Male Privilege: Fact or Fiction
M

ale privilege is a concept that many write off as an attempt on the part of men-hating women to make a mountain out of a molehill. A large majority of men (myself included) have spent most of their lives, living under the illusion that as far as the present is concerned, men and women are socially equal and there is no such thing as male privilege. While I have the utmost respect for the people, past and present, who have lived and died for women’s rights, I refuse to subscribe to the idea that we have reached the promised land just yet. To sit back and pat ourselves on the back because we have a number of global legislations and affirmative actions that aim to protect the rights of our women is as hypocritical as it is inconsiderate.

While I have the utmost respect for the people, past and present, who have lived and died for women’s rights, I refuse to subscribe to the idea that we have reached the promised land just yet.

Yes, women now have the right to vote in most countries. We now have more women in leadership roles and positions that have traditionally been reserved for men. More women are getting educated every day, and there are more female entrepreneurs now than ever. But while we celebrate these achievements, we must not forget that on average, women still get paid less than men for doing the same jobs, women still live in a world where they often have to choose between a career and a family – a choice very few men ever have to make.

Teenage girls in developing countries still have to sacrifice their education for an arranged marriage that was probably agreed upon by their fathers, and in developing countries, the onus of small-scale agricultural labour falls disproportionately on women – so much so that while women do just as much, and sometimes, more work in relation to their male counterparts, men enjoy the lion share of the revenue in terms of land ownership and financial proceeds.

Knowing this, how can we shamelessly cling unto the idea that women have been emancipated, when something as trivial as the beauty standards, which women are required to adhere to, have always been and are still being determined by men? How can we still be under the illusion that women are socially equal to men when we still live in a world where household chores are seen as housewife chores; where female hormonal contraceptives are still largely designed by men, even though they have no practical idea as to what it really feels like to be a woman?

Privilege isn’t always tangible. Sometimes, it’s the tiniest and most intangible of things that make the biggest of differences.

It is common knowledge that certain violent and/or sexually exuberant behaviours are more likely to be tolerated when they come from men, as they are often attributed to their ‘innate’ nature or masculinity. This means that, while men have a certain allowance for violent or at least sexually forward behaviour (as it demonstrates their ‘virility’ and ‘masculinity’), women are often vilified (i.e. referred to as ‘too masculine’ or ‘un-lady-like’) for exhibiting similar tendencies. As a man, I know that I can afford to go out late at night, and wear whatever outfit I feel like wearing, without having to worry about the possibility of being raped because I was either out too late or dressed too provocatively.

Women on the other hand, can only hope for these very liberties that most men have and take for granted. To be candid, women who have been raped, often have to live with the social stigma that comes with being a rape victim. Many people (usually men) will even go as far as blaming the whole incident on what the victim was wearing or on the fact that they were either too inebriated or were out too late. You see, as a man, I never have to worry about these things. That, given this context, is my privilege.

[…] even though we’re all human beings, the social constructs that we have created over the course of our existence, have ensured that different people experience different things in different ways.

Privilege isn’t always tangible. Sometimes, it’s the tiniest and most intangible of things that make the biggest of differences. By becoming socially conscious of these little things, and how they paint a much bigger picture of social inequality, one’s view starts to become more polarised, and with this social awareness comes a more informed understanding of the fact that even though we’re all human beings, the social constructs that we have created over the course of our existence, have ensured that different people experience different things in different ways.

Men and women often experience the world in a myriad of ways that are somewhat equal but opposite. Recognising privilege does not equate to assuming guilt, because the various systems of oppression are way bigger than any one of us. What it means, however, is that we have an awareness of the reality that some things come easier to some people, not necessarily because they deserve it, but because they were born into a dominant social group. We live in a world that is flawed. A world that affords certain things to certain people based on their race, gender, or class (amongst other social constructs). A world that requires certain people to work much harder just to enjoy the affordances that come easier to other people.

Recognising privilege does not equate to assuming guilt, because the various systems of oppression are way bigger than any one of us.

To assume, however, that the people who enjoy these privileges are the enemy is to be misguided, because intersectionality asserts that while people may be privileged in some ways, they may very well be underprivileged in others. As a black man, I know that I am privileged to be a man but the fact that I am black means that I am underprivileged in many regards.

Although I may never fully comprehend the hardships that come with being a woman, I do, to a certain extent, understand what it means to be marginalised and discriminated against. I know what it feels like to have your predicaments undermined by members of a privileged group. I know how frustrating it is to scream and not be heard; to be silenced by a dominant voice – one that believes that as long as they can’t see, feel or relate to your injustice, it doesn’t exist and your concerns don’t matter.

Like Cassius said to Brutus, ‘the fault […] is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings’. Yes, the powers that be have put systems of oppression in place to divide us and keep us conquered, but these systems are no better without us than a game is without players. There is strength in numbers, and the day we realise that the real power lies with the people, that is the day when we will come together to build a new reality.

Laws may make sexism illegal but there is no legislation that is capable of changing the mindset of a sexist person.

The problem with our society is the fact that even though most of us know that these problems exist, only few of us are willing to admit and talk about them. This needs to change, because until we decide to actively challenge the social vices that define our experiences, nothing will change for the better. Laws may make sexism illegal but there is no legislation that is capable of changing the mindset of a sexist person. Affirmative action may increase the social standing of a few women but it will never make a misogynist see past his male superiority complex. Real change can only come through the re-education of the mind, so it is up to those of us who know better, to be better, and do better. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?