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10 Ways Of Looking At Patriarchy: Everyday Instances Of Male Privilege

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By Abhishek Jha for Cake

The concept of privilege was popularised by the women’s studies scholar Peggy McIntosh when she wrote the paper White Privilege And Male Privilege: A Personal Account Of Coming To See Correspondences Through Work In Women’s Studies”. She defined privilege as “an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious” and which “is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks.”

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In a patriarchal world, the unearned advantage that men enjoy has become socialised and, consequentially, we find hard to realise that we men begin every day with a head-start over about half the people on this planet. Men had almost an exclusive access to education, suffrage, property, etc for centuries. And although civil rights movements and women’s movements across the world have helped change that, men still continue to have an unearned advantage.

Part of the reason McIntosh’s paper was well received even by white people was that people could identify with everyday examples of white privilege “without feeling accused“. I list here 10 everyday instances of male privilege from my life so that one is able to realise just how much of an unequal world we live in:

1) I can go out at night without any comment on my morality or character by even orthodox standards. While people worry about my health for staying out at night, a woman returning late to her hostel is reprimanded, often with accompanied insinuation of falsehoods that attempt to make the woman feel guilty. This means that not only can I work outside late at night but also enjoy being outside without the fear of any future punishment or confrontation.

2) I can wander without the threat or fear of being sexually assaulted and without having to take any precautions for it. Loitering, for whatever purpose, does not require me to make either any special mental or physical preparations. While the fear of being robbed is universal, the stigma associated with sexual assault and the patriarchal domination of the public space (while sexual abuse of men is known, almost exclusively it is women who get ‘raped’ or sometimes even ‘gang-raped) makes the public space a more comfortable space for me. I don’t have to worry about eve-teasing either.

3) I don’t have trouble finding works of fiction that have people belonging to my gender or talking about my gender. A Bechdel test requires that a movie have (1) at least two women in it, who (2) talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man. An inversion of this test, discussing men’s representation in movies, would have a hard time finding a movie that does not pass this test. This means that experiences I can relate to and thus enjoy reading about or watching are more easily available to me.

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4) If there is affirmative action at a workplace, nobody would suspect that I got the job because of my gender. This means that if I get a job, everybody immediately accepts that I have all the required skills and capability to perform it and that must it is this skill set alone that has helped me get the job.night

5) If I can’t do a physically demanding task, my failure will not be ascribed to my gender. This implies that my physical weakness is seen as temporary and which I can improve upon. Consequentially, I have never felt that there is something intrinsically wrong with me that can prevent me from doing a physical task better than most people.

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6) I have never received any threats of sexual assault online nor does anybody make inappropriate sexual advances towards me online. This allows me to use social media more freely and without being harassed.

7) I can wear any clothes that I feel comfortable in without any comments being made about my morality or character and without drawing any unwanted attention towards my body. The only comments that I have to worry about are mostly sartorial. There are lesser social norms that I have to worry about while choosing the kind of clothes that I want to wear.

8) I don’t have to worry about continuing my education or work should I get married. The norms related to heterosexual marriages put men in the position of power in the relationship. Thus, I don’t have to worry about the views of my in-laws or my spouse regarding higher studies, doing a job, etc.

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9) There hasn’t been an expectation from any family member that I learn to cook while the same expectation exists for my sister. If I do not wish to learn cooking, I can rest assured that nobody in my entire family will ever force me to do so.

10) There are no restrictions on visiting places of worship, which exist solely due to my gender. No place of worship would restrict my entry on account of my gender or any aspect of it if I visit the place either for praying or due to interest in its history or architecture.

This is definitely not an exhaustive list and there are many such small instances of male privilege in my life. However, coming up with such a list takes effort because a patriarchal world masks all these privileges. People have been dissuaded from questioning them by using dogma and sometimes even science to make them appear natural. If you are a man fighting against these norms, do remember to count your privileges.

To read more on issues of gender, sex and sexuality, head to Cake!

You must be to comment.
  1. Avinesh Saini

    But dear sir, women generally are far more voracious readers. So, I do not get the point about women not being able to enjoy reading.

    1. Parvathy

      It wasn’t about whether women are generally better read than men, or whether they aren’t enjoying fiction.
      The argument is that there are very few books or films where you will find (within the narrative) two women characters (preferrably not in just one scene) talking to each other (and not another man). This conversation as such must not be about men, I.e., nothing to do with relationship issues, how one of them likes some man, how a friend or relative was loved/cheated by this man, etc.
      Also, your point about women generally being “far more voracious readers” is statistically false, to say the least. In India, at least, the ratio of educated man to educated women is highly disparate. And women also end up doing both office and household work, so the available time to read is drastically reduced. Any reading they do, in between all this fails to meet the conditions above.
      PS: Enjoyment has nothing to do with any of this.

  2. Batman

    In most Indian households, it is women who rule with an iron fist, and control husbands, sons, and daughters-in-law.

    20 instances of female privilege:

    1. Lifeboats are reserved for women.

    2. Seats are reserved for women on buses.

    3. The media only focuses on women’s issues.

    4. World’s most dangerous jobs are worked by men.

    5. News channels announce deaths of ‘women’ and children.

    6. Juries discriminate against men in domestic violence disputes.

    7. Women have special quotas in the parliament, companies, and colleges.

    8. Women receive lighter sentences for the same crimes committed by men.

    9. Child custody is given to women is divorce courts, in the majority of cases.

    10. Men have to earn for women, but women are not under any obligation to earn for men.

    11. Domestic violence and dowry are seen as women’s issues, while men are the prime victims.

    12. Men give women child support and alimony, not the other way around. Men are ripped off their life savings.

    13. Men are used as ATMs. Women always marry men who are richer, earn more, ‘well-settled’, and better educated.

    14. Men die on jobs daily. 95% of work related deaths are of men, but that is neither an issue, not something that women and children are grateful for.

    15. Draconian laws where women can land men behind bars with little evidence if any, giving a rise to false cases of dowry, rape, and domestic abuse. Police readily believe women, even though they lie more.

    16. Men have to propose, buy roses, flowers, chocolates.

    17. Separate compartment and reserved seats for women in metros.

    18. Men have to earn for women but no such obligation for women.

    19. Men have to leave their seats for women in public but women never leave their seats for men.

    20. Children are handed to women in family courts in the majority of cases.

  3. Aditya

    The reason no body is telling you to cook is because of the fact, you are expected to live the role of a breadwinner when you are an adult. The set of questions which will be asked of you are:-
    1. Do you have a 3BHK flat or bunglow?

    2. Do you work in an MNC or have chance to work abroad?

    3. Do you mind if I use your money and not allow you to use mine?

    4. How much money you can allow me to spend from your salary?

    5. Can you afford expensive foreign trip? Can you spend weekend out ?

    6. How much money do yoy have in the bank?

    Unless you have satisfactory answers to the above question forghet about getting married.
    And what do you mean by “Continuing my education or work should I get married.”. You will be ever pressurised to follow even higher salaries and higher degrees to cope up with the added responsibilities that are expected of a man after he’s married. in fact when it comes to work you have little choice about. You will have to work and excell whether yopu like your job or not

    1. Aditya

      The above list is not by any means complete or exhaustive.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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