A MALE FEMINIST METHOD: IDENTIFYING EVERYDAY PRIVILEGE
It’s up to him [man] to say where his masculinity and femininity are at.
Thus far I’ve suggested that, though the issue is far from uncontroversial, men can be feminists. I’ve suggested, too, that a male feminist project should not attempt to replicate "female feminism" in the sense of trying to articulate the nature of women’s experiences. Rather, male feminism should be male centered, striving to give content to the very specific ways men benefit from patriarchy. For example, a white heterosexual male’s engagement in feminism might begin by acknowledging that He (the white heterosexual male) is the norm. "Mankind." The baseline. "He" is our reference. We are all defined with Him in mind. We are the same as or different from Him.49
A clear and now fairly uncontroversial illustration of the male norm in operation is revealed in the debates about women’s equality. Essentially, two competing paths exist to pursue women’s equality in the United States: demonstrate that women are the "same" or "different" from men. "The main theme in the fugue is ‘we’re the same, we’re the same, we’re the same.’ The counterpoint theme (in a higher register) is ‘but we’re different, but we’re different, but we’re different.’"50 As Catharine Mackinnon observes, both of these conceptions of gender have "man" as their reference. "Under the sameness standard, women are measured according to our correspondence with man. . . . Under the difference standard, we are measured according to our lack of correspondence with him."51
Unfortunately, men are often unaware of, or reluctant to acknowledge, this baseline privilege. Indeed, we "are taught not to recognize [it]."52 We are even taught to deny it. Self-interestedly, men accept present-day social arrangements and ideologies about gender as necessary, pre-political, and inevitable.
And there are "taboos against . . . male self-analysis."53 Consequently, men, generally speaking, fail to consider or choose to ignore the extent to which they are "unfairly advantaged,"54 even if they agree that women are unfairly disadvantaged. Stated differently,
"[r]arely will a man go beyond acknowledging that women are disadvantaged to acknowledging that men have unearned advantage, or that unearned privilege has not been good for men’s development."55
Men must begin to understand that male privilege is "an invisible package of unearned assets that men can count on cashing in each day."56 A male feminist project should include a commitment to expose and contest these privileges. Men might begin, for example, by carefully examining their personal lives for examples of the ways in which they do not experience certain everyday disadvantages precisely because they are men. Here is an example of what I have in mind.
1. I can walk in public, alone, without fear of being sexually violated.
2. Prospective employers will never ask me if I plan on having children.
3. I can be confident that my career path will never be tainted by accusations that I "slept my way to the top" (though it might be "tainted" by the fact that I am a beneficiary of affirmative action).
4. I don’t have to worry about whether I am being paid less than my female colleagues (though I might be worried about whether I’m being paid less than my white male colleagues).
5. When I get dressed in the morning, I don’t worry about whether my clothing "invites" sexual harassment.
6. I can be moody, irritable, or brusque without it being attributed to my sex, or to biological changes in my life, to being "on the rag"—"PMS" (though it might be attributable to my "preoccupation" with race).
7. My career opportunities are not dependent on the extent to which I am perceived to be the same as a woman (though they may be dependent upon the extent to which I am perceived to be "a good black"—i. e., racially assimilable).
8. I don’t have to choose between having a family or having a career.
9. I don’t have to worry about being called selfish for having a career instead of having a family.
10. It will almost always be the case that my supervisor will be a man (though rarely will my supervisor be Black).
11. I can express outrage without being perceived as irrational, emotional, or too sensitive (except if I am expressing outrage about race).
12. I can fight for my country without controversy.
13. No one will qualify my intellectual or technical ability with the phrase "for a man" (though they may qualify my ability with the phrase "for a Black man").
14. I can be outspoken without being called a "bitch" (though I might be referred to as uppity).
15. I don’t have to concern myself with finding the line between assertive and aggressive.
16. I don’t have to think about whether my race comes before my gender, about whether I am Black first and a man second.
17. The politics of dress—to wear or not to wear make-up, high heels, or trousers, to straighten or not to straighten, to braid or not to braid my hair—affects me less than it does women.
18. More is known about "male" diseases and how medicine affects male bodies.
19. I was not "supposed" to change my name upon getting married.
20. I am rewarded for vigorously and aggressively pursuing my career.
21. I don’t have to worry about female strangers or close acquaintances committing gender violence against me (though I do have to worry about racial violence).
22. I am not less manly because I play sports.
23. My reputation does not diminish with each person I have sex with.
24. There is no societal pressure for me to marry before the age of thirty.
25. I can dominate a conversation without being perceived as domineering.
26. I am praised for spending time with my children, cooking, cleaning, or doing other household chores.
27. I will rarely have to worry whether compliments from my boss contain a sexual subtext (though they may very well contain a racial subtext).
This list does not reflect the male privileges of all men. It is both under and over inclusive. Class, race, and sexual orientation impact male identities, shaping the various dimensions of male privilege. For example, the list does not include as a privilege the fact that men are automatically perceived as authority figures. While this may be true of white men, it has not been my experience as a Black man. Moreover, my list clearly reveals the fact that I am middle class. My relationship to patriarchy is thus not the same as for a working class Black male. In constructing a list of male privilege, then, one has to be careful not to universalize "man," present him as a "cohesive identity"57 in ways that deny, obscure, or threaten the recognition of male multiplicity.
But even taking male multiplicity into account, the preceding list of male advantages still leaves an awful lot out. Specifically, the foregoing items do not directly address male patriarchal agency—the extent to which men make choices that entrench male advantages and contribute to women’s disadvantages. The privileges I’ve identified are the products of the cumulative choices men make everyday in their personal and professional lives. Thus, men must do more than identify male privileges; they must come to realize how they actively re-enact them interpersonally (in the workplace, in the street, and in relationships) and institutionally as well. Men must come to recognize their own complicity in the normalization of male hegemony.