MALE PRIVILEGE – The male privilege meme as a form of damseling


Commenter Valerie Keefe offered this for consideration and it intrigued me, so I am offering it for review and consideration. She doesn’t consider it a finished thought, so treat it as a work in progress as you read.

By the way -the male privilege meme as a form of damseling – and since it is damseling and the damsel role is an aspect of chivalry, the male privilege meme is inherently patriarchal.

Hey, this looks like an open thread… time for me to drop a thousand words of me explaining how bi-directional oppression is possible in a society that still privileges masculinity, from a discussion I was having on tumblr about why trans men are privileged in cisfeminist-dominated spaces… I need to figure out how to clean up and simplify this model, but here’s the rough hypothesis:

If I am willing to agree in a discussion that masculinityy is privleged, I am going to exect an admission that femininity is privileged, as Valerie does further on.

I don’t think this is accurate, not least of all because things happen to men that don’t happen to other undirectionally privileged groups. White people don’t have a higher rate of workplace-related-death than POC. Straight cis people aren’t more likely to be homeless than queer folk. And rich people aren’t likely to go to jail longer for the same crime than poor people… to name the workplace death, homelessness, and sentencing gaps, among three things.

So… we have this binaristic, cissexist, heterosexist view that there are men and there are women and it’s all easily determined at birth based on the shape of your genitals. So it’s sort of culturally ingrained that women (cis-as-default, obv) may be women but they can’t help being women, and women are expected to be feminine, which is regarded as lesser than masculine (i.e. femmephobia, or if we were trying not to pathologize, masculosexism, but I don’t have time to teach the entire Identity Left another term, so I’m just gonna use femmephobia.).

So in the case of a cis woman, you’re oppressed if you’re feminine, because masculinity is regarded as superior… and you’re oppressed if you’re masculine, because cissexism dictates that you should be feminine… and these things intersect… so the woman that people might degender and call a bitch behind her back still gets masculine privilege, even though she loses her cisfeminine privilege. (we should look at cisfemininity and cismasculinity as being differently privileged for ease of analysis)

Cisfemininity on its own? Impressively privileged. There are massive carveouts. Crimes you commit aren’t taken as seriously, you have better access to education and social services, you’re less likely to die while working the same job for the same pay, oh, and if you rape a kid and get pregnant, you should probably be able to sue that kid for child support… which is the most fucking horrifying thing I have ever heard of. Oh, and it’s not seen as routine and defensible to cut off 20,000 nerve endings by removing your clitoral hood at birth. But these are just a few examples.

It’s called damseling, or when damseling while cisfeminist, it’s called female solidarity… but really, come on, damseling. When a cis feminist argues that IPV laws should treat male-on-female violence as less defensible because “men are stronger,” that’s some fucking damseling right there.

So the thing is, cis women are in this double bind, where the oppression they face from conforming to the ideal cisfeminine role is counteracted by the privilege they get… from conforming to the ideal cisfeminine role. These are those double-binds you hear so much about.

CAMAB* folk get very little of that. There is proper behavior and then there is “man up, faggot.” Cissexism and femmephobia work in the same direction, not to mention class when we’re talking about disposability. But again, cis men are about as good/not good at conforming to the ideal cismasculine role as cis women are at conforming to the ideal cisfeminine role… so you have a MUCH wider distribution of oppression and privilege.

So it’s pretty easy to point at a masculine, rich, cis guy and say, “well, men sure have it good don’t they.” The housing-insecure, romantically-passive rape survivor who we like to call creepy on the other hand… there are more of him, but we don’t say as much about him, because, hey, if you focused on the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder, you would find a lot more men than women… cisfeminists love to talk about the Glass Ceiling, but not so much about the Glass Floor.

They used to, mind you, but that’s another story.

There is one thing about being trans. You can always rely on cissexist people to let you affirm yourself as your assigned sex at any moment, since that’s what they want you to pretend you are. So trans men have the ability to invoke their ‘essential female experience’ or whatever the TERFs are calling it this week, to mack on some of that cisfeminine privilege when they want, especially when it comes to accessing space. They’re still implicitly read as men and get privilege for that, but they get to claim the social prerogatives that are de jure or de facto set aside for women. Trans men are men, and get to claim those rewards when it suits them and get to cry misogyny when it suits them too.

Trans women don’t get this kind of ability, because any privilege that accrues to male people in this society is not legal, it has to be earned and reinforced with action… letting cissexists slot trans women as their assigned sex only removes that sliver of conditional cis approval and cis privilege that trans women get from transitioning in the first place. (Yes, holy fuck, I just blew your minds my fellow transitioned trans women, we are privileged over trans women who have not transitioned, because we get a little occasional conditional cis privilege).

The other thing about being trans is, just like with being gay, you don’t need to be out of the closet to get implicitly read as who you are. We see story after story of trans women relating their junior and high school years as a litany of abuse… meanwhile we tend to find trans men pre-transition as well-respected activists. Pre and non-transitioning trans women get misogyny without damseling. Pre and non-transitioning trans men get cis feminist solidarity and male privilege.

So yeah… if one’s reason for liking trans men is that they know what it’s like to not have male privilege, then you are barking up the wrong tree… what trans men get from transitioning is not male privilege, but conditional cis privilege.

I really need to put together a diagram in GIMP or something… anyway, that was me explaining why trans men aren’t some feminist-approved subvarietal of man, and why the current model of men unidirectionally oppressing women at all times doesn’t work too well. I don’t blame you if you understand none of it. It’s still a rough hypothesis, but one that fits what I’ve seen better than what I currently see trotted out and sold as truth.


*CAMAB – Coercively Assigned Male At Birth. This means people at the hospital looked between yoyur legs and decided on the spot what you were, without the slightest regard for what your brain said you were, privileging urology over neurology in what is pretty obviously a neurological matter.

Jim Doyle
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<span class="dsq-postid" data-dsqidentifier="3014">11 comments</span>

  • First, an important clarification: I do not admit that feminity is privileged and I would hope that is not how my work reads. I admit that CAFABness, being conflated with femininity is privileged. Femininity is, all things being equal, derided and punished. But all things aren’t equal. Cissexism and oppositional sexism expect men to be masculine and women to be feminine, and thus the gains CAFAB folk can make or the punishment they can suffer for being masculine or feminine are blunted in either direction. It’s the double-bind which is always presented as just-so proof that [cis] women are the ones who suffer under sexism.

    I actually had a radfem tell me that if I just acted like a man, I wouldn’t suffer, therefore what happens to me wouldn’t actually be sexism, despite the fact that being closeted nearly killed me.

  • “I actually had a radfem tell me that if I just acted like a man, I wouldn’t suffer, therefore what happens to me wouldn’t actually be sexism, despite the fact that being closeted nearly killed me.”

    Well, you say feminity is less valued, and this might be true to an extent. It’s less valued in terms of leadership, in terms of responsability (having some, being given some), in terms of being tasked with doing stuff, because you’re presumed competent (or you damn well be, as you said, the response to people who don’t measure up on the CAMAB front is: man up, faggot).

    Yet your comment seems to present CAMAB who ARE conforming to the masculine norms as “having it better” than CAFAB who are conforming to the feminine norms. They don’t have it better, they have it differently. Male privilege is being presumed a strong, competent, leader, more than a woman. Female privilege is being presumed worthy of protection, help and sympathy, simply for breathing, more than a man.

    Which one you want depends if you aim for a post as a president, CEO, etc, or if you prefer to have a solid safety net, should you fail in your endeavors, or not aim that high (ie, you want money just enough for you, and goodie: people don’t generally expect to provide for other than yourself either, unless you’re CAMAB). Some people prefer enjoying life than playing in the rat race (I’m one of those.)

    Even had I identified as male, I don’t think I’d see the male set of privilege as better than the female one. Because I value safety and security (and consistence, routine) WAY WAY more than I value risk-taking, and being a leader/rich/famous.

  • Yet your comment seems to present CAMAB who ARE conforming to the masculine norms as “having it better” than CAFAB who are conforming to the feminine norms.

    Yes. That is part of my hypothesis. CAMAB who DON’T conform to cismasculine norms, however, have it WAY WORSE than CAFAB who don’t conform to cisfeminine norms.

  • “Yes. That is part of my hypothesis. CAMAB who DON’T conform to cismasculine norms, however, have it WAY WORSE than CAFAB who don’t conform to cisfeminine norms.”

    This looks like a rather tight formulation of feminine norms, though you are going to knw a lot more about feminine norms than i ever will. But the prermision women have to move outsdie them is so broad and entrenched as to have moved the boundaries of those norms outward – a wider feminity. The fact that femininity is wider thatn masculinity is privelge, it privileges feminity.

  • As I said, Gingko, it’s not that the norms are looser, it’s that there’s two countervailing oppressive forces at work. A more masculine cis woman may face more flack for not conforming to the cisfeminine role, but she will also face less derision for not being feminine… again, can’t win either way… or can’t lose badly either way. Take your pick.

  • “A more masculine cis woman may face more flack for not conforming to the cisfeminine role, but she will also face less derision for not being feminine… again, can’t win either way… or can’t lose badly either way. Take your pick.”

    Back 100+ years ago, a masculine woman would have had horrible treatment for not conforming to the cisfeminine role, very similar to the horrible treatment a feminine man got for not conforming to the cismasculine role.

    Feminism and chivalry (let’s help women!!) has enlarged the feminine role, made allowances for masculinity, pants, work boots, wearing sneakers with skirts etc, short hair, no make-up, no bra, and non-stereotypical looks and occupations to be valued as not non-female.

    Feminism has made no such allowances for the masculine role. Heck, it even got MORE restrained than before in a way (expression mainly), whereas dissension is still as punished as before, everything that became unisex as a result – has made previously-masculine stuff into a non-marker, and the male sex more into the unmarked class than it ever was. The invisible, the default, the boring, the bland, the vanilla.

    The feminine has been defined opposite that, such that just about any interest in arts that isn’t sufficiently masculine (non-glam heavy metal, punk, hardcore, death metal), is judged as feminine, and on a man, effeminate. As such he’s deemed unsuitable as a human, and as a male, and as a mate, simply because he might have an aesthetic sense beyond the very basic. A taste for dancing, singing, skating, painting, etc.

  • Back centuries ago, heels (as a decoration rather than usefulness for marshes and such) were used by aristocratic men. Aristocratic women had floor-length poofing dresses, you should never see their feet or ankle, let alone their shoes. Tights were also invented as a horse-riding garment (later simplified into pants), for men. Women rode horseback in dresses, no tights. As such, both heels and tights were originally masculine garments. And robes and dresses and one-piece swimming suits were unisex stuff. Until a certain age ALL children wore dresses, in certain professions, everyone wore dress-like garments or robes: see priests and judges.

    Back then frilly and decorated stuff wasn’t seen as feminine, it was a marker of class. A way for the rich to show off their fortunes and influence to their other friends, and to the lower people to fawn over them.

    At some point working class, rugged, Wolverine-like (thus, dirty, working with his own hands, no manners) became associated with the masculine, while its opposite, the refined, aristocratic, princess-like (thus never dirty, having people do stuff for you, manners first and foremost) became associated with the feminine.

    It’s no secret which is higher than the others in the order, the working class or the aristocrats. But feminism says the working class are oppressing the aristocrats. And that this call for manners is how they do it, oh and this big wardrobe choice a princess has…is an oppression, because what you wear actually can express something to the people watching you, and they might view it negatively (while men dress so blandly and like the other men that you’d NEVER guess what they want to express by their clothing – it’s just boring and functional – and it makes the men privileged, somehow).

  • @Schala

    Yes, you’re quite right that the treatment of the CAFAB 100 years ago was not so hot… and I did point out in the previous thread that there’s a critical mass at which femmephobia combined with cissexism will produce unidirectional oppression of CAFAB people. I do not buy into Typhon’s earlier model that all sexisms between men and women will always be in a state of balance. I wouldn’t even call where we are a state of balance, but I would say it’s a state in which you would have people choosing both CASABs from behind Rawls’ veil of ignorance.

  • I consider that the 100 years ago sexism was bidirectional, with incredible limitations placed on both sexes.

    Nowadays, there is more freedom on the female side, at least in feminist-influenced countries, while the male problems got all but ignored.

  • “f you rape a kid and get pregnant, you should probably be able to sue that kid for child support…”

    I’m still not sure what is more horrifying, the state forcing a rape victim to give money to the rapist for being raped, or letting a pedophile-rapist raise a child. Seriously who the hell give a rapist of children custody of a child?

  • No matter if some one searches for his required thing, therefore he/she wants to be available that in detail, therefore that thing is maintained over here.

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