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: