Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Everything I ever needed to know about 'Male Priviledge,' I learned from running.

When I was but a college student I once found myself signing up for a course in the Women's Studies department. Now, coming from a conservative background I suspected that this course would be a little... strange. Yet, I signed up anyway. I didn't have to take this course- though it fulfilled a distribution requirement- but I took it anyway. I did this simply so that I could see for myself what women's studies was all about. Looking back on it now, I understand how silly it was to try to judge a particular body of work by a single course but, hey, I didn't have an unlimited amount of time and money to explore every subject on campus.

My experiences in this class were, on the whole, not complimentary towards the discipline. Quite a few of my classmates found the experience to be frustrating, and an exercise in indoctrination rather than education. One of them went so far as to comment that her future essays would be nothing but three pages of the phrase, "Adrienne Rich is God," over and over again. I never thought it was quite that bad, although I did notice that many of the articles we read were a curious mix of anti-scientific attitudes and scientistic tone. For example, after spending three pages reading about how the author rejects the concept of objective science, makes no effort to be dispassionate, objects to the usage of statistics because they abstract away from the individual,* and is reporting narratives as collaboratively constructed, seeing her then proceed to report, "I interviewed twenty (n=20) teenage girls," is more than a little bizarre. If you reject statistics and objectivity, I don't think reporting the number of subjects is exactly necessary. The need for the traditional "n=" notation is equally spotty.

Regardless, while on my journey into Women's Studies I happened upon the famous article by Peggy McIntosh, "White Priviledge: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack." The basic contention of this article is that while we tend to focus on social inequity in terms of the priviledges denied to low power groups, it's also true that high power groups actually gain certain priviledges. While the "White Priviledge" article focuses on this in terms of race, similar lists and observations have been made about sex. One example of such a list can be found here on the ever-popular Alas (a blog). This version of the list includes, as a few examples:

37. Most major religions argue that I should be the head of my household, while my wife and children should be subservient to me.

38. If I have a wife or live-in girlfriend, chances are we’ll divide up household chores so that she does most of the labor, and in particular the most repetitive and unrewarding tasks.

39. If I have children with a wife or girlfriend, chances are she’ll do most of the childrearing, and in particular the most dirty, repetitive and unrewarding parts of childrearing.

40. If I have children with a wife or girlfriend, and it turns out that one of us needs to make career sacrifices to raise the kids, chances are we’ll both assume the career sacrificed should be hers.

41. Magazines, billboards, television, movies, pornography, and virtually all of media is filled with images of scantily-clad women intended to appeal to me sexually. Such images of men exist, but are much rarer.

42. On average, I am under much less pressure to be thin than my female counterparts are. If I am fat, I probably suffer fewer social and economic consequences for being fat than fat women do.

43. If I am heterosexual, it’s incredibly unlikely that I’ll ever be beaten up by a spouse or lover.

44. Complete strangers generally do not walk up to me on the street and tell me to “smile.”

45. On average, I am not interrupted by women as often as women are interrupted by men.

46. I have the privilege of being unaware of my male privilege.


As you can see, there are some pretty interesting entries on that list. Now, at the time I first encountered this sort of reasoning, I was bothered by it, though I wasn't sure why. As a result, I didn't really accept this line of argument. That is, until a few years ago. Believe it or not, what convinced me of male priviledge wasn't so much the essay (that merely introduced me to the concept) but was, instead, jogging. As some of you know, I exercise regularly and that includes a daily run. Years ago I used to run at night because I find it psychologically easier to run in the dark (not to mention cooler during the summers) but I have since changed to running in the mornings. I don't find this quite as agreeable, but it makes it easier to mesh my schedule with that of my Sainted Girlfriend. Since I now run around dawn, it means that during some months of the year I run in daylight, and some months I run in darkness. Even before I began running in the mornings, I occasionally still got this contrast as I would, from time to time, run immediately after work because of an engagement in the evening. After a while, all this running led to a peculiar realization: when I was running in the day, I would sometimes see other men and women jogging in the neighborhood or walking their dogs. When I was running in the dark, however, I would see only men. The women disappeared with the rays of the sun.

Now, this may seem like a trivial observation and, really, it is, but it made a useful point to me. Because I was male, I had the option of running in darkness if I chose to but, if I were female, I would have been taught that darkness is a time to stay indoors. My sex granted me the ability to avoid the summer sun, and heat, if I so chose. In a very personal way, I had been brought face-to-face with my own male priviledge.

Doubtless, some of you reading this are preparing to type comments indicating what a dumbass I am for not realizing this sooner. I expect that Plain(s)Feminist may be among them based on her comment to a previous post. I'm okay with such comments- I am, in all honesty, frequently a dumbass- but I remind you that it is one thing to be told something, and another to be shown something. As educators we should never expect that just because we tell students something they will believe it. Nor, really, should we value such dimwitted faith in our abilities, as it only encourages thinking individuals to become mindless consumers of whatever the pundits hurl at them.

I did begin to wonder, after my change of opinion, why I had been so resistant to the idea of Male Priviledge when I first encountered it. Certainly, some of it had to do with the sheer repugnance of the notion. It's one thing, as a male, to be told that women are oppressed, but it is an entirely different thing to be told that you personally benefit from that oppression. Yet, that wasn't the entirety of my discomfort. Ultimately, I think some of my discomfort came from that very idea that I was benefitting from the oppression of women. Simply because not all male priviledge necessarily works in that manner.

Think about number thirty-eight in the list above:

38. If I have a wife or live-in girlfriend, chances are we’ll divide up household chores so that she does most of the labor, and in particular the most repetitive and unrewarding tasks.


This is a case where I, as a male, might directly benefit from the "oppression"** of my female partner. If she performs most of the household labor, and in particular the time-consuming and unpleasant ones, I am left free to do other things- like work overtime. That may help me advance more rapidly in my career and, thus, represents a substantial potential benefit. So, in order for women to no longer be disadvantaged in this way, I must be willing to concede certain advantages.

Now consider the above number forty-three:

43. If I am heterosexual, it’s incredibly unlikely that I’ll ever be beaten up by a spouse or lover.


Now, I think we can all agree that employing physical violence against one's domestic or romantic partner is a pretty awful thing.*** Here's the rub, though: in order for it to be unlikely for me to be beaten by a partner, is it necessary for females to be more likely to be beaten? The answer, of course, is no. In an ideal world, both sexes would be unlikely to be harmed by domestic violence. Even in our own non-ideal world, however, the likelihood that one sex is beaten is not dependent on the likelihood that the other is. This is not a zero-sum game where there is some planetary alotment of domestic violence that must be spent somewhere.

And this, unfortunately, is where my problem with the male priviledge concept emerged from. Some of the male priviledges are, indeed, things that I possess specifically because women do not possess them. These, to me, are indeed priviledges. At the same time, however, many of the items on the list reflect ways that males are priviledged only by comparison to those who lack those priviledges, and not specifically because those other groups lack certain priviledges. Certainly it would annoy me if complete strangers came up to me on the street and told me to smile (#44) but my safety from such an experience depends not a wit on the vulnerability of women to it. In this case, we are dealing not with a "priviledge" but with something more akin to a "right."

It is unquestionably worth pointing out to men all the ways in which they benefit from the disadvantaging of women. It has motivated me to try to ensure that I do my share of the nasty, repetetive tasks around the house so that my Sainted Girlfriend is not stuck with them. I like to think we've been successful at that**** but it's difficult to be sure you're taking on enough of the tasks that you'd rather not do anyway. Try it yourself if you don't believe me.

It is not, however, quite so useful to conflate the ways men benefit from female oppression, with the ways females are simply oppressed. Both should be fought, but assigning the same amount of blame, and shame, for each only cheapens the entire argument. Too often, it is exactly this conflating that seems to occur.

Reaching true gender equality will be a lengthy process, but it is one that is well-worth it. Yet, as we strive for such a noble goal, we should not be sloppy with our methods. Otherwise, we may simply thwart our own efforts.

And that's no priviledge for anyone.


* To which I can only respond, "Well, DUH! That's what they're supposed to do."

** I place this in quotes solely because I think "oppression" is an overused, and often excessively-potent, term.

*** As it happens, I object to the use of physical violence for any form of informal social control, but that isn't the point right now.

**** Actually, we've had arguments in which I've more or less been demanding a larger role in the housework. Despite this, I still think she does more of it than I do, but I'm trying.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As your fourth footnote indicates, and as I was thinking while reading this post, it is incredibly important to point out that with things like housework, it is the responsibility of both the man and the woman to try to arrange equity. In this case, men, and women, have been socialized to act certain ways. I have been socialized to "clean the house good" (and, quite honestly, I like some of the control). But with cases like that, I encourage both men and women who are truly engaged in the struggle for equality to fight against the gender norms that have been engrained in us since we were little. The same thing could be said about occupational choice. -D's SGf

Tuesday, July 11, 2006 2:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ya know, Drek, i used to just like reading your blog for the science stuff and your occasional witty jokes. but now, man, i think i love you. good thing neither of our women would stand for it, or i'd be stalking you soon. you're a class act.

sep

Tuesday, July 11, 2006 4:01:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Eddie, I appreciate the sentiment, but if you think I'm a class act, you haven't been reading this blog for nearly long enough.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger plain(s)feminist said...

Oh, you know me so well!

Actually, what had me scratching my head was that you couldn't see how one can both critique the way we practice science and still use a scientific method. Rejecting the concept of objective science isn't hard to understand - it's simply a matter of recognizing that scientists are people with biases, like anyone else, and that they see what they expect to see, sometimes in very weird ways (I always think of Donna Haraway's famous piece, "Primatology is Politics by Other Means," which points out the ways that gender conventions affect how primatologists analyze chimp behavior). There are all kinds of examples of methodological approaches that use the same basic social science approach but then work to disrupt these kinds of problems. Even if someone is reporting narratives as collaboratively constructed, as you say (I'm not sure I've seen that done - interesting), I still want to know how many teenage girls she interviewed.

Sounds to me like she's attempting to "individualize" n. Not a bad goal.

Here's where maybe I will sound like an asshole: I think you're remembering that article through your college-self. I bet if you read it now you'd have a better appreciation for its nuance. Or, maybe you'd determine that it is simply a poor example of what could be a really interesting and useful methodological approach. Either one.

On a different note, I'm not sure I get your point about battery. The reason that heterosexual men are unlikely to be beaten by female partners is because women generally don't beat men. The reasons why, and the reasons why men are likely to beat women (I know, that sounds strong - I'm not saying that ALL men are abusers, but the stats tell us that the domestic violence rates are extremely high and I don't think it's just a few guys terrorizing all the women) have everything to do with the fact that men do benefit from privilege at the expense of women. Women don't just happen to lack privilege in a vacuum. Women lack privileges that men have exactly because they are women and that means that society thinks less of them than of men - women are paid less, women are raped and beaten without consequence (look at the police reports and then follow the cases to see what happens when women press charges - and think about the reactions of the general public to such cases in the media), women's reproductive health is not taken seriously (simple birth control pills are generally not covered by insurance while viagra is, as just one rather ironic example).

It just doesn't seem to me that your point about this not being a zero-sum game is relevant. Perhaps I've just not understood you.

Thursday, July 13, 2006 6:51:00 AM  
Blogger Drek said...

Oh, you know me so well!

Not really, but I'm looking forward to that changing over time.

Rejecting the concept of objective science isn't hard to understand - it's simply a matter of recognizing that scientists are people with biases, like anyone else, and that they see what they expect to see, sometimes in very weird ways...

I may not have been sufficiently clear, for which I apologize. My issue with this line of reasoning is that it is exactly what the collaborative aspects of science are meant to overcome. If I have a bias, and you have a bias, and SEP up above has a bias, and we all combine and compare our results- maybe we can abstract out the biases and get down to the objective reality. It isn't necessary that we each actually be objective, just that we think there is an objective reality to be found. I prefer that researchers try to be objective (despite their unavoidable biases) just because the effort may, hopefully, filter out some of the junk. Just because the filter on my water faucet removes impurities, doesn't mean I shouldn't care whether it's attached to a water line or a sewage line.

Here's where maybe I will sound like an asshole: I think you're remembering that article through your college-self. I bet if you read it now you'd have a better appreciation for its nuance.

Actually, no, that isn't an asshole-ish point. You may very well be right- and I know I've become more open to some lines of inquiry over the years. That said, I'm still often put-off by what I consider to be laughably poor methodology in some feminist literature, but I have certain epistemological commitments that they usually don't agree with, so it's hardly surprising.

I'm not going to quote from your last main paragraph for the simple reason that I'd have to extract way too large a passage. What with the parentheses and all, you've got some quite impressive phrasing in there! In short, however, I'll say this:

I agree that men are vastly more likely to beat women and that it isn't the result of a few "bad apples." I've had arguments with folks making that sort of claim, and I have little trouble with the idea that violence can emerge out of a system of power imbalance.

The thing is, though, I don't benefit from women being beaten. I may benefit from being a member of the more priviledged sex, and the ability to batter a woman may come along with the power, but the beating itself isn't really the priviledge. The ability to do whatever the hell I want because I'm powerful is. If that's the argument we want to make, then I think it's reasonable, but often I don't think it gets made that way. Instead, instructors get lazy and don't connect the lack of the "priviledge" of not being beaten to the wider system.

Thanks for the thoughtful comments!

Thursday, July 13, 2006 10:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are many privaledges women have and can utilize in all area's of life as well. This is not a one sides battle as your post makes it appear. Perhaps you could find a male studies class next? Ops That's sexist.

Friday, April 20, 2007 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Hey Anonymous,

I'll make you a deal: I'll see if I can't find a "male studies class" if you go ahead and find yourself a class for basic spelling and grammar.

On a more serious note: would you care to enlighten us with a profound list of "female privilege?"

Friday, April 20, 2007 1:29:00 PM  

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