What is Male Privilege? - Definition & Examples

Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

In this lesson, we'll explore male privilege. You'll learn about intersectionality and explore examples of male privilege in society, education, and the workplace.

Privilege

Harry is a manager of many different people. He's heard that he should be aware of the ways that male privilege can impact his female employees, but he isn't exactly sure what male privilege is. Harry isn't sexist, so he's not involved in the whole male privilege thing, right?

When people talk about privilege, they are talking about the structures in place that give advantages to certain people. Male privilege, then, is the way that men are given advantages that women aren't.

Often, privilege is invisible. That is, people don't always notice advantages unless they are pointed out. For example, studies show that people tend to mentor others like them. Because men are more often in positions of power, men lower on the corporate ladder may get more opportunities to be mentored than women. But the men doing the mentoring and the mentees themselves may not think about the fact that women aren't being given the same opportunities.

So, is Harry free of male privilege? Well, no. But that doesn't mean that Harry is evil or bad. It doesn't even mean that he is sexist. It just means that he's been given certain advantages that others may not have and that he may not even be aware of.

To help Harry understand male privilege better, let's take a look at the intersectionality of male privilege and examples of privilege in the world.

Intersectionality

Ok, Harry is willing to admit that it seems like he might have some advantages. But do all men have advantages over all women? That seems like a strange thing to believe. After all, some women are born with lots of money and advantages that many men don't have.

What Harry is thinking about is what social scientists call intersectionality, or the intersectional approach. This looks at the ways in which different types of privilege interact in society. Think of the word intersect, and you can remember that intersectionality looks at the ways different types of privilege intersect with each other.

The intersectional approach says that not all men experience the same male privilege, because other privileges might come into play as well. To understand this, all Harry has to do is think about the diverse people who work at his company. There are men and women, of course, but there are also straight and gay people. There are people of varying ethnicities, religions, and classes. There are transgendered people and cisgendered people. In other words, there are a lot of different types of privileges!

Intersectionality says that men who do not have privilege in other areas may not experience male privilege in the same way. For example, gay men may experience less male privilege than straight men. Men of color, men from a low socioeconomic background, and even men who aren't as traditionally masculine may all experience either less or different types of male privilege.

The flip side of this is true, too. Women may experience limitations because they aren't male, but they may experience those limitations in different ways and to different extents based on their own privileges (or lack thereof). In this way, the intersectional approach looks at many different social categories and the ways in which they interact.

Examples

Harry understands the intersectional approach to male privilege. But he's still a little fuzzy on male privilege itself. As we've already noted, privilege is often invisible to those receiving it, so Harry still isn't sure exactly what male privilege looks like. What are some examples?

In modern American society, there are many different ways that men receive benefits not given to women. For one thing, men are assumed to be the default and women assumed to be the other. For example, words like businessman or chairman are often used even though women may hold those jobs, too. Even the use of the word ''man'' to mean ''humankind'' is problematic; it's not common for people to use the word ''woman'' to mean ''humankind!''

Another example of societal privilege includes attitudes towards sexual promiscuity. Often, promiscuous men are seen as masculine, strong, and virile, while promiscuous women are looked down upon and disrespected.

Education, too, can be different for girls and boys. Studies show that teachers (even female teachers) tend to call on male students more often than female students. In addition, studies show that the way teachers are received can be dependent on their gender. For example, students were more likely to describe male professors as experts and female professors as caring and supportive, suggesting that the male professors are smarter and more knowledgeable. At least one study found that this was true even if the female professors were more highly educated than their male counterparts!

As Harry has heard, male privilege can play out in the workplace. Men who speak up and voice their opinions are often seen as leaders. In contrast, women who speak up are sometimes called aggressive (or worse). As with school, men are often listened to more than their female counterparts, and studies have shown that men speak as much as 75% of the time in meetings and that women are more likely to be interrupted than their male coworkers.

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