the built-in blindness of male privilege

"Male Privilege" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Male Privilege” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

I did another cartoon recently along this same theme, The Problem With the Patriarchy is it Doesn’t Know it Exists.

I watched this fascinating lecture by sociologist Michael Kimmel, Boys Will Be Boys: Deconstructing Masculinity and Manhood. Very enlightening!

Privilege is invisible to itself. This why and how it works.

Here is a section of the lecture where he shares the moment he realized he was guilty of white, middle class, male, privilege:

“Each week, eleven women and me got together, we would read some text in feminist theory and talk about it. And during one of our meetings I witnessed a conversation between two women that changed everything for me. One of the women was white and one was black.

The white woman said, ‘All women have the same experience as women. All women face the same oppression as women and therefore all women have a kind of intuitive solidarity or sisterhood.’ And the black woman said, ‘I’m not so sure. Let me ask you a question.’ So the black woman says to the white woman, ‘When you wake up in the morning and you look in the mirror, what do you see?’ And the white woman said, ‘I see a woman.’ And the black woman said, ‘You see, that’s the problem for me, because when I wake up in the morning and look in the mirror,’ she said, ‘I see a black woman. To me race is visible, but to you race is invisible. You don’t see it.’ And then she said something really startling. She said, ‘That’s how privilege works. Privilege is invisible to those who have it.’

Now, remember, I was the only man in this room. So I heard this and I kind of just spontaneously groaned and put my head in my hands and someone said, ‘Well, what was THAT reaction?’ And I said, ‘Well, when I wake up in the morning and I look in the mirror I see a human being.’ I’m kind of a generic person, ya know? I’m a middle class, white, man. I have (visible) class, no race, no gender. I’m universally generalizable.

So I like to think that that was the moment that I became an aware middle class, white, man. That class and race and gender weren’t about other people but they were about me and I had to start thinking about them and it had been privilege that had kept it invisible to me for so long.”

Powerful!

The problem, of course, is that the church suffers almost total blindness to this reality. My hope is that eventually enough voices of light will illuminate its eyes.

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50 Responses

  1. Pat Pope says:

    That’s how all privilege works–it blinds us to others’ realities. Pick any topic–race, gender, poverty, crime, etc. Until we raise our awareness beyond our own myopic views, we will always think the world is no bigger than our front door and that others’ struggles are the result of some wrongdoing (if we even think that far). My wake up call on this was to realize how some peoples’ radar isn’t even attuned to problems that others face, let alone having an opinion about it.

  2. That’s so true Pat!

  3. dwaters says:

    Isnt everything a matter of perception? Morgan Freeman said “when we stop talking about race it will cease to exist.” Is what the woman sees cast upon her or a choice she makes? I went to Africa numerous times and never saw another Caucasian. I forgot I was caucasion or different from everyone elde I saw. I have a relative that is a felon who is often reminded by a condemning society, especially in the job market. So I asked, when you look in the mirror do you see a felon? To which they said no. I need help understanding this.

  4. Jarred H says:

    dwaters: With all due respect to Morgan Freeman, I suspect that the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown would disagree with him on that one. Not talking about race will not magically change the fact that the criminal justice system is much harder on black and other non-white suspects than it is on white people. Not talking about sexism will not magically make the glass ceiling disappear or dismantle rape culture.

    To answer your question, “Is what the woman sees cast upon her or a choice she makes?” No. A woman can see herself however she wants. But how other people treat her is a choice those other people make.

  5. Pat Pope says:

    Thank you, Jarred.

  6. Pat Pope says:

    @dwaters, as an African-American woman, allow me to explain how I see it. I am a human being. I’m also a black woman. I’m a daughter, sister, employee, American, etc. I do not choose to be a human being to the exclusion of my race and all that it entails including history and culture (both of which are rich, I might add). For me, to deny my race or skin color is to deny a part of myself, something I have experienced, which has affected how I live today–consciously embracing my race.

  7. dwaters says:

    Id say the justice system is harder on poor or lower socio-economic classes which happen to be more non caucasion. Not saying the rich dont break the law as well. There is a choice of what to wear each day and that choice is treated certain ways by an ever Fd up society. Nothing new under the sun. Thanks for the pointers.

  8. Jarred H says:

    dwaters: You said the following:

    There is a choice of what to wear each day and that choice is treated certain ways by an ever Fd up society

    You are getting into what’s commonly called “the politics of respectability.” I’d encourage you to do a Google search on that term. You should come across many articles, blog posts, and personal accounts that explain why it’s complete garbage. It’s also called “victim blaming.”

    Bottom line, people should not have to dress or behave in certain societally approved ways in order to be treated like human beings deserving of the same dignity as more privileged people. Full stop.

  9. dwaters says:

    How can we choose to see ourselves as different and expect to be seen as the same?

  10. dwaters says:

    I think there must be ownership. I was poor and was jailed for my actions. One could argue the actions were a rexult of being poor. Okay. Now im not poor and my actions have changed and I dont fear The Man. I also stated society is and always will be Fd up. So, given that, make different choices that reap differently.

  11. Jarred H says:

    dwaters: Okay, I’ve reached the point where I don’t believe you’re engaging in this conversation in good faith. I wish you many blessings on your journey.

  12. Pat Pope says:

    Context has to play a role, in my opinion. All poor people that are locked up are not in that situation because they’re poor. Some probably deserve it. However, not all do and with a lack of resources, many cannot afford the kind of legal representation to help them prove their innocence. Many are framed or are simply the victim wrong place/wrong time or are misidentified as we see with so many who thankfully get exonerated thanks to groups like the Innocence Project. So, to me, it’s not an all or nothing deal. No “all” of any group is always making willful choices that get them into certain predicaments. That to me, sounds like victim blaming and life just does not work that way. Sometimes, bad things really do happen to good people regardless of race, color, gender, etc. and sometimes bad things happen to people BECAUSE of those same identifiers. As you said, it’s a f*d up world. To that, I will agree.

  13. dwaters says:

    If I dress like a thug with my pants hung low, a bandana a grill smokin a cigar that reeks and I head out to help little old ladies across the street, what is the likelihood that as I approach, that the little old ladies will percieve me as good intent? Ive seen strong proud african american women refuse to let their kids out of the house like that. I didnt get out of poverty by making the same choices that hot me there. I dont associate with the family I was given who treated me poorly. My choice was to continue the association or not. Im not saying disown yourself. Im saying own your choices and the effects regardless of whether society praises or condemns it. We know the society in Syria Iraq or Afghanistan is likely to treat us as westerners unfavorable so we dont go there and risk having our heads cut off.

  14. John says:

    I’m not really buying this “privilege” philosophy,
    1. Who really looks in the mirror and see themselves as a race or a gender? Really? When I look in the mirror, I see ME. just plain ‘ol me.

    2. This black woman who sees “A black woman” only sees it that way because she is a minority, not because she doesn’t have “privilege.” If she lived in Africa where it’s 99% black, would she still see a “black woman”? or would she just see “a woman”? It has nothing to do with Race or Gender or Privilege and everything to do with Minority vs. Majority. And also, I would argue that if you see “a race” in the mirror, you are the one fixated on race…..I can honestly say, I have never looked in the mirror and said I am a “blank, blank.” I just see “Me.”

  15. Gary says:

    I think the problem comes when we stereotype people in ANY category and assume the mold works broadly. For instance…many under privileged individuals have CHOSEN to take control of their lives and circumstances and have pulled themselves out of their environment to a better life. These individuals are to be praised of course. The problem comes when we look at those examples and use them to broad stroke their success as a judgment against those who have not done so. Fact is…not all underprivileged have the ability or opportunity to do so no matter how much they try.

    I think dwaters is making some valid points…but his error seems to be in assuming that good choices and hard work will work for everyone and therefore there is a tendency to pass judgment on the rest. This is simply naive thinking which further promotes the bias. The flip side is also true. There are many in society from all classes who are lazy, make poor choices, and live a life that is the direct result of those choices. Some of them COULD change their circumstances by hard work and better choices. But the fact remains that there are clearly societal and circumstantial oppression which will continue to make such change impossible for some no matter how hard they try. Stereotyping a group by either the good or the bad will always produce inaccurate biases.

  16. Jarred H says:

    The ‘splaining on this thread is getting ridiculous and toxic. The lived experiences of marginalized people should not be up for debate or auditing.

  17. Gary says:

    Jarred H – I am beginning to think you believe all discussion on a topic is bad because we should all just automatically agree with you. LMFAO

    What you determine is “ridiculous and toxic” “splaining” is what most people call intelligent discourse. If you cannot handle the healthy exchange of ideas…perhaps you should not offer any of your own.

    Just sayin…

  18. Jarred H says:

    “I am beginning to think you believe all discussion on a topic is bad because we should all just automatically agree with you.”

    If that’s what you’ve taken away from this thread and my reaction to it, then I can only assume you still can’t see past your own privilege.

    You consider it “intelligent discourse” when people question whether people “REALLY” see their race when they look in the mirror, despite the fact that there are quotes from people who say, yes they really do see their race? You consider it “intelligent discourse” when people insist on reinterpreting and explaining away the lived experiences of marginalized people, as if they are in a position to understand those experiences better than the people actually living through them? You consider it “intelligent discourse” when people of (relative) privilege insist that privilege doesn’t exist and/or try to insist that marginalized people just need to “make better choices” rather than actually challenging unjust systems (because after all they’ll always be unjust and there’s no point in trying to change that)?

    Personally, I think your idea of “intelligent discourse” is oppression-enabling garbage.

  19. Jarred H says:

    Quite frankly, I’m not interested in any “intelligent discourse which is little more than a circle jerk of a discussion where privileged people sit around and abstractly theorize about what the “real problems” of and “solutions to” marginalized people’s problems that doesn’t center the words and experiences of actual marginalized people and their own understanding of their own problems.

  20. Cecilia Davidson says:

    So much mansplaining from the obvious dummy accounts.

  21. dwaters says:

    Most excellent @John. The very same rationalization that led me to be free of the idea of any deity as truth. We don’t choose where we’re born yet it seems tp determine what we belive as truth. Truth simply is not geographical….. or is it 😉

  22. Gary says:

    Now with the insults as follow up? It is no wonder you don’t recognize intelligent discourse. Lol.

    How about this. I think you’ll understand it. Fuck Off.

  23. Jarred H says:

    So true, Cecilia. It’s wrong that you and others have to endure it so regularly.

  24. Gary says:

    Lol. No Jared…that was directed solely at you. You are the one here acting all pompous beyond your means. Lol

  25. Rick says:

    Yep, an awful lot of mansplaining here. I think John’s comment was the best. ‘Its not about privilege, they only see race because they’re a minority. I don’t see my race therefore no one else should too’ Someone who I think should probably re-read the article extract above. Also, its not about majority vs. minority. In countries such as Canada, women actually make up a higher percentage of the population in comparison to men. Yet, women are discriminated against in basically every sector of society. How do you explain that one?

    What Jared said hit the nail on the head. This isn’t intelligent discussion. Its just a bunch of white men, who ironically, don’t recognise their own privilege as discussed by this very article, trying to give a ‘real’ interpretation of discrimination while completely ignoring actual accounts from oppressed groups. What it comes down to, is that many white middle class men cannot except that they are on top of the social pile within their country. Here’s an idea. Understand it, get over it, and actually fight for the equal rights of the less privileged, instead of simply dismissing privilege, and with it, the plight of the marginalised.

  26. JT says:

    How can I not see my skin colour when all I hear is how privileged I am because I’m male? Do people ever stop to ponder how sexist that statement is and then for good measure they make it racist by adding the white part. That is comparable to calling all black males criminals because there are more of them in prison.

  27. Jarred H says:

    “That is comparable to calling all black males criminals because there are more of them in prison.”

    No. Indicating that person has privilege implies nothing about their worth or their worthiness. It simply points out that they live in a system that affords them certain luxuries and entitlements that the same system denies others. That’s nothing like saying that all black men are criminals, which definitely implies something about their worth and their worthiness.

  28. JT says:

    When you base their privilege solely on gender or race then you are a bigot. By judging in this fashion you ignore all the intangibles like wealth for example. Does a white male born in the Appalachians have more privilege than a white aristocrat female in New York?

  29. Jarred H says:

    Now you’re getting into the concept of relative privilege. The thing is, privilege is not absolute and their are countless axes of privilege. A person can be (and often is) privileged on some axes while marginalized on others. For example, I experience privilege on the basis that I’m a man, white, and cisgender. I experience marginalization on the basis that I’m gay. Neither of those statements discounts the other. The fact that I’m gay does not change the fact that I don’t have to fear the police like many black people do. The fact that I enjoy white privilege does not change the fact that there are people who would want the right to fire me or kick me out of my home simply because I’m gay.

    “Does a white male born in the Appalachians have more privilege than a white aristocrat female in New York?”

    Privilege doesn’t work that way, and playing the Oppression Olympics is pointless. The man would enjoy certain luxuries and entitlements granted him simply for being a man. The woman would enjoy certain luxuries and entitlements simply for being upper middle class. Both would enjoy certain luxuries and entitlements simply for being white.

    But you know, accusing me of bigotry is easier than actually trying to understand and explore privilege, so there you are.

  30. Jt says:

    Why does calling you a bigot stop me from understanding and exploring privilege. We all have privilege in certain areas, thats a given. I just take umbrage when its usually pointed out that its only male and generally white to boot. I love the fact that you have all the right terminology down. I wonder who’s missing the point?

  31. Jt says:

    I personally think David’s portrayal in this piece is offensive.

  32. Jarred H says:

    “I just take umbrage when its usually pointed out that its only male and generally white to boot.”

    Gee, could your umbrage have anything to do with the fact that you happen to be both male and white?

    The fact that they’re talked about a lot is because male privilege and white privilege are both rampant. Also they often go unexamined and challenged. And when you do challenge them, many men and white people (and especially white men) immediately go on the defensive, try to deny that such things exist, and so on.

    And actually, the circles I travel in often discuss other axes of privilege as well, such as class privilege and cisgender privilege.

    “I love the fact that you have all the right terminology down.”

    I don’t even understand what you’re trying to say with that one. Yes, I have all the terminology down. That’s because I’ve spent a lot of time reading and listening to others (especially those who don’t share the same privileges I enjoy) talk about these things and seeking to examine my own privilege. Personally, I think that’s a good thing.

  33. JT says:

    Enjoy your journey.

  34. Gary says:

    The racist bigots here are the ones attacking my and others comments based on race. I have not played the race card in my remarks at all. Yet the loudmouth and rather arrogant bigot here keeps insisting on using racism as his weapon. Well fuck that. Ignorance breeds racism and we are seeing a ton of both in this thread.

  35. If you watch the video you might get a glimpse into the complexity of the issue and how ingrained it is in our society. It’s not meant to be an attack on men, or white men, or white middle class men, but an attempt to open our eyes to perhaps perceive a little bit how we might have an advantage based on these markers, such as higher wages than women in the same line of work.

  36. Cecilia Davidson says:

    ONLY A RACIST would say that their being a white male American is a target for racism

  37. Gary says:

    Trying to figure out who you are directing that at Cecilia. I am pretty sure that it is not me because I have been largely agreeing with David’s post and yet attacked for my race.

  38. Jarred H says:

    “It’s not meant to be an attack on men, or white men, or white middle class men, but an attempt to open our eyes to perhaps perceive a little bit how we might have an advantage based on these markers…”

    Unfortunately, David, some people consider the act of pointing out those advantages to be an attack in and of itself.

  39. Gary says:

    Bullshit Jarred. I was in support of that point in my original comment. But you were so intent on attack that you missed it entirely. AND you kept attacking me based on my race. I don’t know what the hell your problem is but I have no problem pointing out when someone insists on acting like an ass.

  40. Jarred H says:

    “…you kept attacking me based on my race.”

    Actually Gary, that’s incorrect. I heatedly challenged your choice to defend the ‘splaining and other toxic behaviors of dtwaters and John and try to pass it off as “intelligent discourse.” Other than that, the vast majority of my comments on this thread have been directed at other people. I’ve generally chosen to ignore your behavior in this thread since.

  41. Gary says:

    Again. ..bullshit.

  42. Cecilia Davidson says:

    Gary – it wasn’t merely at you.

  43. Gary says:

    If it was even partially directed at me then you are not paying attention to my comments. Bullying attacks only make one irrelevant.

  44. Cecilia Davidson says:

    The moment you said Dwaters had valid points, no one took you seriously.

    The moment you claimed people were being racist towards you (a white person), you showed your hand.

  45. Cecilia Davidson says:

    I make no apologies for my comment, but even IF DWaters was trying to make valid points, the very problem is that they are still thinly veiled racist comments and seriously missing the point at *best*. The fact is this – men are in control in the world. They don’t really want to relinquish it. For reasons unknown, some men see strong women as a threat, and so long as other men aren’t doing what they can to actively call out the problems, then they are allowing the problems to continue.

    As for racism – dude, RACISM IS AN INSTITUTION committed by those with the power and position to see groups of people as inferior. As white men are in the majority of positions in power in America, it is outright IMPOSSIBLE to be racist towards white people. Prejudice =/= racism. Please, in the future, do your best to differentiate the two.

  46. Gary says:

    Can you even hear yourself?

    “The moment you said Dwaters had valid points, no one took you seriously.”

    This statement is absolute rubbish. You are a bully who tries to control conversations by intimidation. Well fuck you Cicilia. It is possible to see and actually have respectful two way conversations with people you disagree with and recognize there are elements of truth in both.

    And as for your comments about racism…bullshit. A racist does not only exist among those with power and position. This is ignorant rubbish in the extreme. Of course it is possible to be racist towards white.

    rac·ism
    ˈrāˌsizəm/Submit
    noun
    the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.
    prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

    If you believe than only those in power can engage in racial bigotry then you are seeking to make your own definitions and shove them repeatedly (and in grand bullying fashion) in the face of everyone who might dare disagree with your grandiose and greatly elevated perception of your own wisdom. WELL FUCK THAT!!!!

    I came in here and made a very thoughtful and respectful comment with a very valid point. I recognized that DWATERS had made some good points and yet took exception and disagreed with his view where I believed he was in error. Pay attention Cecilia…THAT IS WHAT MATURE INDIVIDUALS IN A DISCUSSION DO!!!! Then the bullies circled around started the rude attacks against me and others because we dared to seek to actually engage someone with maturity. Again…fuck that.

  47. Again I would like to point out that the video I linked to is excellent and basically starts with the sociologist sharing his own alarming personal revelation. One I strongly identify with. The brokenness of the world around us is a reflection of the human heart. We are the problem. We are the division in the world. I think until we see that, the brokenness and division and violence will continue.

  48. Jarred H says:

    So, was that Gary’s flounce?

  49. Gary says:

    Fuck off Jarred.

  50. Cecilia Davidson says:

    Some cool-off time later –
    Gary, I do not at all apologize for my stance but I will for my tone.

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