Tell me stories about increasing awareness of male privilege...
August 10, 2014 9:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm (23f) seeing someone who is wonderful, except for the fact that he doesn't seem to be aware of his male privilege. A few questions: has anyone stories for me about managing to change this in their own relationships? Ought I to bother to begin with?
posted by city_park to Human Relations (24 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Can you give any examples regarding how this plays out in practical ways in your relationship?
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:51 PM on August 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Walking, in the dark in large, poorly lit cities isn't something I would do alone but I might be more okay with doing so if someone else were around. I asked him to walk me back to my car at the end of the evening but had trouble explaining why that was important to me.
posted by city_park at 9:59 PM on August 10, 2014

Best answer: had trouble explaining why that was important to me.

I think reframing the problem would be helpful here. It shouldn't matter to him why you want him to walk you back to your car at the end of the evening, just that you do, and that it's a trivial thing for him to do, and that him helping you out like that is a basic part of a functional relationship.

You can make this a question about male privilege if you like, but I see it simply as doing something your significant other wants when there's no reason not to. It's part of being in a relationship regardless of the sexes involved.
posted by saeculorum at 10:03 PM on August 10, 2014 [22 favorites]

I have dated a few guys who were feminism-friendly until it started getting a little close to the heart. After some (sometimes long, sometimes heated discussions) they became more amenable and understood certain things intrinsically without me having to argue for my dignity/whatnot. So it can happen.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:32 PM on August 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a dude in his early 30s. When I was 23 I was a moron about male privilege. I'm less of a moron about it now, in part due to the conversations I had with the Red Thoughts consort over the years, and the conversations I've had here.

So, yes, I think it's worth your time trying to explain it to him. These kinds of conversations changed my mind and improved by understanding, at least. It didn't happen overnight. These are complex issues, and can they take time to grok.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:59 PM on August 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

My first bf's attitude towards the male rape of women was too close to victim-blaming. "How can you tell rapists not to rape? You can only ask women to minimize their risks, not go to dangerous places" etc. I got very angry at him over this. He also used to make fun of me for being "too much of a feminist."

Years later, that ex-bf is now a transwoman and reposts anti-sexual assault posters on Facebook, claiming that they blame the victim. And now I'm thinking, "Nah, not really."

Minority experience but, sometimes they become women too. And then they really get it.
posted by Hawk V at 1:04 AM on August 11, 2014 [11 favorites]

If he asked why you wanted walking back, you said you were concerned about assault or harassment, and he still refused, I am afraid your guy is a bit of a jerk. Nothing to do with feminism, he is just a jerk. Even misogynists get this (hence the victim blaming).

As saeculorum says, this should be part of normal relationship behaviour. "Isn't aware of male privilege" =/= "treats me badly", and making you do something that you feel is unsafe is very much treating you badly.
posted by tinkletown at 1:57 AM on August 11, 2014 [14 favorites]

I asked him to walk me back to my car at the end of the evening but had trouble explaining why that was important to me.

What did you say? What did he say?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:16 AM on August 11, 2014

I disagree with the people saying he's just being a jerk. Because he doesn't understand why you want him to do a thing, and it maybe put him on the back foot being asked to do it? Nah, not necessarily.

My last boyfriend was a mature, thoughtful guy, but it took him years to understand male privilege. Years of living with me, a vocal feminist. We had a breakthrough after a few of those years, when I had a particularly rough month of unusually frequent harassment from strangers and complained to him about it. He thought it was a total one-off, but then I mentioned similar things that had happened to my female friends recently, and as it dawned on him how horribly normal it can be, he became distraught at the idea that this is what his female friends and relatives, and in fact any woman, potentially deals with for most of their life.

Anyway, my point is, it took time for him to get there. It's taken time for me to update my approach to trans people too, which I am glad to be on the right track with now. Just because people don't understand, it isn't worth trying to help them to. Give it time and patience and you might make a better man of him, and one day he'll thank you for it.
posted by greenish at 2:28 AM on August 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

If it bothers you, it's worth bring up.

I remember being in my 20s and the girlfriend at the time was angry about being the one who paid solely for her birth control pills. I simply hadn't thought it was unfair, figuring if we were using condoms, I'd solely pay for those with no question.

This anger remained bottled up until it exploded one day in the supermarket, where at least at first the issue became getting yelled at and not how she was bothered by something, which could easily be solved,

So yes, bring up anything that's bothering you in a relationship. Because one way or another, it's going to come out and you should push for it to come out in a way that won't bury the issue. Generally, it's good for anyone to work on their communication skills and learn how to bring stuff up in a non-combative manner.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:03 AM on August 11, 2014

Somebody asked you for an example of how your boyfriend doesn't understand his male privilege and you instead gave an example of how you couldn't explain yourself. Your example here isn't clear. Did he refuse to walk you to your car because you couldn't adequately explain yourself? Because if so, THAT'S the problem to solve. If that conversation didn't go well, then neither will "You're a man and you should feel the same way as I do about that."
posted by emelenjr at 4:32 AM on August 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

The privilege discussion is a difficult one, often because people misunderstand what it means. Having privilege does not mean that your life is always easy or that your problems don't matter. But it does mean you probably have some blind spots, and that you probably take for granted things that are actually serious problems for people who are not the same (gender, sexuality, race, etc) as you.

For me, two things stand out in terms of becoming aware of male privilege.

1. Realizing that the majority of my female friends had been assaulted. Not just a few, not just "isolated incidents," but the majority. It's a danger I have never personally worried about.

2. I read that men are more likely to interrupt women, and for some reason it stuck in my mind and I started paying attention, and realized that not only was it true, but that I was guilty of it as well. And even being aware of it, it was still terribly difficult to change, because of the way both men and women are socialized. If I am speaking with a man, and give an indication that I have something to add, he will generally finish and then yield the conversation to me. If I am speaking with a woman and do the same thing, she will generally pause to let me interject.
posted by Nothing at 4:38 AM on August 11, 2014 [11 favorites]

My husband doesn't fully appreciate that a woman's reality is very different than a man's in terms of safety and harassment and societal pressures. I actually recently asked an askmefi question relating to this.

However, my husband doesn't need to understand about male privilege to know what to do when I say "Can you walk me to my car? It is dark and I feel unsafe.". He hears that and then walks me to my car. I don't need to convince him of WHY. He just knows that it is important to me and he doesn't want me, the woman he loves, to be in situations that makes her feel unsafe.

Do you have other examples of your boyfriend "not being aware of male privilege"? Because the example you gave strikes me more as just your boyfriend being a bit thoughtless and/or stunned.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:03 AM on August 11, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Walking, in the dark in large, poorly lit cities isn't something I would do alone but I might be more okay with doing so if someone else were around. I asked him to walk me back to my car at the end of the evening but had trouble explaining why that was important to me.

I think maybe I see what's going on here. If I'm right, it's not so much that you couldn't explain why it was important to you, but that you had to explain the why in the first place. I've been there. Walking our city late one night, my (now-ex) boyfriend wanted to check out an abandoned building we had both expressed an interest in and started walking across the back of an unlit, weedy parking lot that was completely out of view from the main road. I told him I'd rather just keep going home, and that we could come back during the day tomorrow if it was that important to him.

He didn't understand why I felt uncomfortable and I didn't understand how he could not understand why I felt uncomfortable. I was completely confounded, like had he never heard of rape or assault or kidnapping or any other multitude of things that happen exponentially more to women than men? That if I had gone back there and something had happened that my assault would very likely be seen as my own fault for simply existing in that place at that time? How could he not know those things?

Although I wanted to explain to him that my experience as a woman screams, "don't go into the unlit alley at night, ever," I was so flabbergasted that I couldn't explain any of that to him, only that I didn't want to go back there. Ultimately I realized, and I hope that you realize this too, that no matter what it is, saying you feel unsafe doing something means he should be doing or not doing whatever it is he can to make you comfortable and ensure your safety, even if it's only your perceived safety. That's how caring for someone works. It didn't matter why I didn't want to go back there, only that I didn't. The same thing applies here. It doesn't matter why you felt unsafe walking alone at night, only that you did. He doesn't need to know the why, just that it exists, and that it is making someone he cares about uncomfortable and that he can negate that discomfort.

It seems like privilege plays a role here, but it's a small underlying role that detracts from the real issue here (and I'm basing this on the one example you've given) - but it's thoughtlessness. He just sounds like an thoughtless, inconsiderate guy. Male privilege is basically just one facet of him being a jerk. I've found it's easier to overcome the former than the latter, but the best case scenario is still that you end up with a jackass who happens to be aware of his privilege.
posted by sephira at 7:09 AM on August 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Here is a rant that I thought hit pretty close to home for me.

I had a conversation with my bf a while back about guys who only hit on me because i'm asian, and he didn't believe me and said that he'd never heard of that before and thought i was overreacting. The next day I sent him this essay, mostly because I thought it was written well and not as part of the argument. I guess something clicked after reading this because he called me and apologized that day.
posted by monologish at 7:14 AM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think it's worthwhile to talk about it, and to keep the dialogue ongoing. It could take an example, or a 2nd (or 3rd) person to reinforce an idea, but you can't really know what you don't know.

For example: I spent a couple of days trying to explain the #yesallwomen thing to my boyfriend. He was kinda like "sure, I'll take your word for it, okay." Then a stranger approached me during a late-night grocery run, and bf was almost as shaken as I was--and then he got it. But I hope it won't take an event to make your boyfriend see the difference in reality between female life and male privilege. Just be patient and point it out where you see it. He could catch on.
posted by magdalemon at 7:30 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dude, here, late 30s. A sensitive, empathetic dude, too! But for me, coming to a nuanced understanding of my relative privilege has been -- and continues to be -- a slow process. While all of my girlfriends have been strong, independent women, my current SO is the first person I've been with who had "Feminist" as part of her identity.

This has definitely caused some tension, related more to a feeling of "Why can't you understand my concern," rather than "I think you're a sexist jerk." And I've found myself examining my man-assumptions more frequently and deeply. I doubt a Big Discussion is really going to resolve this for you guys, but reframing and teachable moments might. Send him links from your favorite Feminist blogs and see how he "reads" them. Push back on his statements, but from a place of trusting that he's a decent guy. Be patient/open to his occasional critique or pointed question. You are teaching him, not training him. In my particular situation, I've become less defensive about blanket criticisms of Men-As-Monolith (I've mostly abandoned a "not me!" reaction), while SO has become more aware of the pageview/outrage farming aspect of some modern internet feminist writing.

But yeah, the "walk home" thing was the first big mismatch for us, too. No previous girlfriend had been so insistent on it (it was actually usually me who offered, and was turned down), and -- damnit -- our neighborhood is safe as houses. Discussing it thoughtfully brought the issue into greater clarity for both of us; I had to examine why I felt safe in my neighborhood, and she had to examine a certain basic worrying aspect of her personality. The bulk of the learning/self-assessment was on my end, but it was mutual, and that's the vibe I'd encourage you to foster as you talk to your dude.
posted by credible hulk at 8:55 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

The way I see it you've got a couple of possibilities here:

1.) You try explaining male privilege and he's a jerk who won't listen to or respect your experience and wisdom on this topic. I'm hoping that's not what you meant by "had trouble explaining why it was important to me"; that could be read as, "I felt the need to justify my request," which is understandable, or, "He asked me to justify my request," which is kind of less okay, especially on a date in the early days of a relationship. Either way, if he's not gonna respect and understand this stuff, there's an easy solution-- he's gotta go.

2.) He self-educates on male privilege after a few times of you mentioning it. This is of course the ideal, but I've only ever seen it happen once, and this was after years and years of effort by other women and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time as it all clicked for him.

3.) He tries his dang best but he doesn't really get it all THAT well and you have to keep educating him over and over. This is by far the most likely scenario and not a slur on him. I do think this stuff is probably pretty hard to understand organically, unless you've lived it. At this point, he is not doing anything that is a "fireable offense", so to speak. He's being kind and understanding and great when you say something, but is still pretty much blind to everything you don't specifically point out to him.

In that case, you have to make a decision. Is this person worth the sometimes emotionally fraught and painful experience (even if he's being great, sometimes it's really hard to have to explain this stuff to YET ANOTHER PERSON) of explaining male privilege and the role it plays in your life to? Do you have the extra oomph to take those tasks on? Because it shouldn't have to be your job to educate, but it will end up being so.

It's okay if you decide he isn't worth it, that you don't have the extra "push" to spend on him. It's okay if you decide he is worth it, and that you're happy to help enlighten someone.
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:55 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

The links and discussion in this recent FPP over on the blue might be helpful. I thought this comic especially was a useful response to "I know sexual harrassment happens, but I never see it."

If the boy is a gamer nerd John Scalzi's widely shared post about straight white male being analogous to "easy mode" for the game of life might help him see things in a new light.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:11 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had this problem with my former boyfriend, now husband. It has taken years of sometimes patient discussion, sometimes furious arguments, to make him understand how a woman's daily experience is fundamentally different from a man's. But he's come around and he self-identifies as feminist now. It started with things like explaining why naked women in movies is problematic, when he initially didn't understand why that would be an issue and even defended at first.

So I think it depends how much patience and persistence you have, but even some amount of discussion now could influence his thinking later on in his life. It is unfortunately a long, slow haul, just because it can be hard to pay attention to things that you have literally never needed to notice your entire life.
posted by Librarypt at 11:30 AM on August 11, 2014

Best answer: My male BFF is in his early 30s, and it has only been in the last year, after a lot of uncomfortable conversations with examples from my own daily lived experience and those of other friends, that he has gradually become aware of just how pervasive and oppressive harassment and violence are in the lives of most women, including many he knows personally. It was a shocking revelation to him that so many women he knows as strong and sassy and capable have to deal with fear, vulnerability, and the spectre of powerlessness on a regular basis. He is a smart and (under his cynical, sometimes deliberately obnoxious shell) sensitive guy, who has what is probably a higher-than-average number of women among his close friends, and yet he had no idea.

He has stopped making even jokey, "devil's advocate" arguments in the WATM vein, and is much more understanding of the kinds of challenges women face that he never has to think about. I think there's still some room for improvement, but the change has been notable.

So I agree with those who say that if this guy is worth your time, it is worth making the effort to open a dialogue on these issues. Just don't expect him to magically transform overnight. However, what should change immediately is his willingness to do what you say you need from him to feel safe.
posted by Superplin at 12:36 PM on August 11, 2014

I am guessing he's one of those guys into whom it has been hammered repeatedly that men suck, men are perpetrators of crime against women and that women should be given more importance, respect and freedom than men need. Maybe he had a girl friend or two before who dumped him because he was trying to be "manly" a.k.a exercise his male privileges.

Anyway, with all the media these days, I must admit I am a little surprised to still find women who want to be walked to their cars.

That said, I am sure if you actually patiently sit with him and explain a couple of times, he will definitely understand. My guess is he is just a little shy against using his male privileges because the media today suggests that men do not do that.
posted by harisund at 6:07 PM on August 11, 2014

I haven't had the time to read all the above posts in detail but some of them look great. This answer is from my own experience.

I once had a girlfriend who'd experienced traumatic gender-based violence. Such experiences are of course far more common than many people realise, especially men. It wasn't until I knew a survivor of this sort of stuff very intimately that I understood its scale and consequences. The fact that it's not widely talked about can mean that unless men take an active interest in reading or learning about it won't just tumble accidentally into our brains.

I would periodically forward links to websites you think explain it well, show him, and also just talk about it lots. Explain why it's so important. If he's worth his salt he'll get on board. Feminism is just such an obvious position to hold, but it's often not communicated well enough. It means a lot to me now and I can't really believe I never thought about much it before.

I should add that if he doesn't get on board, at least with the most fundamental principles, please give him the old heave-ho.
posted by fishingforthewhale at 4:52 AM on August 12, 2014

I asked him to walk me back to my car at the end of the evening but had trouble explaining why that was important to me.

I don't understand; did he act like your request was silly? Did he refuse? Did he somehow make you feel the need to explain?
posted by spaltavian at 9:01 AM on August 12, 2014

« Older Landlord staying at my place while I'm gone -...   |   Laid off for not fitting in. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.