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
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135 thoughts on “The Disadvantages of Being a Man

  1. 51

    I’m not surprised that Canada is more progressive than the states. For example: Nathan had the option to take parental leave when we had Jack.

    The stuff I’ve mentioned is stuff I’ve actually personally encounted in some way. Perhaps it’s just the particular groups of people that I was around at the time we had some of these opinions which coloured my experiences. It’s hard to say.

    I have a friend who was recently got married and told me she was sick and tired of the question “so what’s your new name?” Apparently the people she has encounted can’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that she wants to keep her name and, in fact, never considered changing it in the first place.

  2. 52

    Miranda
    Sure, they become “only” housewives (or can become), and yes, they are supposed to “do their little”, but it’s still a possibility that is more open to women than men.
    “Self-respecting heterosexual men” are frankly not allowed* by any standard to sell crafted handbags from home or change other people’s kids’ diapers.
    They are, of course, allowed to be master designers of insanely expensive handbags.

    Oh, please don’t mention changing names. I didn’t take my husband’s name ( I would have if it were easier to spell than mine), but by now I react to it. It’s amazing that people will listen to you spelling your name and then take a breath and use your husband’s. Or, if they understand, suppose that we are not married and I therefore don’t have the legal right to act in his name.

    *Not an actual law, of course.

  3. 53

    Re: name changes and marriage.

    Amusingly enough, I took my wife’s name when we got married. Interestingly, it took her family longer to come around than mine, maybe because my family was already used to me ‘being wierd’.

    It started as an offhand comment by her, saying it would be easier to change my name than hers, because so much of our paperwork was in her name (we lived together for about 4 years before marrying, and I had really bad credit when we met).

    Anyway, we do some things that are ‘traditional’ gender roles, but we both recognize when we do and are very egalitarian about our relationship in general. With her working on her PhD, I hope to become the ‘minor’ breadwinner in a few years. 🙂

  4. 54

    Ys at 41:
    “One final note, about rape – no one brought up prison rape. It is just as horrible as any other rape, yet it’s become even more of a pervasive running joke than rape jokes about women. We don’t think of women being raped in jail – it’s all about men sharing a cell with a big black guy named Bubba (which is a whole ‘nother discussion on relative privilege and racism, etc.). It’s probably considered the most degrading possible thing that a man could have happen to him…yet it’s a running joke EVERYWHERE. I cannot conceive how hurtful and damaging that is for the victims of this crime…and where are they supposed to turn for any sort of consideration or compassion?”

    Well, for what it’s worth the only people I’ve read pushing back against the notion that prison rapes jokes are okay and high-larious are feminists of both genders.

  5. 55

    Well, for what it’s worth the only people I’ve read pushing back against the notion that prison rapes jokes are okay and high-larious are feminists of both genders.

    Well, those who petitioned to change the antiquated rape definitions of “man putting penis into vagina” to include other forms and male victims were also feminists.
    It’s not so much an issue of men vs. women, but rather of patriarchy vs. feminists.

    fastlane
    Well, I told him I didn’t know how he would call himself after our wedding, but I would call myself exactly like I did then. He wanted to keep his name, I kept mine. The kids have his name. I can understand that with the patriarchal tropes surrounding kids and fatherhood it was more important for him than it was for me. Nobody would ever question my status as their mother, even though I don’t share their name, but people would question his status as a father if he had a different name.

  6. 57

    I did say that it is still considered more socially acceptable for women to be homemakers than men. My point was that it is not currently universally acceptable for women to be homemakers anymore. There is an attitude that women should want more than to be homemakers.

    Interesting enough I actually know a man who used to sell hand made bags at the local farmers market.

  7. 58

    In response to Greta, #35:

    Maybe I should clarify slightly. So, backtracking to my original purpose here, Jason wrote in the original post: “I strongly suspect there’s a reason men have not done more to overturn the patriarchy […]”. Personally, I strongly suspect that among the various reasons are terminological and/or conceptual problems. So, one of the things I’ve been hoping to get across is that some of the standards terms in feminism (including, of course, “feminism” itself) are frequently misunderstood, misapplied, or used in fallacious reasoning. For instance, you write:

    “To say that opposing patriarchy means objecting to allowing people with penises to be in charge is a straw man. (Straw person? Whatever.)”

    I’m going to speculate that this is not the first time you’ve had to address this kind of misconception in discussions with non-feminists. If so, it may be worth considering that promoting gender equality using terms and concepts that are–or are likely to be interpreted as–gender-loaded, based on stereotypes, anti-male, etc., is likely to antagonize rather than convince.

    If a word isn’t communicating what you want it to communicate, there’s only so much you can do by way of more carefully defining the word. At some point the best course of action is to find a more effective word. In my opinion, discussion of overturning the patriarchy is not an effective way of communicating that you’re interested in promoting gender equality. Yes, I understand how those words can be used to communicate precisely that. The question is whether or not they in fact do so when either the speaker or the listener is not a sophisticated feminist.

  8. 59

    aspidoscelis, I am very slightly younger than radical feminism. I have seen what has been accomplished by that movement in that time. It is not small.

    I have also seen, in that time, a regressive movement come to life and to power. I have seen, over and over, that they are willing to lie and to brand their enemies with those lies.

    Anyone who wants the language of the movement to change is going to need more than concern. They will have to demonstrate that this language change will actually make more of a difference than simply reaching out and education people on those terms, and they will have to find a way to convince activists that the new terms, whatever they may be, won’t simply be twisted by the regressive movement exactly the same way the old were.

    You up for that?

  9. 60

    MRA = Winging bitches worried about first world problems. No graph of modern workplace injury stats by sex should be produced without data from 19th century Lowell as a baseline. “The number of men murdered by intimates dropped by 75% since 1976. The number of women killed by intimates was stable for nearly two decades.” (bjs) And so on.

    I am not impressed.

  10. 61

    Re. Stephanie, #60:

    “You up for that?”

    Nope, not one bit. Determining the future course of feminism is a job for feminists. I can give you my input as a non-feminist, but that’s as far as it goes.

  11. 62

    Nope, not one bit. Determining the future course of feminism is a job for feminists. I can give you my input as a non-feminist, but that’s as far as it goes.

    Ahhh, but you’ll be ever so glad to point out where we went wrong (in your opinion) and that you told us so.

    Yes, I understand how those words can be used to communicate precisely that. The question is whether or not they in fact do so when either the speaker or the listener is not a sophisticated feminist.

    Well, do you think we should get scientists to find another word for mutations because most people think about X-men and huge turtles and creationists will never stop abusing the term? Or should we just try to educate people better to the actual meaning of it?

  12. 63

    aspidoscelis #50 (Notice how I give you the courtesy of mentioning you by name. You might consider giving me the same courtesy. Also learn to <blockquote> or otherwise distinguish what you’re quoting from what you’re saying.)

    I don’t think you’ve understood what I was saying. The choice of how to conceptualize an aspect of reality and what terms to apply is a problem independent of the mere existence of that aspect of reality.

    I understand your point. What I don’t understand is how the word “privilege” gets you all wound up. It’s a non-pejorative, non-derogatory, non-humiliating, non-malevolent word. Dictionary.com has as the first definition of privilege:

    a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most: the privileges of the very rich.

    While we could quibble about the word “most” in this definition, it’s a succinct description of privilege as used in our (or at least my) discussion.

    I consider the conceptual difficulties underlying “privilege” to be more problematic than its pejorative connotations, but the gist is: there are reasons to object to terms other than rejection of any reality that they represent.

    You have complained several times that you have objections to the word “privilege.” What you’ve completely failed to do is explain what these objections are. You say there are “reasons to object to terms” but apparently I’m supposed to guess what these reasons are, at least in the case of “privilege.”

    As for whether pejorative connotations exist, the concept of “privilege” is at least sometimes used to dismiss the opinions of others. I consider such usage pejorative, as it devalues people based on their group membership.

    Perhaps I’m just dense but I’ve not seen these supposed occasions when “privilege” is used to dismiss others’ opinions. I have seen peoples’ opinions dismissed because they refuse to accept the concept of privilege, particularly male privilege. But that’s an entirely different subject.

    I’ve previously described how, because of different attributes, I’m a member of various privileged groups. Please explain to me how this “devalues” me. I’s jest a pore iggerant Harvard gradumate, I don’t unnerstand what you is sayin’.

    I also note that in discussions of feminism on the FTBlogs, non-feminists often object to the term “privilege”. It is at least worth considering that this may be because they find the term to be used pejoratively, rather than merely because they are hateful misogynist bastards (which, unquestionably, some of them are!).

    Okay, other people have the same or similar whines about “privilege” that you have. So what? I’m asking YOU what your objections are. I’m not calling you a hateful, misogynist bastard. I’m questioning why you object to one specific word.

    “Why is rejecting reality so important to you?”

    If this is not facetious, the question indicates that you haven’t understood my previous posts. As they are rather lengthy, I will not repeat them here.

    Obviously you didn’t read my previous post #47 where I said: “And no, this is not a facetious question.” Perhaps I’m not the one with reading comprehension problems.

    I’ve read your previous posts. I’ve even quoted from them. I still don’t understand why you object to the word “privilege.” You whine it “devalues” others and “creates stereotypes” and things like that but you don’t actually explain how the word does these things. More and more I’m convinced you’re trying to remove one of the stronger feminist arguments by pretending the word used has negative connotations.

  13. 64

    Well, do you think we should get scientists to find another word for mutations because most people think about X-men and huge turtles and creationists will never stop abusing the term? Or should we just try to educate people better to the actual meaning of it?

    ditto for the word “theory”, the economics-specific meaning of “efficiency” and “rational”, etc. etc.

    Seriously, since when do academic disciplines let the ignorant dictate their vocabulary?

  14. 65

    Re. ‘Tis Himself, OM, #64:

    Explaining why I find “privilege” objectionable was largely the focus of my posts 7 and 14. I’m not sure how to address your suggestion that I haven’t provided any kind of explanation. I have. Maybe it’s not a great explanation, maybe it requires further clarification, but it is there. If there are aspects you would like me to clarify, I may be able to oblige. If, on the other hand, you deny the existence of any explanation on my part, we are at an impasse.

  15. 66

    So, I have a question on the original topic. Looking at the comic quoted here, which makes the tired joke that women never mean what they say, I do wonder how harmful to men it is to buy into this belief and the other beliefs that underlie the joke. I know Greta has written some about how emotionally stunted the patriarchal man is, and obviously shoehorning oneself into that is mentally damaging.

    I guess my more direct question is this: If you’re performing masculinity with a female partner who performs femininity to conform to patriarchal norms, is one of the effects of that really having expression by the woman fail to mean what the same expression would mean to the man? Or is that entirely a lie, even from the perspective of inside the system, used to justify more abuse of women?

  16. 67

    Dan M.
    I thikn there are several things at work here.
    First I’d say that those missunderstandings simply don’t happen when we’re talking about serious stuff.
    In sex, yes means yes and no means no and you can easily tell when a verbal “no” just doesn’t mean no but “please go on exactly like that”. People do play games and they are both aware that they do. Nobody in their right mind could take a crying woman who begs you to stop as somebody who wants you to go on, enjoying herself mightily.
    People who are into those kind of games usually establish safe-words first, and those are usually not “no” or “stop”.
    That’s just a misogynis excuse.

    As for more ordinary stuff, communication theory can work wonders if both sides.
    Men and women often use communication differently.
    The patriarchal interpretation of this is that “women don’t say what they mean”, as if they were doing it “wrong”.

    I’ll give you a simple example a lot of people in a relationship find familiar.
    A couple is sitting on the sofa.
    She askes him: “Don’t you find it could in here?”
    He: “No”
    ….
    She: “I really think it’s cold in here”
    He: “hmmm”

    After a while, she gets up, closes the window herself and is angry.
    He feels unjustly attacked.
    If she wanted him to close the window, why didn’t she say so? Clearly, women never say what they mean.
    She is upset. She clearly communicated her wish. He jsut didn’t want to do her a favour.
    Clearly, men are insensitive.

    What has happened? They both communicated on different levels, ignorant of the fact that the other one was not where they were themselves.
    He thought they were talking on a facts-level, about the room temperature. Because men are conditioned to talk about facts, be bold and forward.
    She was communicating on a level of appeal. Her “it’s cold in here” was a clear information because women are conditioned to react to those subtle hints, to care for others “read their wishes from their eyes” and also to never be bold about their own wishes.
    So I think, yes, that meme hurts both, men and women, because it causes pain and damage.
    I can only speculate on how a man must feel who thinks that he can never get a clear communication from a woman, who thinks that he may always do wrong. It must plant a poisonous seed of mistrust in their relationship.

  17. 68

    [email protected] / [email protected]: as another commenter pointed out on the Privilege posts, that’s indirect speech — making statements about things instead of simply asking for the thing you want. It’s pretty much the same sort of thing Elevator Guy was engaged in when he asked Rebecca to “coffee”. The likelihood of his “coffee” being literally coffee is actually significantly lowered by the confidence with which he approached her, and the context during which he approached her. Both of those lead to the subtext of coffee not meaning coffee.

    Not to turn this into another Elevatopalooza thread.

    And yes, the gender roles that puts women at a distinct disadvantage in simply stating their desires lead directly to situations like that. I would take the “it’s cold in here” as a suggestion to do something about it, because I’ve been conditioned to respond by trying to fix things that people complain about (especially when my wife complains about something, because she doesn’t usually).

    As a corollary, this conditioning gets me into trouble when some people complain about something and are actually looking for sympathy, not ways to fix the problem.

  18. 69

    aspidoscelis / Tis Himself: there are real meanings to these words, agreed upon by general consensus, and the terms of art used in the psychological sciences. Just because someone else comes along and turns “feminist” or “privilege” into a bad word doesn’t mean we should stop using it, any more than we should stop using “atheist” just because the word turns people’s ears off to whatever comes after it. It was a word first, then it got morphed into a slur by people with a vested interest in tying those formative ideas with negative emotions, then the people who had the labels applied to them retook those slurs.

    I’ve been stewing on a post about “owning the slur” for about three months. Every time one of these conversations comes up, I wish I could point to it. It’s a shame I haven’t written it yet.

  19. 70

    Because men are conditioned to talk about facts, be bold and forward.
    She was communicating on a level of appeal. Her “it’s cold in here” was a clear information because women are conditioned to react to those subtle hints, to care for others “read their wishes from their eyes” and also to never be bold about their own wishes.
    So I think, yes, that meme hurts both, men and women, because it causes pain and damage.

    I’d add, women are conditioned to produce those subtle hints more than men are. Women who speak directly are more likely to be labeled as “pushy” or “overbearing” where men are “assertive”. IIRC, there’s also a correlation between indirect speech and social status generally: men will use indirect language more when speaking to their boss than they will to their subordinates, for instance.

    Also, indirect refusal in a (female-to-male) sexual context is more likely to be misinterpreted (I’d rather not say “misunderstood” here) than generally. See: Mythcommunication, subtitled “It’s not that they don’t understand, they just don’t like the answer.”

  20. 71

    aspidoscelis

    Here are direct quotes from your posts #7 and #14 concerning privilege, along with my commentary:

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

    You begin with a bare assertion. Let’s see if you support it with evidence.

    Considering only the concept of privilege for the moment, my impression is that this concept is usually treated in a fashion that ignores complexity and particularity. For instance, comments in the various FTBlogs have frequently suggested that elevator guy’s actions were particularly inappropriate because male privilege places him in a position of power relative to Rebecca. Underlying this is the assumption that the relative power held by people can be determined simply by examining their genitalia. This approach -may- work in average across the population as a whole, but it fails utterly in any particular example. You can imagine any number of inequalities in other factors (strength, wealth, social prestige, etc.) that would outweigh gender averages. Treating elevator guy as a generic, average man and Rebecca as a generic, average woman and reaching conclusions about their relative power & social advantages on this basis is absurd. Interactions between them should be viewed and evaluated based on each as individuals, because they are individuals and not averaged stereotypes. A similar example is found in Rebecca’s post “The Privilege Delusion”, from which comes this sentence: “Thanks, wealthy old heterosexual white man!” Viewed through the paradigm of privilege, Richard Dawkins seems to be not a particular person with particular experiences, opinion, and thoughts, but a generic member of a stereotyped category whose views should be interpreted (and, in this case, dismissed) on that basis.

    No evidence there. I see a lot of verbage about how Elevator Guy, Rebecca Watson, and Richard Dawkins are individuals and supposedly “privilege” is about stereotypes, but nothing that shows that, for instance, Dawkins doesn’t fit into the “wealthy old heterosexual white man” stereotype. Are you saying Dawkins isn’t a wealthy old heterosexual white man? Or are you’re saying that wealthy old heterosexual white men don’t have privilege? I assure you that both of these statements are true.

    Moreover, you’re missing Rebecca’s point about Dawkins. He dismissed her complaints about how some men treat women with a long-winded sneer which confirmed Dawkins’s unthinking acceptance of his male privilege.

    I find your attempt to deny Elevator Guy’s privilege quite frustrating. It becomes more and more obvious that you don’t understand the concept of privilege. Elevator Guy and Dawkins have social standing which Rebecca doesn’t. This social standing is given to them because they’re men. You’re correct in a trivial way when you say Elevator Guy and Dawkins are individuals and don’t use their privilege in the same way. Dawkins is much too couth to try to hustle a woman young enough to be his daughter, especially in an elevator at 4 AM. Men use their male privilege in many ways and not all men use the same ways.

    Next quote:

    I know it [privilege] is not unique to feminism, but I do see use of this concept as a problematic aspect of feminism. And it is used as a club, although perhaps we agree that it should not be.

    More assertions. You complain that privilege is “problematic.” I’m thinking that your problem with it is you don’t want to admit male privilege exists, so if you denounce it as problematic then you can dismiss it. And you completely fail to show how it’s “used as a club.”

    So far as I can tell, all data indicating the existence of privilege between gender groups yields differences in averages. Attributing the mean of a sample to a particular member of that sample is one of the most basic Statistics 101 errors. Any use of the concept of privilege to compare particular individuals is based on this error. [emphasis in original]

    Black men receive longer prison sentences for the same crimes as white men. It’s not an error for me to compare a particular black man’s and a particular white man’s sentences as evidence to support this statistic. That’s what’s called a “data point.” Similarly, on average women have lower salaries then men. I happen to have a woman boss whose salary is more than mine. This individual case is not characteristic of the general situation. In general, men have privilege which women don’t, even though in certain instances a particular man does not have a specific privilege over a particular woman. You really need to reread your Statistics 101 book.

    The difficulty is how one goes about decreasing inequality between groups that doesn’t promulgate the basic error that we should be viewing people as members of those groups rather than as individuals. I consider the concept of privilege to reinforce rather than diminish that basic error.

    Now I’m convinced you’re just trying to deny the existence of male privilege by using bogus objections to it. However I admit there is the slight chance that you’re just particularly poor at articulating your objections to the word “privilege.”

  21. 72

    Re. ‘Tis Himself, OM, 71:

    You begin with a bare assertion. Let’s see if you support it with evidence.

    Both “privilege” and “patriarchy” are terms that address properties of groups, rather than properties of individuals. Hence, they do not provide a worldview that emphasizes individuality.

    I see a lot of verbage about how Elevator Guy, Rebecca Watson, and Richard Dawkins are individuals and supposedly “privilege” is about stereotypes, but nothing that shows that, for instance, Dawkins doesn’t fit into the “wealthy old heterosexual white man” stereotype.

    Dawkins’ renown is due to his public advocacy of ideas regarding science and religion that happen not to be typical of rich, old, heterosexual, white men. So, no, he does not fit the stereotype.

    Moreover, you’re missing Rebecca’s point about Dawkins. He dismissed her complaints about how some men treat women with a long-winded sneer which confirmed Dawkins’s unthinking acceptance of his male privilege.

    AFAICT, his comment was directed at the Pharyngula commenters. However, if Dawkins says something wrong, reject it on the grounds that it is wrong. Assuming that his statements were due to his group membership and then dismissing them based on that assumption both ignores his individuality and is pejorative towards the group to which he belongs.

    I find your attempt to deny Elevator Guy’s privilege quite frustrating.

    I have not claimed that EG does or does not have any particular advantages or higher social standing relative to Rebecca. We don’t know that simply from their respective genders.

    Black men receive longer prison sentences for the same crimes as white men. It’s not an error for me to compare a particular black man’s and a particular white man’s sentences as evidence to support this statistic. That’s what’s called a “data point.” Similarly, on average women have lower salaries then men. I happen to have a woman boss whose salary is more than mine. This individual case is not characteristic of the general situation.

    I was not addressing our ability to infer differences in group averages from a single pairwise comparison. I was addressing our ability to infer a single pairwise comparison from differences in group averages. In a simpler case dealing with a single individual and a single group mean, the first kind of reasoning would look like this:

    1) “Jason is 5’8″ tall. Jason is a Canadian man. Therefore, Canadian men are, on average, 5’8″ tall.”

    The second would look like this:

    2) “Canadian men are, on average, 5’8″ tall. Jason is a Canadian man. Therefore, Jason is 5’8″ tall.”

    However, both are very poor reasoning. In the case of a male employee earning less than his female boss, reasoning of the first type would lead us to conclude that, on average, women earn more than men. Reasoning of the second type, OTOH, would lead us to conclude that the male employee earns more than the female boss. Both conclusions are incorrect. That you are aware of such non-representative cases but nonetheless consider it appropriate to assume individual samples are representative of group means… is baffling.

    Now I’m convinced you’re just trying to deny the existence of male privilege by using bogus objections to it. However I admit there is the slight chance that you’re just particularly poor at articulating your objections to the word “privilege.”

    If those are the options, I’ll opt for “inarticulate”.

  22. 73

    @aspidoscelis

    Both “privilege” and “patriarchy” are terms that address properties of groups, rather than properties of individuals. Hence, they do not provide a worldview that emphasizes individuality.

    Your second sentence does not follow from your first, unless “worldview” is doing a lot more work than it does normally. And for privilege, the first sentence isn’t even true; individuals have privilege, though generally they have it due to membership in a socially significant group.

    You seem to be trying to get at the fact that privilege and patriarchy are properties that depend for their existence on groups, which is certainly true. But an ethical system that values individuals can still reference these concepts, in just the same way that an ethical system that values life can reference murder.

    Realizing and admitting that there exists something bad does not by itself sustain that bad thing. So long as the bad thing does exist however, a system that puts value on ending the bad thing should continue to name it, as a pragmatic prerequisite to removing it.

    Or do you also thing that we should prevent future murders by repealing all laws that mention homicide?

  23. 74

    Both “privilege” and “patriarchy” are terms that address properties of groups, rather than properties of individuals. Hence, they do not provide a worldview that emphasizes individuality.

    Well, you know, if we lived in a world where people were only acting as individuals, not influenced by biases, prejudices and such, you’d have a point.
    Is the fact that in my life many men have touched me without my consent, but never a woman, while my husband has never been touched like that by either men or women due to “individual characteristics” or due to our sex?
    Has the fact that male sales assistants in DIY and car part shops treat me like I had an IQ of about room temperature (Celsius) and constantly assume that what I’m saying isn’t what I want or correct while they treat my husband with respect due to our individual knowledge about cars or due to our sex?

    However, both are very poor reasoning

    Yes, and they only exist in your head, something that is universally known as a strawman.
    Because that’s not the way data is compared.
    The real reasoning goes rather like this:
    Canadian men are on average 5’8″ tall, while Canadian women are 5’3″ tall.
    Therefore, if all we know is that Jason is a Canadian man, and June is a Canadian woman, it is likely that Jason is taller than June, but not certain.
    And if men earn more for the same work than women, it is likely that if Jason and June are doing the same work that Jason is earning more than June.

  24. 75

    [email protected],

    You’ve given a good description of the sit-com version of the problem I was asking about. I was well aware of that narrative of how women fail to communicate to men. What it doesn’t answer is whether that narrative has any truth to it.

    Jason and Pteryxx both suggest that men, even men badly infected with heteronormative masculinity, are quite capable of using and understanding indirect speech. I think they answer my intended question better than does your description, and they answer it in the negative.

    I was hoping for actual statistics that were a little more on-point to the “ordinary stuff” than the Mythcommunication article, but even without them, I think I’m going to presume that the “man-cannot-understand-women” meme is not generally a harm to men, but instead a canard.

  25. 76

    Entirely off-topic, but I find it interesting that in the US (and UK?) obvious things are metaphorically 1, 3, or 6 inches in front of the person failing to see them, not 10cm (4 inches) like wherever Giliell is from. (Is Quebec too obvious a guess?)

    Maybe I just need to talk to more people from metric countries.

  26. 78

    On communication again:
    Yes, communication is wonderful, nuanced, extremely creative and surprisingly often working.
    Indirect speech is a tool that allows us to circumnavigate things to give both sides a bit of a breather, but it can also be used as a means of passive-agression.
    Let’s take the “coffee” example:
    Please note that my premise here is that the two people actually know each other and have spend some time together.
    We can use it to suggest a change in the relationship while allowing the other person some room.
    If we make the proposition as “Do you wanna come up and have sex?”, we’re not only bold, probably already making the other one really uncomfortable, but we’re also burning bridges.
    It leaves little room for “I’m not sure if I really want to make that change now”, or “I really like you, but I don’t find you sexually attractive”. You have to make a huge step there and then, all or nothing.
    Asking for “coffee” allows for that more easily:
    “Oh, thank you for the invitation, but tonight I’m really tired. May next time. How do you think about cinama on Saturday?”
    “Oh, no thanks, not tonight. Maybe some other day at Starbucks’?”
    It allows us to formally retreat to the “coffee” fact level, even though we all know that it’s not true.
    The person who made the proposition doesn’t have to feel that rejected, the other person doesn’t have to feel pressured.
    What is stupid is to suggest this doesn’t happen and work.

    It works so well that parents often run into trouble when they’re using that on their children who have not learned yet about those things. When the kids react to the literal message, they’re flabbergasted.

    Also, indirect refusal in a (female-to-male) sexual context is more likely to be misinterpreted (I’d rather not say “misunderstood” here) than generally. See: Mythcommunication, subtitled “It’s not that they don’t understand, they just don’t like the answer.”

    That’s where it becomes stupid and misogynistic.
    Acting as if humans were computers that need to be told exactly what to do when and if you put a 1 instead of a 0 it changes everything.
    They bloody well know.
    But the trope that “women never say what they mean” is a wonderful excuse and society is buying into it.

    And yes, the gender roles that puts women at a distinct disadvantage in simply stating their desires lead directly to situations like that. I would take the “it’s cold in here” as a suggestion to do something about it, because I’ve been conditioned to respond by trying to fix things that people complain about (especially when my wife complains about something, because she doesn’t usually).

    As a corollary, this conditioning gets me into trouble when some people complain about something and are actually looking for sympathy, not ways to fix the problem.

    Funny enough, that happens around here, too, with the traditional gender roles often reversed.
    My husband is great in asking questions instead of asking a favour and he has the habit of messing up the questions themselves.
    But it would be wrong to say that the frequent short fights that follow are only his fault.
    There’s whole lot of things that can go wrong on the way from one brain to another.
    He’ll ask “what’s for dinner” once, meaning “what’s for dinner” and I’ll answer him.
    He’ll ask a second time, meaning “I’m really hungry, is it possible that we have dinner early today?”. What I understand is “I asked you the question before, but I didn’t bother listening to you when you answered me”.
    Yet, when the roles are reversed and therefore fit the “women don’t say what they mean” trope, the blame is exclusively on her side.

    aspidoscelis
    See, we’re totally able to talk about individual cases. But we’re also capable of seeing “the bigger picture”, while you’re remaining with your nose 10cm from a pointillistic picture claiming that it’s only individual dots and not a scene at a lakeside

  27. 79

    I just posted a Youtube video where a very 90s woman explains how to manipulate men. This is salient to indirect speech.

    Interestingly, I haven’t gotten any emails from this thread in the past twelve hours, and I own the blog. Anyone else having email subscription problems with FtB?

    [email protected]: every country but the US uses Metric. Scientists in the US use Metric. The UK uses some weird combination of Imperial, Metric and whatever the hell “stones” is. So, yeah.

    aspidoscelis:

    I have not claimed that EG does or does not have any particular advantages or higher social standing relative to Rebecca. We don’t know that simply from their respective genders.

    We do, actually, know that. By establishing their respective genders (he’s a heterosexual male), we know that the playing field is tilted his way in two respects. We might not know where this individual is on the playing field but we do know the tilts. We also know that many heterosexual males consider the tilts in their direction to be “natural” and take advantage of them to make passes at strangers knowing nothing bad will come of it. This means Elevator Guy’s chances of taking advantage of the tilt of the playing field are significantly greater than if he was, say, a lesbian approaching Watson in an elevator at 4am.

  28. 80

    Jason, #79:

    I have not claimed that EG does or does not have any particular advantages or higher social standing relative to Rebecca. We don’t know that simply from their respective genders.

    We do, actually, know that. By establishing their respective genders (he’s a heterosexual male), we know that the playing field is tilted his way in two respects. We might not know where this individual is on the playing field but we do know the tilts.

    We may actually agree. What I’m suggesting is precisely that “we might not know where this individual is on the playing field”–although, rather than “might not”, I would have said “do not”.

    However, then I’m a bit confused by your earlier “We do, actually, know that.” Oh well…

  29. 82

    Giliell, #74:

    Yes, and they only exist in your head, something that is universally known as a strawman.
    Because that’s not the way data is compared.
    The real reasoning goes rather like this:
    Canadian men are on average 5’8″ tall, while Canadian women are 5’3″ tall.
    Therefore, if all we know is that Jason is a Canadian man, and June is a Canadian woman, it is likely that Jason is taller than June, but not certain.
    And if men earn more for the same work than women, it is likely that if Jason and June are doing the same work that Jason is earning more than June.

    If it is a strawman, you may wish to let more feminists know.

    For instance, my statement that we do not know EG’s status relative to Rebecca from gender alone is based on the reasoning you are describing. We may reasonably make educated guesses about what is likely, sure; as for knowing that one person is in a position of power relative to another due to gender alone, no, it just doesn’t work. However, there does not seem to be unqualified agreement with me on this point.

  30. 83

    The concept of privilege is entirely about probabilities, aspidoscelis. It’s about figuring out how likely it is that a person is in an advantageous position based solely on the ways the playing field is tilted in their favour. This is sophistry, pure and simple.

    Let me give you a way that being privileged affects probabilities even without knowing the individual cases.

    A woman in a business suit and a man in a business suit each walk by a construction yard. The woman is more likely to receive catcalls from the construction workers, even if the construction workers were evenly gender-distributed. The man might feel bad that he didn’t get catcalled, because gender roles suggest that any man that is the recipient of unexpected sexual attention is “lucky”. The woman, on the other hand, does not necessarily view the sexual attention as making her “lucky”.

    The man in this scenario is privileged in not having received catcalls and not having anything to fear even if he does.

    This does not imply anything about these people’s station in life, you’ll notice.

  31. 84

    Jason, #84:

    The concept of privilege is entirely about probabilities, aspidoscelis. It’s about figuring out how likely it is that a person is in an advantageous position based solely on the ways the playing field is tilted in their favour. This is sophistry, pure and simple.

    I am in complete agreement with your last sentence.

  32. 89

    I intended to suggest that the rather convoluted reasoning that’s become involved in attempts to avoid the fallacy of inferring an individual’s characteristics from group averages is sophistry. Apparently I failed. Oh well. Taken collectively, these attempts (by yourself, ‘Tis Himself, OM, Giliell, Dan M.) make it essentially impossible to nail down where or how this fallacy is made, but don’t materially address whether it is made. I find myself in a maze of twisty little definitions, none quite alike…

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

  33. 90

    aspidoscelis
    I think I’m beginning to understand where this goes wrong (or I’m just too tired):
    You seem to imply that all we know about RW and EG is that one is male and the other one female. Which is not the case. We know a whole lot more facts which I’m not going to repeat here.
    And yes, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck…

  34. 91

    Giliell, 90:

    My understanding of the concept of male privilege has been that we don’t need to know more than gender to establish that a person does or does not have male privilege. Perhaps I am incorrect in this.

  35. 92

    My understanding of the concept of male privilege has been that we don’t need to know more than gender to establish that a person does or does not have male privilege.

    That’s correct. Men have privilege that women don’t.

    So what’s your problem with “privilege”?

  36. 93

    My understanding of the concept of male privilege has been that we don’t need to know more than gender to establish that a person does or does not have male privilege. Perhaps I am incorrect in this.

    As ‘Tis said, so it is.
    And as established before, this means certain things. This means that the probability to be assaulted and raped when you walk to your car that’s parked in a dark place is much lower than that of a woman. It means you’re likely to be taken serious by other men. It doesn’t mean those are absolutes.
    The fact that you have male privilege also doesn’t mean you necessarily behave like a privileged jerk.
    But from what we know of EG, we think we can safely tell that his privilege was showing.
    From the way Dawkins behaved we know his privilege was showing. They were both lacking a life-time’s worth of experience of how it is to be at the receiving end of those things.
    That’s not their fault.
    But they were also lacking the thought and insight and critical reflection of their privilege.

  37. 94

    ‘Tis Himself, OM, 92:

    So what’s your problem with “privilege”?

    Not this again…

    Giliell, 93:

    But from what we know of EG, we think we can safely tell that his privilege was showing.
    From the way Dawkins behaved we know his privilege was showing. They were both lacking a life-time’s worth of experience of how it is to be at the receiving end of those things.
    That’s not their fault.
    But they were also lacking the thought and insight and critical reflection of their privilege.

    That seems very tidy on the surface, but I see a severe conceptual quagmire hiding in the intersection of privilege and misunderstanding of different viewpoints. I may have to leave it be rather than wading in, though. Perhaps another time.

  38. 95

    I’m well aware that lots of places use metric, but it is negatively correlated with the large anglophone countries. I think Canada may be the largest majority-English-speaking country that uses metric consistently, as I’m under the impression that the Australians also use some of the UK’s hodge-podge. What I found interesting was that the metric idiom was base ten rather than having a multiple of 3 like the English-derived unit systems have, and the fact that 10cm does not come out to a “round” number of inches amused me. Maybe it was just to idiosyncratic a thing to express amusement about.

    Giliell, in defense of my geographic guess, your username has French in it and we’re on a Canadian blog.

  39. 96

    , but I see a severe conceptual quagmire hiding in the intersection of privilege and misunderstanding of different viewpoints.

    No, that’s mythunderstanding again.
    Tell me, where’s the room for misunderstanding when Rebecca Watson says several times: “I want to be left alone”, and specifically “I’m tired and I’m going to bed now”*
    Or, for that matter, when in the original threads on Pharyngula, after lots of women explained carefully why there was bad in the situation, understanding that, because of his privilege, EG might have been completely ignorant as to why his actions were creepy, this needs to be adressed so men can learn from this, Dawkins wades in telling all those women and RW specifically to stop crying, silly girls, nothing happened, look over there, if you think women have it bad here I’ll show you where women have it bad?
    If there is misunderstanding, it is because of privilege. Because the privileged don’t know why a situation that holds no bad for them is therefore not “zero bad”.
    I’ll give you an example that’s easily understood:
    Recently, my rather new washing machine broke.
    Because I have middle-class privilege, this was a nuissance, but not a catastrophy.
    For poor people such a thing is a catastrophy. They cannot even cough up 100 bucks for a used one that devours energy like a HUmmer car, leave alone the 500 I paid for a good, energy efficient one.
    But if I now said that poor people are to blame themselves for having a high energy bill since they use old applicances or told a poor woman to stop crying, silly woman, it’s only a washing machine, you’d rightly call me an ignorant, arrogant, privileged middle-class asshole and probably remind me of what happened to the last prominent person in history who made such a stupid privileged suggestion regarding the consumption of cake.

    Dan M
    Hihi. The nym is a Pharyngula thing. It’s also mock-French (bonne should go before choses).
    Well, having a decimal system, it makes sense to use tens and their multiples.
    You do it too, just think about money. when was the last time you asked somebody for 9$?

    *And there’s nothing in there to suggest that she said “Oh, I’m going to my cold and lonely bed now aaaaaall by myself *wink, wink*”

  40. 98

    aspidoscelis: I understand that privilege is a rather nebulous concept, and that you feel like you’re in a series of Zork tunnels instead of being given a clear-cut definition, but as Stephanie offered so long ago @60, perhaps you could suggest some different word or definition to describe that thing that you understand privilege to be referring to?

    The main problem here is that we’ve pointed to resources that offer functional definitions, and we’ve all been forced to paraphrase those functional definitions repeatedly to get a certain point across — that privilege describes groups, not individuals, and that you can use properties of a group to abstract onto individuals that are members of that group. If you don’t like the definitions, if you object to the concept itself, I think it behooves you to provide your definitions instead of wading back out of the quagmire leaving us all thrashing in it. Especially when it wasn’t really a quagmire to begin with, until you came along to say that it was all too nebulous to get.

  41. 99

    Jason, 98:

    Well, I’ve been thinking about it a bit & if I come up with anything brilliant, I’ll let you know. However, the existing terms & concepts have had a few decades to be elaborated upon & entrenched. Rome wasn’t built in a day & all that… and if feminism is Rome, at the moment I’m limited to being a member of the barbarian horde. 🙂

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