Being transgender is complicated but has opened my eyes to a phenomenon I had not realized even existed; that is male privilege. Don’t get me wrong, I knew of the term even though the definition was never made clear to me, in fact I don’t think I know a single male who has a clue as to what it really means; It’s not because they are stupid or insensitive but rather oblivious. It’s a can’t see the forest for the trees kind of thing. Men don’t know the privilege they have because they all have it, and as far as they can see so does everyone else, male or female. But ask any women and she will be quick to elaborate on the difference in rules between women and men.
I now live 24/7 as female, but before I began my transition I had a friend who transitioned from female to male. When asked what was the most exciting aspect of his transition he quickly replied “male Privilege”. At that time I had only lived as male and that comment struck me as odd/interesting because I didn’t really know what he is talking about?”. It did, however, open my eyes to it. Fast forward to today and I will sit you down and fill your ear with all the many aspects of it. Male privilege is the governing force of modern social infrastructure. It is the thing that elevates males and limits women the most.
Male privilege to me means being able to go out and do whatever you want whenever you want. I never realized that I had that freedom until I lost it. It is the confidence one gets from knowing there is no threat from being pursued for sexual reasons. Men may be sexually pursued, but it’s rarely considered a threat. Male privilege means you never have to consider how your attire may attract unwanted advances in any given venue; it means you don’t worry about signals you are emitting to members of the opposite sex or ever being criticized for looking to inviting or not feminine enough. Male privilege means you can say what you want when you want with little concern about perceived sexual tone or innuendos; but women are taught to always be on guard to be perceived as virtuous. If a man has an affair his friends may giggle, may scold him or even become angry at his infidelity but a woman is labeled a whore. Telling sexist jokes makes a male humorous but a female promiscuous. Women have reputations to protect but a man has privilege.
Male privilege or lack thereof extends into everyday life. Women are generally perceived as the more vulnerable sex and so must always be aware of their surroundings. Its not that they are more vulnerable, but perceived as such and that is the danger. In the early morning or late evening a women needs to be careful going out alone or where there are no other people around; a man seldom thinks twice. Where a girl is apprehensive walking to her car through a large parking lot alone; a guy will likely not have a care in the world. Women feel anxious about driving alone at night, going to night school alone, attending twilight church service alone and God forbid they ever go for a walk alone at night or participate in any outdoor twilight activity alone. It is taboo for females, but a privilege for males. Women carry mace/pepper spray/tazors/guns; Men carry Male Privilege!
The interesting thing for me is that before I transitioned I never worried about any of that, but post transition I find I am always looking over my shoulder. It’s not because I became weak and helpless, I still have the same physical capabilities (well almost) but the way men treat me is different. I no longer have the “hall pass” I used to. I find I’m constantly on guard and lately I have decided I should carry mace. Why? Because now I present as female and that seems to be an open invitation to assume I am defenseless; where I could walk through a parking lot late at night before I no longer have that privilege. Sometimes I feel like I have a target on my back or a sign that says “mug if you want to”. There seems to be the perception that if my female self ventures out unprotected then I am encouraging confrontation. I live alone too and I find it is a little unnerving at times. A few years back I wouldn’t have had a care. A women living alone in the woods is vulnerable, but for a man it is a privilege.
Male privilege doesn’t end there. Male opinion gets accepted before female. When it’s time to solve a problem and there is a need for creative ideas the tendency is for male ideas to be accepted over female. In the professional world where men and women work in mixed gender teams it’s the males who will typically lead, make the decisions and whose credibility is given by privilege. For me this is especially interesting. I am employed at a technical company and have worked with the same people before and after transition. What’s funny is that the same people who respected my input and ideas during brain storming sessions and team efforts before, now defer to other males. When I make an input into a problem-solving discussion there might be a slight pause, and then the discussion continuous as if I had said nothing. It is frustrating but at the same time amusing. My ideas come from the same brain but now are dismissed as irrelevant simply because I’m female. I see this same thing happen to other females in the same way. It’s sad but not uncommon. I don’t even think men realize they’re doing it, I know I didn’t.
Women in the work place are also dismissed as second to male in knowledge. More often than not in a mixed crowed the female struggles for equal recognition of technician knowledge; She may even have more experience while the less experienced male’s knowledge is given precedence. The male is granted that by Privilege. In technical discussions where the first person’s knowledge is beyond the scope of one of the other parties involved, the first person’s word will be accepted quicker if they are male, in fact a female’s knowledge of a subject may never fully be accepted. What I’m saying is that a man will not accept new knowledge from a woman as easily as from another male. Yes I have seen this from both sides too. Where I used to give technical advice/explanation with easy acceptance, now men often turn their head to someone near as if to ask “is she right?” ; and I’m the person they used to turn their head to get verification from … only last year!
Because men are assumed to be better at business and technical decisions they get the benefit of the doubt easier than women and that allows them the privilege of greater freedom to express their capabilities. When a person is allowed to show their stuff they get the opportunity to advance quickly in their careers. Meanwhile a woman is more likely to be held in check by her supervisor. Women have to prove themselves constantly while men have the privilege of the benefit of the doubt. Women’s careers get stymied while men’s take off. In short women get micro managed, men get to manage. I’m not saying women don’t get into management, they do but it is harder for a female and takes longer and I think they work harder for it. Even so in the end the man will draw the higher pay check.
There are probably many more examples of male privilege but I think this is the crux of it. It is the idea that Man = strong; hard and assertive; smart; and capable and Women = less strong; soft and loving; not knowledgeable; and dependent. Men need to protect and provide for women so women need to defer to the men. The fact that I have inhabited a persona on both sides of the equation is proof to me of how ridicules it is. I mean how can I be knowledgeable one day and not the next; hard and assertive then soft and loving; capable yet dependent? I am not that different of a person either side I’m on. The brain I use is the same. What I like to tell people is that you have only ever known me as female, you just couldn’t see it. Now that they can the game has changed. This is my blessing in life; to see the absurdity of human behavior from both sides. Humans are absurd!