Unpacking Privilege – Gender

As I read Jenni’s writing I reflected back to our wedding and the decisions we made without thinking about the patriarchal implications. I proposed to Debbie, her dad walked her down the aisle, the men did the main speeches. I don’t regret the decisions as the day was beautiful, but would we make different choices now?

One of the areas that we were aware of was the idea of submission. We didn’t want to start our marriage with Debbie stating that she would submit to me. Rather we wanted to begin as a partnership; working, dreaming and deciding together.

I’ve been on a journey of understanding my privilege as a male over the last few years. I was brought up in a traditional family where my dad was the head of the house and in a church where women were not allowed to lead. This experience, coupled with society’s view that being male is superior, led to me looking down on females rather than seeing them as equals. Over the years I’ve come to see the inequalities all around. In many communities across the world I would have automatic respect because I’m a man. Progress is happening but in many countries there is still a gap between the school attendance of boys and girls. Even in the UK, in many companies my opportunities and wage would be greater because of my genetics.

Through seeing, hearing, meeting and knowing amazing women, and growing in understanding about inequality, I’ve come to see myself as a feminist who is seeking gender equality. This is simpler to say than do as I can unknowingly benefit from and contribute to inequality. We still live in a world where females are viewed as inferior. This can be shown by the language we use such as ‘you run like a girl‘, or ‘you need to man up’. These sexist comments are a sign of the ingrained patriarchy in society. Bob Pease comments that:

“Sexism refers to observable discriminatory practices that privilege men and disadvantage women. These can include hostile, suspicious and excluding practices whereby women are treated differently because they are women. Patriarchy encompasses more systemic forms of domination that go beyond individual practices of gender discrimination. This includes the underpinning structures of gender oppression that positions men and women differentially in the gender order and legitimates the sexist discriminatory practices.” (B. Pease, Undoing Privilege, pg. 93).

You may have to read that quote a few times, but the point I’ve taken from it is that patriarchy is part of society and affects our behaviour. To start, men need to acknowledge male privilege and recognise how we are given advantages. We have to think carefully about our actions, decisions and words, and how they can affect the opposite sex.

Gender privilege isn’t limited to male and female issues but extends to within a gender itself. There are expectations on individuals to act in a way that is appropriate to their gender. These limitations can hold us back from fully expressing ourselves.

When you think back to your childhood and your classmates do you remember one particular child who cried easily, even at the smallest provocation? I was that child. Until I was 12 I was easily hurt and my emotion would show itself through the tears running down my face. This made me a target for bullies, which lowered my self-esteem and self-confidence even more.

I don’t remember the exact moment, but there was a time when I decided that I wouldn’t show any emotion, I wouldn’t let people hurt me. I closed myself off and attempted to put on different masks to try and fit in. It took a long time for me to accept my emotional side, but I now see my gentleness as a strength. It allows me to be more sensitive to people’s feelings and to be emotionally available.

The problem is that a ‘true man’ is still seen as alpha, dominant, and the boss. There is often no room for the spectrum of maleness. Men can be loud, gregarious, and thick skinned but can also be quiet, shy and sensitive. Men can flourish in a workplace while their wife flourishes working hard at home but vice versa can also be true. We need to continue to nurture and empower all types of men to be healthy human beings, as well as all types of women.

I’ve not only got the privilege of being male but there is also the fact that I’m cis-gender, my personal identity corresponds with my birth sex. I fit into the dualistic gender boxes that society has created. Recently there has been the debate in the Western world about the appropriate bathroom that a transgender person should use. I have limited understanding and insight into what it means to be trans-gender, as I don’t know anyone who is. I believe that when you hear people’s authentic stories it is harder to categorise into overly simplistic ways. It might seem simpler to be black and white about gender; however, are we then excluding people and missing out on a beautiful spectrum of grey?

Instead of deciding what a gender should or shouldn’t be like, instead of prescribing the roles that a certain gender can have, instead of demonising and dictating, I am learning that we need to empower and celebrate our diversity. I want to ask, listen and understand how we can help each person flourish into who they were made to be. Reflecting on my wedding day shows the blind spots I had towards gender privilege and I’m sure there are still more. As I have started unpacking my privilege, I’ve appreciated the freedom to encourage, support and learn from others no matter their gender.

Where have your blind spots been in this area? How have you felt the weight of expectations because of your gender? What are your reflections on your own place of privilege in the midst of gender discussions?


Further Reading:

Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn

“From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.

With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope.” (Blurb from Half the Sky Movement website)

This post is part of our series ‘Unpacking Privilege’, click on the links below to read more.

Introduction: Unpacking Privilege

Thoughts on Privilege, Gender & Weddings (Guest Post)

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