The title of this post is provocative and that is slightly mischievious on my part. Unfortunately the world we live in requires headline-grabbing statements. I could have put in a more convoluted, more accurate summary of what I want to say forthwith. But the message might have got lost in the mix. So I hope you forgive my crude sensationalism!
Male privilege … we hear that this is a problem as much as white privilege or the privileges of the wealthy. Men enjoy unfair advantages in work. They get paid more, are more likely to be promoted, less likely to get sacked, in fact have better chances of being hired full stop.
This is largely true. Moreover, justice would forbid us from condoning such a system. If two persons do the same work, they should be paid the same. If they are good at their job, competition dictates the better party should be rewarded. Getting fired should be on the basis of a wrong committed, getting hired should be due to merit. I agree with all that and am not advocating injustice in the workplace or anywhere else.
There is another type of justice I want to develop, however, and it is that of equitable justice. I am sure many people have seen cartoons of different sized people getting different sized steps inversely proportional to their size so that they can watch a game. This is equity (equity has another specific legal meaning relating to originality but I will leave the meaning stand as it is).
Typically, equity has been used to achieve gender equality in the workplace. It’s noticeable how it’s often used to achieve gender equality in professions like science that are male-dominated but not in teaching which is female dominated. I’ll leave that aside for the moment but will come back to it later.
Through affirmative action programs and the like, women are increasingly gaining parity with men. It’s a matter of public policy in many countries that women should have the same opportunities as men. In orher countries it’s an ideal that is being fought for tooth-and-nail.
Whatever the reality where you live, 50/50 gender equality in the competitive workplace is now so ingrained that you would think the reason people ever started working in the first place was to satisfy the quotas of statisticians! But why is it that people started working in the first place? And what has this got to do with equity or indeed male privilege?
People form communities with one another because they desire a more sophisticated lifestyle, a lifestyle where they trade and use their skills and so can enjoy a higher state of life than if they all lived in the wilderness. However humans are inherently social. They don’t live on their own. When people ‘come together’ we really mean that households come together.
Throughout much of recorded history, a fairly familiar pattern repeats itself. Biology and physiology dictates that the bulk of work that brings in a living and surplus income is performed by men. Domestic work is done by women. This reflects the fact that only one of the sexes can keep a ‘bun in the oven’ and deliver it, something necessary to propagate the species. Thus, the workplace, and indeed the world of politics, has taken on a distinctly male character.
I don’t need to tell anyone that this world is ‘no more’ in quite a few places around the world. Just about everywhere it has lost legitimacy. Yet if we concede that this model is absolutely necessary for the propagation of the species and thus represents a legitimate social goal, then we must consider how to equitably achieve this.
Up to this point, I’ve left out one fact. In normal circumstances there will not be full employment for any sustained period of time. Officially you often hear figures of maybe 5% quoted for unemployment. I think anyone in the know is aware that such low figures are either (1) only sustainable for very short periods, (2) grossly underestimate, posssibly by as much as 15%, the true numbers out of work. Many ‘out of work’ (in real terms) are put on training courses, there may be high numbers of people incarcerated who won’t make it into the stats, etc … The upshot of all this is that 50/50 gender equality is really only 40/40 equality. There will be 10/10 of the population who have to, presumably, put their lives on hold. This may even be skewed towards men if gender quotas are public policy.
Now for male privilege! The problem with ‘male privilege’ arguments is that they ignore the fact that when it comes to the necessary and noble social goals of building a family, women have an unfair competitive advantage. It is easy for women to attract partners simply by their beauty, or maybe (to make a more general statement) by what they can offer men physically.
Men seek out women, generally. It is true that women might take the initiative sometimes. Such a thing is not uncommon. But do women seek out men who are unemployed, who have no prospects or offer them nothing materially for long-term relationships? On the other hand, it rarely is of much concern to men what women do for a living. There may be considerations of status and of ethnicity for men. But while women seek material security, men seek physical comfort. Generally.
So men are at a considerable disadvantage in the marriage and family stakes if they are unable to provide. One can of course dismiss the idea that men and women have any intrinsic need to co-operate in raising families and that men have a far greater need to work than women. Yet it is far more important than many realise. Much of the xenophobia, sectarianism, and anti-immigration sentiment is – I am certain – ultimately down to fears over unemployment. It is usually rationalised on other grounds and indeed some people will be motivated for more ideological reasons. But ultimately many of those who support right-wing movements are lower middle class, i.e. those who have something to lose and who could envision losing it easily. And what motivates such fears, at least among men, is the thought of being unable to provide for a family.
Back to teaching. Teaching is a female-dominated profession. There is a good reason for that historically. Teaching is a profession (or vocation) which is feminine in character (i.e. involves a lot of nurturing) and its demands can be integrated with child-rearing and domestic duties. There are other professions/vocations which are female-dominated, such as nursing. There are no calls for these to be subject to gender quotas. It shows up the true nature of the affirmative action movement but it also demonstrates that professions will be adapted to suit the extra-professional realities of life.
Public policy on employment should be suited to the innate demands of men to be in a position to provide for a family. Women shouldn’t be discriminated either for or against at work in any way. Employment should be geared towards domestic demands, recognising that all have a right to advance but that for men the needs are more pressing as they have little to offer if they have no career prospects or income source.
So while I have upheld the rather provocative ideal of ‘male privilege,’ I have really intended to call for a humane, equitable, and just dispensation that does not humiliate men or put women at a disadvantage. Thus, male privilege allows for differences but is not unfair.