There is no question that historically, and to a lesser extent currently, there are numerous examples of patriarchy, and more generally, examples where male privilege has negatively impacted women. However, it is not quite that simple. I was reminded of female privilege when I read in my local paper about the criteria for getting a temp job for the upcoming census. One requirement was that any male applicant between 18 and 25 had to prove that he was registered for the draft. A stark reminder that if the draft were reinstated only men would be drafted. Since a male only draft has been the model since its inception in colonial times let’s look at its impact.
In our three modern armed conflicts – WW II, Korea, Vietnam – in which conscription was in place about 500,000 men in uniform were killed compared to about 550 women in uniform. What a wonderful privilege for men.
The Me Too movement has highlighted male privilege by focusing on how women have been sexually harassed and assaulted in the workplace. No doubt this a real and serious issue. However, workplace abuse in not limited to women. There are also many examples, albeit probably not as psychologically damaging, of men who have had to put up with verbal abuse by tyrannical bosses and who were obligated to participate in corporate social events for which they had no interest. They put up with it in order to make sure they are providing income and health benefits for their families. The privilege of being the primary breadwinner in a family often means a stifling of creativity and positive career changes.
We often hear about male privilege in sports. The women’s world cup winning soccer team has rightly championed for equal pay with the men’s soccer program. However, the topic of equal pay in sports is not as clear cut as it is made out to be. For example, female tennis winners in the major tournaments are being paid the same as male winners. How can we then explain why the women play one less set than the men? Women have equal endurance so why do they have to play only two winning sets when the men have to win three?
Male privilege in academic hiring, especially for white males, has been a long standing reality. In order to correct this inequality affirmative action hiring practices have been instituted overtly and covertly in order to rectify the sins of the past. Sounds fair on the surface. But the individuals who are currently paying the price for past failures are white men who get passed over by often lesser qualified individuals – particularly non-white women.
As I have emphasized in numerous blogs achieving gender equality can only happen when we stop taking positions based on over simplifications, labels and name calling and look at complex issues within a thoughtful and nuanced framework.