Posted by: hellonhairylegs | June 16, 2008

The Seductive Nature of Male Privilege

Just after a drastic haircut I strolled down to my local shops while wearing a baggy jumper. It was a lovely walk without any honking or yelling to mar the scenery. I composed blog posts in my head and suppressed the bubbles of panic that rise in my stomach whenever I think about the HSC (impending doom!).

I got to the local fast food place and ordered chips without anyone looking at me askance. The server was polite and deferential. The chips were presented to me in half the usual time. Not stopping to wonder at these strange occurrences I munched chips in a somewhat grotesque fashion and wandered into the video store. The woman behind the counter was serving a gaggle of children, the type of children who take forever to decide whether they want to spend their last fifteen cents on gummy bears or antique easter eggs. I sigh and settle in for a long wait, yet the woman goes out of her way to get my videos before serving the gaggle. As I walk out of the store I hear “Sorry, I just had to serve the young man before I could get to you.”

Of course I had a panicked moment where my mind wrestled with the fact I could be considered male.  I LOOKED LIKE A MAN?! THE WORLD IS ENDING! Then I looked back over the day: fast service and no harassment. I should do this more often I thought flippantly.

As I walk home I watch the constant parade of female joggers. I assume there is some machine nearby, let’s call it the EBI (Excercise for the Beauty Ideal) that manufactures them and sends them out into the world. I had smiled at these women on the way to the shops, not really paying attention. On the way back a woman in her mid thirties jogged past, I looked at her and started to smile like I always did. She flinched, smiled back and kept jogging. I have retired that particular jumper.

I wonder how many men see the flinching.

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Responses

  1. They see the flinching, but instead of getting angry at its cause, they get angry at the person flinching.

    My latest round of this happened on the way to the corner store yesterday. I saw a man well over twice my size approaching on the sidewalk I was using. I was carrying my purse in one hand and my keyring o’ death in the other (this thing has all kinds of stuff hanging off it to give it weight and add a foot to my reach). So I switched hands, so the keyring would be on the side this man would pass me on. I then strolled along inspecting the gardens next to me, swinging my arms as I walked, which does a lovely job of showing off the pain-inflicting potential of that keyring. I noted out of the corner of my eye the man was staring at me fixedly the whole way.

    As the man passed me, I met his eyes and gave a polite smile. His face contorted in what I can only describe as a sneer, and he gave an angry-looking glance at that keyring.

    When I got home I realized my life has turned into an old Western flick — I can walk the streets in relative safety, IF I keep a weapon prominently displayed and make body-language references to a willingness to use it, like characters in old Westerns, pulling back a coat to better display a gun.

    It’s ridiculous.

  2. “They see the flinching, but instead of getting angry at its cause, they get angry at the person flinching.”

    Good point.

    “When I got home I realized my life has turned into an old Western flick — I can walk the streets in relative safety, IF I keep a weapon prominently displayed and make body-language references to a willingness to use it, like characters in old Westerns, pulling back a coat to better display a gun.”

    A sobering thought, but so very true.

    Living under the patriarchy means being subjected to terrorism all the time. Then when we take steps to avoid it we are being “paranoid” and “imagining things.”

  3. A woman at my school was kidnapped and killed in broad daylight this week. There’s a park and a YMCA and it’s pretty well trafficked. She was an EBI jogger.

    But a few days down the road, it turns out I’m still “paranoid” and “imagining things.”

  4. “They see the flinching, but instead of getting angry at its cause, they get angry at the person flinching.”

    That is a very broad statement there.

    Some men do see the flinching. Some men are horrified at the harassment that is perpetrated by some people on others. Some men are aware of the continuing subordination of women, and the social norms, expectations and structures imposed on (and to some extent maintained by) women. And they hate it, they don’t understand how such thinking and behaviour can persist.

    However, I prefer to think about these perpetrators as f*ckheads or more technically, misogynists. While the perpetrators are by and large men (eg. the man sneering), men are not by definition perpetrators.

  5. Indeed m, not all men are perpertrators but many are, plenty don’t care and many others have the privilege of being unaware of that kind of street harrasment.

    My partner is one of the ‘other’ guys that you are describing–the ones who are horrified at street harassment–and he’s often agog at the stories that nearly every woman can tell.

    Still, can’t count the number of times I’ve been told that I “should be flattered” (!) or that I’m “overreacting” by guys who have never had this experience themselves.

  6. M., here ya go: http://ilykadamen.blogspot.com/2007/03/occasionally-conversations-with-my-man.html

  7. I am also astounded at what goes on — eg. what my sister and my girlfriend often have to deal with, esp when travelling. I hate it.

    Thanks for the pointer, Helen. I just think it is better to call a spade a spade — men that behave in this way are d*ckheads/misogynists. By condemning their behaviour as men’s behaviour of men tars all men with that brush. Its sort of like getting done over by the Mafia, and saying that you hate Italians (ok, offensive behaviour is exhibited by a greater proportion of men than organised crime is conducted by Italians, but you get my point, don’t you?). Anyway, I didn’t mean to redirect conversation on this post …

  8. Conversation is good.

    M. the fact is that the huge amount of men harass, or act as enablers to the harassers. Men as a class harass and terrorise women as a class. Men who do not directly terrorise women still benefit from the terrorism. All men have male privilege.

    We can talk about all the poor men who feel stereotyped about this for about ten seconds, and in the interest of fairness we should then talk about all the acts of terrorism against women for the next several hours.


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