Life is easiest for straight, white men, but there is no denying that all men have varying degrees of male privilege over women. Throughout our entire lives, women must fight against injustices simply for being women and many of the times also deal with discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, economic class, sexual orientation and other intersectionalities.
As sad as it may sound, I know if I choose to have children, my sons will have opportunities and privileges my daughter might never have.
We usually focus on the big ways male privilege rears its ugly head, but here are just a few everyday examples:
- Nearly all the books you will read in school will be written by men, almost always white men
I encourage everyone reading this article to stop what you’re doing and go look at your English class’ reading list for the year. I guarantee you that at least 60% of the books will have been written by men, probably with the exception of Jane Austen or Emily Bronte thrown in there (who are, of course, white women). Our school system essentially tells students that the best writers are men, as if they didn’t already dominate our other classes enough. I have wanted to be a writer my entire life, yet as a young child, I always saw it as a male profession. Oh, Dr. Seuss is a guy, Rick Riordan is a guy, all the books I read in class are by guys, could you be a woman writer? I didn’t even know that J.K. Rowling was a woman until I was halfway into the third Harry Potter book because she herself initially didn’t want people to know that she was a woman because it might hurt her appeal.
When books written by men dominate school curriculum, men are nearly always the leads in stories and women are only portrayed through the male gaze. The best writing is seen as a man’s writing style.
I cannot tell you how many times people have called my writing too flowery and descriptive, too womanly and emotional as if not writing like Hemingway or Joyce is a flaw.
2. Men are never “bossy,” “controlling,” or “bitchy”
I think if I was paid just a nickel for every time someone said I needed to “loosen up” or “not be so serious,” I would be a millionaire. For as long as I (or probably any woman for that matter) can remember, men have been exalted as amazing leaders, both in history and the present.
A teacher in my fourth grade class once asked us who our favorite female leader was and the only person that could come to my mind was Rosa Parks. Assertive girls are labeled bossy, while boys are encouraged showing signs of leadership because we see the male gender as conferring authority.
Women are underrepresented in positions of power and the few who represent us are being attacked for emulating the same leadership qualities their male counterparts receive praise for. As much as I may disagree with Hillary Clinton on certain things, I can’t deny that the same qualities that made her “stoic,” “bossy,” and an overall “nasty woman” would not have had the same results if a man had acted the same way.
3. Men’s clothing is designed for functionality and convenience more than women’s
To all the women reading this (who wear traditionally feminine clothing), I want you to think of when your favorite female-targeted store had jeans deeper than 5 inches. The answer is most likely never, because is there such as thing as women needing to carry important things? Ha, no! That’s what purses are for, right? When the iPhone 6 came out, I knew my precious smartphone would always be poking out of my back pocket. Dresses with pockets are always a nice surprise for me, but they are not the norm, which points to a major pitfall of the fashion industry: they don’t make women’s clothing both fashionable and functional.
4. Women are expected to change their last name
“Oh, you’re keeping your last name?” is the inevitable question nearly all women in a heterosexual relationship will face as their marriage approaches. Men are never expected to change their last name in the way women are and keeping your last name is sometimes even seen as an act of rebellion. Changing your last name to your husband’s has a certain branding aspect to it. Women should have their husband’s last name to assert that she is his because a woman’s maiden name is not as important as a man’s.
5. As a man, your virginity or lack thereof will never be one of the most important things about you
Women’s sexuality is policed even before they hit puberty, our virginity is precious in the way a man’s is not. Women are told that if they lose their virginity too early, they are “giving away their special gift.” Guilt and supposed purity is used to control women’s sexual agency.
Men are never expected to wait until marriage. Men are no more promiscuous or impure if they lose their virginity. Men are celebrated and never judged for their sexual prowess.
Male privilege is real, but it means something different for different men. However, male privilege is the absence of discrimination and obstacles that only women face. I implore all men reading this article to think about how you contribute to male privilege and how you can help end it.