So, let me shift for a bit to discussions of feminism, specifically by looking at this post from Everyday Feminism about female privilege by Nikita Redkar. As you might have guessed, the author is going to try to argue against the idea of female privilege by listing 7 examples of what are claimed to be examples of female privilege and showing that they aren’t really. But let’s start with what she thinks is the key thing to consider when determining if something counts as privilege:
Yet unlike male privilege, “female privilege” corners women into benefiting from a much smaller, domestic sphere, rather than the system at large.
When people refer to “female privilege,” they’re likely referring to the positive counterpart of a male non-privilege. It’s definitely true that men experience social injustices – nobody’s lives are perfect. But a lot of these non-privileges – such as expecting men to stifle emotions or providing for families – aren’t indicative of female privilege because women are not inherently benefiting from what men are disadvantaged by.
The problem is that when you try to apply that definition to examples of “male privilege”, it doesn’t seem to hold water either … or, at least it will only work in a way that applies to her examples of female privilege, too. From my understanding, for something to be socially privilege, it has to be systemic, certainly. But being “systemic” doesn’t mean that the benefit applies in all parts of the system, but merely that it is created and enforced by the system itself. After all, benefits for things like presumption of being career-minded or focused on the provider actually do disadvantage men in the domestic sphere — as that is what the arguments for “female privilege” explicitly assert — which is surely part of a patriarchal system. Additionally, the presumption that a man is going to be the breadwinner which would give them advantages in getting a job doesn’t necessarily hurt women as a group; in fact, if that man is married then it will certainly benefit that woman if she would rather stay at home with the children and not be the breadwinner. Moreover, a privilege can easily be seen as something that men or women get because they are men or women that is not available to the other gender, simply based on gender, which then would remove the requirement that the privilege must disadvantage men specifically at all. A privilege can be a benefit that one gender gets that the other doesn’t or a disadvantage that one gender has to face that the other doesn’t. The symmetry proposed here doesn’t seem valid.
And the main issue is that I think that “privilege” causes issues and doesn’t make sense in a social context, because those who talk about privilege in reference to patriarchy are incorrect about what patriarchy actually is. Patriarchy was not a system where men subjugated women, but instead a system where men and women were pushed into strictly defined roles based on their gender. If your natural personality and talents lended themselves to being good at and happy in that role, then things were great. If they weren’t, then things were terrible. Most of the privileges — both “male” and “female” — tend to work out precisely that way: if that’s what you want, it’s great, but if it isn’t, then it is very hard to do anything else.
So let’s see how this plays out in the seven examples:
1. Women Receive Chivalry – And Therefore, Free Dinners, Open Doors, and More
The author concedes that these things are benefits, but doesn’t agree that this means that this is female privilege.
But are free drinks and open doors benefitting women in society, as real privileges? They’re not hurting, but they’re not helping either.
The pampering part of chivalry can verge on being unsolicited, which actually means the social constructs women supposedly enjoy are really just positive encouragement for men.
It views women as unequal – either as weaker or placed too high on a pedestal – and men who treat them as such might be expecting to be rewarded for their gentleman-like manners.
I’m not sure how a societal expectation that men are expected to provide these benefits unsolicited can mean that it’s not privilege. Presumably if a benefit is conferred upon you unasked as if it was simply your due right is more a privilege than one that you have to ask for. The best Redkar can do here is argue that if women don’t have to ask for it, then they may not want it, and so it wouldn’t be a benefit to that woman. But if a man has no interest in being ambitious but is offered a position in some school club on the basis that they presume that they’d use it to pad their resume, that would also not be a benefit to that man and yet would still be considered an example of male privilege.
As for the reward, this ties into the overall idea of dating as a whole. Men are expected to prove their worth to women with things like dinners, arranging an interesting date, and so on and so forth. Based on this, the woman selects the man who can provide her with the material goods she wants and also can give her an interesting life. This is crucial in patriarchy because women cannot get those things for themselves. So this sort of structure is required to allow men and women to fulfill their specific roles: men are encouraged to provide for themselves, but are then required to provide for women, while women are constrained from providing for themselves but then if a man wants to fulfill his requirement he has to demonstrate to a woman that he can, indeed, provide what she wants or needs. Sure, in practice things didn’t work out this smoothly, but it didn’t work out smoothly on both sides of the ledger, with women having little choice in provider and some men having little choice but to take positions that didn’t make them happy or get them what they wanted. But again this is a reflection of men and women being boxed into constraining gender roles.
Also, it is interesting that Redkar leaves out one of the more prevalent examples of chivalry: the idea that men should risk their lives to protect the lives of women. The earliest chivalric romances have men taking on evil knights that have killed or maimed many other men in order to free a woman from captivity and thus win her hand. Even today, if a man and a woman are walking and are attacked, the man is expected to at least stay and fight them off long enough for her to get away and — hopefully — get help. Being able to expect the members of the other gender to risk their lives for yours seems like a pretty strong benefit to me, and is clearly enforced through the underlying social mechanisms of patriarchy. They are, therefore, just as systemic as the expectation that women don’t care as much or need jobs as much as men do.
2. Women Are Under No Pressure to Provide for the Family – Unlike Men
So are women who aren’t under pressure to provide benefiting at the expense of men? Nope, still no dice.
It turns out the very “privilege” of being apathetic about a career is what hurts career-driven women. The patriarchal expectation of men providing for the family is reciprocated by women caring for the children and household.
I don’t see how her comment means that this doesn’t count as “privilege”. As pointed out above, this is just the dual nature of the patriarchal gender roles. Men are presumed to be the provider, and so are expected to provide, and because they are expected to do that they are given preference in the areas they need to fulfill that role. On the flip side, women are presumed to be caring for the children and the household, and so get preference in those areas. Redkar’s sixth point is about women getting preference in getting custody of their children in the case of a divorce, a preference that follows precisely from women being seen as caring for the children. If a man would rather raise the children than provide, he faces social pressure, and if a woman wants to be the provider rather than raise the children, she faces social pressure. So they definitely seem pretty complementary to me, so much so that I can’t see how to argue that this is not female privilege while maintaining the equivalent male privilege.
The influence of feminism, however, adds another wrinkle to this, in that a woman can choose to focus on her career without also taking on the expectation of being the main provider. Feminism has long advocated for women to care more about their careers because it is better for the women if they do — it will leave them better off financially in the case of a divorce and can provide fulfillment — but hasn’t advocated for women to take on or even share the burden of being the provider. Thus, if a woman’s career stagnates, or she decides she hates it and wants to take on something else, she doesn’t face any stigma of risking her family for those choices like a man would. If both are working and both lose their jobs, that will be seen as a failure for him and not for her. While it may be a struggle, women at least have the benefit of being able to aim for what they want to do without facing social stigma over it, while men are constantly challenged to take the jobs that best provide for their family, even if they don’t want those jobs.
3. On That Note, If Women Don’t Feel Like Working, They Can Just Marry Rich
Assuming a woman can throw in the towel at a moment’s notice and marry a rich partner is an incredibly sexist assumption.
Not only does it endorse an odd reality in which rich men are available in endless quantities and for marriage on-demand, but it also caters to politics of desire, something not all women can benefit from.
So no, the answer to workplace discrimination or unequal pay isn’t to marry a richer spouse.
But that’s not what the privilege is claimed to be. It is essentially the same as the one above: a woman who wants to aspire to being the wife of someone who can provide for them without providing any direct income to the relationship does not face as much social disapproval as a man in the same situation. That doesn’t require them to find a very rich man, but only someone who makes enough to support the family without her having to work. Since the expectation under patriarchy is that men will strive to be able to do that, there are far more choices out there than Redkar accepts.
Redkar’s response here strikes me as unresponsive. It’s too shallow to work as an argument that women don’t actually have that benefit, but doesn’t address the underlying argument for this being a benefit women get due to their gender.
4. Women Are Accepted as Emotional Beings
This instance is yet another example of how the patriarchy chastises men for showing signs of weakness – or, in other words, acting like a woman.
The very phrases of “man up” and “take it like a man” may as well just say, “Don’t be like a woman!”
Men are taught from an early age that women are weaker and emotional, and that so much as a teardrop will chip away at masculinity. It’s an unfair burden for men to cage emotions, but it’s also done at the expense of women.
By viewing an open acceptance of women’s emotions as a “privilege,” it only reinforces women as being a lesser gender and placing an inhuman hardship on a very fragile male ego.
This point would work if it wasn’t the case that women are also chastised for being too much like men under patriarchy. While comments like “the weaker sex” permeated patriarchy, underneath it all men were not supposed to act like women and women were not supposed to act like men. Sticking things like ambition into the male side restricts women who are ambitious, but sticking emotion into the female side restricts men who need to show emotion. And arguably the latter is worse because psychologically men are forced to address emotional issues in very unhealthy ways. That women are indeed allowed and even encouraged to show emotion benefits them in the situations where that is a good thing just as men being allowed and encouraged to be ambitious benefits them in those circumstances. Again, it is hard to see how to deny emotion as a female privilege without also denying ambition as a male privilege.
5. Women Have a Higher Chance of Getting Accepted into College
But are women getting accepted into colleges at the expense of men? Not necessarily.
In the past fifty years, women have begun to take over jobs traditionally held by men: doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other specialized career paths that require the successful attainment of a college degree.
At the same time, women are also dominating the fields of jobs traditionally considered “female”: teachers, nurses, administrative assistants, and so on.
Elisa Olivieri, PhD, concluded this notion of why women outnumber men in colleges: Jobs seen as “manly” – namely, manual labor jobs – don’t require college degrees. “Feminine” jobs like nursing and teaching, on the other hand, do.
Olivieri calculated that the biggest obstacle keeping men out of college may just be society’s stigma against gendered jobs.
This is actually a privilege added directly by feminism. Feminism has pushed for and made it more acceptable for women to entire traditionally male fields. However, they have done little to make it acceptable for men to enter traditionally female fields, and has possibly even indirectly increased the stigma towards them by pushing women to enter the male jobs that were considered “superior”, maintaining the “superior/inferior” divide between male and female jobs. As such, women are free to select from all of the college offerings without excessive stigma, while men are not. As our economy shifts towards skilled and educated labour as opposed to manual labour, this hurts the economic ability of men … while they are still expected to be the main provider for a family. The ability to enter any career that strikes your fancy no matter whether it is seen as traditional or not is clearly a benefit, and follows from the old patriarchal divisions that feminism removed for women — or, at least, works hard to remove for women — but didn’t remove from men.
6. Women Are More Likely to Win Child Custody Battles
One of the biggest myths against marriage equality is the same underlying notion behind the myth of women being more likely to win child custody battles: that mothers are absolutely necessary in a child’s development.
Statistics show that women are far more likely to win custody of children in a divorce, yes. But they are also far more likely to ask for it.
One of the main reasons for this is that men don’t ask for it unless they have really strong reasons for it because they are told that they will not win. To use that in any way as an example of why this isn’t female privilege is like pointing out that fewer women apply for science programs in universities. No one would buy it in that case, and we shouldn’t buy it here either, because the underlying issue is the social pressure that says that they aren’t good at it, can’t do it, and shouldn’t do it.
7. Men Are More Likely to Die of Suicide
Although it’s still unclear as to why men use more deadlier methods to end their lives, it is drastically different to the traditional approaches of women who are suicidal. The culture of toxic masculinity and expectations to preserve characteristics of socially prescribed manliness could be partly to blame.
Asserting that this statistic is evidence of female privilege is false. Because women are not gaining advantage from the higher suicide rates of men – no one is.
When I’ve seen this used, it’s less an example of direct privilege, but instead as an argument based around a couple of points:
1) Women die less often because they use it as a cry for help, and in our society women who cry for help get it. Men die more often because they don’t try to use it as a cry for help, feeling, at least, that they wouldn’t get it.
2) More men die from suicide, but we aren’t doing more to relieve depression and suicidal in them and are instead focusing on women, when less women die from that.
If there’s a privilege here, it’s one of the oft-cited ones: society considers women’s lives more valuable than men. That’s why that higher death rate doesn’t trigger the expected response; we care less when men die than when women do. On its own, this isn’t a particularly good example of female privilege, as you need to unpack a lot to make this fit into the context. Redkar, of course, addresses this literally and does none of that, even though if she had she could have raised actual questions about even the points I raised above.
At any rate, overall I don’t see how Redkar’s arguments work to refute the idea of female privilege without also weakening the idea of male privilege. It seems that she starts with the presumption that the system oppresses women at the expense of men, and then if she can find any way to claim that this still is part of that oppressive system then it can’t be an example of female privilege, but this again is all about taking the two sides of patriarchy, defining one as superior to the other, and then using that to argue that that side is therefore superior. Which is exactly what even Redkar has to admit is what patriarchy does wrong.
So, sure, we can nitpick over what really counts as “privilege”, but that ends up as being nothing more than, well, nitpicking. Women get benefits simply for being women, and those benefits and detriments are the complete inverse of the benefits and detriments men get. That’s what patriarchy is. The sooner we realize this and stop trying to declare one side better than the other the sooner we can eliminate those incorrect presumptions that drove the system in the first place.