Our male privilege is revealed by the things we DON’T think about

I work with a great team at the Tinsley Institute, one of whom is the redoubtable Dr Karina Kreminski. I’ve known Karina for decades now and have worked alongside her for nearly five years. She’s formidable – highly skilled, an excellent communicator, a great researcher and writer, a deeply committed urban missionary.

The other day she posted this quote on social media from the Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche from her book, Dear Ijeawele:

“We have a world full of women who are unable to exhale fully because they have for so long been conditioned to fold themselves into shapes to make themselves likeable.”

 

A world full of women.

So all women feel this way?

I was surprised. Not Karina, surely. She always gives me the impression of ease and confidence, not of one folding herself into shapes to impress others.

So I commented on her post, asking whether she felt that way. Her reply was curt: “Of course!”

Another woman chimed in, “Of course! There’s no woman who doesn’t feel that way.”

And women kept commenting:

“This is how we live.”

“All women have felt that way.”

“So poignant and so true. Brought tears to my eyes just reading it this morning.”

Then one of my friends, a female Mennonite pastor from Pennsylvania, shared this:

“Yes. Always self evaluating, self editing, trying to guess how the men in the room will react to what I am communicating and how I am communicating it. Being sure not to come off too pushy too direct, too emotional, too ambitious, too complaining…. it’s exhausting….”

What the heck!

Why is this news to me? How did I not know this is how many women feel?

And then I got thinking about whether I ever felt that way.

Of course I care what other people think. I’m not insensitive to whether people find me likeable or not. And, yes, there are times when I’m especially aware of wanting to make a good impression.

But being conditioned to twisting myself into shapes to appear likeable? No.

Always self-evaluating, self-editing? No.

Being exhausted by continually asking myself if I’m coming off as too pushy, too ambitious, too emotional, etc? No.

Largely, I don’t care that much what others think, and that’s not because I’m an insensitive brute. It’s because I’m a man.

Shortly below Karina’s social media post I saw someone else had posted a link to a video titled, “Jordan Peterson Destroys the Myth of Male Privilege and the Patriarchy.” I watched it. Peterson thinks there’s no such thing as male privilege because men make up most of the prison population and the homeless population; most of the people who die in combat and by suicide are men; male students do worse than female students, etc.

The fundamental basis of the structure of society, according to Peterson, is not male power, it’s competence.

And yet here are all these competent, successful women, commenting on Karina’s post, saying they live every day with the exhaustion of second-guessing their responses based on their assumptions about how the men in the room will react.

Competent, successful men don’t check themselves like that, by and large. And the fact that we don’t is an expression of male privilege. We are in the privileged position of not having to continually self-evaluate.

 

Learning to check our male privilege isn’t easy. Acknowledging this difference — to yourself and to others — is a good first step. But there are no simple steps or magic bullets. It’s just hard work.

As New York Times columnist Charles Blow writes,

“We have to stop, listen and receive other people’s experiences, validate those experiences and honor the feeling with which they are expressed. And we have to center the speaker and not the listener, center the person who lacks the privilege and not the one who possesses it.”

 

 

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The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

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14 thoughts on “Our male privilege is revealed by the things we DON’T think about

  1. This always makes me firstly feel ashamed, then sad, and the angry at how men have systematically and consistently oppressed female agency and dignity. I am horrified! I am so sorry dear sisters. Help us change.

    1. You’re a consistent and outspoken ally, brother. I just wish those men who aren’t sensitive to this issue could join us.

    2. Your heart and perspective on this has been salve to my soul, Alan. Both you and Micheal have been a source of healing in this area for me. Thank you. Truly.

  2. Man, I guess I am not the man you are 🙂

    But being conditioned to twisting myself into shapes to appear likable? YES

    Always self-evaluating, self-editing? YES

    Being exhausted by continually asking myself if I’m coming off as too pushy, too ambitious, too emotional, etc? YES.

    1. Maybe I am an insensitive brute, after all.

  3. Here, let me mansplain this to you…

    My wife has taught me so much about this. What I have repeatedly mistaken for bold, aggressive leadership skills (aka, the bull in the china closet) she has helped clarify is more like insensitive, arrogant stupidity (not that she often has to get down to those terms to open my eyes!)

    Thank you for once again provoking the conversation, self-introspection, and recognition of our need for humility.

    At our church (an inner city extremely diverse congregation in the Brethren in Christ Church), we’ve had a weekly study of the book, “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness” by Austin Channing Brown to help work on understanding what it is to be black in America. It’s been pretty hard to hear all that white people just don’t get. Lots of weeping and hugging and praying.

    And now you raise the perspective of women as well and I just think about just how little I know.

    Can’t wait to get a chance talk in May at Sentralized…

    1. Than you for your sensitivity, brother. Looking forward to visiting Ohio. See you then.

  4. It’s great to hear these voices, but I certainly have always assumed this is how most *people* experience life. Maybe my circle have been exposed to a higher degree of domineering bosses/“leaders” (who for me were mostly men), but myself and most men I know have been in this situation. It is quite likely that male colleagues have felt it less than the female voices we are hearing now (and above), but I have always seen it as a human problem at it’s core.

    No matter the percentage split, loss of dignity through loss of voice is destructive and diminishes courage in the very people we need to be free to fulfill their calling.

    1. Read Grayson Perry The Descent of Man – it is all about white male privilege or default man as he calls him. Obvious to women but seemingly less obvious to men…

  5. To both Mike and the Commentors, Do you think there is a connection between Man’s privilege and man’s long history to sports and the culture of being your best and what coaches teach kids from Pre-school thru college? My opinion is that there is a strong connection and I think that means we have a competitive sports problem with men. But nobody wants to talk about it. Competitive men run women over knowingly and unknowingly.

    1. Not sure. I haven’t read any research about that. Male privilege runs deeper and broader than simply the idea of doing your best and being competitive. It refers to an examination of the social, economic, and political advantages or rights that are available to men solely on the basis of their sex. A man’s access to these benefits may vary depending on how closely they match their society’s ideal masculine norm, which has some bearing on the teaching/coaching they receive about being the best. That said, women’s sports do the same thing, don’t they?

      1. No question that women are learning to do that now. But men have at least 100 or so year head start in the modern era. I was addressing the culture of competitive men and the idea that a young man’s sport filled life comes to a skreeching halt at end of high school or college. But competitive men can’t turn that off and move on. They find that their job is the new sports field and the they play that field for all their worth. They achieve, they make it happen, they play the hardest and sacrifice the most by far ( relationships, hard calls, marriages, children) because they are determined beyond all comfort levels. To win. They run all others over, and they look for others like themselves to surround themselves with —- which the great majority of the time is men not women. That, I believe leads to the lopsided privledge we see today and it’s been left unchecked to multiply for 100-200 years. I don’t think honk it’s the only reason, but Ive become very suspect at the value of sports on boys and young men. I played football, basketball and track & field. I excelled in all three. But starting my own business at 18 and forgoing college for 8 years I began to see patterns and it bothered me. That was 37 years ago. I see it much better and it doesn’t hide itself so smartly as it use to. Just my experience here. It’s nothing I’ve read anywhere.

  6. Mike,

    Great post as always! Privilege is an insidious thing…

    Interesting anecdote; my wife & I were in Paris a week ago and stopped in to have lunch at the Grand Mosque on the LEft Bank… in the front garden is a great little restaurant with beautiful tagines and sweet mint tea if you’re ever there.
    One thing we both noticed though was that every woman working in the place was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with “The Future is Female” … that’s not the message you get if you read the typical western media… maybe progressive Islam is ahead of us on this? Or maybe it was just that little enclave in Paris?

    Either way, I pray that I can help my daughters to grow up knowing that they never need to fold themselves into any shape to suit anyone but Jesus. My guess is that, being a man, my wife will need to help me significantly with this!

    Thanks for making us think.

  7. I did appreciate this very much! I remember when I first started our church, I pastored back in 1988 In a prayer meeting and one of the women asked me “why I always called on men to pray” I told her I did not know; and asked her to pray. I realized the culture I grew up in modeled this to me and never really thought about it. When we formed the leadership team, we decided way back in 1988 that the leadership team would consist of couples. We never in the over 25 years of that church ever had a leadership meeting where women were not present and valued in those meetings.

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