Two (Of Many) Ways Male Privilege Harms Feminism

by Arish Mudra Rakshasa

Feminism pieceI am a feminist ally. It is imperative that I begin here, because far too often, people shy away from labelling themselves as a feminist or an ally of feminism. Many argue that vying for equality shouldn’t require a label while others say that they are not feminist because they are ‘egalitarian’. Without going into the intricate internalised oppression that goes into rejecting the ‘F-word’, as some call it, it is important to remember that at the core of feminism lies equality: not matriarchy, and certainly not patriarchy, but simple, uncontested equality. Equal pay, equal rights, equal freedom, equal safety – feminism demands all of this and more, equally, for all genders. If you’re vying for equality, or if you proclaim yourself an egalitarian, you are a feminist, and rejecting that label only does harm to the movement. (Many others, including – but not limited to – conservatives, denounce the label to denounce the movement itself, especially those who believe that feminism is oppressive to men. For them, it is vital that I restate a simple fact: Feminism struggles for equality, not matriarchy over patriarchy.) So yes, I do not avoid the label – I am a feminist ally.

Why an ally? Why not label myself a feminist? I am an ally for the same reason heterosexual individuals supporting the struggle for queer rights or white folks supporting the Black Lives Matter movement are called allies. As an individual who identifies as a man, I do not face the struggles women-identifying people do, and so I cannot place myself inside a movement meant to achieve the same rights and freedoms for women (and other genders) that men – myself included – enjoy every day. This reasonably simple concept of not overtaking a movement meant for other genders escapes many men. We presume to know more about the feminist movement than women-identifying individuals who are actually at the front of the movement. Significantly more insidiously, we may proceed to criticise many aspects of the feminist struggle through our own lenses. Much of this criticism stems from the very concept feminism strives to eliminate: male privilege.

 Fair warning: I am not even close to recognising all of my male privilege, and describe here only two of the many ways male privilege harms feminism.

Well, voilà! Here is your 101 to the male privilege you possess simply by presenting as a man, and how your male privilege might be making your feminist work redundant and harmful. Fair warning: I am not even close to recognising all of my male privilege, and describe here only two of the many ways male privilege harms feminism. By no means is this a comprehensive guide to your (or my) male privilege.

  1. Realising You HAVE Male Privilege, No Matter What You Think.

Anyone can get defensive when told that they have privilege. Many men who identify as feminists, especially, imagine that their feminist work and support for gender equality eliminates their male privilege.

Not true.

By definition, privilege is something that is inherent. You will always possess male privilege if you identify as a man. (Incidentally, you will also possess white privilege, class privilege, able-body privilege, cis privilege, and straight privilege if you are any of those things, too!)

If you’re a feminist ally and you think that negates your male privilege, you are sadly mistaken. Being a feminist does nothing for the fact that you can go out at night without (or with minimal) fear of being raped. Being a feminist also does nothing for the fact that in the United States, as a white man you will earn 22 cents more than a white woman on the dollar (46 cents more than a Hispanic/Latina/Chicana woman, with other women of colour faring somewhere in between). Being a feminist also does nothing for the fact that your ability to lead in a major organisation, or your ability to conduct ground-breaking research, or any other intellectual or professional ability will never be questioned solely based on your gender.

Wake up, men. Even as feminist allies, we possess immense male privilege.

Wake up, men. Even as feminist allies, we possess immense male privilege. Fortunately, as a feminist, you don’t just have to live with it and reap the benefits while other genders struggle: you can make the conscious choice to contribute to the struggle and use your privilege for good, whenever you can. Remember, though: you will never, ever be able to get rid of your privilege, and the best you can do is to recognise that.

  1. Understanding What Mansplaining Is, And How You Can Stop.

One of the most significant hurdles posed by men allies to the feminist movement is our inability to think that anyone of a different gender could know better. Consequently, we tend to engage in what has been termed ‘mansplaining’ – when a man explains something to someone (usually a woman) in a condescending or patronising manner, often with the assumption that he knows more about the subject than the other person does.

How does mansplaining figure into feminism?

Men who consider themselves part of the feminist movement often end up mansplaining the movement to women-identifying individuals, who recognise the struggles and the motives of the movement better than men would, and that becomes a problem. Assuming you know more than a woman is never okay, but it is especially inappropriate when you use that assumption to criticise a movement against oppression that you cannot fully understand anyway. In addition to mansplaining concepts of women liberation to women, men also tend to dominate discussions: documented scientific research shows men are 75% more likely to speak up in a group setting than women, and this becomes problematic in a group setting that is meant for organisation of the feminist movement (See The Silent Sex: Gender, deliberation, and institutions by Karpowitz and Mendelberg, 2014)).


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Can you fix your inherent tendency to mansplain things and dominate conversations? Possibly, but it will take very conscious, very focused effort. As a man and a feminist ally, I admit I have not fully fixed my tendency to dominate conversations, especially in academic group settings. I am working on it, though, and any man would do well simply by remembering two things:

1) To use an extract from Jesse Williams’ stellar speech in a different context: “If you have no interest in equal rights for all genders, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.” Criticism of the feminist movement from men is seldom acceptable, because we never face the struggles other genders face.

2) To use a common group discussion facilitation technique: “Take space, make space.” Engage in active listening, and when you speak, do so precisely and respectfully. Allow for others to express themselves. No one should have to hold back their thoughts, but everyone should also be given equal opportunity to express theirs.

Male privilege gives us immense benefits in the patriarchal society. However, apart from recognising and checking your privilege, you can also put it to good use. Many grassroots social justice organisers disagree with this, but I believe allies are invaluable to movements because they have access – solely because of their privilege – to spaces that may be unsafe for the groups that are being oppressed.

A white man protesting against racism at a Donald Trump rally has a much lesser likelihood of being targeted, assaulted, or arrested than an immigrant of colour. Similarly, men can use their privilege to go into inaccessible or misogynistic spaces and bring feminism into the space, with minimal risks of being assaulted. A tumblr user, @soultired, posted this extremely relevant quote that quickly gained popularity on the internet: “Men who want to be feminists do not need to be given a space in feminism. They need to take the space they have in society & make it feminist.” As always, we must also remember that this movement is not for us, and that we cannot presume to know more about it than someone of a different gender would. However, that is one way you and I can use our male privilege to benefit the feminist movement instead of harming it – using our privilege to give voice to the movement in spaces that are decidedly unsafe for other genders.


Arish is a rising sophomore from Ghaziabad, India studying at Earlham College, Richmond, IN. He plans on double majoring in Biochemistry and Neuroscience and is on the Pre-Medicine track, aspiring to obtain an MD and a PhD. He is also quite passionate about politics and social justice, and wants to enter international politics to counter hate, prejudice, and fear in the world. He likes ‘science, languages, and occasionally people’, and enjoys pushing the liberal agenda on Facebook and binge watching TV shows with ice cream in his free time. He is excited to draw on his experiences to discuss global issues through the lens of a young immigrant for the column.


The views expressed in this article are those of the writer, The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.

3 thoughts on “Two (Of Many) Ways Male Privilege Harms Feminism

  1. I really like that you identify as an ally instead of a feminist. This was the first time that I had heard that term, and I think it is a great way to make sure that you aren’t speaking over those who are being oppressed. This post was very well written, and it’s great to hear that there are some men that truly understand the feminism movement. That’s been really rare in my experiences. Thank you for writing such an informative post!

    1. Thank you for your kind words! I’m very glad you liked the column and agreed with some of my ideas. Please feel free to read and provide feedback/criticism on any of my past or future columns.

      Cheers,
      Arish.

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