Creative Destruction

June 2, 2006

“Privilege” and “Disadvantage” as sexist framing devices.

Filed under: Debate,Feminist Issues — Daran @ 9:20 pm

Both here, and at Alas, Barry has been responding to criticism of his “Male Privilege Checklist“. Most of these criticisms have been directed at particular items on the checklist, which regardless of the merit of the substantive objection, opens his critics to the countercharge of not seeing the wood for the trees. The most cogent objections, in my opinion, apply to the list as a whole and seem to have been missed by these recent critics.

In his introduction to the list, Barry begins by explaining the concept of privilege:

In 1990, Wellesley College professor Peggy McIntosh wrote an essay called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. McIntosh observes that whites in the U.S. are “taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.” To illustrate these invisible systems, McIntosh wrote a list of 26 invisible privileges whites benefit from.

As McIntosh points out, men also tend to be unaware of their own privileges as men. In the spirit of McIntosh’s essay, I thought I’d compile a list similar to McIntosh’s, focusing on the invisible privileges benefiting men.

He then goes on to respond to some earlier criticisms:

More commonly, of course, critics (usually, but not exclusively, male) have pointed out men have disadvantages too – being drafted into the army, being expected to suppress emotions, and so on. These are indeed bad things – but I never claimed that life for men is all ice cream sundaes…

Pointing out that men are privileged in no way denies that bad things happen to men. Being privileged does not mean men are given everything in life for free; being privileged does not mean that men do not work hard, do not suffer. In many cases – from a boy being bullied in school, to a soldier dying in war – the sexist society that maintains male privilege also does great harm to individual boys and men.

As an initial matter, it’s unfortunate that Barry resorts to an ad hom. The fact that most critics of the checklist are male has no bearing on the validity of their objections. In any case, the ad hom argument is no less applicable in the opposite direction: most proponents of the concept of male privilege are female.

A more serious objection is that Barry is committing the very sin that he complains of in others. He is seeing male disadvantage “only in individual acts of meanness” Indeed he uses that very word in his characterisation of the death of soldiers in war. There is, of course, nothing individual about it. They die en mass.

In fact what we have here is a perfect example of “invisible systems conferring dominance”. The “almost infinite variety of children’s media [which] featur[es] positive, active, non-stereotyped (sic: I don’t agree) heroes” (item 17 on the list) also feature male cannon-fodder being slaughtered in vast numbers, without the slightest show of concern from any other character. The news media routinely marginalises “unworthy” male victims in contrast to “worthy” female victims (See Dr. Adam Jones’s scholarly analysis: Effacing the male for more detail.). We are, in short, socialised – men and women alike – to regard men as disposable and dispensable, and their deaths as being of small account. This leads directly to men’s willingness to enlist, and society’s tolerance of conscription when voluntary enlistment is insufficient to meet the plutarchy’s needs. It is also certainly part of the reason the high rates of male suicide, workplace accidents causing death or serious injury to men, the greater willingness of the state to execute men than women, and so on, and of society’s general indifference to these facts.

And this “benefits” women in exactly the same way the most of the items on Barry’s list “benefit” men. They’re immune to conscription, and they’re not particularly targetted for “voluntary” enlistment. They do less dangerous jobs, aren’t driven to suicide as much, and can expect no worse than life imprisonment for even the most horrendous crime.

It is, in short, privilege as feminists define it – female privilege*.

But Barry doesn’t frame it in this way. Instead he says “men have disadvantages too”: a quite different framing of the issue.

“Men have disadvantages too” and it’s ugly twin “Patriarchy hurts men too” serve a number of useful ends for feminists. Superficially they acknowledge male suffering and disadvantage, and so serve to deflect one possible criticism of feminism. The word “too” positions male disadvantage as adjoint to and subordinate to female disadvantage, thus trivialising it. Finally, these alternative framings allow feminists to avoid ever admitting to the existence of female privilege. This is important, because the existance of female privilege would present a powerful challenge to the very idea of male privilege.

(“Patriarchy hurts men too” has one further function: By identifying victimiser and victim, it blames the victim, thus giving the feminist further reason to dismiss it.)

It’s important to realise that any relative advantage that group A has in comparison to group B could be framed either as a privilege (for group A) or a disadvantage (for group B). In practice gender is the only criterion used by feminists to decide on the framing. You will never see a feminist admit to female privilege, nor will they say that women suffer too. This is pure sexism.

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

For feminists to complain about this, while refusing to acknowledge female privilege is nothing less than rank hypocrisy.

(*There are principled objections to the concept of privilege, which are unavailing to feminists because they apply to both male and female privilege. But this is beyond the scope of this blog post.)

Updated (27 September) to add this list of links to the entire ‘Privilege’ series of posts, which I shall keep updated from now on:

“Privilege” and “Disadvantage” as sexist framing devices
Do white men really benefit from privilege?
More on Privilege
Selective Service – Privilege part 4

31 Comments »

  1. For feminists to complain about this, while refusing to acknowledge female privilege is nothing less than rank hypocrisy.

    To play devil’s advocate for a moment, it is not necessarily hypocrisy if one believes that any advantages women receive are the result of the Patriarchy. In that instance, any resulting discrepancies, whether beneficial for men or for women, would inherently result from the system men created. This is, if I understand Barry’s position correctly, the point of the “Patriarchy hurts men too.” While it certainly trivializes and blames men for the own experiences (intentionally or not), his point is that their (or our) own system creates such privileges for women. If women were in a position of power then (in Barry’s view) a female checklist would be appropriate. However, since men control our society, women cannot be blamed for any privileges they either have or exploit.

    Comment by toysoldier — June 2, 2006 @ 11:40 pm | Reply

  2. This is important, because the existance of female privilege would present a powerful challenge to the very idea of male privilege.

    What nonsense. Children aren’t expected to meet certain burdens that adults carry–is that a “powerful challenge” to the notion that adults have more freedom, power and personal autonomy than children do?

    Comment by mythago — June 3, 2006 @ 12:07 am | Reply

  3. mythago:

    Children aren’t expected to meet certain burdens that adults carry–is that a “powerful challenge” to the notion that adults have more freedom, power and personal autonomy than children do?

    Children occupy a very privileged position in society (and rightly so). Adult do have some superficial freedom, power, and personal autonomy not given to children, but not much of that is left after the constraints imposed by adult responsibility are taken into consideration.

    Comment by Daran — June 3, 2006 @ 2:24 am | Reply

  4. toysoldier:

    To play devil’s advocate for a moment, it is not necessarily hypocrisy if one believes that any advantages women receive are the result of the Patriarchy. In that instance, any resulting discrepancies, whether beneficial for men or for women, would inherently result from the system men created. This is, if I understand Barry’s position correctly, the point of the “Patriarchy hurts men too.” While it certainly trivializes and blames men for the own experiences (intentionally or not), his point is that their (or our) own system creates such privileges for women. If women were in a position of power then (in Barry’s view) a female checklist would be appropriate. However, since men control our society, women cannot be blamed for any privileges they either have or exploit.

    I agree that this is substantively his argument and I’m sure you would make the same substantive objections to it as I do. However the purpose of this particular post wasn’t to criticise or make substantive points, (I may do that in another post), but to point out the different framing devices, and the sexist manner in which they are applied. Barry does not argue that women can’t be blamed for their privileges. He, like other feminists, does not acknowledge female privilege at all. And that’s hypocritical in the light of item 45. (That’s not the only hypocrisy here. It’s also hypocritical of feminists to condemn victim-blaming and trivialisation directed at, say rape victims, when they themselves engage in the same process.)

    Comment by Daran — June 3, 2006 @ 2:55 am | Reply

  5. To play devil’s advocate for a moment, it is not necessarily hypocrisy if one believes that any advantages women receive are the result of the Patriarchy. In that instance, any resulting discrepancies, whether beneficial for men or for women, would inherently result from the system men created.

    Which men created it?

    I think “the system men created” is taking a kind of collectivist view of men, if I understand you correctly. But I don’t think men as a class created patriarchy. First of all, the vast majority of men in the world’s history were born long after patriarchy was created. Second of all, the origins of patriarchy are in the fog of prehistory, so although I have some theories (mostly having to do with the implications of women getting pregnant and having to nurse), I really don’t know for sure.

    In the present day, the system isn’t created; it’s maintained. And it’s maintained by people of both sexes.

    However, since men control our society, women cannot be blamed for any privileges they either have or exploit.

    I really don’t think you’ve understood my position correctly, unless by “men” you mean “some men.” I don’t think “men” control our society. I think the rulers of our society are nearly all male (and also nearly all white, rich, straight, and Christian), but obviously most men are not the rulers of our society.

    Furthermore, while I agree that women shouldn’t be blamed for female privilege, I also don’t think men should be blamed for male privilege, (as I’ve said in the past). I don’t think I’m to blame for patriarchy, nor do I blame other men for patriarchy. I blame people for their own actions and choices, but not for huge social systems that existed long before their births.

    As for the language of “privilege,” I think the way I’ve been using it for years is hugely problematic.

    Part of the problem with the “male privilege checklist,” in my view, is that it’s actually the “yes, female disadvantage due to sexism still exists list.” Since so many people are so committed to denying that sexism exists and harms women, I think that maintaining and defending the list is worthwhile. And most of my defenses of the list nowadays are made on that basis.

    My view on privilege today is different than it was in… in…. 2000? 2001? …Whenever it was that I first compiled the list.

    It’s a conceptual error to personalize privilege and talk about it exclusively from the level of individual experience, which is what the list does. And it’s likewise a conceptual error to think that racism and sexism can be treated as if they’re interchangeable concepts, just switching “male” for “white” and “female” for “black,” but that’s what I did when I put the list together.

    I’m completely convinced that the sexist system we’re stuck in damages both women and men. I’m completely convinced that some of the ways men are damaged can indeed be narrowly described as female privilege, when “privilege” is defined in the flawed way my list implicitly defines privilege. I’m completely convinced that the “yes, but men are controlling the system” response I’ve seen some feminists make rings hollow, because the men with control of the mine shafts and the men dying in the mine shafts are not the same men.

    At the same time, I don’t find the way you two[*] discuss privilege – as if the fact that the ruling class of decision-makers is overwhelmingly male is a fact of no importance whatsoever (or at least not important enough for either of you to mention it that I recall) – to ring true, either.

    I want to find a language for discussing sexism that acknowledges that men are hurt by sexism and that matters – but without slipping into what I see as the ludicrous “there is no such thing as female disadvantage” lunacy of the men’s rights movement, and that acknowledges that it matters that our rulers are overwhelmingly male.

    So right now, the way I’ve discussed privilege in the past isn’t a hill on which I’ll make my stand. I agree, that language, as I’ve used it, is flawed. But I’m still using it because I haven’t yet worked out what better language I ought to be moving to.

    [*] I should clarify that although in this particular instance, I see the same flaw in your views, that doesn’t mean that I think that y’all share all views. On the contrary, I recognize that the two of you disagree in significant ways.

    Comment by Ampersand — June 3, 2006 @ 5:37 am | Reply

  6. Adult do have some superficial freedom, power, and personal autonomy not given to children, but not much of that is left after the constraints imposed by adult responsibility are taken into consideration.

    You’ve got a very dim and romanticized view of childhood, or you’re trying to put one over on our child readers, if you really believe this.

    Your argument really boils down to saying that if we can identify one privilege women have that men don’t–even if it’s a privilege conferred and enforced by men–there is no such thing as male privilege.

    Comment by mythago — June 3, 2006 @ 1:27 pm | Reply

  7. Ampersand:

    I think “the system men created” is taking a kind of collectivist view of men, if I understand you correctly. But I don’t think men as a class created patriarchy. First of all, the vast majority of men in the world’s history were born long after patriarchy was created. Second of all, the origins of patriarchy are in the fog of prehistory, so although I have some theories (mostly having to do with the implications of women getting pregnant and having to nurse), I really don’t know for sure.

    Certainly the concept of a patriarchal society lies somewhere within human prehistory, however, I am unaware of any historical evidence suggesting that the concept of the Patriarchy (the global social structure) dates from that time. Also, I would be hard pressed to believe that any social construct would remain intact and unchanged for some ten thousand years. History shows us that social constructs often change or at least evolve, but for the Patriarchy to be as pervasive as you claim, no such change or evolution could have occurred.

    I really don’t think you’ve understood my position correctly, unless by “men” you mean “some men.” I don’t think “men” control our society. I think the rulers of our society are nearly all male (and also nearly all white, rich, straight, and Christian), but obviously most men are not the rulers of our society.

    Your checklist made no such distinction. The list implies that all males, regardless of class, race or economic standing, reap the same benefits. If the checklist specifically addresses abuses of power by white, rich, straight, Christian men, then the title “male privilege checklist” is rather misleading.

    Furthermore, while I agree that women shouldn’t be blamed for female privilege, I also don’t think men should be blamed for male privilege, (as I’ve said in the past). I don’t think I’m to blame for patriarchy, nor do I blame other men for patriarchy. I blame people for their own actions and choices, but not for huge social systems that existed long before their births.

    We may simply be arguing semantics here, but you have previously stated that men have a responsibility to address the disadvantages women face as a result of male privilege. While one could argue that responsibility is not tantamount to blame, I am unaware of any comment you have made placing the same obligations on women. In that sense, you are blaming men specifically for the Patriarchy.

    It’s a conceptual error to personalize privilege and talk about it exclusively from the level of individual experience, which is what the list does.

    Then the conceptual error begins with the checklist. Again, the checklist makes no distinction between class, race or economic standing. By virtue of being so broad, the list invites men to plug in their individual experiences to see if the list holds true (it invites women to do the same). Of course, there are plenty of males who do not reap the benefits of male privilege their entire lives and that is one of the flaws of the list. It not only does not take these men into account, but dismisses their experiences as insubstantial in comparison to those of women. Again, if the list were not so broad, this confusion might not happen.

    At the same time, I don’t find the way you two[*] discuss privilege – as if the fact that the ruling class of decision-makers is overwhelmingly male is a fact of no importance whatsoever (or at least not important enough for either of you to mention it that I recall) – to ring true, either.

    If we truly lived in a global society, i.e. one ruler/elected official, then I would agree with you. However, since we are a set of individual societies with a host of different values and social expectations, the position that the Patriarchy is a global sexist, structure does not ring true. The gender of decision-makers therefore is irrelevant since their decisions would largely be based either on the desires of the majority population or those in power, and also because social structures are created and maintained by both genders. More so, to focus on the decision-maker’s gender would place great import on it, implying that their gender, not their power, is the cause of the problem.

    I want to find a language for discussing sexism that acknowledges that men are hurt by sexism and that matters – but without slipping into what I see as the ludicrous “there is no such thing as female disadvantage” lunacy of the men’s rights movement, and that acknowledges that it matters that our rulers are overwhelmingly male.

    Again, the ruler’s gender has no more relevance in understanding sexism in our society than the fact that child abusers are overwhelmingly female does in understanding child abuse in our society. The two are not necessarily related. Also, I think you are falling into the hypocrisy Daran mentioned. While there are certainly some people—both male and female—who do not believe women face any disadvantages within the men’s movement, there are also feminists who believe the same about men. Whatever language that is settled upon to discuss sexism must be inclusive of women’s roles in creating and maintaining sexist social structures that disadvantage men. To fail to acknowledge that would put us back at square one.

    Comment by toysoldier — June 3, 2006 @ 4:34 pm | Reply

  8. toysoldier:

    History shows us that social constructs often change or at least evolve, but for the Patriarchy to be as pervasive as you claim, no such change or evolution could have occurred.

    That’s a bit like saying that the quadrapedal body form is so pervasive that no change or evolution could have occured. In fact the limbs of vertebrates have evolved enormously over the several hundred million years since the body form appeared.

    I agree that such cultural characteristics such as patriarchal government are subject to evolution, and that their persistence over tens of thousands of years is an indicated that whatever physical factors gave rise to is have also been persistent. But this merely supports Barry’s conjecture that it has been pregnancy/childbirth/nursing, and all the rigours associated therewith that was the causal and has been the sustaining factor. However modern technology has changed that picture, and society is changing in response.

    It’s a conceptual error to personalize privilege and talk about it exclusively from the level of individual experience, which is what the list does.

    Then the conceptual error begins with the checklist.

    As Barry explicitly acknowledges in the last clause of the quoted sentence.

    However, since we are a set of individual societies with a host of different values and social expectations, the position that the Patriarchy is a global sexist, structure does not ring true. The gender of decision-makers therefore is irrelevant since their decisions would largely be based either on the desires of the majority population or those in power,…

    That’s an assumption, and a rather implausible one at that. I would say that the decisions of decision makers are largely based on what best benefits the decision makers. In a democracy, that means doing enough to keep enough of the voters happy enough to stay in power. That’s a long way from doing the “desires of the majority population”. Dictatorships have an even easier time.

    Comment by Daran — June 4, 2006 @ 6:25 am | Reply

  9. Adult do have some superficial freedom, power, and personal autonomy not given to children, but not much of that is left after the constraints imposed by adult responsibility are taken into consideration.

    You’ve got a very dim and romanticized view of childhood, or you’re trying to put one over on our child readers, if you really believe this.

    I’m not aware of any child readers, nor am I writing for children.

    My best friend has the ‘freedom’ to walk around town on her own at will. Her son is not permitted to go further than line-of-sight from his home unescorted. When I visited them a few days ago, he spent the afternoon exercising the limits of his freedom to the full. She and I did housework.

    I am not claiming that children are more free than adults. My claim is that adult freedom and autonomy is largely illusionary.

    Your argument really boils down to saying that if we can identify one privilege women have that men don’t–even if it’s a privilege conferred and enforced by men–there is no such thing as male privilege.

    That’s not my argument at all. My argument is that there are massive “invisible systems” of female privilege under feminism’s “flawed definition” of the word. (I agree with him on that point.) I’m not arguing that that male privilege doesn’t exist under that definition. I’m arguing that privilege is not the one-way street that feminism claims it is, and that it is hypcritical of feminists to berate men for failing to recognise their privilege, while themselves denying women’s privilege.

    I’m also pointing out the sexist manner in which feminists avoid recognising female privilege by framing it in trivialising and victim-blaming terms. That’s offensive for all the same reason trivialisation and victim-blaming of women is offensive. It’s also hypocritical for feminists to condemn the latter while engaging in the former.

    “One privilege that women have” is your framing, not mine. It is you who are viewing female privilege as “individual acts of meanness”, rather than the result of a pervasive culture that regards men as dispensable, disposable cannon-fodder; you who are blaming the victims when you conflate them with their victimisers. As Barry pointed out, the men controlling the mine shafts and the men dieing in the mineshafts are not the same people.

    Comment by Daran — June 4, 2006 @ 7:46 am | Reply

  10. My argument is that there are massive “invisible systems” of female privilege under feminism’s “flawed definition” of the word. (I agree with him on that point.)

    Actually, I attributed the flawed definition to my list, not to feminism in general.

    Comment by Ampersand — June 4, 2006 @ 9:50 am | Reply

  11. Ampersand:

    Before I address your substantive points, I would like to say that while I accept your sincerity when you say that this is what you currently think, toysoldier’s representation is much closer to what you say through the bullhorn of of your blog. I don’t think a whisper of a comment in a far less well-read blog amounts to an effective clarification/retraction. In other words, I hope you’ll write this up as a post to Alas.

    In the present day, the system isn’t created; it’s maintained. And it’s maintained by people of both sexes.

    Right, and people of both sexes suffer from this. So where does this leave your position that men specifically have a responsibility to address sexism?

    I think the rulers of our society are nearly all male (and also nearly all white, rich, straight, and Christian), but obviously most men are not the rulers of our society.

    “Christian” is US-centric. The UK, despite its established church is a much more secular society.

    Furthermore, while I agree that women shouldn’t be blamed for female privilege, I also don’t think men should be blamed for male privilege, (as I’ve said in the past).

    The word blame to me means “responsibility for something bad”. societal-sexism is “something bad”, we agree. I cannot see how to parse your attribution of responsibility for it to men and only men as other than blame.

    As for the language of “privilege,” I think the way I’ve been using it for years is hugely problematic.

    I agree, however, as I said, my intention with this post was not to raise “principled objections” to the concept, (which might be the subject of another blog post), but to point out the sexist and prejudicial way the language of “privilege” and “disadvantage” is applied.

    And it’s not just you. “Privilege”, as you have been using it, is an article of shared vocabulary within feminism.

    Part of the problem with the “male privilege checklist,” in my view, is that it’s actually the “yes, female disadvantage due to sexism still exists list.”

    It would be a lot less objectionable if that was what it was, but it purports to be something quite different.

    Since so many people are so committed to denying that sexism exists and harms women, I think that maintaining and defending the list is worthwhile. And most of my defenses of the list nowadays are made on that basis.

    There are a lot of people committed to asserting that sexism exists and harms women, and this is a view which is represented in the highest levels of governmental and other power structures. (For example there is a minister for women in the UK government. I understand there is a similar office or department in the Federal Government of the US).

    There are not very many people committed to asserting that sexism exists and harms men, and this view is not represented within these power structures, nor is there any great awareness of male disadvantage generally.

    There are a lot of people committed to denying that sexism exists which harms men. You are allied to them. There are other people who acknowledge it, but use trivialising and victim-blaming language. You’re one of them.

    My view on privilege today is different than it was in… in…. 2000? 2001? …Whenever it was that I first compiled the list.

    When you articulate a different view, I’ll respond to it.

    It’s a conceptual error to personalize privilege and talk about it exclusively from the level of individual experience, which is what the list does. And it’s likewise a conceptual error to think that racism and sexism can be treated as if they’re interchangeable concepts, just switching “male” for “white” and “female” for “black,” but that’s what I did when I put the list together.

    I agree with the second of these propositions, and will reserve judgement on the first.

    I’m completely convinced that the sexist system we’re stuck in damages both women and men. I’m completely convinced that some of the ways men are damaged can indeed be narrowly described as female privilege, when “privilege” is defined in the flawed way my list implicitly defines privilege. I’m completely convinced that the “yes, but men are controlling the system” response I’ve seen some feminists make rings hollow, because the men with control of the mine shafts and the men dying in the mine shafts are not the same men.

    I look forward to seeing you criticise “some feminists” on Alas.

    Do you realise how hollow your own framing of male disadvantage sounds?

    At the same time, I don’t find the way you two[*] discuss privilege – as if the fact that the ruling class of decision-makers is overwhelmingly male is a fact of no importance whatsoever (or at least not important enough for either of you to mention it that I recall) – to ring true, either.

    I’ll reply to that by way of a blog post.

    I want to find a language for discussing sexism that acknowledges that men are hurt by sexism and that matters – but without slipping into what I see as the ludicrous “there is no such thing as female disadvantage” lunacy of the men’s rights movement,…

    False dichotomy.

    So right now, the way I’ve discussed privilege in the past isn’t a hill on which I’ll make my stand. I agree, that language, as I’ve used it, is flawed. But I’m still using it because I haven’t yet worked out what better language I ought to be moving to.

    As long as you still stand on that hill, you should be prepared to take the slings and arrows that come your way.

    Daran: Edited several times for miscellanious typos, general unborking, occasional rewording, and one linkification.

    Comment by Daran — June 4, 2006 @ 10:01 am | Reply

  12. I’ll respond some other time – I have to go to work in a few minutes, so no time now – but since it appears to be a source of confusion, I wanted to clarify how I’ve used the words “blame” and “responsibility.”

    As I use the words in these discussions and on my blog, blame means “Being the cause or source of something,” while responsibility means “a duty, obligation, or burden.”

    Comment by Ampersand — June 4, 2006 @ 10:24 am | Reply

  13. Actually, I attributed the flawed definition to my list, not to feminism in general.

    As I said, it is an item of shared vocabulary. To the extent that I can discern a difference between how you use it, and how it is used by other feminists posting on Alas, it is that your usage is more nuanced and defensible. If your usage is flawed, then theirs is even more so.

    As I use the words in these discussions and on my blog, blame means “Being the cause or source of something,”

    Of something bad.

    while responsibility means “a duty, obligation, or burden.”

    I understand that. But just because a word has two meanings doesn’t mean that you can say it in a context which points to one meaning, and claim that that it really means the other. If you say that I am responsible for a child, I take it in the second sense. If you say that I am responsible for a broken window, I take it in the first. A broken window is a bad thing, and that context points to the first meaning.

    Comment by Daran — June 4, 2006 @ 12:09 pm | Reply

  14. I’m arguing that privilege is not the one-way street that feminism claims it is

    Feminism doesn’t claim that. Your mental caricature of feminism might. (And you apparently extend that mental caricature to individual feminists, as you pretend I have made claims I haven’t and in fact don’t even believe.)

    And what you actually claimed was “the existance of female privilege would present a powerful challenge to the very idea of male privilege.” That’s not claiming that women have privilege too; your original point was that male privilege is a myth because we can show female privilege exists.

    Every system of inequality gives some privileges to the lesser classes, generally in the form of absolving them of responsibilities. Is that supposed to show that everything is really equal or that, in fact, the ‘protected’ group really has the upper hand?

    When you say that children are ‘privileged’ and that adult autonomy is ‘superficial’, I’m next expecting you to tell me that the obligation of a medieval lord to protect his serfs meant that the serfs were actually privileged.

    Comment by mythago — June 4, 2006 @ 12:36 pm | Reply

  15. I’m arguing that privilege is not the one-way street that feminism claims it is

    Feminism doesn’t claim that. Your mental caricature of feminism might.

    Really? Is this not precisely what Bean is saying here? Is she not a feminist? Are her views so far from the mainstream of feminism that they could be considered a caricature?

    Could you provide me with some examples of feminists characterising something as “female privilege”? Because when I do a search for the phrase on Alas, I only see feminists rejecting the concept. Ampersand’s post above is the one exeption I can recall, and it’s notable that he calls it “flawed” I’ve never seen him call it that before. (He has previously acknowledged it as “problematic and subject to misreadings“.)

    (And you apparently extend that mental caricature to individual feminists, as you pretend I have made claims I haven’t and in fact don’t even believe.)

    I claim that you see “female privilege”, to the extent that you acknowledge it at all (which is only when challenged). as “individual acts” rather than a pervasive “invisible system”. In saying this, I am applying Barry’s analysis (Actually his version of McIntosh’s) to your utterance: “one privilege women have”.

    The only other claim I made about you is that “you blam[e] the victims when you conflate them with their victimisers.”. I refer to this clause: “even if it’s a privilege conferred and enforced by men”. Here, you are tacking an element of the “patriarchy hurts men too” framing onto the “female privilege” framing (which you accept only reluctantly and under pressure). Your privilege is that you are alive while those men down the mine are dead. When you blame “men” for this state of affairs without distinguishing between the men controlling the mines and the men dying in them you are blaming those victims by conflating them with their victimisers.

    And what you actually claimed was “the existance of female privilege would present a powerful challenge to the very idea of male privilege.” That’s not claiming that women have privilege too; your original point was that male privilege is a myth because we can show female privilege exists.

    I think part of the problem here is that “male privilege” is ambiguous. In has a countable sense (a male privilege, two male privileges, a whole list of male privileges). It can also refer to the pervasive culture which alledgedly overwhelmingly benefits men at the expense of women. In this sense one refers to “male privilege” without a quantifier.

    I do not dispute the existence of male privileges in the countable sense, nor do I dispute the existence of “invisible systems” of male privilege (though they are a lot less invisible thanks to the efforts of feminists). It is the overwhelmingly onesided pervasive culture claimed by feminists that I dispute. To make that case honestly would require a fair appraisal of both male and female privilege. Feminists haven’t done that. Rather they’ve used the sexist framing devices I have here deconstructed to avoid allowing anything to be considered as female privilege at all.

    Every system of inequality gives some privileges to the lesser classes, generally in the form of absolving them of responsibilities. Is that supposed to show that everything is really equal or that, in fact, the ‘protected’ group really has the upper hand?

    The unprotected group is lower class men.

    The protected “group” is women + ruling men (who don’t generally go to war or work in mines). I don’t agree that this constitutes a group as such.

    When you say that children are ‘privileged’ and that adult autonomy is ’superficial’, I’m next expecting you to tell me that the obligation of a medieval lord to protect his serfs meant that the serfs were actually privileged.

    Here’s an interesting chain of analogy:

    Men -> adults -> medieval lord
    Women -> children -> serf

    In reality, half of the serfs were (and are) men. You’re the one claiming that they were privileged.

    Edited for borking, typos, and minor wording.

    Comment by Daran — June 4, 2006 @ 3:54 pm | Reply

  16. Could you provide me with some examples of feminists characterising something as “female privilege”?

    Ever read The Handmaid’s Tale? And please, let’s not play the game of ‘find one person on your side and you have to distance yourself from them’. I’m sure you wouldn’t appreciated if I went around cherry-picking from men’s-rights activists who think women run the world.

    I claim that you see “female privilege”, to the extent that you acknowledge it at all (which is only when challenged). as “individual acts” rather than a pervasive “invisible system”.

    It must be nice to simply make shit up. Easier than debating a real person, no?

    Comment by mythago — June 4, 2006 @ 5:43 pm | Reply

  17. I don’t think Daran is cherrypicking, Mythago. You’ve said that a particular viewpoint is outside the feminist mainstream. He replies with someone holding that viewpoint who appears to be within the mainstream. Either bean isn’t mainstream, or there are mainstream feminists who assert what Daran claims they assert. You seem to be declining to debate the point; since you later accuse him of making stuff up rather than debating a real person, this is somewhat ironic.

    Comment by Robert — June 4, 2006 @ 8:00 pm | Reply

  18. Robert:

    I don’t think Daran is cherrypicking, Mythago. You’ve said that a particular viewpoint is outside the feminist mainstream. He replies with someone holding that viewpoint who appears to be within the mainstream. Either bean isn’t mainstream, or there are mainstream feminists who assert what Daran claims they assert.

    I fact, what I did was Google ‘site:amptoons.com “female privilege”‘ and quote the first remark by a feminist from the first result listed.”. I did look a little further. The second and third Google returns were feed pages, which I decline to wade through. The content is duplicated in properly formatted pages anyway. The first comment by a feminist from the fourth return is by Ginmar. Strictly speaking, What she says here could conceivably be construed as a rejection of content from SYG, rather than a rejection of “female privilege” per se. I’m in no doubt, however, that Ginmar rejects both. On the same page Odanu rejects the concept. The remaining discussions by feminists focus upon the propriety of a man writing such a checklist, which is a rather strange ad hom argument, but not particularly germane to the point I make here.

    On the fifth return, Ginmar again, and again she could be construed as rejecting a particular list, rather than rejecting the concept per se.

    The Sixth return is a false positive. There is no discussion there of the concept by feminists. The Seventh Return is a discussion about “white female privilege” which I really don’t know what the make of. In the eighth return Piny appears to reject a version of the concept, but that’s not really clear. The nineth return is another feed. In the tenth, the phrase crops up in a discussion between Ed and Richard, neither of whom appear to be feminists.

    So, out of the first page of Google results, I can find two feminists unequivocally rejecting the concept, a number of more equivocal rejections, no endorsements by feminists equivocal or otherwise. Moreover, in every case except one, the matter was first raised by critics of feminism (or in the case of “white female privilege” a critic of white feminism). The one exception was Ginmar, who on one occasion raised it in anticipation of the subject being raised by feminist critics.

    I suggest that the further you have to go to find a feminist (or a member of any particular group) who says a particular thing, the more likely it is that you are cherry-picking. Citing a work of fiction smacks of the same desperation with which antifeminists cite French for the proposition that feminists believe “all men are rapists”.

    If “female privilege” as a concept really was accepted within feminism, then Mythago should be able to find examples of it close to home. She cannot.

    Edited for link-borking.

    Comment by Daran — June 4, 2006 @ 11:48 pm | Reply

  19. Mythago:

    let’s not play the game of ‘find one person on your side and you have to distance yourself from them’.

    Why not? I’d win

    I’m sure you wouldn’t appreciated if I went around cherry-picking from men’s-rights activists who think women run the world.

    As I said, I’d win. I’ve already distanced myself from them I do not defend or identify with men’s rights activism.

    Comment by Daran — June 5, 2006 @ 12:11 am | Reply

  20. […] While I await Barry’s promised resply to my remarks in another thread, I thought I’d relieve him of a possible distraction by fielding Cathy’s response to his criticism. Of course I do not purport to speak for him, and his reply might be different from mine. […]

    Pingback by Creative Destruction » Yes Cathy - Part 2 — June 6, 2006 @ 7:49 pm | Reply

  21. Daran wrote:

    Before I address your substantive points, I would like to say that while I accept your sincerity when you say that this is what you currently think, toysoldier’s representation is much closer to what you say through the bullhorn of of your blog.

    I’d say that it’s both true that my thoughts have evolved, and that Toysoldier’s representation is as inaccurate as it is cliched.

    In the present day, the system isn’t created; it’s maintained. And it’s maintained by people of both sexes.

    Right, and people of both sexes suffer from this. So where does this leave your position that men specifically have a responsibility to address sexism?

    Because men as a class are seen as having more authority – and, on average, do have more authority – than women. With power comes responsibility.

    Also, many men have benefited from the system at the expense of women, which I think brings about some responsibility.

    On the other hand, I also think women have a responsibility to fight the system of sexism. (But women have also done more to fight the system than men have, on the whole.)

    I think the rulers of our society are nearly all male (and also nearly all white, rich, straight, and Christian), but obviously most men are not the rulers of our society.

    “Christian” is US-centric. The UK, despite its established church is a much more secular society.

    Fair enough.

    And it’s not just you. “Privilege”, as you have been using it, is an article of shared vocabulary within feminism.

    If by this you mean “all feminists use the term the way Amp’s been using it,” then I disagree. The way I’ve used the term “privilege” is not universal throughout feminism, and in particular is not the way some academic feminists use the term: see Allan Johnson’s books, for example.

    There are a lot of people committed to asserting that sexism exists and harms women, and this is a view which is represented in the highest levels of governmental and other power structures. (For example there is a minister for women in the UK government. I understand there is a similar office or department in the Federal Government of the US).

    And there are a lot of people opposed to the idea that sexism exists and harms women – at least in the US – and they are far better represented in the highest reaches of the US government than feminists are. For that matter, under Bush the Federal departments you describe are hardly feminist in outlook or agenda, except in the most superficial sense.

    There are not very many people committed to asserting that sexism exists and harms men, and this view is not represented within these power structures, nor is there any great awareness of male disadvantage generally.

    There’s a lot of people dedicated to removing many male disadvantages; they just don’t tend to be identified as male disadvantages, but are instead talked about as human disadvantages, because men are considered to be the default state of humanity.

    For example, one example of male disadvantage that’s been used by both me and by MRAs is the overwhelming preponderance of men among those workers who die in workplace accidents. However, there are government agencies and rules which have been working for decades to reduce workplace accidents; and both the rate and the absolute number of such deaths (in the US) have gone down as a result. It’s not that the problem isn’t addressed; in fact, it’s being addressed in a fairly effective manner. It’s that it’s not acknowledged as a male problem while it’s addressed.

    But just because a word has two meanings doesn’t mean that you can say it in a context which points to one meaning, and claim that that it really means the other.

    In context, I’ve been perfectly clear about which meanings I’m using – see this post, for example, where I wrote “Blame is silly and counterproductive: it gets hung up asking ‘who made this mess?’ Responsibility is productive: it says, ‘time to clean up this mess.'” I guess it’s possible for an unfriendly reader to bend over backward and pretend to misunderstand the distinction I was getting at there, but I don’t think a fair reader could make that error.

    Comment by Ampersand — June 9, 2006 @ 8:16 am | Reply

  22. Oh, missed this one:

    I want to find a language for discussing sexism that acknowledges that men are hurt by sexism and that matters – but without slipping into what I see as the ludicrous “there is no such thing as female disadvantage” lunacy of the men’s rights movement,…

    False dichotomy.

    When someone says “I don’t want A or B, I think there’s a third choice,” it’s nonsense to accuse them of having set up a false dichotomy. The statement implicitly denies dichotomy.

    Finally, with apologies, I’m trying to spend more time on cartooning and less time blogging. So I can’t promise I’ll continue this particular thread at this time.

    Comment by Ampersand — June 9, 2006 @ 8:27 am | Reply

  23. […] I nagged Barry for further elaboration of his position on the subject of privilege, which he has provided, so I really ought to respond. I also want to address his countercharge, made earlier in that thread that I “discuss privilege – as if the fact that the ruling class of decision-makers is overwhelmingly male is a fact of no importance whatsoever (or at least not important enough for [me] to mention it…)” […]

    Pingback by Creative Destruction » My Blacklog — June 20, 2006 @ 3:33 am | Reply

  24. Barry Deutsch sound like a self-hating man. If women in general had died in wars,lived shorter lives on average, been rediculed for being too “macho”, yet created technology, houses and government, I probably would not see too many of them feeling guilty for being unfairly “privileged”.Many of them would be bragging about it. Well, anyway, I can’t wait to debunk his “list.”

    1. My odds of being hired for a job, when competing against female applicants, are probably skewed in my favor. The more prestigious the job, the larger the odds are skewed. (This is the exact opposite, see number #3)

    2. I can be confident that my co-workers won’t think I got my job because of my sex – even though that might be true. (Why would you care what your co-workers think? Either you like the job or you don’t.And I sure didn’t get that bland telemarketing job I have where mainly females work because because of my sex.)

    3. If I am never promoted, it’s not because of my sex. (Newfound bias against men, and Affirmative action says the opposite.I don’t make much money, neither do many male friends of mine)

    4. If I fail in my job or career, I can feel sure this won’t be seen as a black mark against my entire sex’s capabilities.(Seen as a black mark by who? After all the successful Martha Stewart’S, Madonna, Oprah, Middle-class female-run businessses all over my street, I don’t hear anyone talking about this black mark that you mention. And Why would I claim financial success for myself just because Bill Gates has it?)

    8. I am not taught to fear walking alone after dark in average public spaces. (Speak for yourself.I was taught not to walk alone after dark by my parents, and there are certain places I wouldn’t go at night if there have been gangs or shootings.)

    13. If I seek political office, my relationship with my children, or who I hire to take care of them, will probably not be scrutinized by the press. (If you talk to the press about what your relationship is likewith your kids, and how you were the one to pay for day care, or a nanny,don’t assume everyone will give you a free pass on it. Although, is the press so good at oppressing people by themselves? Maybe you only wan’t them to have politically correct attitudes.)

    14. Chances are my elected representatives are mostly people of my own sex. The more prestigious and powerful the elected position, the more likely this is to be true.(Many politicians, male and female send men to war to die,ignore prostate cancer, health issues of men and true issues of low-income men. It’s the policies that are carried out that are most noticable,not the gender.If the government had mostly women, but sent women to be homeless, or into the front line of war, and ignored their specific health questions, would most people be convinced that this served female interests? Nope.)

    16. As a child, chances are I was encouraged to be more active and outgoing than my sisters.(So wrong.So many verbally quiet, yet hyper boys are put on Ritalin in order to sit still in boring classes. My sisters were very encouraged to be active and outgoing.The shy,less outgoing boy is a trend not only in Special Ed.)

    17. As a child, I could choose from an almost infinite variety of children’s media featuring positive, active, non-stereotyped heroes of my own sex.(Non-stereotyped? The beer-swilling,football watching men shown on T.V. The “hapless” dads which are shown on T.V. I never had to look for it; male protagonists were (and are) the default.(Not all protagonists are considered good by most people.)

    18. As a child, chances are I got more teacher attention than girls who raised their hands just as often. (Mostly Wrong.The public schools I was in did the opposite. And I didn’t raise my hand that much anyway.The public schools tell male children terrible things about all their ancestors.Many teachers are often quite misandrist.)

    24. If I have sex with a lot of people, it won’t make me an object of contempt or derision. (A lot of people that I know would ridicule your lifestyle choice if you chose that.Some Family and friends included.)

    25. I do not have to worry about the message my wardrobe sends about my sexual availability or my gender conformity. (Men are not usually well thought well of in terms of gender conformity if they wear certain clothes.Female clothes for instance,like dresses, whereas women can wear tradition mens clothes, and it’s fine. People have had opinions on my wardrobe, for sure.)

    31. I can ask for legal protection from violence that happens mostly to men without being seen as a selfish special interest, since that kind of violence is called “crime” and is a general social concern. (Violence that happens mostly to women is usually called “domestic violence” or “acquaintance rape,” and is seen as a special interest issue.) That is because specific “violence against men” as a individual issue is ignored by the media, and government, (To them,it is then violence against an individual person.Rodney King wasn’t allowed to be seen as a man experiencing violence. He was simply seen as black. Men can’t have issues that stand on their own. People often stats on men and violence are coming from a special-interest group with an ax to grind, so that they can hate men in general. More on that in later posts.)

    39. If I have children with a wife or girlfriend, chances are she’ll do most of the childrearing,(wrong, she’ll be more likely to wan’t to put the kids in daycare, focus on the career, and blame you for not helping enough in the house.) and in particular the most dirty, repetitive and unrewarding parts of childrearing.(What is the most unrewarding part of childrearing? I have seen changes in many areas of this anyway.I know house-husbands with a lot of commitment to their kids.)

    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. (Are you saying you wan’t to see more scantily-clad men? It’s fine with me if people wan’t to see it, but the choice of some people and media not to show it is not exactly oppressive.)

    43. If I am heterosexual, it’s incredibly unlikely that I’ll ever be beaten up by a spouse or lover. (More).(Maybe it won’t happen to you. some women are now as violent as anyone toward a spouse or lover.And they do abuse children and elderly at a higher rate than men. When you add the verbal abuse, you might not want to stay in the relationship.)

    44. Complete strangers generally do not walk up to me on the street and tell me to “smile.” (That is oppressive? Besides,I had a stranger come to me, encouraged me to smile,and asked if I had a goal in life. It happens,and I figure it wasn’t that bad.)

    I will take on and refute other numbers of the list in later posts.

    Comment by Mike — August 10, 2006 @ 11:14 pm | Reply

  25. I will take on and refute other numbers of the list in later posts.

    Cool! I’m somebody’s hobby!

    Just one thing, dude: It’s cool for you to disagree with me on the issues, but could you skip the personal attacks (such as “self-hating man”) in your future posts? That sort of thing is not only illogical, in my opinion it creates a bad environment for dialog and debate.

    Comment by Ampersand — August 11, 2006 @ 12:17 pm | Reply

  26. […] My previous posts on this subject: “Privilege” and “Disadvantage” as sexist framing devices and Do white men really benefit from privilege?   […]

    Pingback by More on Privilege « Creative Destruction — September 26, 2006 @ 1:56 pm | Reply

  27. […] as sexist framing devices Do white men really benefit from privilege? More on Privilege Selective Service – Privilege part 4   […]

    Pingback by Selective Service - Privilege Part 4 « Creative Destruction — September 27, 2006 @ 3:41 pm | Reply

  28. […] “Privilege” and “Disadvantage” as sexist framing devices Do white men really benefit from privilege? More on Privilege Selective Service – Privilege part 4 […]

    Pingback by Feminist Critics — June 18, 2007 @ 3:14 pm | Reply

  29. […] by women over men which are trivialised and excluded from the discourse by framing devices such as ‘disadvantage’ vs. ‘privilege’ used by Barry and other […]

    Pingback by Feminist Critics — June 18, 2007 @ 3:15 pm | Reply

  30. The insistence that members of other groups admit their “privilege” is really just a rhetorical technique. Privilege framing serves as an amulet against outsiders. It used to warn members of the “oppressed group” that the oppressor’s opinion is morally suspect and is probably of little value. It is all based on Standpoint Theory, which posits that that suffering from oppression increases knowledge and insight into society. The more privileged you are the more biased you are, and the less knowledge you have about society in general. I think it’s complete nonsense.

    More on my blog:
    http://sweatingthroughfog.blogspot.com/2007/10/playing-games-with-privilege.html

    Comment by Sweating Through Fog — October 29, 2007 @ 8:46 pm | Reply

  31. How dare you discard my comment?

    Comment by Don Meredith — June 2, 2008 @ 2:15 pm | Reply


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