A Risky Blog Post on White Male Privilege from Some Weeks back, Resurrected

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.

OH WELL.

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.

32 thoughts on “A Risky Blog Post on White Male Privilege from Some Weeks back, Resurrected

  1. Glad you reposted it. What I noticed time and again in college was that in literature classes, I would make a statement about the book at the beginning of class and no one would comment. Then, towards the end of the class, a male student would repeat exactly what I had said 45 minutes earlier and everyone would exclaim over how insightful his comment was. It is as though no one had listened to a word I said. This happened too often to be overlooked and I often wondered if it was just because I was a woman or because everyone in the class was an inductive learner and had to have a statement proven and led up to before they could recognize its truth. Maddening, though.

      • I think you are right. In high school I took Chemistry with the when I was a sophomore in a class that was entirely junior boys. They were all hotshots and were pretty condescending when they saw I was in class with them. In the first test, I beat them all and they were all astounded. I ended up getting the chemistry prize that year and they still hadn’t gotten over their shock that a girl and a girl a year behind them could not only keep up but beat them! I’ll never forget when the teacher handed back the same test and they were all jockeying and comparing scores and lording it over each other.. then as an afterthought asked me what my score was..Or perhaps the teacher announced it. He was the type who would have known what was going on and would have gotten a kick out of it. Don’t remember..Just remember their shock, then their all laughing. I guess they sorta saw what was going on as well. At my 50th class reunion, someof those guys were there and laughing about my proofs in Geometry class. They said, “We learned that there were always three ways: the right way, the wrong way and Judy’s way! I had never heard that but I did have a teacher, a male, who wouldn’t give me credit if I did a proof any way other than the way he did it. They all agreed it was unfair because my way was valid.. just not his way. That guy was still teaching when I went back for my 50th reunion!!! I think he retired that year.

        • There are too many teachers like that — both genders. But the boys!!!! I don’t know. I was lucky in my teachers in high school and that did NOT prepare me for the university. My mom was right to want me to go to a woman’s college, but I didn’t get it then. Remember back then how women would turn out to be either teachers or nurses? I remember being asked several times which I was going to be.

          • I wanted to be a journalist but my mom said if I would get my undergraduate degree in teaching, I could get my masters in anything I wished to. She said I could always get a job teaching and she was right–Every place I went in the world I was offered jobs teaching.

            • I thought I wanted to be a journalist, too, but when I taught a man how to read I knew I was a teacher. I tried journalism anyway and discovered I don’t have the personality to go after stories. I’m too shy and why brain doesn’t work that way. I gave it a shot while I was doing public relations for the University of Denver law school — I loved that because the context was already there — but by then I knew I was a teacher.

            • Yes. It was right for me as well. I later made documentaries, worked in a Hollywood agency and did Publicity for a TV production company and found I didn’t have the balls to deal with the Hollywood crowd either. I’m just not very cut-throat.

            • Me either. I also learned I didn’t want to be driven by someone else’s vision. Teaching was sufficiently autonomous and left me free for my own stuff.

  2. I am glad you re-posted this; you state a lot and you state it well but, from my experience, you are also ‘missing’ much. You had stated in a comment (about this post) that you have had “way too much consciousness raising for one month” and I agree – it’s exhausting. But I also look at what’s going on now (in this country alone) and I am reminded that we have to keep beating the doors and ceilings because we will get no-where if we don’t PERSIST in voicing the inequality of WOMEN (50% of population in the world) – not just “minorities.” And a very good point – White Male Privilege is so ‘normal’ that it’s hard to discern where exactly it is…and if we can’t point out the many examples of it, how can we address and change it?

    • I just set out with this post to answer Denny’s questions. I didn’t have any other goal.

      You’re right, of course, that this needs to be a louder fight, but as for me beating on doors and ceilings — not at this point in my life other than in the way I live my life, maybe writing and certainly by voting. I spent 35 years fighting these fights in the only way I could. I’ve also seen, in the past few weeks, why I made a lot of my choices. I am proud of them.

      I’m not that ambulatory any more. I spent my working life trying to change the world via the classroom, various other things and standing up for myself. At this point I want to do MY things which are thinking, writing, painting, walking (as well as I can) with my dogs and cross country skiing.

      The only demonstration(s) I’ve participated in were the first Earth Day and the first March for Science (for which I hobbled for science but whatever). I care most about this planet and the creatures on it. I think we humans are just blind exploiters 😦

      • Oh I agree about doing what you need and want for you; it sounds like you have spent your life making the world a better place for others…the younger generations now have to step up (which they are doing, thankfully). My point was that it’s (in this country) such a long and arduous process just for people other than white males to be able to exist without being brutalized, bullied, raped, killed, etc. It’s unbelievable – 2020 and still we have to continue fighting.
        Ditto on the last line of your comment. I refer to humans as a virus (Matrix), parasites.

    • Martha thank you for reposting this. White Male Privilege is real, and yet white feminists must go further in acknowledging and confronting the reality of the White Privilege that White men and women have as we lament the brutal killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and countless other African Americans and people of color along with the actions of those like Amy Cooper who sought to exploit her own white privilege.

      • I don’t think Amy Cooper thought, “I’m going to exploit my white privilege” though that is indeed what she was doing. I think she might have been truly frightened by Christian Cooper saying, “You won’t like what I’m going to do,” when he was about to offer her dog a treat. That would have freaked me out a little, too, honestly.

        That said, I wouldn’t have had an unleashed dog there in the first place and the whole exchange would have been completely different. I would have been interested in the birds Christian Cooper was looking at/for. I wish I could invite him to my town for the Sandhill Crane festival in March. He’s totally my kind of guy.

        OTHERWISE…Amy Cooper was, to me, a classic entitled white bitch who didn’t believe laws pertained to her. I’ve meet hundreds in my life. No creature pisses me off more. There she was, calling the cops on someone ELSE who WASN’T breaking any laws at all AND using her white privilege to bring cops whom she knew would have taken her word for it. I was truly more horrified by that exchange than the killing of George Floyd which was horrific.

        I truly don’t understand why people’s perception of other people goes as far as skin color and stops. I understand that it does, but I don’t get it at all. There’s more I could say, but I’ve probably written it all in the last few weeks in some blog post or another.

        My dream is that someday we can look at each other as individuals with respect and curiosity and kindness rather than making assumptions and expectations based on skin color — which is NOTHING — and our fear and ignorance. I am very sad that is not going to happen in my lifetime.

  3. I agree that WMP is a real thing and I’ve experienced it first hand. Applying for Vet school the list of requirements, in addition to academic ones, included being able to bench press your body weight and dead lift 100 pounds. Not likely that a 100 lb female could meet those requirements…

  4. “You must scare most men to death.”

    Your friend was right. Fear is what drives so much of the bad treatment.

    It can be startling, realizing that you invoke such a reaction in others, especially men, just for being you and being strong. I can totally see you scaring the shit out of most men, including any supervising you.

    I remember when, in 2008, as I was scrambling to ride out the recession by applying for jobs in Washington state, including a court commissioner position, an Idaho neighbor (female) who knew I was single said to me, “A judge! You’ll scare off all the men!”

    And so it goes.

    But – shocker – my thought is that, rather than changing my behavior, maybe it’s men who should change theirs, be a little less scared and intimidated by smart women.

    Glad you re-posted.

  5. I remember this post and I am glad you reposted it. I think it’s so important to keep this conversation alive. I think change really needs to begin with how kids are raised and what they are taught at home. Of course that’s a long range view. But what we can do now – at any age – is keep the topic on the front burner. And call it out when we see it. Equal pay for equal work needs to top the list. Years ago I had a button with 59¢ stamped on it. I don’t think it’s much more than that now.

    • There are so many things that our generation did that changed the world for women. One of the biggies for me is Title IX. I think I’ve written about it somewhere already. And I think you’re right. It’s still 59 cents. As for the long range view, I think that’s how we have to look at things. I don’t see any other way for things to change permanently, though it’s a little hard on the here and now. ❤

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