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?