So last Monday, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on privilege and political correctness. Next day, I found myself in CBC studios in downtown Edmonton, mic on lapel, earpiece in, doing my best to stare for a solid hour into the merciless and unblinking eye of a TV camera.
For anyone who's never done a live remote TV interview, it's a disconcerting experience. All you have to anchor you is what you can hear coming in the one ear, and the black abyss of the camera lens. You can't see who you're talking to. You have no nonverbal cues to go on. A lot of the time, if there are several people involved, it's hard to keep track of who is speaking at all.
Anyway, the focus of the topic was on white privilege, rather than gender privilege. I wouldn't qualify myself as an expert on issues of privilege and race, other than to acknowledge that the intellectual concept of privilege is a much more appropriate and effective model when applied to issues of race, class and sexual/gender orientation than it is in describing the relationship between men and women, and that race can amplify the more complicated effects of some of the gender stereotypes of men and women.
This was a point I managed to at least convey to the other panelists, even if it mostly just bounced off the forcefield generated by their feminism-infested university educations.
At one point, Desmond Cole, a black freelance journalist who's been outspoken about racism, even admitted (once I brought up the fact), that there are problems, like "driving while black", that black women will likely never experience, yet he still felt that he, as a man, had more privilege than a similarly situated woman.
Being the only panelist not in studio, and considering the focus of the topic (race), I wasn't about to go off on any diatribes about the male privilege fallacy except where opportunities clearly presented themselves. And given that three of the panelists have the full-on SJW mindset, while the fourth was a moderate sympathetic to the other three (though with concerns about the unpleasant places the "privilege discussion" might inevitably lead), well, I wasn't necessarily interested in being dogpiled by people I couldn't even see.
I spent a lot of time biting my tongue.
At some point in the discussion, one of the women on the panel asked the men if they felt they'd ever been targeted by some negative prejudgment because they were a man. To my disappointment, the answer across the board was "no". For Desmond, it was all about him being a black man. Jonathan Kay (a white secular Jew) even went so far as to say that a well-dressed white man practically has to punch someone in the nose (I have to assume that by "someone" he meant "another man") before there's going to be any real problem.
These two men simply did not feel that any of the disadvantages and problems they might face, or the negative prejudgments of other people, could possibly derive from their maleness.
I wasn't particularly surprised by this, and because the conversation was primarily about white privilege I allowed them to maintain the illusion that because they aren't aware (let alone hyperaware) of something, it doesn't really exist, though this blog post will largely focus on that. Likewise, I would like to point out that just because you perceive something is rampant and pervasive doesn't mean it does exist.
As an example of the latter, I will copy and paste here a portion of one of my comments under the Youtube video of the episode, where I refer to the very white-looking First Nations woman's lived experience of "the scowl" she typically receives when people recognize her as First Nations:
Maybe, as she mentioned, in the summer this would be more common?
Then again, she may have a hyperawareness that leads her to perceive things that aren't actually there?
I remember one time I was standing at the dairy counter at the store, trying to do math in my head regarding the price per gram of cheddar cheese so I could get the best deal. This can be annoying when Kraft sells in 904 grams, 700 grams and 450 grams while Black Diamond sells in 750 grams and 400 grams. Dude, it's a lot of math to do in your head when you're pinching pennies.
So I glance up with this enormous scowl on my face and notice a man kind of checking out my butt. He looked up and noticed me scowling into the middle distance but unfortunately in his direction, spun on his heel and hightailed it out of there. It took me a moment to realize he thought I was scowling because he was looking at my butt, and when I did, I kind of wanted to chase after him and tell him, "No! It's okay! I have a butt. I like that men think it's nice to look at! You weren't being rude or gross, you were just discreetly checking out my butt in these jeans I bought primarily because they make my butt look good, and that's okay! I'm not mad at you, I'm mad at the cheese!" Alas, it was too late.
Anyway, Jonathan Kay mentioned that as a white person, his first thought when he gets a scowl is "what did I say or do?" For some people who are visible minorities or women, that's the last stop on the train of thought--the first assumption is "I'm being judged based on my identity." The reality is, both questions are good to ask, because sometimes a scowl is about prejudice, sometimes it's based on something you did or said, and sometimes it's just about freaking cheese.
It's entirely possible that having grown up in an urban neighborhood with many First Nations people (and yes, I know how very hostile and judgmental people (not just whites) can be with aboriginal people in Canada, particularly in cities), and being considered one of them during her childhood, if not by looks then by association, she developed a hyperawareness of racist attitudes that caused racism to be the go-to assumption whenever anyone looks at her funny, even now that she's a well-dressed lawyer who could pass for white. To her, particularly because her legal advocacy is so focused on aboriginal issues, it's always about racism, and never about the freaking cheese. It may even be the case that because the racism is, in her mind, inevitable, she's giving off all kinds of prickly nonverbal cues that are actually causing some of the scowls that she's attributing to racism.
On the other hand, there is clear evidence (of the empirical, statistical sort) that men and boys face many challenges and negative prejudgments that women and girls will be much less likely (if at all) to face. Just because most men don't feel this is the case does not make it stop existing.
While men are disproportionately represented in positions of authority (usually through self-selection--you can't vote for a woman who doesn't run, after all), they are also disproportionately represented in positions of marginalization: victims of child abuse (particularly the most extreme forms), youth excluded from school, the unsheltered homeless, those injured or killed on the job, victims of murder and aggravated assault, victims of state violence (such as police shootings), and victims of gender bias in the criminal justice and family court systems.
When men and boys suffer harms or injustices, we take it less seriously than when women and girls suffer them. When men or boys commit harms or injustices, we take it more seriously than when women and girls commit them. This is true across cultures. And the entire model of "male privilege" cooked up in feminist academia only tells us we are entirely justified in feeling that way, because the male privilege model presupposes that men don't and can't suffer genuine harms or injustices because they are men, while all harms and injustices women suffer, even if men suffer them in equal or greater proportions, are suffered by women because they are women.
As a case in point, we could look at the current attention being given to online harassment of women.
The popular narrative is that women are targeted for abuse, harassment and threats online because they are women (or sometimes, because they are women with opinions). However, research indicates that men in the public eye receive as much, if not more, abuse, harassment and threats. There were some differences. Women were more likely to receive rape threats, while men were more likely to receive threats of murder against themselves or their families. And there's certainly a conversation to be had there as to why people attempting to upset a man would threaten to kill his family, while people attempting to upset a woman would threaten to rape her, but still. This is a problem suffered at least as much by men as by women, and yet the narrative in the mainstream is that this is a problem women suffer because they are women, and therefore a feminist issue. That the internet is a uniquely unsafe environment for women.
This can only cause many women to harbor unwarranted fears about speaking their mind online, while simultaneously erasing or minimizing the experiences of male victims of online abuse.
While Jonathan Kay may have asserted that a well-dressed white man needs to punch [some other guy] in the nose before getting into trouble, a whole host of social experiments easily searchable on Youtube involving altercations between men and women demonstrate that he's very much mistaken. Time and again, bystanders will step in, sometimes violently, to protect a woman whose boyfriend is menacing her. On the other hand, a woman can physically assault her boyfriend for hours and hundreds of people, including an off-duty cop, will walk right on by.
And even in areas of extreme societal apathy caused by racism, such as the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women issue that is finally getting some attention, well, I have to wonder if Mr. Kay, or even First Nations lawyer Katherine Hensel, are aware of (or if they are, care a great deal about) the larger numbers of missing and murdered aboriginal men.
It's clear to me that men are the targets of social apathy, at best, and of blanket presumptions of malevolence at worst.
I would hope that if Desmond Cole ever reads this blog post, he might consider the following, which is a paraphrased amalgam of dozens of comments and blog posts by men of many different ethnicities that I have read over the last several years.
When I walk down the street, I find myself imagining that female strangers view me with suspicion and fear. This phenomenon is what American writer and activist John Doe described as "gender consciousness": how men experience reality through their own eyes, and through the eyes of a society where women fear strange men.
Now let's add the part that so many men add to these types of discussions:
This is why I consider the possible fear that a woman walking ahead of me on the sidewalk might be feeling, and out of courtesy to her, I cross the street until I'm well past her. Sometimes I will turn an earlier corner and take a different route home so that she won't be afraid I'm following her or mean to attack her. I know that, as a woman, she may be feeling very vulnerable even just walking at night. I believe these little things are the least a man can do to put a woman at ease.
And now, let's rewrite this paragraph:
This is why I consider the possible fear that a white person walking ahead of me on the sidewalk might be feeling, and out of courtesy to him, I cross the street until I'm well past him. Sometimes I will turn an earlier corner and take a different route home so that he won't be afraid I'm following him or mean to rob him. I know that, as a white person, he may be feeling very vulnerable even just walking at night in a mixed race neighborhood. I believe these little things are the least a black person can do to put a white person at ease.And all of a sudden, the squick factor is right there, for everyone to see.
The men who write these types of comments and blog posts don't feel targeted by negative stereotypes of men, even as they are hyperaware of them and even as they self-police their own behavior to compensate. Black men would be rightly disgusted by the expectation that they should have to go out of their way to cross a street or take a different route home to accommodate the racist prejudices of white people. Yet millions of men of diverse ethnicities not only think it's okay to cross the street to accommodate the sexist prejudices of women (and many men), they actually believe it's the least they can do. Hey, it's what any decent man (black, white, whatever) would do.
If men do not feel targeted as men by the exact same negative stereotypes Desmond complains about when they apply to blacks, perhaps it's because so much of the targeting is self-inflicted? Or because there is no social consensus that these prejudices are morally wrong, let alone a glimmer of consensus that expecting men to bend over backwards to accommodate the sexist prejudices of society (particularly women) just might be, oh, I don't know... unjust?
Mr. Cole, if you're reading, I think it bears mentioning, since race is a huge factor in how a person gets treated every step of the way in the criminal system, and I assume you would consider this unjust and racist: the gender gap in the criminal system is actually larger than the gap between blacks and whites. When committing identical offences under identical circumstances, men are:
- more likely to be stopped
- when stopped, more likely to be arrested
- when arrested, more likely to be charged with a crime
- when charged, charged with a more serious crime on average
- when charged, more likely to be prosecuted
- when prosecuted, more likely to be convicted
- when convicted, more likely to be sentenced to custody
- when sentenced to custody, will serve a 60% longer sentence on average
These differences actually skew wider as the severity of the crime goes up. That is, the gender gap in conviction and sentencing for capital murder is wider than that for shoplifting. In fact, the gender gap in the criminal system is so profound that black women are, on average, treated more gently than are white men.
Yet you, despite acknowledging that the ubiquitous phenomenon of "driving while black" is actually "driving while black and male", you do not feel targeted as a male by negative prejudices and assumptions. You and Jonathan could not conceive of a situation in which negative stereotypes of men might put you at a disadvantage compared to women.
Any reasonable person would consider the above bullet-point list, if it were comparing blacks to whites, to be an indication of pervasive negative attitudes about blacks, yet you seem blissfully content with being targeted as a man because you don't feel you are--you've conceptualized any and all prejudice you suffer as pertaining to race alone when in reality it's a combination of your race and your sex. In fact, against all empirical evidence, you feel uniformly privileged by your maleness, because you've been told you are, over and over and over, even as the statistical evidence shows many of your complaints about how you are treated as a black person are problems common to men of all races (even whites!) and then exacerbated and amplified by the fact that you're black.
And more than simply ignoring those prejudices about men and the disadvantages disproportionately suffered by men, you have a moral duty, as a man, to acknowledge all this privilege you have, and go out of your way to be sensitive to women's feelings of marginalization, despite women in the western world doing better than men on nearly every single metric you would use to impute privilege on whites and disadvantage on blacks. And you don't even feel targeted by any of that.
Or this. Stop blackspreading. It's a space issue.
Or this. Blacks need to be reminded not to rape.
Or this. Name the problem: black violence.
Or this. Stop hogging the sidewalk, black people.
Or this. Can blacks be taught not to rape?
Or this. The entire black cultural identity needs to change so you all will stop shooting people.
Or this. Look, black people, we know you've got your own serious problems, but they can best be solved by working for our benefit rather than your own.
Or this. Whites, do your part for society: Kill a black person. Then put on a play about how awesome it is to hate blacks for middle school students.
Or this. Blacks are unnecessary wastes of skin, but we'll probably keep them around because we're cool like that.
If ANY of this shit I linked to was said or done about black people (or any other minority), you would be fuming, Desmond. But because men dominate in the top 10% of society, and you are blissfully unaware that they also dominate the bottom 30% (in most, if not all, cultures), you've bought into the whole "male privilege" schtick that allows people to justify talking about you and every other man on the planet in this way.
White privilege and male privilege are NOT the same. They just aren't. They emerged through entirely different biological and cultural evolutionary mechanisms, and there is simply no way they can be treated as remotely identical. Yet there are feminists out there who have asserted that the experience of a field slave in Alabama in the 1700s was no different to the experience of the plantation owner's wife, whose pointed finger could get that slave whipped, or worse. There were feminists in the freaking mid-1800s who are now portrayed as the valiant heroines of women's suffrage in grade school textbooks, who claimed that if black men got the vote before women did, lord only knows what white women would suffer at the hands of those predacious and dangerous black men, and that black women would suffer a worse oppression under their own men than any slave suffered under slavery.
Tell me how that last part was all about blackness, and in no way about maleness.
The higher up in society you go today, the whiter things look, and the lower down you go, the more black they look. Men, on the other hand, dominate both the tippy top and the wider bottom, while at the same time, in nearly every western country, women have better access than men to health care, housing, social spending and benefits, education, charity, their own children, government programs to mitigate poverty and social safety nets, and live longer, healthier, happier, safer and more balanced lives, than men.
While you, and not your black mother, and certainly not some white dude's mom, are getting stopped and frisked for no other reason than that you are black and male, the bias against men (particularly minority men) in the justice system leads to wildly skewed prison populations that lead people to believe those stop and frisk policies should disproportionately target men, particularly minority men.
And statistically, more than half of the bias you'll experience as a black man if you're ever arrested, which will cause you to be more likely to end up incarcerated and for a longer period, exists because you're male, Desmond.
And then the powers that be will turn around and use the result of these prejudices (the ~95% male prison population) and the portrait of masculinity it paints, to justify the profiling that, while experienced more often by minority men, applies to all men.
And the real kicker is, if you ever did start to feel targeted by this sexism the way you do by racism, and you wanted to do something about it, Canadian Human Rights bodies won't do one damn thing about it, and hate speech laws don't apply.
Because it's not actually against the law in Canada to discriminate against men. Because you men are already protected by all that sweet, sweet "male privilege".