Hopefully we all know by now that male privilege is a very real and dangerous thing that happens and has a lot of real world consequences. And I’m not arguing that I haven’t been granted many of the benefits of that privilege by presenting and identifying as cisgender for the first 25ish years of my life (partly for lack of knowledge and terminology), especially because of my beard and size. Take for example the time I was able to help a friend move out of her abusive and armed ex-boyfriend’s house by simply standing there looking intimidating. But the idea that male privilege is something that every person assigned male at birth is granted in its entirety is pervasive within feminism, especially the trans exclusionary kind, and something that I want to address.
Based on my experience and the discussions I have had within more nuanced feminist circles and with men looking to change toxic masculinity, I would posit that male privilege is granted on a sliding scale based on how well you conform to American, white, Christian, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, masculinity standards. The more you fit the molds, the more authority, power, and respect you are granted. There are a few molds of course – the athlete, the businessman, the lumberjack/blue collar worker, etc – but for the most part the boundaries of masculinity are so narrow that they are unachievable for anyone on the margins due to race, body type, ability level, sexuality (perceived or real), parenting style, or even religion. Feminism has made amazing progress in the last century+ in broadening the acceptable boundaries of femininity for the most part but the same work hasn’t been done in masculinity.
As a result, a gender non-conforming kid like I was never really has a change to gain all those privileges. As I’ve written about before, the idea of being “socialized male“ as a uniform experience is incredibly flawed because it is based on what you get out of it, not what is put in. And many of us never got the full benefits of male privilege. Take Asian men for example; a lot has been written about how some of them feel excluded from American masculinity and discriminated against in dating because of flawed stereotypes and tropes.
So next time your instinct is to say “but you have/had male privilege” to a trans person (or a person of color or different ability or…), think more carefully about the intersectionality of gender and all those other identities. It’s not that they don’t necessarily have it, but that privilege is more complex than a yes or no checkbox. This quote from Julia Serano’s excellent article this week, Debunking “Trans Women are not Women” Arguments, sums it up well:
Male privilege is a very real thing. In my booking Whipping Girl, I talk at length about my own personal experiences of having it, and subsequently losing it post-transition. However, not every trans woman experiences male privilege (e.g., younger transitioners). Furthermore, the whole purpose of talking about privilege (whether it be male, white, middle/upper-class, able-bodied, or straight privilege, to name a few) is to raise awareness about the advantages that members of the dominant/majority group experience due to the fact that they do not face a particular type of sexism or marginalization. And the fact that the trans-women-aren’t-women crowd constantly harp about trans women’s real or imagined male privilege, yet refuse to acknowledge or examine their own cisgender privilege, demonstrates that their concerns about privilege are disingenuous, and that they are merely using the concept in order to delegitimize trans women’s identities and lived experiences as women.