Male privilege and women’s month
What a time to be male.
To be born male in the ’90s meant growing up with less of the patriarchy of the “Mad Men” era. We can be grateful for that. But to be born male still came with its privileges, nonetheless.
As early as childhood, for instance, a successful career path was already assumed, as if the whole world was a catalogue of professions I could freely choose from without my capabilities being questioned. I never had to suppress my behavior because boys will be boys, they said. I also had plenty of icons and exemplars for molding my masculinity. Heroes, as well as political and business leaders and scholars, are mostly male.
As I matured, male privilege only became more emphasized, if not inculcated. My body was not assumed to be indecent, so I didn’t have to cover it up. I could post photos of abs and guns without being shamed for it. Likewise, my appearance didn’t have to define who I am or my career or my relationships. I could be aggressive without being called out for it. I was not pressured into having a family. And when one day I’d finally have one, I wouldn’t have to choose between it and my career.
I never had to fear being labeled for expressing my opinions. I was not conditioned to attract female attention. I wasn’t less human for having too much sex. I didn’t lose my appeal for being a party boy; I was celebrated for it—including all the other male “achievements” that were already expected of me in the first place.
Indeed, what a time to be male. This male privilege has been pampering us the way it’s done so for many generations. But also, what a time to be male, because we are now seeing how this privilege is harming others and ruining us men.
The byproducts of male privilege that have become mainstream—the locker room jokes, the superiority complex, the male gaze—are now aptly branded as toxic masculinity. Now, not only are we seeing these privileges in their ugly forms, we also have the opportunity to change the flawed conditioning we were all programmed with, and help future generations do the same. Not just for the benefit of women—for whom we are now celebrating National Women’s Month—but also to save our fellow men.
Two years ago, I came across an article by Thomas B. Edsall in The New York Times: “The increasing significance of the decline of men” discussed the economics and politics of men falling out of the labor force, men lagging behind women in college attendance and graduation, and men experiencing larger wage inequality among themselves compared to women. How interesting to describe the phenomenon as the “decline in men,” and use it in the context of a diminishment not in our population, but in our quality, in our significance, in our depth.
While we celebrate National Women’s Month this March, Esquire USA also dropped quite a bomb with its March 2019 issue. Its cover featured a 17-year-old American named Ryan and the caption: “What’s it like to grow up white, middle class and male.” The magazine attracted backlash for what was supposedly an insensitive cover issue.
Seventeen-year-old Ryan may not understand the reason behind the negative feedback. And so would so many other boys oblivious to the privileges they were given by birthright, as well as why girls have to grow with hostility they can never fathom, and why we celebrate a month like this month.
How should a privileged male celebrate women’s month?
By acknowledging his privileges and recognizing them for what they are. By realizing the fears and the apprehensions he wouldn’t have to go through simply because he was born with male chromosomes. By being cognizant that this privilege will make him and other men think they live inside a bubble where their actions wouldn’t have an effect on others—even if those actions do, and render them more involved than they know, or care to know.
What a time to be male. I’ve enjoyed its privileges and have been truly guilty of its toxicity. But we ought to change the narrative for us, and for today’s young boys. It’s about time.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.