Today I had to explain the concept of male privilege and it was profoundly disappointing.
I was talking to a person who, along with being a male programmer, is one of my best friends and someone I trust.
His confusion stemmed from two fundamental issues. First, he didn’t believe he’d witnessed sexism in tech, or anywhere else. Second, he felt the word “privilege” shouldn’t be used to describe basic rights that everyone should have.
We both learned something important. He learned that male privilege is 100% a thing. I learned how demoralizing it can be when people we consider “ours”, don’t see a problem that we struggle with so fundamentally.
I’m used to defending my experiences (especially working in tech) to the world. I’m used to having my feelings and thoughts go unvalidated. I can rationalize that because those people don’t know who I truly am. They have no obligation to see the world from my point of view. But when it comes to someone who I believe cares about me, I expect more. The dismissal of my point of view hurts.
In my friend’s defence, he was eager to hear my thoughts. The issue wasn’t rooted in any kind of overt sexism but in naiveté. In some ways, that’s worse. This is a problem that can’t be solved without the support of the men who currently hold the power. If they don’t believe there’s an issue because it’s not tangible in their world, we’re left shouting into the desert: no one around to hear us, no one around to speak for us when we don’t have a seat at the table.
Maisie Williams recently stated, “I think we should stop calling feminists ‘feminists’ and just start calling people who aren’t feminist ‘sexist’ — and then everyone else is just a human. You are either a normal person, or a sexist.”
In an ideal world, she’s absolutely correct. However, there’s a less than ideal world out there where people are so blinded by their privilege that they don’t believe they have any.
That’s a problem. Societal norms are incredibly difficult to change, especially when they’re directed at children (here’s looking at you, Barbie). Societal change requires buy-in from those who have the power, not just the people being discriminated against.
If the people who hold the power now, even the truly good people, don’t see that there’s a problem, how will it ever be solved? This isn’t a rhetorical question. I don’t have an answer, but I’m convinced that ignorance is part of the issue. I would love to hear your thoughts! Please respond to this post and share them.
The Brock Turner case highlights white, male, and class privilege in a way that all the words I write never could. If you haven’t caught up yet, I highly recommend reading the incredibly powerful victim’s statement, and the statements from Brock’s father, and Brock.
Although Brock Turner has been found guilty of three felonies, and without a doubt sexually assaulted this young woman, he hasn’t apologized for anything more than “binge drinking” and succumbing to “sexual promiscuity” and “party culture”. My reaction to this is pure rage at the injustice of it all.
Although his sentence could have been 14 years, Brock has been sentenced to just 6 months in county prison. It’s suspected he’ll serve no more than 3 months with good behaviour. That, combined with his insistence that all he’s guilty of is drinking too much and his father’s statement that says he might never be able to enjoy a good steak again, is an absolute insult to every woman in the world.
So, you’re right, my dear friend. Having people automatically confer authority and respect on you because of your gender shouldn’t be a privilege. Every one of us should automatically be respected. But we aren’t and until we all are, the fact that you are treated that way is, in fact, your privilege.
As a child, seeing representations in the media of who you could be, should be the norm. But it isn’t. And until it is, that’s your privilege.
Being seen as confident instead of bossy when you’re asserting your opinion should be the norm. But it isn’t. That’s your privilege.
Being able to have one too many drinks with your friends at a party, and not have someone be able to make a legal argument that any reasonable person would have expected to have sex that night, shouldn’t be a privilege. But that’s our reality. Until it isn’t, the fact that you can exist without fear of being not only raped, but re-victimized in court where someone asks you intimate details about your personal relationships (as if that has anything to do with the man who literally dragged you behind a dumpster), is your privilege.
You asked me today how I would fix it. I don’t have a grand plan, but I know that education is a start. I will start with you.
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