Feminists love to talk about “male privilege.” Male feminists in particular love to “check their privilege.” This is primarily a method of them admitting that they have systemic power over women and inherently contribute to and benefit from the oppression of women.
Everyone does not agree with the concept of “male privilege.” Most men reject the theory outright, and feminists often cannot defend the theory beyond a handful of general examples that do not apply to all men universally. It is the latter, specifically that there are clear examples of discrimination and oppression of men, that cause problems for feminists.
The key issue is that feminists tend to use “male privilege” as a bludgeon against men. Any time someone mentions issues men face, feminists declare “male privilege” to shut down the conversation. Even when feminists decide to discuss men’s issues, they are very quick to state that all men, regardless of their circumstances, benefit from “male privilege.”
This results in a conflict in discussing men’s issues because that feminist narrative obscures men’s experiences. This is so obvious that even feminists who believe in “male privilege” can see it. The latter article prompted a response from Mark Greene. In his article, Greene states:
Male privilege is a universal thing, at least as it manifests at the meta level. If you can’t see this playing out, you’re either socially blinded or willfully ignorant.
This is the typical starting point of most feminist commentary on “male privilege.” Either accept our doctrinal declaration or you are a bad person. There is no other way to view the evidence (which is often asserted — “across America and the world, we see the brutal and wide spread oppression of women, primarily by men” — but never supported). There is the feminist way or no way. This leads to a particular reaction:
When I write about gender I first acknowledge that the collective oppression of women is worse then that faced by men. This is my baseline. Then I proceed talk about issues of oppression faced by men. The result is comments asking “why do you have to start by saying that?”
Of course they would ask that question. The assertion is that no matter the circumstance, whatever happens is always worse when it happens to a woman. There is nothing that could be done to a man that could ever compare to what women experience. If we apply to actual situations, the argument is that if a man and woman are shot, the woman is inherently hurt worse. If a man and woman are fired, the woman is more effected. If a man and a woman are raped, the woman is more traumatized.
It is easy to see how misguided this assumption is when we apply it to real situations. Is it true that women will face harsher prison sentences for the same crimes as men? Is it true that women will face greater brutality at the hands of strangers, relatives, and authority figures? Is it true that society treats women inherently worse than it treats men?
If we know the answer to those questions are ‘no’ then it makes little sense to assert that women inherently have it worse. Doing so prompts a typical response:
People can be highly reactive about gender. The oppression olympics it is sometimes called, the temptation to compare body counts and levels of threat and abuse. Recently I tweeted about gender violence. An activist replied “We have to be explicit. ‘Gender’ violence is male violence.” The implication being that violence by women against men is so rare as to be irrelevant.
Yes, however, the implication is also that ‘gender’ violence hurts women more, which is the baseline people like Greene work from. He cannot complain about the above sentiment when it is one he willingly fosters. Listing statistics about how bad men have it does not change that Greene’s core position appears to be that women inherently have it worse than men. He cannot say
Men and women face catastrophic challenges from social, cultural and political systems that are abusive, punitive, and by design, sets all groups against each other. This makes the struggles of both men and women equally valid and, more importantly, inextricably interlinked.
When I write about gender I first acknowledge that the collective oppression of women is worse then that faced by men. This is my baseline. Then I proceed talk about issues of oppression faced by men.
The latter argument negates the former. Greene essentially states it really is not that bad for men. It may not be what he thinks, but it is what he says. That leads to question of why he would make the latter argument if he does not believe it.
Women’s rights activists rely on clear dramatic conceptual frames; frames like male privilege to drive change. These kinds of frames are effective tools for creating public awareness. But the frames we construct in opposing injustice are just that; constructed. As such, no matter how universally accepted a frame like male privilege may be, it must remain subject to deconstruction as well.
But frames like male privilege can become, for lack of a better word… privileged. In some spaces, male privilege has become the single over arching litmus test for whether or not a man is viewed as enlightened. Men are expected to admit that they, by definition, have a huge advantage in every single imaginable context.
Such as someone saying, “Male privilege is a universal thing, at least as it manifests at the meta level. If you can’t see this playing out, you’re either socially blinded or willfully ignorant. Across America and the world, we see the brutal and wide spread oppression of women, primarily by men.”
Greene tries to argue that the concept of “male privilege” is a construct worthy of deconstruction, yet he keeps supporting it as he makes that argument. It is as if he is not willing to commit to the idea that the unproven theory is just that: an unproven theory. This results in clunky arguments like:
Although men collectively maintain an advantage over women at the meta level, individually they are subject to widely varying levels of privilege in new and emerging contexts. Many of these contexts have been intentionally created in opposition to patriarchy. And they are operating as intended. Men have less privilege in these contexts, sometimes none.
For example, put a man in a gender studies classroom. Or a family court proceeding. Or employ a man as a nurse in a field that continues to be dominated by women. (One study showed that over 89 percent of the male nursing participants reported hearing anti-male remarks from faculty in the classroom.) Or put a man on the wrong side of the law, sitting across from a woman represented by a discrimination & sexual harassment law firm.
If we are to take Greene at his word, then the above circumstances were intentionally created. Men are intentionally discriminated against in gender studies classrooms, family court proceedings, the nurse field, and court systems. Of course, that these changes affect most men does not demonstrate a collective advantage for women. Instead, it represents an individual disadvantage for each man personally affected by it. This logic does not apply to women. When a system disadvantages a single woman, that is a result of a collective attempt at oppressing all women.
Yet even after presenting this argument, Greene quickly waives it off:
I cite these examples not to say that the world is unfair to men. I cite them as examples of contexts in which male privilege is clearly eroding. What this indicates is that although male privilege may have been monolithic fifty years ago, it simply no longer is. It is splintering. Fragmenting. And justifiably so. There remains more work to be done.
It is not unfair to discriminate and oppress men? It is really just a sign of men losing their power? It is justifiable to discriminate against men and boys? And if there is work to be done, what work is that? Further “splintering” and “fragmenting” the mythical “male privilege” to do… what? To cause more “justifiable” discrimination?
Applying frames like monolithic male privilege is understandable when fighting clear cut instances of the oppression of women but it can become counter productive in the liminal spaces where change is evolving. As more wide ranging expressions of gender emerge, our monolithic view of male privilege must become more nuanced, because any monolithic or static frame that seeks to encompass something as miraculously complex as emerging gender roles cannot help but be under-developed.
Yes, the nuanced view that denying male victims access to support services is a sign that “male privilege is clearly eroding,” not a sign of discrimination against men.
He does make one objective observation:
Said another way, in the evolving world of gender and justice, declaring someone else’s privilege can be the new privilege. We all need to go carefully here. Or we risk calcifying an ever increasing set of counterproductive binary frames. This is the liberal infighting your mother told you about. It got Nixon and Reagan elected. It is a bad thing.
It is far too late for that. That people like Greene feel the need to remind their audience that women have it worse before admitting a boy was raped is indicative of the persuasiveness of this shaming tactic. It does not result in getting Republicans elected, yet it does result dividing society along ideological lines. It also prevents objective discussions because those who disagree with the status quo will be silenced.
Greene goes on to state something that few feminists and progressives would ever admit:
Let me be clear. It’s not the erosion of unearned privilege that is problematic, but the pursuit of equality by putting men down that is problematic. It still maintains the system of oppression that is at the heart of our culture’s problems. It just flips the groups.
That is precisely the problem. It also increasingly appears to be the point. It is also one Greene appears to support, so it is unclear what he is complaining about it. He thinks it is “justifiable” to deny male rape victims support services, strip custody away from fathers, lock men up with harsher sentences, and discriminate against men in certain job fields because it is merely a result of the erosion of the mythical “male privilege.” How can he complain when this is what he wants?
The ultimate problem is that we discuss men’s issues honestly and openly if we must constantly state that women have it worse. We will spend more time defining in what ways it really is not that bad for men and boys than actually talking about what they experience. We will also spend more time arguing over feminism’s sexist theory rather than addressing the issues men face.
This does not help anyone, although it does reveal the utter bigotry of the theory of “male privilege.”