scared of men that you wear a hijab. And sometimes, even if you feel personally offended, you have to let something go. In the words of Bikini Kill:
“I’m so sorry if I’m alienating some of you. Your whole fucking culture alienates me.”