Privilege, Not for Men Only
Male privilege, those two words are often stated as a given or fact, a trump card outranking any other reason or point of discussion, that men have advantages given to them just by virtue of being male, white males. Nevertheless, we might ask, compared to what? Why have we not heard about female privilege? Are there are things not being said? Do females also have privilege? What influenced our present beliefs? Would we then think and feel differently about privilege, men, and women?
Let us start a dialogue on this topic. Since we have heard almost entirely of male privilege, I want to list some of the privileges females have to offer balance to the topic. First, here is American Heritage Dictionary definition of privilege, “A special advantage, immunity, permission, right or benefit granted to or enjoyed by an individual class or caste.”
- Not having to register for selective service
- Five+ years longer life
- Mostly female elementary school teachers
- Girl friendly elementary school teaching techniques
- Only 7% of work related deaths
- “Women and children first” in dangerous situations
- 1 in 4 Suicides
- Can expect to be protected by men
- Only 25% of the homeless
- Treated less harshly than males at all stages of life
- Get most of the child custody awards in divorce
- Much higher funding for breast cancer research than for prostate cancer with the death rates being similar
- Less likely to be evaluated and selected as partners on their status and earning ability
- Experience ½ of the violence that men do
- Tomboys are readily accepted, while male equivalents are not
- Almost total control over reproductive decisions
This list is not comprehensive; there are numbers more, but demonstrates the reality of female privilege. Toni Airaksinen, a columnist for the Columbia Daily Spectator and student at Barnard (women’s college) writes,” Feminism didn’t just make me blind to the truth about men—it made me actively resist learning about it…Once I took off my feminist blinders, I realized that I was fabulously privileged.” We worked to help women get some of the privileges men have. It is now time to acknowledge female privilege and help men benefit from privileges women and girls have long received. Again Toni Airaksinen, “When men lose out women lose too. Many of these are fathers, husbands, and sons.” The tear in the social fabric when a community loses a man has devastating effects in many lives. I hope that we can work together to do this and we can all win.
Why is this not happening? Asserting male privilege is another way of stating that women have disadvantages. Disadvantaged women have been interpreted and defined as victims by determined advocates for women. Victims need someone or some situation to be the victimizer. Who is the victim here, in this case? It is men, the vilified oppressors of women. Such a simple one-sided answer ignores the multi-faceted and complex nature of each issue/privilege. This answer has been used to help gain political support and advantage. Many men who feel the shame, guilt and anger heaped on them, may believe it is true instead of saying, wait a minute, let us look at this more closely. Albert Ellis, the well-known psychologist, states, “…to blame others means you get angry or hostile towards them.” Taken further, male privilege defined and interpreted in this way, has led to anger and disrespect for men even to the point of dehumanizing, demonizing, and hatred.
A phenomenon described by Cass Sunstein in Why Societies Need Dissent is the law of group polarization (as it works on a group of like-minded people), “a deliberating group ends up taking a more extreme position than its median members took before deliberation began…Political extremism is often caused by this.” How often have we heard the words, angry feminist (anger directed at men)? There is a lot of energy and power in anger. It can even be addicting, driving a need for regular fixes, which the strong ideological advocates regularly give. If you are not listening to the whole story, is anger justified and legitimate? Would you even be angry? Chances are, hearing both sides would lead to greater empathy and understanding by both men and women. Redford Williams and Virginia Williams found in one study that aggressive feelings of the participants were “strikingly reduced” after they had listened to a reasonable interpretation of the behavior of the person who angered them.
We all have a group identity, or identities, defined by gender, race, religion, etc. This is a significant part of who we are and can be a good thing. Of course, we want what is best for our group. It is equally important, though, to embrace, respect, and care for the humanity of all people, no exceptions. Hatred and mean-spirited treatment against other groups or individuals of other groups is never justified.
Identifying and defining privilege is very similar to identifying and defining a gender issue. A privilege for women is an issue for men and vice versa. Here are just two of many examples of disparities that can be viewed as privileges versus issues:
Female advantages/privileges Male disadvantages/issues
5 years longer life 5 years earlier death
25 % of homeless persons 75% of homeless persons
An issue does not have life, is not seen as significant unless there are feelings about it, emotions. Male privilege is felt by women as a negative emotion, deprivation, vulnerability, hurt, pain. Female privilege when it is even identified and articulated, which it rarely is, does not raise such negative emotions in men. This should be no surprise since men are not so in touch with their feelings and are loath to admit to any weakness. Just hold it in. This is a major reason why we hear so little about men’s issues and its concomitant, women’s privileges.
For the past 40 years, women have had by far the dominant voice in gender issues. They have selected, chosen what to emphasize, defined, interpreted, publicized, and repeated their issues many times, highly controlling the message, often with the aim of gaining political advantage. They are very effective. Some have called it dominant, authoritarian feminism, unbridled ideology. Women’s control of gender discourse has resulted in millions of government and private dollars to fund programs and agencies helping and promoting women and girls. With this level of essentially absolute power and control, it is possible to develop and promote a convincing case about almost anything regardless of its validity. This way, it is also possible to manipulate people’s thoughts and opinions.
Advocates for men and boys are nearly silenced in the established political structure. They have gotten almost nothing; they are on their own. This has resulted in major distortions in our perceptions of gender, a narrow, parochial view. The constant verbal and psychological battering has a negative effect on the lives of men and can lead to an increase in dysfunctional behaviors and compromised lives. The playing field is in great need of being leveled, and a broader, open-minded, more inclusive, systems oriented, holistic, democratic and collaborative approach used to bring positive change.
A few thoughts about ideology. Its root word is ideal. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines it, “existing as an idea, model, etc.; thought of as perfect; existing only in the mind.” Ideology is defined as, “The doctrines, opinions, etc. of an individual, class, etc.” Generally, ideals are thought of as good. Moreover, different people have different ideals. Different people also have different experiences and perceptions of reality. Who chooses which ideal to promote and prevail? Whose reality and truth is most authentic? Those with strong ideals are quick to say “ours!” Paraphrasing William Saunders in his sermon “Love, Truth and Liberation,” he says an ideology originates with genuine feeling and response to a real or defined problem or circumstance. A theory, an ideal, is created to promote the cause and solution, which is liberating for believers. Such ideals become a system, an ideology, separate from reality and take on lives of their own, denying any truth that does not fit its contrived theories and alternate realities. Alternative truths are actively hidden and dualism pit group against group. Outside ideas are dismissed, often with offensive labels and catch phrases. At the extreme, the other is turned into the enemy. Quoting Saunders, “all ideologies share a hidden tendency, namely that one may control reality through the operation of the mind, that the ideal can be more real than reality,—that sensual experience ̶ is less important than what we think.” Who should choose the solution to diverse perspectives? We all should, through honest, open, respectful, democratic discussion and debate.
There is a lot of power in being a victim, solidarity of victimhood, the belief that some external enemy is the cause. This leads to what forensic psychologist Reid Malloy calls vicarious identification, the moral outrage that comes from the belief that my victimhood is connected to the larger victimization of my group. But Ross Douthart in “Checking Charlie Hebdo’s Privilege” states, “Almost every official hierarchy of victimhood tends towards some kind of blindness or partiality…even the well-meaning can lose their way entirely.” Daniel Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow,” we know that people can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition however absurd when sustained by a community of like-minded believers.”
It is well-known that if something is stated often enough it becomes seen as fact. This then leads to acceptance as common knowledge, common sense and beliefs, even though added perspectives would yield a more accurate and complete picture. Quoting Daniel Kahneman again, “familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.” Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact.” Alternatively, from Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “You’re entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts.” Facts must be kept separate from opinions. It is important that the truth be told, that both men and women be heard. We need full spectrum vision. Conclusions drawn from only one side of any discussion are on very shaky ground. From Edward Lottermen, “There may be cases where I might make bad decisions because important information is missing.” This is one of them. All of us, liberals and conservatives, have blind spots. We want to decide and be done with it. Our challenge is to keep up balance and keep our minds open.
Lotterman points out that the factor of “path dependence’’ is also in effect, “while one path may not necessarily be superior to another before a choice is made, that choice will influence future paths and exclude others.” Chip Heath and Dan Heath in Decisive; How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work puts it this way, “Researchers have found–again and again, when people have the opportunity to collect information from the world, they are likely to select information that supports their preëxisting attitudes, beliefs and actions.” They call this Confirmation Bias. They quote Dan Lovallo, professor at the University of Sidney, “Even the most advanced people get it wrong. They don’t realize they’re cooking the books.” A recent meta-analysis of the psychological literature found that confirmation bias was stronger in emotion-laden domains such as religion or politics. How is such bias confirmed? Again, from Heath and Heath, “We can ask questions that are most likely to surface contrary information.”
It goes against the grain for men to acknowledge that women have privilege and have strengths or that men are in a disadvantaged, weaker position. Admitting to a weakness is traditionally not what men do. Weak men are shunned and disrespected by men and women alike. Have you had such thoughts while reading this? We do not want to hear about it. We may also experience some cognitive dissonance when we hear men talking about some of their issues or articulating broadening perspectives. After all, we have been told many times that men have privilege and women have issues.
We are not likely to hear men talking about their disadvantages and weaknesses. “Real men” do not complain; it is not manly. Most sensitive and aware men do not either. It is both individual and collective macho. Aaron Kipnis says, “…it violates a basic social contract against men acknowledging their pain.” Lisa Zeidner quoted Laura Kipnis in the Washington Post, “…men are considerably more vulnerable than they feel comfortable revealing and more vulnerable than women want them to be.” Men are eager to help, support and protect women, a socialized and innate characteristic and duty, which evolved for survival of the species. Feminists’ strong and often repeated portrayal of how bad things are for women connects directly into men’s traditional and chivalrous impulse to help and support them. Men must get beyond their dependence on women’s approval and be secure enough to recognize and express their own feelings. Women have significant influence in shaping men’s behavior by selecting strong, successful doers as mates. Men are very sensitive to what women want. Both men and women select doers as leaders.
Saying that women’s privilege (men’s disadvantages) is not that big a deal, important or significant is to minimize and trivialize it, a form of denial. Denial can be a shield or barrier when we sense someone or something is getting too close for comfort, to close to a feeling! It reinforces men’s silence and the belief that men are to be tough and strong. Consider carefully the impact each of the privileges listed earlier have on the individual, the family, on the community and the country. Most of these privileges are subjects for research into the impact of each of these on men’s lives and for the ripple effects on others. Keeping our minds open and challenging these beliefs can be unsettling; they are fundamental to our being and part of who we have come to be.
For women, particularly women’s advocates, admitting to advantages and strengths would give an added dimension to and raise challenging questions on their claims of oppression and victimhood. Why would anyone want to jeopardize or possibly give up some of the advantages they for which they have worked so hard? I would start by appealing for equality, the clarion call of the women’s movement. In this case, equality of inquiry and equality in participating in gender dialogue. This is where equality begins. Next, I would say, millions of women and girls have men and boys who are significant in their lives and would very much like to have them become healthier psychologically and physically and have more productive and fulfilling lives to correspond to the gains that women and girls have made. Third, labeling women and girls as victims presents them as weak and in need of protection and help from the government. This constant message of weakness goes counter to the concept of women as strong and the equal of men. Katie Roiphe states, “Among other things, feminism has given us this. A new stock plot, a new identity spinning not around love, not marriage, –but passivity and victimhood. This is not what I want, not even as a fantasy.” And fourth, thinking of people (the other) as less than human and treating them this way has the pernicious effect of dehumanizing and dishonoring the purveyor of such vitriol, a self-inflicted wound generating a need for more and more defensive blaming and anger towards men. When we diminish others, we diminish our own humanity. There is a better way. Gender peace, respect, support and coöperation.
These are very powerful reasons why we have heard mainly one side of privilege. How can this pattern of focusing on one side of privilege change? When will it change? To begin, both men and women need to come to the table. A big issue is for men to understand their feelings and find the courage and willingness to express them. We need to encourage men to do this and avoid shying away from men who do so. Listening can be difficult, even raising unacknowledged fear by both men and women, but it is essential to communication and understanding. Women must be willing and have the courage to hear what men say and not reject them for expressing vulnerability ̶ and to acknowledge that females have privileges. Finally, just as men have shared their traditional power, the call is for women’s advocates to share their nearly total control of the gender message with men’s advocates.
Truth binds people together and minimizes mistrust and division. Alan L. Egly writes in a sermon, Ethics: How to do it, The bane of ethics is incompleteness and incompleteness is a product of un-asked questions. Egly quotes Maguire (not fully identified), “Too often we skim the surface of reality, observing and receiving those messages that are agreeable and sometimes we do not understand the true nature of reality because our psychic defenses are so strong.”
Reconciling these forces is a tall order but taken in steps can be achievable if there is a good faith, respect and a willingness to do so. Cathy Young writing in the Washington Post says it well, “Our fractured culture is badly in need of healing—from the gender wars as well as other divisions. To be a part of this healing, feminism must include men, not just as supportive allies but as partners with an equal voice and equal humanity.” On the other hand, from Rev. Audette Fulbright, “Our own ideas become better when they are tested against other’s perspectives and experiences.”
We are all in this together. Let us get together. We can work in concert with each other.
Nelson E. Otto, revised Nov. 2016
Anger Kills; Seventeen Strategies for Controlling the Hostility that Can Harm your Health ̶ Redford Williams & Virginia Williams 1993
Decisive; How to Make Better Choices in Life and WorK ̶ Chip Heath and Dan Heath 2013
“Ethics: How to do it” – Alan L. Egly (sermon) Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities
“Feminism Blinds Students to the Truth about Men” – Tone Airaksinen (Columnist for Columbia Daily Spectator) 4-18-2016
Feminists Treat Men Badly. It’s bad for feminism – Cathy Young Washington Post 6-30-16
“Just us – a Justice Primer” ̶ Rev. Audette Fulbright 1-12-14
Knights Without Armour – Aaron Kipnis 1991
“Love, Truth and Liberation” ̶ William Saunders (sermon) Unitarian Universalist Church, Urbana, IL 5-3-92
“Men: Notes from an ongoing Investigation by Laura Kipnis” – Lisa Zeidner (Book Review), Washington Post 12-12-14
The Morning After – Katie Roiphe l993
“Religions Wicked Neighbor” – David Brooks, St. Paul Pioneer Press 6-23-2016
“Response to Hazard is often Haphazard” – Edward Lotterman St. Paul Pioneer Press 6-26-16
Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman 2011
“U. S. Gun Culture is the path most Traveled” – Edward Lotterman, St. Paul Pioneer Press 6-l9-2016
Why Societies Need Dissent ̶ Cass Sunstein 2003