In discussions of social and legal issues, I have frequently heard feminists (and gays and lesbians and transgendered people and people of ethnic minorities and, well, pretty much any identifiable group) tell others to "check your privilege", especially in cases where other individuals offer viewpoints that differ from accepted norms.
This can be valuable advice, when it is given in good faith. We should all examine not only the ways in which we are disadvantaged, but take the time to really look at the areas in which we have advantages others do not--even when those advantages are the result of measures taken by the law and society to alleviate a disadvantage. As I told the teenage busboy at work last night when he was complaining the truck his father had given him was several years old, "You should get down on your knees and thank your dad, you ungrateful brat. You know what my teenagers get? $20 shoes and a goddamn bus pass." He was offended at first, but after he thought about it for a while, he realized just how lucky he is and actually thanked me.
However, in almost every instance I see the phrase, "check your privilege," used by a member of a group that is considered to be disadvantaged, it is used to convey victim status in relation to the dissenter, and to shut down all discussion other than that which confirms the group's beliefs. Moreover, they will often insist that because they are disenfranchised by virtue of their membership in the group, there is no way they could also hold privilege due to their membership in the same group. This is so not the case.
Privilege is largely about the real-world consequences of stereotyping and prejudice. Stereotyping and prejudice may be disfavored as a way of determining the true characteristics of a given individual, and thus be a "bad thing"...but at the same time, they don't always result in negatives for the people stereotyped, and when they result in positive effects, many are entirely prepared to take advantage of their privilege. Consider: Asians are likely to be assumed to be bad drivers = negative effect on individuals. Conversely: Asians are likely to be assumed to be good at tech and math = positive effect for individuals in certain contexts, such as when s/he is applying for jobs in these areas.
And while privilege is a complicated thing--affluent, white, straight, well-educated, able-bodied males being "at the top" in most contexts, middle class black males inhabiting a huge gray zone with upper class, white gay males somewhere down the privilege ladder, and mixed race, overweight, disabled, poor, uneducated, transgendered lesbians stuck right at the very bottom...well, it all gets complicated when you start considering just who has more advantages and disadvantages than whom.
It's a contest these days, and to hear people talk, everyone's vying for the prized spot at the very, very, very bottom. Discussions of race, class, sexuality, gender and gender identity, disability, economic status, education level, all seem to devolve into a bizarre exercise in "one-downmanship", where everyone clamors that they are a more victimy victim than everyone else.
But some things really are black and white--at least they seem so. When considering things like male/female gender privilege, you need only consider the bilateral--that is, how does one play out in relation to the other? That is, what privileges do men enjoy solely due to their gender that women of similar economic class, education level, race, able-bodiedness, sexual orientation, etc etc, do not?
And conversely--and contrary to what many feminists believe--what privileges do women enjoy that men do not, all other things being equal? I was asked by a feminist to provide a list, and I did. She dismissed it as a "failed experiment." But I wonder what all of you might think of my female privilege checklist. Feel free to suggest more in the comments, if you think of any--I'll update the list as necessary.
Women are requested to consider whether they can answer "yes" to these questions:
1) People are likely to assume I am a warm and empathetic person.
2) People are likely to assist me when I must perform a physically arduous task.
3) If my car breaks down or I am otherwise in distress, people will be more likely to stop and help me.
4) If I am being physically assaulted, no matter the gender of my assailant, it is more likely that passersby will intervene.
5) People are likely to assume I am a competent parent, unless and until I prove otherwise.
6) People are more likely to respect my right to be offended by inappropriate or impolite behavior.
7) If I yell, people are not likely to believe I am going to hurt them.
8) Dress codes in the workplace and in leisure contexts are more likely to allow me to choose clothing that emphasize my most attractive features and minimize those I am unhappy with.
9) I am allowed by society to wear make-up to make myself more attractive without anyone questioning my sexual orientation. I am given a large social leeway in the kinds of hairstyles I can choose that will flatter my facial features.
10) If I work in a profession that is dominated by the opposite gender, people are likely to see it as "heroic", or a sign of social progress, rather than that I am deficient in some way.
11) If I show weakness, the first response of most people will be to console or help me, not criticize me, ignore me, or dismiss me as pathetic.
12) I am not expected to make the "first move" when meeting members of the opposite sex for the purposes of dating.
13) Members of the opposite gender are expected to make the first move; therefore, it is less likely I will be sexually rejected by those I come into close contact with in a dating context.
14) I am not expected to spend a significant portion of my yearly income on a token that accompanies a marriage proposal.
15) I am less likely to be expected to spend a significant amount of money on gifts, tokens, and activities during courtship and dating.
16) If I am having dinner with a member of the opposite gender in a dating context, and I do not reach for the check, people are unlikely to assume I am cheap.
17) If I am having dinner with a member of the opposite gender in a non-dating context, and I do not reach for the check, people are still unlikely to assume I am cheap.
18) If I earn less than my partner, no one will look at me funny.
19) If I earn nothing and my partner supports me, no one will look at me funny.
20) If I am unemployed and my partner is supporting me, people other than my partner are unlikely to pressure me because I am "not trying hard enough" to find employment.
21) If I earn less than my partner, people are unlikely to expect me to contribute equally to our living expenses.
22) If I am skilled in activities/hobbies that are commonly attributed to the opposite gender (kick boxing, operating power tools, shingling a roof, knitting, scrap-booking, floral arranging), people will see me as admirable. No one is likely to think I am a weirdo or wonder if I'm gay.
23) If I am completing a task with a member of the opposite gender, it will be expected that they take the greater physical burden--such as carrying the heavier boxes.
24) If I cry or am hurt, men and women are unlikely to tell me to "suck it up".
25) If I choose to stay at home with my children while my partner works, people are unlikely to think I am a deadbeat, unskilled, or shirking my responsibility to my family.
26) If I choose discontinue, temporarily leave, or reduce my participation in a high-status career in order to spend time at home caring for children, people are likely to consider it a "noble sacrifice" rather than a waste of my talents.
27) If I work and have a family, my employer will be less likely to require me to work overtime or bring work home with me. This will be the case even if I equally share domestic duties with my partner, or have outside domestic help (housekeeper, nanny).
28) If an employer claims to have "non-sexist" hiring policies, I can assume this to mean that members of my gender will be more likely to be hired, rather than less.
29) If I choose a career in early childhood or elementary level education, or volunteer to work with youth, no one will wonder if it's because I am a pedophile. They will trust me, even if they are aware that members of my own gender can and sometimes do use these positions to facilitate their sexual abuse of children.
30) If I commit a crime against children, even before details come out, people are likely to want to believe I have been falsely accused, was "failed by the system", or was somehow "driven to it" by factors outside my control (such as mental illness, poverty, lack of social services, childhood abuse), because members of my gender "just don't do stuff like that". It is unlikely they will automatically attribute my actions to unprovoked aggression or hold me entirely responsible for them.
31) If I am a victim of domestic violence, there are many services in my community that will help people of my gender. It is unlikely I will be denied services based on my gender.
32) If my partner physically abuses me, I will be believed by the authorities. Their belief will not depend on whether I have physical signs of injury.
33) If I physically abuse my partner, people--including the authorities and victim's services personnel--are likely to assume it was in self defence. Even if I tell them I hit first and my partner is non-violent, they are likely to wonder if my partner did something to instigate the assault, like cheating on me, yelling at me, or otherwise provoking me to lose control.
34) If I physically abuse my partner, and they reciprocate, they are as likely or more likely to be the one arrested as I am, even if my partner's reciprocation was in self-defence.
35) If my partner physically abuses me, and I reciprocate--even if I admit my reciprocation was not in self-defence but out of anger--it is unlikely that I will be arrested.
36) If I am divorced, and my ex-partner earns more than I do, it is more likely I will be awarded spousal support, even if am employed and self-supporting, than if our positions were reversed.
37) If I am divorced, the default assumption in the family court system is that I will have primary custody of my children. This will be the case, even if my ex-partner and I shared breadwinning and childcare duties roughly equally during the marriage.
38) If my ex-partner sues me for custody, they are unlikely to be as successful as I would be were our positions reversed. The burden will be on them to prove I am an unfit parent, rather than that they are more fit, before this likelihood tips in their favor.
39) If I am divorced, I will in almost every case be awarded child support. If my ex-partner does not abide by the terms of the custody/child support order, they will face legal consequences as serious as a prison sentence. They will face these consequences even if their reason for not paying is that their financial situation has changed since the marriage. They will face these consequences even if I do not fulfill my own legal obligations spelled out in the custody order to permit or facilitate their access to my children--my right to distance myself from my ex-partner is likely to take precedence over my children's right to involvement with their non-custodial parent.
40) If I am divorced and my partner is awarded primary custody of my children, I will only rarely be required to pay child support, even if I can afford it. If I am required to pay child support and I do not, for whatever reason, it is unlikely that I will face any legal consequences.
41) If I abuse the legal process during my divorce by obtaining a fraudulent temporary restraining order, misrepresenting my financial status, hiding assets, or otherwise perjuring myself, it is very unlikely I will be charged with a crime. In fact, my abuse of the legal process--even after it has been discovered by the court--is likely to benefit me in matters such as custody. Moreover, "the good of the children" will be treated as a reason to not penalize me monetarily--such as by reducing my share of joint assets.
42) If my ex-partner abuses the legal process in the above ways, they are more likely to be penalized criminally by being charged, or monetarily through reduction of their share of our joint assets.
43) If I have consensual sex with my partner and we are both underage, and a charge of statutory rape is filed, I will never be the one charged. This will be the case even if I pressured my partner to have sex and they objected.
44) If I am raped by a member of the opposite gender, and I am not below the age of consent, no one will tell me such a crime does not exist.
45) If I am raped by a member of the opposite gender, knowledgeable members of the medical and criminal justice communities are unlikely to consider my body's involuntary and automatic responses to sexual stimuli as "proof" that I gave consent.
46) If I am the victim of a statutory rape committed by a member of the opposite gender, and it results in a pregnancy, I will have a choice as to what my parental responsibilities to that child will be. I will not be legally required to be financially responsible for a child that results if I have been raped by an adult.
47) irregardless of my parents' culture or religion or any small beneficial side-effects, I am protected by the law from any genital cutting until I am an adult and request it for myself. If I have been cut, my peers will universally agree that I have been a victim of a heinous crime.
48) I can openly state a sexual preference for members of the opposite gender who had significant portions of their genitals removed at birth, and not immediately be called out as crazy by most of society. I can request a sexual partner who has not been cut to become cut for me, and that partner would most likely not immediately leave me.
49) I can cite my own sexual preference for members of the opposite gender who had significant portions of their genitals removed at birth as the sole reason for requesting the same done to my newborn child, and my child's doctor will comply without arguing with me or reporting me to the police. My health insurance will even pay for it.
50) It would be career suicide for a doctor or politician to recommend cutting off significant portions of my genitals to reduce the chance of catching STDs or having other medical problems with my genitals.
51) There's little debate as to whether or not cutting my gender's genitals is bad.
***Please, if anyone wants to add more items, just let me know in the comments, like Beanie Appa did. This list is a work in progress. :)
When I proffered some of the second half of this list in an online discussion, one feminist scoffed, "Women's privilege is exclusively when we are raped, physically abused, or divorced? Wow, lucky me."
What feminists--and many groups claiming disadvantage in whatever area--don't seem to consider is that privilege is an inherently oppositional and proportional concept. In order for men, for instance, to have male privilege in a specific context, it requires that women's disadvantage in that context be in opposition in relation to that privilege. If everyone had equal status under the law and in the eyes of society in relation to each other, even if our circumstances were terrible, no one would be more privileged or disadvantaged than anyone else, right? Privilege of one group requires the disadvantage of another. And when you have gender privilege, it is the other gender that is, perforce, disadvantaged.
Feminists of today still see the wage gap as a serious problem that needs to be dealt with. Feminists believe that the wage gap is a product of sexism in the workplace and unfair social expectations placed on women. The more libertarian view is that it is largely the result of women's choices in regard to work-life and home-life, and that most choices involve prioritizing one thing over another, even if we may desire and value both equally. But whatever you believe, the wage gap has been narrowing and will continue to narrow, because feminists decades ago believed it was a problem, and other people believed them and did something about it.
Feminists may scoff that it's no great shakes to have gender privilege when they are being victimized, raped, beaten or going through the difficult and emotionally devastating process of negotiating custody agreements. I find it quite alarming that they don't seem to be able to look at the situation from the other side. That female privilege, by the very nature of what privilege is, lies in direct, proportional opposition to male disenfranchisement in these very same areas. The greater the female privilege, the greater the male disenfranchisement. And female privilege in these particular areas--sexual assault, domestic violence, divorce and child custody--is HUGE. And in some areas, it's only going to get huger as due process in rape cases erodes at the behest of feminists.
So in these areas where lives are often shattered, where people suffer enormous physical and emotional pain, where their relationships with their partners are dissolved and their lives turned upside down, and the their relationships with their children under threat, where they are charged with crimes or are the victims of them--where they are going through an already horrible experience--these are the very areas where men suffer the greatest disenfranchisement in our society.
Way, way, way up at the beginning of the post, I mentioned privilege in regard to an Asian applying for a tech job. It's foolish to think that if he beat out a black or white candidate who was better qualified for the job, even if he knows it's due to stereotyping and the privilege that derives from that, that he will he will take the boss aside and say, "Hey, you know, I think that other guy is actually better than me. Just because I'm Asian doesn't mean I'm great at fixing computers. You should probably hire him instead." The more of a positive effect a privilege has on an individual, the less they are inclined to give it up.
And in horrible situations, like divorce, DV or rape, how likely is any individual to say, "Hey, I think you're making your judgments of the situation based on gender privilege. I'd like you to be more fair to the man I say raped me and respect his due process rights"? How likely is an individual to say, "Well judge, you know, I realize everyone assumes mothers should get custody, and as a feminist I find that stereotypes based on socially constructed gender norms are harmful. So I'd like you to forget all that, even if it means I may lose custody of my children"? How likely is an individual to say, "Listen officer, I actually hit first. Arrest me too, please"?
Individuals take advantage of their own privilege. They do. And they do it all the more when the stakes are very, very high. Feminists--hell, all women--would be advised to consider what it would be like were the gender privilege reversed in these situations, if they suffered the same level of disenfranchisement men currently suffer in cases of rape, DV, and family law.
If women were assumed by the authorities to be making it up when they make a claim of rape, and predisposed to believe the accuser if they themselves were charged; if women were assumed to always be the aggressor in domestic violence situations and treated accordingly by the law, and if women were turned away from shelters because those shelters only serve DV victims of the opposite gender; if the family court system tore children from their mothers because the default assumption was that custody should go to the father and your rights as a parent--even a weekend one--didn't matter to anyone... ?
If women suffered this obscene and unconscionable level of disenfranchisement in these terrible and potentially life-destroying situations, and weighed it against the current wage gap, which would feminists consider the bigger problem?