|A while ago, Denny, on The Ceaseless Reader Writes wrote about hanging out with his son and having a small epiphany about white male privilege. He wrote about it here, Quality Quotes 11 He asked for responses: “I would like to hear y’all’s thoughts. Is the concept of white male privilege real? Or is it the product of overblown condemnation from a variety of repressed or abused groups? How much abuse, repression, or condemnation have you endured, and from whom did it come?” |
White male privilege is real. It is part of the ambient world in which we live so it’s not easy to see it for what it is. It’s “normal.” We all live within “normal” and adapt to it. I resisted the whole idea of it for a long time, but since I’m no longer working, have had the opportunity to synthesize some of my life experiences without having to risk my livelihood, I see how White Male Privilege affected my life, both personally and professionally.
The first time I can say I directly experienced what is now called White Male Privilege (and I didn’t have a term for it), it involved something along the lines Denny writes about: boys get by with stuff their sisters don’t. My brother was a horrible little guy at school. He refused to learn to read, he acted out in class constantly, he was always in the principal’s office — among other things. What this netted him was a LOT MORE ATTENTION from our mom, sometimes good (she would sit with him for hours trying to help him learn to read) and sometimes bad. He didn’t really care whether the attention he got was good or bad. He just had to have it all.
This was forcibly clear to me after I won a few trophies for public speaking in high school. I don’t think my mom knew how terrified I was of speaking in public and what joining a competitive speaking club cost me every weekend at a meet. When I won trophies I was proud and amazed (but still terrified next time). I set them on the mantel and my mom said, “Take them down. They’re not fair to Kirk. He doesn’t have any trophies.”Wow.
I then attended a woman’s college for two years. It was great. But, I didn’t know how great it was and ended up being more-or-less thrown out. My very first class at the university, co-ed university, was a revelation. Where once the girls in class (woman’s college) raised their hands and were called on by the professors (mostly male), at the university the boys were invariably called on first. Every. Single. Time. They were listened to attentively by the professor, too. Girls? Less.
Then…in a class I wrote a paper that my professor didn’t like. He didn’t like it SO MUCH that he made me come up to the front of the class while he read and mocked it in front of my classmates. I told him to fuck off, and walked out, but I failed the class.
Another professor, 20th century philosophy, opened class the first day with the statement, “If you’re a woman or a Jew, you will not pass this class.” I never went back, but I forgot to drop it so I failed it, too.
This kind of treatment pursued me my entire life of abusive husbands and bosses, you can pretty much name it. When I was teaching at Southwestern College in Chula Vista CA one of my colleagues (tenured, 6′ 4″ and about 250 pounds) became sexually interested in me. I wasn’t interested in him. When the next chance for tenure came around, he made sure he got on the committee and that I didn’t get tenure. Later he told me why. If I’d gone down on him? Probably I’d have retired with a lot better retirement $$$ than I have now.
The other side of male privilege? Plenty of women WOULD go down for the sake of furthering their career. The college hired a woman who had two years of experience to my fifteen and whom I ended up having to train — kind of the final humiliation.
I could write a book, but I think it’s enough to say that a lifetime of this has made me very very very very wary of White Men, particularly of my generation. I can’t speak for Black guys, Asian or Latino men, but observation leads me to believe that White Male Privilege is real, but a subset of Male Privilege. Where does the come from?
In my opinion it’s because young women want (biological urgency) to bear young and raise a family. That means they will sacrifice a LOT at a certain point of their life for that opportunity. Extrapolate from that to wanting promotions, good grades, a Miss America crown and it’s a pretty clear picture to me. Men are also generally larger and faster than women. Some men will deny that is a factor in these enlightened times, but they would be wrong. I’ve known men to use physical intimidation with me. Not just physical abuse (which I have experienced) but things like standing too close, hovering over me (I’m only 5’1″) talking over me, interrupting me.
For many reasons, women ARE exploitable and humans are opportunists. I believe some men depend on this and when a woman is NOT what she’s expected to be, it’s threatening.
I remember the feminist movement, and I remember how shaken a lot of the men I knew and met at the time were by the whole idea of women competing in the workplace with them.
I am small, but I am formidable, and that has been viewed as a challenge by some men who have been known to stand too close to me and pat me on the head. I’m not a fan of Hillary Clinton, and was so prepared to avoid voting for president last time, but when I watched the way Trump did the “male dominance” thing on stage to her during the debates, I was appalled. I knew too well what he was doing, lurking behind her, too close, looming above her, shaking his head while she spoke, not responding to the words she said. That’s when I decided I could vote for her. Watching him since, in his treatment of female members of the press — especially the fat ones or those from a racial minority — I see the same appalling behavior.
Combine these extant realities with the way I was raised — by an abusive parent, my mom, not my dad — love has not been for me a very pretty picture.
At the end of my sexual/romantic career (perhaps ended by choice) in 2009, I was with a really wonderful man for a short time. He was articulate, funny, iconoclastic, sexy, streetwise. I liked him very much. We were in my living room talking and he looked at me and said, “You know, you’re a sexy, beautiful, intelligent, sophisticated woman. You must scare most men to death.”
I have carried that with me since. I used it as a lens through which to view the men I worked for and with, and it changed the complexion of everything. When one of my former bosses pushed me against the wall in the office and berated me in front of God and everyone for something I had done (I had had no choice) two years earlier that he felt had humiliated him, I just thought, “This fucker is scared.” I also reported him to my boss who, for the moment, was also the asshole’s boss. The asshole got a talking to, but, when he became the boss again, I lost my job.
I am not, of course, speaking — writing — here of all men. I also think, have observed, that younger generations, Gen X and after, have a different perspective and find it easier to listen to and cooperate with women at work and in the family. I don’t know if White Male Privilege is taken for granted by them or not, but in my “day” it was a ubiquitous element to life on my little section of the planet.
In the strange work, Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars that came out in the 80s when I was in my 30s (and I went to hear the author speak) a point is made that men listen to fix things; women listen to vent and express themselves. I think that might be true. I think that when a woman expresses herself and a man can’t fix it, he feels stupid or gets angry. Anyway, it doesn’t always go well which is, I think, one reason women need women friends maybe more than men need male friends. Anyhow, I don’t feel comfortable making blanket statements about this. I know many women who’ve found and enjoy long, happy, loving relationships with men. I think my own situation has been a kind of “perfect storm” of factors: my independent nature, the abusive relationship I had with my mom, the early loss of my dad, my codependent relationship with my brother in which he was the important person, not me, which led to tremendous personal sacrifice. There were also my personal dreams which never included becoming a mother, and many poor “luv” choices.
Here’s a very cogent article on the topic and how male privilege manifests itself in daily life. I don’t know about all of it, but many of the things I’ve experienced are here.
I have not answered all of Denny’s questions because I can’t possibly know the answers for all men in all situations. He’s also asked, “Are the abusers worthy of forgiveness?” I have forgiven some of the men who hurt me; others I just forgot. “Are they capable of repentance and change?” I’m sure some are and some are not. “Or is it useless to even hope for change, to hope for better?” In my opinion, hope is always useful, but I can’t possibly speak to every case. This is true of men and women both — some people are just assholes.
I deleted this post because of some of the comments it got. Some people read it as if I were attacking them. I’m not. Some people believe women have some kind of “privilege” — we don’t. For one thing, until we’re paid the same wages for the same job, we are not “equal” to men. That is one privilege still denied women.