Negotiating Male Privilege

I have male privilege. When I speak, people usually listen and suppose I know what I’m talking about. When I walk down the street, people give me ample space and no one sexually harasses me. When my house is a mess, some people will give me a free pass and blame my fiancee. When I do clean or cook, I sometimes get disproportionate praise, while a woman who did the same thing would receive no comment. The examples go on and on.

What’s a man to do? I cannot get rid of my privilege. There is no opting out. I do my best not to perpetuate sexism and to treat all people with equal respect. At the end of the day, though, most people will still treat me very differently from a similarly situated woman.

So I do a few things to negotiate my privilege.

First, I try to use any unearned power to level the playing field, not further tilt it. For example, I make a point to listen attentively to women in group conversations. I stop speaking, look directly at them, and wait til they are done to respond. When a guy keeps interrupting and dominating the discussion, I selectively ignore him so others can speak.

I am far from perfect about this, and sometimes I just forget, but I do my best. I figure to whatever extent people are giving undue credit to my words, perhaps they will also do so for my actions. I especially hope to lead men by example, showing what it looks like when a dude takes women’s words seriously.

Another thing I do is respect women’s personal space. I try to give women ample breathing room on sidewalks, in stores, and on the bus. I try to be especially aware in bars, at shows, and on other occasions where space is tight and the potential for harassment is high. Because people tend to respect my space, these actions can have a real impact, sometimes creating a kind of buffer zone.

I also engage in some old fashioned chivalry. I try to do this with sensitivity and awareness, to avoid treating any woman in ways that she would find patronizing or otherwise bothersome. I open doors, offer to carry heavy things, offer to walk with female friends at night, and so on. For me, this is a way to show respect and sometimes to mitigate misogyny, such as by helping women stay safe. Of course, it also has the potential to be plain old sexist, and might not be appreciated by everybody. So far, though, no one has been bothered, as far as I know.

What are your experiences with male privilege? What steps do you take to address your privilege, of whatever variety?

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13 comments

  1. annamagda4christ

    Hey, this is really convicting. I’m going to start doing what you said in conversations and go out of my way to let girls get their word in edgewise. I always feel guilty having this male privilege, and sometimes feel pressure to not transition just because of the weird ways in which it’s easier to be a man, which is stupid. It’s stupid that such a gap exists in the first place in how people are treated.

    • rimonim

      It’s really cool that you are going to start doing that as well. Having male privilege as a pre-transition woman must be pretty surreal! The changes that come with transition are so crazy, I don’t think it’s stupid to feel hesitation–though it’s definitely stupid that sexism exists in the first place.

      • annamagda4christ

        Yeah, it feels so bizarre, like being a fly on the wall. Like, when guys start talking about girls in a disrespectful way around me because they don’t know or forget who I am, and I feel like a ghost all of a sudden.

    • rimonim

      Wow, yeah. My fiancee and I call that feeling “being a spy”–people are talking to you, but they don’t know who’s listening. In a different way, it happens after transition, too. Now that people correctly read my gender, I am privy to conversations where people think no LGBT folks are present. It’s very strange, especially after being visibly gender-nonconforming for years.

  2. benmart1

    I can definitely relate to being privileged in conversation and noticing when I have either been given or taken for myself the focus when talking in a large group. One thing that I have done apart from ignoring a someone with male privilege who is dominating the conversation is to allow the man to finish speaking and then ask (this is when a woman was about to respond and maybe interrupted) what she was going to say in the hope of acknowledging to the group and the person that an interruption took place without ignoring or confrontation, which are also appropriate responses depending on the situation.

    • rimonim

      Hi there, benmart1. Sounds like another good tactic for leveling the conversational playing field. I like that it brings the interruption itself to everyone’s attention. If people do notice that’s what happened, perhaps it will be less likely to happen again.

  3. Pingback: Wordless Wednesday: “Look how you look when you’re looking at me.” | mohanalakshmi.com
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