Ladies, check your privilege

Posted on January 28, 2017 in Equality Debates – Opinion
Jan. 28, 2017.   MARGARET WENTE

It isn’t always fun to be a man these days. (Especially a straight, white one.) You get blamed for everything. Manshaming is practically obligatory, especially among the educated young, where the vicious nature of men is blamed for everything from mass shootings and rape culture to mansplaining. To avoid the scourge of toxic masculinity, men must learn to check their privilege.

In a world where men still call (most of) the shots, make most of the money and still dominate the corridors of power, it might seem perverse to suggest that women need to check their privilege, too. But oh, we do.

For all the barriers that women face, we have abundant freedoms and privileges that are not available to men. For example, if we choose not to spend our entire lives scrambling up the ladder of career success, nobody will care. If we want to marry men who make more money than we do (and let’s face it, most of us do, no matter what we say), nobody will think we’re being exploitative. No one looks sideways if we decide to stay home for a while to be full-time moms and housewives. Conversely, stay-at-home men have low, low social status (and, often, low self esteem). In many ways, women have a far wider range of socially acceptable life choices than men have.

It’s true that men make more money, but the myth that women only make 78 per cent of what men make is an alternative fact that does not stand up to reality. Besides, who does the dirty work? Not us. We may not be CEOs, but we generally enjoy nice indoor work in the winter.

As the cranky feminist Camille Paglia notes, “It is men who heft and weld the giant steel beams that frame our office buildings, and it is men who do the hair-raising work of insetting and sealing the finely tempered plate-glass windows of skyscrapers 50 stories tall.” The vast majority of workplace fatalities are male. So are the vast majority of workers in policing, firefighting, war and other lethal professions. Do you think this arrangement is unfair to women? Me neither.

As for violence, men are the chief victims. Men make up three-quarters of all murder victims, and are far more likely to be the targets of more serious forms of assault. Eighty per cent of all reported attacks by strangers are on men. Men are also 2.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted in institutional settings such as schools. And, of course, women live longer.

Meanwhile, women are outperforming men at all levels of education, from kindergarten to graduate school. Women make up at least 50 per cent of Canadian law school graduates, and outnumber men at most medical schools. In fact, advanced countries may be graduating too many female doctors. Women tend to concentrate heavily in family-friendly fields like family medicine and psychiatry, to see fewer patients, to work shorter hours and retire earlier, and to avoid more gruelling specialties such as surgery. This is going to be a challenge for the health-care system. As one critic noted, “Empathy and communication skills are important, but so are efficiency and the ability to live with risk.”

As for discrimination in the STEM fields, I have surprising news. There is indeed a large bias in faculty hiring – in favour of women. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that the bias favouring women was a whopping two-to-one. As one of the researchers, Stephen Ceci, explained to Science magazine, women are “hired more often because a lot of us faculty have internalized the value of gender diversity, and they actually want more women when … all other things [are] equal.”

Not surprisingly, he got oceans of hate mail. Yet as many people know but few will say, reverse discrimination has become a powerful tailwind for professional women.

Yet despite the steady dismantling of barriers to women, women persist in not wanting what men want. The most equal societies on Earth are the Nordic states and the Netherlands. They have generous parental-leave systems, good social safety nets and high-quality part-time jobs. And guess what? Women still work less than men. There are even fewer women among top managers and business owners than there are in the capitalist, patriarchal United States. Most women don’t seem all that bothered by this. They think the way North American women have to work is insane.

The moral of the story is that no one has a lock on privilege. The two sexes have different burdens and advantages, and also different preferences. Our notions of equality should allow for that.

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4 Responses to “Ladies, check your privilege”

  1. GuyUnknown says:

    When a white woman said I was harassing her, they took her statement, collected her evidence, and put me in jail.

    When I told them to look at the evidence, a business license, proving their was a guy in the mall threatening me, they ignored me.

    The message is people like me don’t matter, because I’m a man. Only white girls matter.

    That’s the police of Canada.

    Because I put a mountain of complaints, they later pretended to care about me, by calling me on the phone and writing me an email, plus their lawyer looked at me with a sad face. All this, because I went to world war four with the cops.

    Why does a man have to battle the police for a little respect and compassion? Plus its their job to look at evidence – with their eyes.

  2. Emily says:

    Dear: Editor,

    This article has left myself with an uneasy feeling that urged me to respond. While your focus on this article is explicitly on the “privileges” each sex has compared to the other, you are not looking at the bigger picture here. It is evitable that each sex has unique battles but this is not purely based on biological factors, it is societal pressures and structural barriers that result to oppression against marginalized populations. I agree that women may have some “advantages” if you say when it comes to certain circumstances but society has shaped these so called “advantages”.

    “ Besides, who does the dirty work? Not us. We may not be CEOs, but we generally enjoy nice indoor work in the winter”. In regards to this statement, there are women who are fighting extremely hard to work in positions that are viewed as “men’s” work. Many women work very hard doing hard labour jobs and still continue to fight the continuous judgement and exploitation it brings (not to mention receive less pay than men, which still exists today). Categorizing all women saying we enjoy sitting back and letting men do all the dirty work is extremely sexist and not the case at all. To conclude, it is essential to recognize your own social location and your own personal privilege. However, the focus should be on how to reduce the gaps rather than focusing on the differences society has enhanced on to us.

  3. I have a lot of quips with this article.

    Suggesting that women check our privilege is no different than suggesting a “straight parade”. You’re ignoring the base of an accepted social issue. Period. Yes, some of us do kick our feet up while men work, and rightfully so given economic pressures and structural barriers that we have to face in order to earn the recognition that men receive for their endeavours. Marginalization has a generational effect and stigma is still imbeddded in the mind of most people and at the heart of many service organizations, whether you’ve faced it personally or not.

    And I’d like to challenge your definition of violence. Assault is assault, yes. Violence was described to me by the response unit as occurring when the victim is fearful of the attacker and at an evident disadvantage to fight him or her off, thus making it subjective. You cannot quantify who is “most” at risk of enduring “violence” because you, and the people writing these stats, are not accounting for personal emotion attributed to said attack.

  4. While I generally appreciate the range of thoughtful policy perspective that is hosted on this website, I feel compelled to talk back against the kinds of sexist stereotypes that are resurrected here, by Margaret Wente, and so easily discredited. I can’t believe that I need to do this in 2017 (sigh), but here we go:

    In fact, people do “look sideways” at women who want to be “full time moms and housewives” even “for a little while”. Ask a woman in that station in life what she “does”, and watch her squirm and practically twist herself into knots justifying this “choice”.

    The fact that women “generally enjoy nice indoor work” is typically given as rationale for paying us less to do it, whether that “nice indoor work” is cleaning toilets, teaching children, or caring for our elders.

    Furthermore, study after study (and not just from left-wing feminist conspirators) continues to re-affirm that women are doing that work for about 75-80 cents on a man’s dollar. If it is work that women do, it is generally worth less, which is why single women of all ages tend to be poorer than men within the same age cohort.

    As for all those other fields of employment and action that Wente cites: from soldier to construction worker, women have been trying for generations to break into these areas of endeavour without being discriminated against, sexually harassed, or otherwise exploited.

    “As for violence, men are chief victims”. This is because men are more violent than women, and they hurt each other as well as women.

    Women do continue to be exploited in the professions of medicine and law (and politics, while we’re at it), as these are vocations that call upon practitioners to still make brutal choices between advancing a career, or growing a family. It is an enduring manifestation of gender discrimination that these so-called choices fall almost exclusively to women. Men don’t have to choose.

    The only thing more disappointing than the “moral” of Wente’s “story” is to read it further disseminated on this website. If the two sexes do have different burdens and privileges, this is not a biological inevitability, but rather an unfortunate social construct that oppresses us all. I resent Margaret Wente blithely presuming to assign the scope of my life choices, burdens and privileges. I may be a feminist, but she’s the one who seems “cranky”… and really, really out of touch.


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