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Male privilege is a term for social, economic, and political advantages or rights that are made available to men solely on the basis of their sex. A man's access to these benefits may also depend on other characteristics such as race, sexual orientation and social class.
The use of male pronouns in language to refer to both sexes is often cited as an example, as well as the preference for sons in some cultures.
Male privilege is often examined alongside the concept of patriarchy within the feminist movement, while many men's rights activists dispute the existence of male privilege at all in modern western society.
- Terminology 1
- Context 2
- Gender neutrality in English 3
- Global perspective 4
- Son-preference 5
- Criticism 6
- See also 7
- References 8
- Further reading 9
In legal cases alleging discrimination, "sex" is usually preferred as the determining factor rather than "gender", because it refers to biology rather than socially constructed norms which are more open to interpretation and dispute. In "Defining Male and Female: Intersexuality and the Collision Between Law and Biology", Julie Greenberg explains that although gender and sex are separate concepts, they are interlinked in that gender discrimination often results from stereotypes based on what is expected of members of each sex. In J.E.B. v. Alabama ex rel. T.B., Justice Scalia distinguishes sex and gender:
The word ‘gender’ has acquired the new and useful connotation of cultural or attitudinal characteristics (as opposed to physical characteristics) distinctive to the sexes. That is to say, gender is to sex as feminine is to female and masculine is to male.
Thus, biologically "male" privilege is only one of many power structures that may exist within a given society, and levels/manifestations of male privilege differ among both similar and disparate societies, as well as in different contexts within the same society. The term "male privilege" does not apply to a solitary occurrence of the use of power, but rather describes one of many systemic power structures that are interdependent and interlinked throughout societies and cultures.
As Peggy McIntosh , a feminist literary scholar, discusses male privilege with respect to white privilege, she states that “the denial of men’s over-privileged state takes many forms”. Privilege is not a result of a concerted effort to oppress those of the opposite gender, however, the inherent benefits that males gain from the systemic bias put women at an innate disadvantage. Male privilege may be viewed as an invisible package filled with unearned privileges that are constantly at work, but which are unspoken and most people remain oblivious to. The benefits of this unspoken privilege are often described as special provisions, tools, relationships, or various other opportunities. In fact this privilege may actually negatively affect men’s development as human beings, and few men question society’s constructs or that the existing structure of advantages may be challenged or changed. Some people protest the existence of male privilege and claim that specifically male privilege within the realm of white privilege is a myth perpetuated by feminists and that both men and women have privileges and disadvantages.
As discussed by Paula Rothernberg in her novel Invisible Privilege: A Memoir About Race, Class, and Gender, male privilege often takes institutionalized and embedded forms from which men may directly benefit. These instances of male privilege systems may attribute to male over empowerment and can help explain man’s sense of centrality in some of the most powerful institutions. An example of male privilege in institutionalized academic settings can be observed by the prevalence of men in how curriculums are formed and history and literature is taught across the United States. Men are over-represented in the academic presentation of history while women who have served a significant part in the past are often overlooked . Historically, all those who have held title of President of the United States have been male and American government on the national level, including the United States Senate and Congress, is predominantly male.
Gender neutrality in English
Some linguistic conventions have privileged men and the male perspective and suggested that maleness is the societal norm. In English, nouns such as "man" or "mankind" and forms of address like "you guys" are routinely used for women while it is not accepted to refer to men as women. Associating a man with something feminine and calling him girl or sissy is usually considered an insult. Expressions like "freshmen" or occupational titles such as "chairman" are supposed to apply to both sexes and many prestigious occupations are implicitly associated with men so that people use modifiers such as "woman doctor" or "lady doctor" to signal deviations from the norm that doctors are usually men. Male images and exclusively male language for deities such as referring to God as "he" or "father" have reinforced male privilege. Men's greater resemblance to God has been used to justify men's religious and cultural position.
Similarly, the third-person singular pronoun "he" is used as a sex-indefinite, generic form for all people (e.g., "anyone can do it if he tries") whereas the use of "she" to refer to people in general is not allowed. Masculine generics were first introduced by prescriptive grammarians in the 19th century who argued that "he" was the only correct sex-indefinite referent. Prior to that, singular "they" and "he or she" had been widely used in written and spoken English. In 1850 a special Act of Parliament was passed in the United Kingdom that legally proscribed singular "they" and "he or she" in favor of "he", especially to shorten the language used in Acts of Parliament.
Within the book The Agony of Masculinity, Pierre Orelus uses his personal life experience growing up in the Caribbean in order to create "a form of self-critical reflection and interrogation to talk about…maleness, heterosexism, and homophobia." Orelus speaks of how society shaped his development and taught him to “be a man”. The patriarchal practices passed from generation to generation perpetuate gender roles and hegemonic masculinity, which both contribute to the extent of freedom enjoyed by men. In some areas, such as in Haiti, the stereotype and societal definition of being a man leads to many instances of domestic abuse and the use of women as sexual objects. This abuse stems from a sense of justification in part due to male privilege and how the patriarchal norms encourage male dominance over women.
Additionally, men benefit from some common double standards while women suffer. For instance, Orelus describes how women who were caught cheating were beaten, shamed, insulted, and reviled. On the other hand, when men cheated they were praised and their status rose. Ironically, men who were known to be smooth talkers who had past experience with sexual exploiting women have a greater appeal to women in the Haitian communities. By the same token, these so-called freedoms of male privilege can become barriers as some men may feel pressured by societal norms to conform to certain expectations associated with the stereotypical male gender role.
However, Orelus also mentions how male privilege may actually be detrimental to males' social development and gaining a sense of self. Since in a strictly traditionally sense men are often considered more knowledgeable and able-bodied than their female counterparts, in many cultures men must struggle to maintain this expectation. Men who cannot live up to these societal standards are prone to face criticism, lose respect from their peers, and have a lower sense of self.
In many societies including India and China male offspring are privileged and favored over female children. Some manifestations of son preference and the devaluation of women are eliminating unwanted daughters through neglect, maltreatment, abandonment, as well as female infanticide and feticide despite laws that prohibit infanticide and sex-selective pregnancy termination. In India some of these practices have contributed to skewed sex ratios in favor of male children at birth and in the first five years. Other examples of privileging male offspring are special "praying for a son" ceremonies during pregnancy, more ceremony and festivities following the birth of a boy, listing and introducing sons before daughters, and common felicitations that associate good fortune and well-being with the number of sons.
Reasons given for preferring sons to daughters include sons' role in religious family rites, which daughters are not permitted to perform, and the belief that sons are permanent members of the birth family whereas daughters belong to their husband's family after marriage in accordance with patrilocal tradition. Other reasons include patrilineal customs whereby only sons can carry on the family name, the obligation to pay dowry to a daughter's husband or his family, and the expectation that sons will support their birth parents financially while it is regarded as undesirable or shameful to receive financial support from daughters.
Some men's rights activists dispute that men as a group have institutional power and privilege and believe that men are often victimized and disadvantaged relative to women. For example, men's rights activists Warren Farrell and Herb Goldberg believe that men are disadvantaged and discriminated against and that power is an illusion for most men. Goldberg has criticized the notion of male privilege, calling it a "myth". In The Myth of Male Power, "a debunking of the myth of men as a privileged class" Farrell points to the over-representation of men among groups such as the homeless, suicides, alcoholics, the victims of violent crime and prisoners.
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