Cross-posted from my article in Everyday Feminism.
Morning: a man shuffles out of a cab in last night’s rumpled suit, holding a pair of dress shoes in his hands that have begun to pinch. The neighbors stare. This is the walk of shame.
Afternoon: a man skips lunch and pops three aspirin before heading into the waxing salon, preparing to endure searing pain for a clean, hairless nether region. This is the beauty routine.
Evening: a man leaves work to attend his kid’s school play; his all-female management team judges him for “putting parenting before work” (even though many of them have kids too). This is the double standard.
In reality, the man gets a high five from his doorman, drinks a beer while enjoying his lunch break, and rests easy because he knows his coworkers won’t criticize his work ethic just because he’s a dad.
From unrealistic beauty standards to slut shaming for promiscuity, there are a lot of things that women think about every day that men have never once had to consider. From the workplace to relationships, simple by being male, men experience privilege that makes their lives easier –and that they (usually) don’t even notice.
So we call out that privilege.
Not to castigate men for being born into it, and not to shame them for benefiting from this privilege—but to make them aware of how it affects their everyday lives and the lives of the women with whom they interact.
Because it’s not their fault that they aren’t conscious of it. Our patriarchal society works extra hard, day-in and day-out, to make sure that men aren’t aware of their privilege.
Let’s look at some examples of questions men don’t need to ask themselves – and how they make a difference in our lives.
1. Why am I expected to spend exorbitant amounts of money and time on my looks? And why do I get condemned as vain and superficial for doing so?
“Now every girl is expected to have: Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits.”
While this quote is satirical and full of stereotypes, Tina Fey has a point. Women are held to ridiculous beauty standards that are impossible to meet.
And if she spends all that money, works out relentlessly, shuns fattening food, and achieves something akin to the patriarchy’s idea of “perfection?” Well, then she’s just vain and self-obsessed.
On the other hand, if she doesn’t choose to meet these standards, she’s a slob and doesn’t care about herself or her appearance.
There’s really no way to win, is there?
2. If I smile at people, will they interpret my friendliness as a sexual invitation? If I don’t, will they tell me to lighten up?
On a regular basis, many women have to deal with catcalls and degrading sexual offers from men as they walk to a meeting, the grocery store, the gym, the mailbox—you name it.
If she smiles or appears friendly, these offers and salutations will usually become more pronounced and gratuitous – almost as if she is expected to follow up on a simple smile with a blowjob.
But if she walks with her eyes forward and no smile on her lips? Then men will tell her “smile, sweetheart,” or “you’d be so much prettier if you smiled.”
How many men are told on a regular basis that they should smile? Especially by perfect strangers?
Not many, that’s for sure. In our patriarchal society, men are allowed the choice of how to portray themselves to the world – without the same level of judgment that women receive.
3. If I wear something that shows skin, will I get harassed?
From an early age women are taught to be ashamed of their bodies—men, not so much. Therefore, men don’t grow up believing that in order to be virtuous, they must cover up – or pay for it with degrading comments and behavior from others.
And although some men get criticized for their style of dress, it is much less likely that they will be sexually harassed for what they are wearing – I mean, men can walk around without even wearing a shirt and no one blinks an eye.
Conversely, women who choose to reveal skin are consistently sexually harassed, slut-shamed, or fat-shamed for showing off their bodies.
Simply put, society does not police men for how much skin they show. Unlike with women, the decision of what to wear is left up to them, not considered fodder for public discussion.
4. If I wear sexy clothing and enjoy partying, will people accuse me of provoking sexual harassment and/or assault?
“Why was she wearing such a short dress?” “Why was she out so late?” “How much did she drink that night?” “Why didn’t she know better than to hang out with those people?”
When we discuss a burglary, we never assign blame to the victim by saying that the beautiful garden in front of her house “tempted the robbers in.” Obviously, that would be ridiculous. But in the case of a woman being sexually harassed or raped, people often justify the crime by putting the onus on her provocative appearance, level of intoxication, or “improper” behavior.
Men aren’t held to these same standards (although sadly, they deal with an entirely different degrading patriarchal construct involving sex and consent).
As mentioned above, men aren’t criticized for showing off their bodies –and conversely are encouraged to drink to excess by the ingrained fraternity culture of our society.
5. If I have sex with him, will everyone think I’m a slut?
No one calls a man a slut for having sex. But women run the risk of being called sluts just for kissing a guy.
It’s simple: the sexual double standard still rules in America. Men can have promiscuous sex and be congratulated for it. Women who are sexually promiscuous are rarely viewed in a positive light.
6. If the condom breaks, will I get pregnant? If so, what then?
This is a no-brainer. No cis man has ever wondered this – and barring some very intense scientific advances, no cis man will ever have to. They will never have to worry about having to choose between aborting the child or having their whole world change as their body accommodates a new life.
Before anyone gets up in arms, let me state: this is biology, and no one would ever blame cis men for not being able to conceive. But it’s just one more example of how sexual choices affect cis men and cis women very differently.
7. If I reveal my gender, will I receive the same level of respect?
In an experimental Yale study, a group of scientists were given the same application to review for a lab position. Half of the scientists received the application under a female name, while the other half received the exact same application with a male name attached.
Across the board, the scientists rated the “male” applicants higher in competence and hireability, and offered them higher starting salaries than the “female” applicants.
For the exact same application.
And that’s just one small example.
Because of the myriad ways that women are discriminated against in professional, academic, and social circles, some women take to hiding their gender in order to be accepted into the “boy’s club” and to receive more respect from male counterparts.
Especially in the professional world and academics, but also in other online forums, women often have to work twice as hard to earn the same respect as men, because of society’s gendered expectations.
8. If I become upset at work, will they blame it on PMS?
We’ve all heard it a million times: “We can’t have a [cis] female President because she might go bomb Russia when she has PMS!
As ludicrous as this idea is, it’s still talked about.
Here’s a little dose of reality: Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) does not make us irrational.
Can PMS make a woman feel more moody? Sure. Physically uncomfortable? Hell yes. But hands down, PMS does not change a woman’s brain chemistry enough to make her irrational or less competent.
Because cis men don’t menstruate, they don’t have a recognized equivalent syndrome that their rash behavior can conveniently be blamed on. On the contrary: when men display anger or intensity at work, they are often thought of as “strong,” “alpha,” or “dominant.”
9. Will I have less of a chance of being hired or promoted because of my gender?
The good news is that sex discrimination – which involves treating an applicant or employee unfavorably because of that person’s sex – is illegal in the US.
The bad news is that it happens all the time anyway.
Studies show that the majority of industry managers (especially in male-dominated industries like Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and STEM fields) tend to look for masculine stereotypes when hiring and awarding promotions.
Because of these male-biased hiring and promoting practices – which spring partly from a lack of diversity in the industries themselves – it is often extremely difficult for women to excel and move up in the company.
10. If I don’t do well at my job, will people take it as a sign that people of my gender shouldn’t be doing this line of work?
Sometimes the system keeps women from succeeding at their jobs.
For example, women working in male-dominated industries are often subjected to huge amounts of pressure to conform to the same masculine traits exhibited by their male counterparts. If they don’t, they are usually viewed negatively and kept from advancing in the company. And as we already know, the system – from hiring, to awarding raises and bonuses, to achieving managerial status – is stacked against women, making it much harder for them to rise to the top.
Sure, there are certainly individual women – just like there are individual men – whose particular talents aren’t suited for these jobs.
But using a couple of examples as reason to write off an entire gender is foolish, uneducated, and sexist – and fails to acknowledge the success of female leaders everywhere.
11. If I do well in my company, will people say that I slept my way to the top?
When men in high-power jobs succeed, it is generally presumed that they worked their asses off to get there. But women who reach the same level of success are often accused of sleeping their way to the top, despite the falsity of the claims.
This is because society often dismisses a woman’s hard work and perseverance, and reduces her to an object only valuable for bringing sexual pleasure to others.
12. If I have kids, will people assume I don’t care about my career anymore?
For years, studies have shown that working moms are discriminated against in ways as small as being left out of meetings, to as substantial as losing promotions – or even their jobs.
In September 2014, the federal government reached a $5 million settlement with Wells Fargo over allegations that the banking giant discriminated against pregnant women, new mothers, and women on maternity leave.
Studies also show that working fathers simply do not deal with this level of discrimination. But because many people still believe that a woman’s place is “in the home,” they pigeonhole working mothers and discriminate against them unfairly.
13. If I don’t want a family, will people assume there’s something wrong with me?
Barren. Cold. Unloving. The crazy cat lady.
People make a lot of judgments about women who decide not to have children or get married. This is probably because the belief that women exist to be mothers lives on to this day in the assumption that a childless woman must be lonely, or unhappy, or that she should be pitied for not having been able to find “the right man.”
When a man decides to do the same, there may be some similar pity – but he is also likely to be venerated as a successful bachelor who “can’t be tamed” (think George Clooney).
In reality, having a family is entirely a personal choice – and there is no reason why men and women should be judged differently in relation to that decision.
These are a few examples of male privilege at its most insidious – patriarchal norms working below the surface to uphold sexist double standards in society.
Yes, everyone has a different life experience, and some men may, at some point in their lives, ask themselves some version of these questions. But that does not negate their male privilege.
We can all learn more about how patriarchal structures perpetuate this privilege. And the more we know, the better we can change how people respond.
Because even though men don’t generally have to think about all the things on this list – and so many others – they should.
Just by acknowledging their male privilege, men can start chipping away at it. And that’s a damn beautiful thing.