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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!