The Disadvantages of Being a Man

Before I start on this post, nothing I say here is intended to be a slight on people fighting for equality from the perspective of other genders or sexes. I intend this as an acknowledgement of the many ways that men are disadvantaged by the same societal mores that disadvantage women in other, additionally serious (and in many instances more serious) ways. I am a feminist as well as an egalitarian, and I approach these issues with those ideals as my starting point. This is in no way an attempt at drawing a false equivalency between the issues the various genders and sexes encounter.

The patriarchal society we find ourselves in today is a significantly eroded one, where the patriarchy finds itself under attack from almost every angle, but it remains a patriarchy still. Thanks to the monumental efforts of the feminist and civil rights movements, not to mention the recent secular pushback against religious authoritarianism and its adherents’ less than progressive ideals about women’s role in society, what was once a society that prided itself on its white male hegemony is now a more pluralistic one, though far from egalitarian. This patriarchy still exists, and societal pressure for men and women to conform to specific gender roles still has the very inertial effect on forestalling progressive change.

And while these gender roles have many powerful side-effects with regards to women and their sexual self-determination, men are not wholly insulated from the splash damage. In fact, I strongly believe that these gender roles are largely responsible for all of the gender related issues that all sexes and genders experience today.

As you might be aware, comments on my last Problem with Privilege post got overrun by a commenter who was less interested in the specifics of Watson’s story or the fallout from it, than he was in changing the subject to every way that men are disadvantaged by society. In amongst the dross of “women have it so good”, he actually made some decent points that can be backed up with real statistics, but it takes an iron constitution to dig through all the anti-feminist bile to pull out the truth. The man has been fighting feminists for 20 years so I fully expect that most of this bile comes from simple hatred. I have too many interests in my life, and too many varieties of woo to beat on, to devote so large a chunk of it to one specific topic, but I have to admire his dedication to the cause he claims in that thread, twisted though it might be.

So, I’ve taken it upon myself to attempt to sift through what he’s posted and pull out the relevant bits about how societal gender roles disadvantage men. I’ll be referring to more resources than just his comment thread though, because I’ve talked about the disadvantages of being a man in the past. Interestingly, so has Greta Christina, making her on this topic a sex-flipped version of myself, where I often talk about the disadvantages of being a woman despite being a man. I disclaimer my discussion of the disadvantages of being a man with the caveat that I don’t believe these disadvantages taken in aggregate bring the sexes to any manner of parity in our society. But I’m not planning on putting them on a scale anyway, because I strongly feel the best way to overturn both sexes’ disadvantages is to attack the structure that caused both in the first place.

Our patriarchal, patrilineal Western society, if you trace it historically, sprang from other patriarchal and patrilineal societies throughout the ages. Most of the issues we see today in gender disparity have spanned much of the globe through colonialism, imperialism, through every way that humanity spreads its tendrils to gain control over every foothold this planet allows us. So when I talk about the Western patriarchal society, I fully understand that other societies have identical or near identical problems, and that these problems can trace their origins to the same place. But I can only speak from local experience, so if I miss any unique situations that temper or modify this society’s mores or issues, feel free to bring them up in the comments.

With the importation to the New World of the patriarchal society, ideals of gender came with it. Men were soldiers, explorers, farmers, breadwinners; strong, fearless, and brave, an idealized Superman. Women were men’s support structure, creating textiles, tending the home, providing meals, and raising children — the idealized Madonna. Only men could be landowners, only men could vote, and only men could be politicians and make decisions that affected the course of society. This patriarchy eroded significantly through women’s suffrage, but the idea that some jobs are men’s jobs and some jobs are women’s jobs lingers. Men obtain employment more frequently in dangerous jobs than do women, even today, and they are injured proportionally.

Men are also the primary source for Canada’s standing army, with women comprising roughly 15% of all military personnel. They only comprise 2% of combat positions, though. It is therefore no surprise that the number of men killed in active duty far outstrips the number of women, even if the addition of women to active duty is relatively new — Canada only opened all military positions to all sexes in 1989. Well, all positions except submarines, which were only opened to women in 2000. (Something about “going down”, I expect.)

So men being the brave, the strong, the bold, also by extension became the cannon fodder. On sinking ships, the cry of “women and children first” was intended in part to maximize the number of people saved due to women and children being smaller and requiring fewer resources, and in part to preserve our species by ensuring the commodity of women’s collective uteri and child-rearing skills are not lost. The same gender roles that require from men stoicism in the face of death assumes that women are frail and weak and must be protected from the same danger. This misguided gender chivalry has likely resulted in untold numbers of male deaths through the ages. We are, thankfully, slowly growing more progressive in this respect, but women still do not choose to join the military or give up their lives to save a man, because the warrior job and the chivalrous duty is enculturated in men and women alike to belong primarily to men.

On the topic of child-rearing, after a divorce, historically women got the children and men got child support payments. Once a man has a child, he is assumed responsible for life for the resources to bring the child up, but absolved of any direction of that child’s upbringing — because his role is breadwinner, not child-rearer. It is a relatively modern phenomenon that men want significantly more to do with their children than being the disciplinarian or aloof breadwinner, who is in absentia much of the day and interested only in the newspaper and his pipe, or carrying out the belt-whipping prescribed by the mother, when he gets home. Incidentally, the isolation of the father from the family is also a relatively modern (e.g. post-industrial revolution) convention, where it was very much based on class in Victorian times. Even today, despite this trend toward more progressive child-rearing equality, single fathers are relatively rare because in most divorces, the vast majority of settlements end with child custody being given to the mother, and even in those that go to court, the mother is granted sole custody the vast majority of the time.

To men who are enculturated to believe that their gender role does not involve child-rearing, this is fine. To progressive men who want a hand in raising their children, this is horrific. In most cases, they will have little or no ability to direct the upbringing of their biological offspring, and no recourse to, say, make their financial support contingent on the child’s upbringing being negotiated mutually between their and the mother’s wishes. (This is probably a good thing, in that deadbeats would use how the child is reared as an excuse to not pay.) And women paying spousal or child support is quite rare, though it does happen in cases where the man gets custody and the woman makes more than the man. The facts that women rarely make more than men and that men rarely get custody work in concert to make the situation so exceedingly rare. And by rare, I mean between 0 and 4% of spousal/child support involves a woman payor.

In cases where the man does get custody of the children, as with my own family, the father still quite often has to pay the mother an exorbitant amount of money despite any potentially criminal or morally questionable activity that happened in the process. Infidelity (even repeated) does not nullify your right to alimony, no matter how unpalatable that fact might be to some or most people.

And even on the topic of rape, where women are victims a marked majority of the time, men do not comprise a small proportion by any measure, at roughly 10% of all victims. Those men that are raped are grossly unlikely to speak up. Underreporting is a major problem with both sexes. If a man is raped by a man, their stories are dismissed as covering for their latent homosexuality. If they’re raped by women, people scoff — how could a man possibly be forced into penetrating a woman if he’s not aroused? These of course discount the possibility of obtaining consent under false pretenses, or circumventing consent by the use of drugs or alcohol on the person, or any manner of coercion that does not involve violent assault. And men refuse to report primarily because the gender role of being strong, brave, and fearless, entails never losing control. Rape is about control, far moreso than sex. If a man is raped, he has lost control, and admitting such is tantamount to emasculating him.

Men also have the edge on women with regards to being victims of violent crime, though barely so.

via Statistics Canada

This is without breaking out the types of violence. We already know that the vast majority of reported rapes and domestic violence happen to women, though domestic violence against men is likely also underreported. A Statistics Canada report puts actual rates of domestic violence at near parity, with women experiencing very slightly more (7% vs 8% of the population, counting both physical and psychological abuse). The severity of the physical abuse differs greatly though:

In the 1999 GSS findings, abused men were more likely than abused women to report having had something thrown at them or having been slapped, kicked, bitten or hit. In the 1987 Canadian survey, similar proportions of women and men reported inflicting both minor and severe physical abuse on their partners. According to the 1999 GSS, however, abused women were more likely than abused men to report experiencing severe forms of violence, such as being beaten, sexually assaulted, choked, or threatened by a gun or knife or having had such a weapon used against them during the previous five years.

(See the original for footnotes.)

It has been suggested that dividing domestic violence shelters up into ones that serve men and ones that serve women is a form of “sex segregation”. This I think co-opts the civil rights movement’s struggle to end segregation between black- and white-only services, where the problem was so pervasive they had white-only and black-only water fountains. The comparison between segregation of domestic violence shelters and segregation of all public services is akin to comparing apples and main-sequence yellow dwarf stars. Yes, the former is a potential issue, but they aren’t comparable. Accordingly, I will not use the term “segregation” to describe this division of labor, especially where it is for purely pragmatic reasons like respecting the battered person’s potential fear triggers being around a member of the opposite sex — a function of the post-traumatic stress disorder they likely have from oftentimes years of abuse. I’d like to touch on this topic briefly here, though it merits its own post at some point in the future as it’s a complicated topic without an easy answer.

There are major disadvantages to our current approach, especially as concerns specific cases like young boys being disallowed from seeing their mothers in a battered woman’s shelter, where many US state laws explicitly prevent males over the age of 12 from being present. There are also disadvantages in that homosexuals must avail themselves of existing services, and are not spared those potential triggers — if you’ve grown accustomed to being beaten by men, and must take shelter with other men, unless you can somehow isolate the victim, they are forced to live through the triggering. Additionally, homosexuals are not spared the potential situations where their abusers may lie to gain access to the shelter and thus to their victim.

If there was a way to build a unisex domestic violence shelter that was somehow impregnable by abusers, that could still protect the victims suffering those sorts of PTSD reactions from members of their partner’s sex, it would be a great boon on society to service all genders and sexes equally and provide the support structures that we all need in those situations. I don’t see it as particularly feasible at the moment, especially where existing shelters already can’t handle same-sex abuse adequately, so separate domestic violence shelters for heterosexual and homosexual men and women seems unfortunately the best way to handle the situation at the moment. Some more leniency with regard to self-direction by the victim of who can and cannot see them, perhaps with special visitation rooms so these victims’ children don’t make other victims feel unsafe, would be wonderful. It’s a complicated situation though, and not one that can be solved solely through allowing equal and unfettered access to every domestic violence shelter, which would of course cause all manner of abuse of the system and completely erode any safety provided. More to the point, the people complaining that these domestic violence shelters don’t cater to all victims are not pushing to open shelters that cater to the grossly under-supported classes of domestic violence victims. They are, in fact, more often interested in stopping feminism than in working to better men’s lot in those situations where men are at a disadvantage.

I’m certain there are any number more disadvantages men face in society, and again, I’m certain that they all stem from the self-same patriarchy and societally enforced gender roles that disadvantage women and the various LGBTQ communities. Many of these disadvantages would evaporate of their own accord if gender roles simply did not exist the way they do, but they are so entrenched now that it is an uphill battle.

Being an egalitarian, as I claim to be, involves recognizing the ways that society has enforced certain conventions that disadvantage all genders and sexes, while being a feminist involves recognizing that women have to contend with the vast majority of these disadvantages. These two labels are wholly compatible, and I wear them both proudly. An acknowledgement that we all have privilege over one another in some way is not an admission that these privileges are equal, or that they balance out. Sure, women have never had to “deal with mange”, e.g. the problems listed here, no matter how serious these problems actually are, but when you control the AC, you have the ability to control how these situations play out.

I strongly suspect there’s a reason men have not done more to overturn the patriarchy and the gender roles that give them priority access to politics, money, influence, and justice, despite all these injustices I’ve listed herein. And I suspect that reason is that the people in power recognize that male privilege outweighs female privilege in toto.

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The Disadvantages of Being a Man

135 thoughts on “The Disadvantages of Being a Man

  1. 101

    An entire chapter of Privilege, Power, and Difference by Allan G. Johnson turned up in a related discussion over on Pharyngula.

    When I go into a store, for example, I want to be waited on right away and treated with respect even though the clerks don’t know a thing about me as an individual. I want them to accept my check or credit card and not treat me with suspicion and distrust. But all they know about me is the categories they think I belong to — a customer of a certain race, age, gender, disability status, and class — and all the things they think they know about people who belong to those categories. I don’t want to have to prove over and over again that I’m someone who deserves to be trusted and taken seriously. I want them to assume all that, and the only way they can do that is to perceive me as belonging to the “right” social categories.

    This is simply how social life works. By itself, it’s not a problem. What many people resist seeing, however, is that on the other side of the same social process are all the people who get put into the “wrong” categories and ignored or followed around or treated with suspicion and disrespect regardless of who they are as individuals.

    I can’t have it both ways. If I’m going to welcome the way social categories work to my advantage, I also have to consider that when those same categories are used against others through no fault of their own, it then becomes my business because through that process I am being privileged at their expense.

    The entire excerpt is here: link to comment

  2. 102

    Re the original topic, “Disadvantages of being a man”, here’s one of my favorite articles on a real-world example. On oil rigs, hypermasculine culture contributes to accidents and injuries, but changing to a cooperative workplace culture resulted in, not only improved safety, but increased emotional expression.

    Quotes from rig workers: it used to be that the “guy that was in charge was the one who could…out-intimidate the others…intimidation was the name of the game.” “They decided who the driller was by fighting. If the job came open, the one that was left standing was the driller.” But after the change in doing business: “we had to be taught how to be more lovey-dovey and more friendly with each other and to get in touch with the more tender side of each toher type of thing. And all of us just laughed at first. It was like, man, this is never going to work, you know? But now you can really tell the difference. Even though we kid around and joke around with each other, there’s no malice in it. We are…kinder, gentler.”

    Source

  3. 103

    […] The Disadvantages of Being a Man The patriarchal society we find ourselves in today is a significantly eroded one, where the patriarchy finds itself under attack from almost every angle, but it remains a patriarchy still. Thanks to the monumental efforts of the feminist and civil rights movements, not to mention the recent secular pushback against religious authoritarianism and its adherents’ less than progressive ideals about women’s role in society, what was once a society that prided itself on its white male hegemony is now a more pluralistic one, though far from egalitarian. This patriarchy still exists, and societal pressure for men and women to conform to specific gender roles still has the very inertial effect on forestalling progressive change. […]

  4. 104

    Damn, I’m having a hard time leaving this thing alone. It keeps niggling in the back of my mind. OK, I think (but am probably wrong!) I’ve got a handle on what’s going on. I have two suggestions regarding use of the term “privilege” in the context of gender:

    1) “Privilege” is a descriptor of society, not of individuals. It should be used accordingly.
    2) Privilege is context-dependent, not universal. Coherent usage should indicate what manner of inequality is meant, given that inequalities in society do not uniformly favor one gender.

    Unless explicitly corrected elsewhere in context, a statement like “elevator guy has male privilege” violates both.

    What might reasonably be meant by “elevator guy has male privilege” in the present context might be: “elevator guy lives in a society in which men are less likely to be propositioned in an uncomfortable or threatening manner, sexually assaulted, or raped”. I suspect that many commenters in this thread are assuming that everyone knows that a brief statement to the effect that “elevator guy has male privilege” should be taken as shorthand for an expanded statement like that given above. So far as I can tell, this assumption does not hold. The obvious errors are: 1) that EG in fact has the average traits or advantages of male gender in our society; 2) that male privilege is a universal advantage of maleness in our society. If you read through the various comments on the topic on Pharyngula et al. you can find numerous examples of both of these misunderstandings by non-feminists and by feminists. Jason’s original post interested me largely because it corrects error “2”. This is a rare event on the FTBlogs.

    The confusion I think I’ve been stumbling over is whether errors “1” and “2” arise from misunderstanding or misuse of “privilege” or are inherent in the concept itself. I’m starting to think that the former is the case, but that usage is so frequently vague, grammatically misleading (“X has Y” is usually used to indicate that Y is a possession or characteristic of X, not that Y is characteristic of X’s society; if the latter meaning is intended when Y is privilege, the grammar is perverse), or incorrect that it’s a bugger to sort out. This still leaves me pessimistic about the term “privilege” as part of coherent communication, but were suggestions “1” and “2” given above followed, I can imagine it happening.

  5. 105

    1. is correct, privilege is a descriptor of society as a whole, but it has side-effects on individuals depending on whether they’re in the group with privilege or not. Being privileged might mean that Elevator Guy is unaware, because he’s not subject to sexual harassment and such, that he is actually making girls uncomfortable by approaching them in seemingly-predatory manners. He could be the nicest, sweetest guy in the world, getting all the clues wrong and just being generally hapless, but he’s still made Watson uncomfortable by what he chose to do.

    Privilege also manifests in the backlash Watson received when she said “don’t do that, it’s creepy”. Male privilege is so enculturated in pretty much every member of our society that even women have stepped up (e.g. Stef McGraw) to say “how dare you attack this man as a rapist for just wanting to flirt” or “how dare you try to deprive men of their right to sexual self-direction” when all she said was “don’t do that, it’s creepy.”

    Also, 2. is sort of correct. I say sort of, because just saying there are privileges that both genders enjoy, does not make these privileges even. Women definitely get the short straw on this — even though male gender roles hurt men significantly as I’ve shown in the original post, these don’t compare even taken altogether to the lack of power, sexual self-direction, workplace equality, et cetera, that women face. Just look at what happens when someone IS raped in, say, a dark alley, or alone in an elevator. How much of the onus of responsibility is placed on the victim for being alone, or for dressing “slutty”?

    So just acknowledging that there are privileges that both genders enjoy does not mean these privileges are even. We are still in a patriarchy. It’s all about the manly-men first, non-manly-men as an afterthought.

  6. 106

    Re. suggestion “2”:

    I don’t think being specific about what kind of privilege you’re talking about in a discussion would in any way imply that total privileges for each gender are equal. You would have expressed yourself more clearly and limited the possibility for the misunderstanding that you believe one gender to be privileged on all issues. Given how frequently I think that misunderstanding is a problem, this seems a substantial improvement… and I’m not really seeing the downside.

  7. 107

    I agree — specifying how a particular privilege is impacting the situation rather than just saying “privilege” as a shorthand is necessary at least once, and as early in the conversation as possible. Using it as a shorthand thereafter is acceptable in my books, though. It’s the same thing as when you define a word, acronym or usage of a phrase at the beginning of an essay, you can use it thereafter without having to explain it over and over.

  8. 109

    aspidoscelis
    OK, I’ll try again.

    I disagree with both your suggestions.
    It seems we need to explain the term more carefully.

    1) “Privilege” is a descriptor of society, not of individuals. It should be used accordingly.

    That doesn’t make sense at all. Society is composed of millions of individuals. We cherish, we value individuality, but to be honest, we’re much less so than we’d like to think.
    Did you read the excerpt posted above?.
    Privilege is something that you automatically get as a member of a group. There are many different privileges and most people don’t have all of them (RD, for example, has almost all of them), and in different situations differnt privileges will have a different value (white privilege can override male privilege, male privilege can override straight privilege or any combination of those factors)

    2) Privilege is context-dependent, not universal. Coherent usage should indicate what manner of inequality is meant, given that inequalities in society do not uniformly favor one gender.

    I’ve written above that there are many forms of privilege and that they “interact”, and yes, of course, they interact with the privileges of other people, so, yes, they play out differently in different situations.
    But privilege isn’t something that appears and then disappears again. It’s something that is with a person all the time and therefore shapes their experience.
    EG has male privilege, which means he grew up in a world that it much less scary than that of RW or mine.
    True, not all women are assaulted and men are raped, too, but that doesn’t negate those effects.
    I have never been assaulted or raped. I once escaped a sexual assault and in every instant of that “episode” male privilege worked to his advantage and against me.
    But I’ve been subject to a life-time’s worth of teaching how I must avoid being raped, what to look out for. And I know that those aren’t exagerated stories like having to look out for people who want to bomb the bus I’m sitting on.
    All the stories of all the women who have been raped, most often by dates, partners and husbands, the statistics and the research, they all tell me that this is real. My own experience tells me this is real.
    I suppose that if decent men read about women being raped, especially by their partner, they become angry.
    I become scared.

    So, yes, the world in which EG grew up is a world that holds a lot less danger, worries and anxiety. And because (and I think we can safely extrapolate it from his behaviour) he never actively thought about the fact that his world might be fundamentally different from the world in which RW lives, he wrongly mistook his world for reality.

    If you read the excerpt above about white privilege, the white men in the experiement would make the experience that the world is a place with friendly people and polite clerks. Nothing extraordinary happened in that experience. It’s just same everyday business. Sure, every individual instant was an expression of white privilege, but the complete experience of the world as being such a nice place is privilege, too.

    BTW, this thread has some pecularities:

    A) Suddenly we’re talking about male privilege again instead of focussing on the ways this hurts men.

    B) In a thread especially about the woes of men, nobody has brought up male infant circumcission*, which is usually a popular derailment tactic in threads about women.
    Somehow it seems that this isn’t the real issue for those people and merely a lever for derailing.

    *Just for the record: Completely against it. I’m European, I’m not culturally indoctrinated into the practise, so I’m simply abhorred by the practise

  9. 110

    BTW, if I thought that all those problems were due to individuals and individual situations, my view of mankind (and I mean it as only the men) would be much worse than it actually is. It would mean that 99% of men are actual assholes.
    Why? Because at some point they all behave like assholes.
    Instead of that, understanding that they’re not acting like this because they’re assholes but because they’re privileged and don’t know that they’re acting like assholes, I can try to work with them, make them aware, share my experience.
    It allows me to understand why good guys fuck up on many levels.

  10. 111

    Giliell: In the MRA’s defense (*shudder*), I don’t see a single one on this thread. I’m sure one of them would have brought up circumcision if any of them actually cared about men’s rights enough to discuss them here. They are solely and primarily about stopping women from winning back rights, as far as I can tell.

    (And yes, I’m against circumcision, not only because it’s a religiously motivated, invasive and dangerous operation that provides no real benefits, but also because I didn’t have a choice in the matter myself because I was way too young to say “no way”. Or to say anything, really, aside from “waaaah”.)

    We’re talking about male privilege again, mostly because it’s the most readily accessible to all parties to be able to explain what privilege itself is. The ways in which privilege hurts men are far less commonplace — pick an average man, and he is very likely not affected by any of the scenarios set forth in the original post, aside from gender ruoles and the idealized Superman image prescribed in them. And this role is a generally positive one, even if the average man can’t live up to it.

    I also suspect the places in which you and aspidoscelis disagree are far less of a disagreement than either of you think. I see significant overlap between what aspidoscelis says in his two points, and what you’ve said in @111. You only apparently disagree in scope of applicability. As do I — privilege is “granted” to people in the in group not because someone judges them at birth to be worthy of that privilege, but because they hit the genetic lottery and were born into the positions of privilege. They were born on third base. The trick is getting them to understand that they didn’t hit a triple.

  11. 112

    Privilege also happens in these discussions with people who assume they don’t have to look at evidence or be accurate to talk about the subject.

    I read these discussions because I am not male, and because I wish to condition my mind to be sensitive to the ways in which men are affected by this far-reaching social problem; it helps me battle the communication gap which asserts that we cannot be vulnerable to one another by biology or *handwave* some a priori category which cannot be argued with, because ___________.

    On the subject of privilege: it’s a surprisingly precise concept for a broad spectrum of human behavior and social organization. It means the systematic series of advantages given a person because of their membership in a group.

    For a social concept, that’s a VERY elegant definition. It’s also overwhelmingly borne out in the data we have on application, though we seem to not like to talk about it.

    People don’t like it because it interferes with their idea that they are independent and have earned everything themselves, through their own effort, and asks them to consider their witting and unwitting complicity in cruelty. And people who gain from it tend to be able to completely ignore sections of it (or, if they gain enough from it, the whole thing.)

    And yes, the exercise of privilege is cruel.

  12. 113

    BTW, this thread has some pecularities:

    And to me at least: C) This is the calmest discussion on a feminist topic I’ve ever seen. Where’s the ‘Misogynist!’? No ‘Misandrist!’? No ‘feminazi’? Can it rightly even be called a thread nowadays without even one utterance of ‘douche!’?

    Fascinating discussion, well done by all.

  13. 114

    One could as easily argue that we need the best allies we can get and that may determing the duration of our efforts. I am nervous to call anyone an ally who will only help if they are treated in specific fashion by everyone they encounter.

  14. 115

    I’m a bit late to this thread, but I’d like to add my appreciation for aspidoscelis for his articulate and patient explanation of a viewpoint I share. I was privileged to be brought up (along with three sisters) by wonderful parents who were highly empathetic to the cultural disadvantages that burden women and minorities, and as a young adult I was inspired to enthusiastically embrace the civil rights and gender equality movements. I’d like to think if my parents had been born a generation later, they would have similarly supported the recent shift in public acceptance of LGBT rights.

    Although I don’t share the same level of discomfort with the specific words “privilege” and “feminism” that aspidoscelis feels, I think the focus on language obscures his most important point. I rapidly lost interest in the neverending Pharyngula and Greta Christina threads on the elevator drama precisely because they devolved into tediously repetitious exchanges between angry misogynist assholes and target-indiscriminate Ellen Jamesian attackers who quickly labeled any commenter as belonging to one or the other category.

    The key takeaway for me (and aspidoscelis, as I read his comments above) that I think many miss is the harmfulness to the cause of the shrug/not my problem attitude towards the many, many sympathetic privileged potential allies who get sprayed in the indiscriminate crossfire driven by the hurt and anger of past wounds.

    If you are privileged (hah!) never to have been labeled on sight as a racist oppressor based on nothing more than your skin color, never to have been bitten by a dog who was horribly abused as a puppy, or never to have been given a dirty look by a woman who you held a door for, it may seem trivial and beside the point to care. I don’t need or want sympathy for experiencing these things, as I understand where they come from and they really don’t hurt me at the end of the day. But denying that they do significant harm to accomplishing the goals we share seems to be endemic, and that makes me sad.

    I’ll likely be flamed for saying it (and here I should give ‘Tis Himself, OM the courtesy of mentioning him by name), but if you feel the urge to post an attack on my thoughts here as the rants of just another DavidByron, take a bit of time first to read or watch The World According To Garp again, you just might have missed something the last time.

    We need all the allies to the cause we can get, and in the end this may determine how many generations it takes to succeed.

  15. 116

    As Dhorvath said. Of all the people who’ve held a door for a woman (or an elder, or someone disabled) and gotten a dirty look in response, I’d rather have the ones who thought to themselves “What was that for? Maybe I goofed. Oh well, no big deal.” and NOT the ones who thought “What was that for? See if I ever hold a door for one of YOU people again.” I don’t want allies who care more about other people respecting them than they do about the other people. Whether or not they hold the damn door.

  16. 117

    melior #114

    I’ll likely be flamed for saying it (and here I should give ‘Tis Himself, OM the courtesy of mentioning him by name), but if you feel the urge to post an attack on my thoughts here as the rants of just another DavidByron, take a bit of time first to read or watch The World According To Garp again, you just might have missed something the last time.

    No flaming. I just don’t understand why folks dislike the WORD “privilege.” That’s what I’m trying to get aspidoscelis to explain to me. He claims, and I’m still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that his claim has some basis in reality, that he understand the concept of privilege and that it has validity. What he objects to is the WORD “privilege.” I quote from his post #7:

    If treatment of people as individuals rather than as members of certain classes is the goal, “privilege” and “patriarchy” are the wrong words.

    Since you’re in agreement with aspidoscelis then perhaps you can explain to me what the problem is with that particular word.

    BTW, I wasn’t impressed by the book The World According to Garp and I’ve never seen the movie. Perhaps you might explain what you’re trying to say without reference to a mediocre book.

  17. 118

    ‘Tis Himself, OM, #117:

    Quoting from myself: “I do think the concept “privilege” describes an aspect of reality but do not think it does so in an effective manner.”

    As another analogical stab, I might liken it to a geocentric view of the solar system. Most (presumably all, given a sufficiently sophisticated model) of the objective facts about the relative motion of the planets & sun can be accurately described in a geocentric view… but it’s not a particularly helpful view of the situation.

    Obviously there’s plenty of room for disagreement with my opinion that “privilege” has approximately the same status… and, if I am correct, we do seem to be lacking a handy Copernicus to indicate the way out.

  18. 119

    melior, #114:

    I rapidly lost interest in the neverending Pharyngula and Greta Christina threads on the elevator drama precisely because they devolved into tediously repetitious exchanges between angry misogynist assholes and target-indiscriminate Ellen Jamesian attackers who quickly labeled any commenter as belonging to one or the other category.

    The key takeaway for me (and aspidoscelis, as I read his comments above) that I think many miss is the harmfulness to the cause of the shrug/not my problem attitude towards the many, many sympathetic privileged potential allies who get sprayed in the indiscriminate crossfire driven by the hurt and anger of past wounds.

    I guess we disagree a bit in the importance of terminology and underlying concepts in creating that dynamic (and I’ll readily admit I can be a bit obsessed by that particular aspect of any topic), but I’m in agreement otherwise.

    I’d also like to echo the sentiment that I’m quite glad that this unpleasant dynamic has not been recreated here.

  19. 120

    aspidoscelis #118

    I understand now. I was working under a misapprehension. I thought you understood what privilege was. I was wrong. You don’t have the faintest idea as to what privilege is other than you’re against it. I won’t pursue the matter any more.

  20. 121

    aspidoscelis: if you think privilege is as like the geocentric model, something that describes reality in a roundabout backward way that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, then you must think there’s a simpler, more elegant model to present that holds the same explanatory power.

    Since you’re positing it, be Galileo. Show me something that explains the situation better than privilege does. You can’t just say it’s a flawed model without at least positing how it’s flawed, and you’d be a luminary if you showed a better one.

    And… go.

  21. 122

    I already said we didn’t have a handy Copernicus (nor Galileo)… leastways, if there is one hiding out there, I’m not aware of it.

    It is worth mentioning that the common view of geocentrism as an obviously empirically wrong model is, I think, rather overstated. It withstood close scrutiny by a lot of smart people for a very long time and, to the extent that I understand the relevant physics (which, also, could easily be overstated), it isn’t empirically incorrect (although specific models used by Ptolemy et al., were).

  22. 124

    Hard physical science like the mechanics of this universe is certainly up for empirical testing and some models are more correct than others. No matter how good the old models of the solar system were, they were prone to error because they made a presupposition — that the Earth had to be the center, because in our egotism we thought our fixed frame of reference had to be THE fixed frame of reference.

    If you want a comparison, consider that before privilege was first described, we generally considered a natural order where the stratification of society was part of human nature. Sure, the odd person here and there decried the inherent prejudices, revolutions were fought over them, et cetera, but nobody actually studied it as a science. I posit that social and other squishy sciences are just as much sciences as the hard ones, though. They’re just more difficult to study because they involve way more variables.

  23. 125

    I posit that social and other squishy sciences are just as much sciences as the hard ones, though. They’re just more difficult to study because they involve way more variables.

    Speaking as an economist, i.e., a social scientist, this phenomenon is generally accepted in the social sciences.

    At the Cosmic Variance blog Sean Carroll considers some differences between natural and social science:

    [I]n the public imagination, natural scientists have figured out a lot more reliable and non-obvious things about the world, compared to what non-experts would guess, than social scientists have. The insights of quantum mechanics and relativity are not things that most of us can even think sensibly about without quite a bit of background study. Social scientists, meanwhile, talk about things most people are relatively familiar with. The ratio of “things that have been discovered by this discipline” to “things I could have figured out for myself” just seems much larger in natural science than in social science.

    Then we stir in the matter of consensus. On the very basics of their fields (the Big Bang model, electromagnetism, natural selection), almost all natural scientists are in agreement. Social scientists seem to have trouble agreeing on the very foundations of their fields. If we cut taxes, will revenue go up or down? Does the death penalty deter crime or not? For many people, a lack of consensus gives them license to trust their own judgment as much as that of the experts. To put it another way: if we talked more about the bedrock principles of the field on which all experts agreed, and less about the contentious applications of detailed models to the real world, the public would likely be more ready to accept experts’ opinions.

  24. 126

    melior

    The key takeaway for me (and aspidoscelis, as I read his comments above) that I think many miss is the harmfulness to the cause of the shrug/not my problem attitude towards the many, many sympathetic privileged potential allies who get sprayed in the indiscriminate crossfire driven by the hurt and anger of past wounds.

    Hmmm, well, we’re here now, and we’re listening.
    I think the source of that problem, at least during internet discussions, might be that the privileged potential allies have the habbit to bring those up during discussions about the problems of the less-privileged groups, insisting that people need to listen to them now.
    Or that the things are totally comparable.
    Yes, I admit that this will get the Horde fully armed and ready to charge.

    If you are privileged (hah!) never to have been labeled on sight as a racist oppressor based on nothing more than your skin color, never to have been bitten by a dog who was horribly abused as a puppy, or never to have been given a dirty look by a woman who you held a door for, it may seem trivial and beside the point to care.

    Oh, you have no idea how well I know that problem. I’m German and I can hardly travel in Europe without meeting people who hold resentments against me because of German fascism.
    Oh yes, it hurts. Not only am I way too young to bear any responsible for those crimes, not only do I have a long history of anti-fascist activism, also I lost many members of my family fighting against Hitler.
    But I understand why those people need to be careful with me. Although I’m completely innocent of those crimes, I accept the responsibility I got handed when I was born German. It’s my job to fight for a world in which “German” isn’t automatically connected to “fascism” in any but a historical sense.
    But really, going into a discussion about the victims of German fascism saying “but what about me, it hurts me when people judge me for being German” would be true assholery.

  25. 131

    ” But I understand why those people need to be careful with me. Although I’m completely innocent of those crimes, I accept the responsibility I got handed when I was born German. It’s my job to fight for a world in which “German” isn’t automatically connected to “fascism” in any but a historical sense.”

    You could start by refusing to accept a world in which racists automatically connect your ethnicity/nationality to fascism.

  26. 135

    […] had done, some time ago, a piece on the disadvantages of being a man. Strangely enough, all of them stemmed from the current structure of our society, which undeniably […]

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