#Genderweek ‘Male Privilege’

IcaD3i1399117104As you’ve probably gathered from previous posts, I loathe the cynical manipulation of the word ‘privilege’ when talking about ordinary people who should be granted the same basic rights and freedoms as everyone else, but I’ll concede the use of the term for this post while still disagreeing with the fallacy of redefinition involved in its use.

It’s a common claim across multiple strands of social justice that you have privilege for being white, or male, or heterosexual and that this makes life easier for you. Objecting simply gets you told to ‘check your privilege’ and is taken as evidence you have it (kafkatrap) and being white, male or heterosexual apparently means that your arguments, points, statistics and observations are automatically worthless.

It’s patently obvious to anyone with a passing interest in logic or debate that this is a fallacy with no place in debate, but more to the point is it true?

It’s genderweek so let’s restrict ourselves to the discussion in terms of that frame of reference. Gender.

Do men have it easier? Do men have it better? Is it purely down to gender or is anything else going on?

  • Here’s some examples of what radical feminists consider male privilege: LINK
  • Here’s some examples of what MHRAs consider female privilege: LINK

 

A huge number of both are petty and a good few of both are factually wrong (perhaps most notoriously the 1/4 rape statistic and the supposed pay gap).

However, there’s another factor to a lot of these that doesn’t seem understood by either ‘side’ and that is that each side sees things through a different lens.

I’ll use two fairly important instances to make my point.

Gender Lensing: Divorce Court

From a feminist perspective the fact that women get custody so much more often isn’t a sign of female privilege, but rather a patriarchal imposition of the childcare role upon women and a judgement based on that bias. The same or similar with financial settlements, child support payments and their suggestion, perhaps, that women can’t cope without support, assistance and the involvement and care of a man.

From a men’s rights perspective this is an instance of female privilege. The assumptions favour the women, fathers frequently don’t get custody even if the woman is at fault, even if the woman is a drug addict or otherwise unfit mother. What the feminist might see as patriarchal role enforcement, the masculinist sees as in inherent bias in the system in her favour – surely a privilege?

To me such things should be settled based on merit, finances and fitness but it does expose the intellectual weakness of the concept of ‘Patriarchy’. When the system open and specifically works against the interests and desires of men how can it be called patriarchal? It’s a conspiracy theory term, one into which anything can be twisted with enough rhetorical gymnastics.

Gender Lensing: Military Service

From a feminist perspective putting women in light duty – if any duty at all – and their exclusion from the military in times past can be seen as yet more patriarchal oppression. Why shouldn’t they be able to serve their country, fully, in every capacity? Why shouldn’t they fight on the front lines? It can only be sexism preventing them from doing so.

From a masculinist perspective women have been granted special status (privilege) by being allowed to opt in to dangerous duty, but men not being able to opt out. Women being excluded from the draft would be another sign. From a man’s perspective this can be seen as a duty and imposition, not a right or privilege and so it goes for a great many other things as well. Men have been called ‘disposable’ and war is a situation that makes this abundantly clear. In exchange for these duties men were rewarded by society in the past. Now the rewards have been very much eroded, but the demands remain.

 

Is this reconcilable? Can each side see the other’s perspective and compromise, recognise that what they see as an advantage can be seen as a disadvantage by the other? I doubt it, but I hope.

Shut Up & Listen When I tell you about ‘Check Your Privilege’.

0Xo8hfvI want you to ‘check your privilege’ about the phrase, ‘check your privilege’.

If someone is arguing with you, you should address their points, their reasoning, what they’re saying. When you tell someone to ‘check your privilege’ you are, essentially, engaging in an ‘ad hominem‘ fallacy, an ‘argument to the person’. For example:

“I don’t think that statement qualifies as sexist.”
“That’s because you’re a man, check your privilege.”

Simply because one is male (or white, or rich, or whatever else) doesn’t render one’s arguments invalid, it doesn’t mean you lack empathy, sympathy or imagination, it doesn’t even mean you haven’t experienced racism, sexism or whatever else yourself.

I’m sure in some ideal world ‘check your privilege’ is meant to mean ‘I say old chap, have you considered that your socioeconomic, racial and other statuses might affect your point of view?’ In practice however it means ‘Shut up you white male oppressor, you don’t know shit’ which is – in and of itself – quite startlingly sexist and racist.

I’m hardly the only person to note this.

Add to this things like ‘mansplaining’ (another horrifically sexist term) and the fact that some people think they can’t be *ist simply because they’re members of a self-identified oppressed group (riddle me this Batman, is the Nation of Islam racist against whites or not?) and its not hard to see why the perceived hypocrisy on display costs feminism and other activists a lot of support from people who should be natural allies – such as myself. The problems between the sceptic/atheist movement and skepchick/Atheismplus provide ample example of the problem here.

If your task is to communicate with people outside echo-chamber activist groups and their unquestioning hangers on then you have to listen to the experience and perception of the people you’re talking to. You also CANNOT presume that simply because a person agrees with you on one topic (say, atheism) that they must agree with you on another topic (feminism).

Questioning and challenging are vital to scientific enquiry and rational thought, challenging your claims about X,Y,Z doesn’t make the person challenging them *ist, it means they’re looking for evidence, testing your ideas to see if they’re robust and accurate. When you write these people off you’re harming yourself and your cause which would be much stronger if it did stand up to scrutiny and came out the other side unscathed.

We have all become very sensitised to sexism. I suffered a huge amount of unwarranted abuse over written works making fun of sexism and over a blog article defending what Neil Gaiman would call ‘icky speech‘. That has hyper-sensitised me to much of the hypocrisy I see in the ‘social justice’ movements, many of whom – to me – seem to have become the very things they hate.

In my experience many of these groups and their members are amongst the most obnoxious, bigoted and horrible human beings it has ever been my misfortune to come across – ironically as blind to their own bigotry as they claim others are to their own privilege.

If you’re a feminist and you’re calling out what you consider to be misogyny or sexism you want to be taken seriously and not dismissed, yet all too often this is exactly what happens if a man calls a woman out on misandry or sexism. Rather than acknowledging that men can suffer from sexism – or whites from racism – or anybody else from another other form of prejudice, this is dismissed, mocked, derided in exactly the same way as would not be considered acceptable the other way around.

This is a missed opportunity. We have a whole generation that is now very aware of unfairness on these sorts of bases but rather than going ‘You know what? You’re right, lets fight all forms of sexism together!’ it instead becomes a fight over who is more oppressed than who.

You don’t need to think the discrimination and prejudice is even or equal[1] to acknowledge that its bad and wrong and worthy of opposition.

Prejudice on the basis of sex/race/class/whatever is wrong, whichever direction it passes. Don’t be a hypocrite about it, it’ll cost you.

***

While I’m here I also want to pass comment on another thing that’s been going on lately.

Between the death of April Jones and ill-informed policy makers knee-jerking and Facebook drawing ire over ‘hate groups‘ along with policy signal shifts in the UK and the US the free internet is once again being chipped away at. I’m not saying that these rape joke or bad taste groups aren’t awful, but they are also legal and there’s nothing to suggest they actually harm anyone. After all, a picture of a person isn’t actually a person, its a picture and shock humour gets its ‘sting’ from being shocking, not being acceptable and beneath comment/reaction.

Of particular irony is the objection that these should be removed being on the basis of offence, often by the same people who were up in arms about images of breastfeeding being censored (also on the grounds of people being offended[2]). Personally, my opinion is that as long as it’s legal and age/membership restricted anything should go.

I am particularly worried about the ‘hate group’ reaction ending up being applied to kink/bdsm groups which given previous overreactions is nigh certain.

[1] – While I consider Watson’s ‘Elevatorgate’ fuss to be ‘a huge fuss about nothing’ I also consider this to be on occasion where Dawkins was wrong. That there are greater evils than lesser ones doesn’t mean the lesser ones aren’t also evil – and worth fighting.

[2] – And over-sensitive algorithms.