“Female Privilege”

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Just saw an article on Facebook about “Female Privilege” by Mark Saunders. The article is quite wrong-headed, as several other essays included point out, so maybe I’m overdoing it in reacting also.

The first “privilege” he lists is being able to walk down the street at night without people automatically crossing the street because they’re afraid of you. This one is pretty obviously inside-out: WOMEN are usually the ones crossing the street, and for a very practical reason. If they’re alone they risk getting assaulted. That happens to an AWFUL lot of women. One week last year I learned that three women I had known for a reasonably long time (but not extremely well) had been raped. It’s happened to altogether too many of my friends.

I’ve often noticed, when walking on a sidewalk or in a store, that when I look women in the face they usually smile, but it often doesn’t seem to be a very sincere smile. Since I’m a stranger, they have no particular reason to smile at me, except that they don’t want to make me mad. Experience has taught them that getting men mad at them can have bad results.

Almost 35 years ago I was staying at my sister’s in Cincinnati, and had gone outside for something. As I was walking down the sidewalk back towards the house, my mother called something out to me from a window, and I called back. A young woman was coming up the sidewalk towards me. I don’t know what she thought was going on, but she turned and started running as hard as she could. I had an impulse to run after her and tell her not to be afraid, but realized that would only scare her more. That’s a memory that has stuck with me, and I think it speaks to how frightened many women are, and even find it necessary to be. If Mark Saunders finds women avoiding him, there’s probably an unsavory reason for it.

He adds another privilege: the ability to ask someone out without being labeled “creepy”, which probably speaks to the vibe he gives off. As another writer commented, a lot of dating and marriage is constantly going on, so not everybody has that problem.

And that women claim to have been raped when they’ve been drunk. No doubt there are false claims of rape, but the consensus seems to be that such claims are more often true, and they’re often disbelieved by the authorities, many of whom blame rape on the way women dress or behave. That speaks to the sexual power women have over men (not always desired), but also to the inability of a lot of women to physically protect themselves. Men are often physically bigger and usually stronger. I once took a class in how to immobilize someone who might be attacking you. The instructor said that the techniques being taught were good, but didn’t repeal the laws of physics. In other words, if a man wants to assault a woman, he’s usually physically able to do it.

The same thing applies to the rule to save women and children first in a dangerous situation. As another writer comments, this is less true than it once was, since there are many nurses and doctors who are quite competent to save others, and adds that the rule often got broken anyway.

Another is that it will be taken as a gravely serious issue if a woman gets raped. It OUGHT to be, but that’s by no means a foregone conclusion–see the “she asked for it” defense. That men and boys also get raped (possibly less, though it’s difficult to know) is no less serious, but I’ll admit to finding it amusing when I read about Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt. A contingent of soldiers was sent out on patrol, and were set upon by native warriors, subdued, and then raped. Horrible things happen in war, but I doubt the French soldiers had expected THAT. Of course I would be less amused if I were the victim.

“Female privilege is being able to choose not to have a child.” Not true for a lot of women, who have no access to birth control, and whose significant other refuses to use it.

“Female privilege is not having to support a child for 18 years when you didn’t want to have it in the first place.” What world is HE living in? There are an awful lot of single mothers, and I suspect a lot of them would prefer not to be single, but have little choice about it. I think it’s true that some girls think having a child will make them grown up, with little idea of the responsibilities having children means, but I think there are plenty who find their lives interrupted by pregnancy at very inconvenient moments, which are likely to last at least 18 years. This can be the result of simple naivete, but also of rape.

Another “privilege” is the ability to divorce when the marriage is no longer working, knowing that you’ll probably get custody of your children. I think courts are more inclined to give mothers custody than fathers, and one of the reasons, I suspect, is that fathers often don’t want custody, other than to get back at their exes. And, depending on the settlement, it may not be such a privilege to have to support children by yourself, since many men successfully avoid paying child support.

Another is not having to take a career seriously because a woman can always marry a man making more than she does. Nice theory, but less true in the current economy. Being a stay-at-home- mom IS more of a privilege under current conditions when many women don’t have that option. And considering the difficulties of raising children, it’s a shame that many women can’t stay home. One writer suggested that it would be nice if there weren’t a stigma to being a stay-at-home dad.

Another “privilege” is having an opinion without being told you’re stupid. A friend tells me she frequently has people attack her for being a woman when they can’t answer her arguments. I can’t claim to experience that often, if at all.

Another is preference by elementary and middle school teachers. Maybe, and there are certainly concerns being voiced about what happens to boys in school. But boys still generally have the advantage of physical size and strength, though I’m uncertain how much that helps in the context of school. Saunders claims that women are more supported all through the educational process. If so, that’s a relatively recent phenomenon, opposed to the once and maybe still common idea of keeping women barefoot and pregnant.

And lastly, that women are able to talk about sexism without seeming arrogant, and to say that it applies only to men. Women are certainly more vulnerable to sexism than men, but I think intelligent women, at least, see the phenomenon as more than one-sided, and deplore the effect it has on men as well as women.

Women are probably seen as sex objects more often than men (though that’s not exclusive–consider the sex lives of famous men, especially successful actors and musicians), and having to live as a powerful archetype certainly must be a challenge for many.

I doubt that many men really understand what being a woman is like: not only having to deal with laws and customs making them second-class citizens, but with a very different anatomy. The social position of women is a lot worse in many other countries, but is still bad enough here, particularly for poor and minority women (often the same category).

The female reproductive system is much more complicated than male sexual organs, and while some women seem able to give birth with little difficulty, that seems not to be the case for many, maybe most. Pregnancy can be very dangerous for a woman, as can giving birth. She’s much more vulnerable to many things, especially in advanced pregnancy. And while some women give birth relatively easily, there’s always the possibility that something major can go wrong, and that baby, mother, or both can be lost. The period after pregnancy can be dangerous too. The woman is likely to be worn out physically, and sometimes emotionally too. That’s when post-partum depression can hit, which probably most recover from, but some do not. In some ways it’s amazing the human race manages to reproduce so quickly, considering all the potential problems of pregnancy and birth.

Female human bodies seem to me a good example of what one scientist said is evolution finding a form that works well enough, but not truly elegantly. I wouldn’t know how to do it, but the menstrual cycle seems like something that could have been better designed, for instance. Not only is it often painful, but makes women’s emotions more volatile than usual, and the blood lost each month makes women generally more anemic than men, which is disadvantageous. Menopause is another disadvantage, stereotypically making women moody, emotional, and predisposing them to osteoporosis more often than men. Women’s shorter urinary tract also predisposes them to urinary tract infections more frequently.

I notice women friends whom I admire often seem to me not to have the self-confidence I think they deserve. These are often not rich women, but women who don’t have particularly easy lives, and manage to find a way to handle them admirably, in my opinion.

I think it’s safe to generalize that many men, if not most, both fear and resent women. It’s not totally one-sided, but it certainly seems that men usually want sex more often than women, and resent getting refused. Although it may not be totally one-sided, some men want to own women, and totally control them. I think this speaks to masculine insecurity, and insecure men sometimes do pretty horrible things. It’s not that women are innately more moral than men, but have generally less power in the social and physical realms. Certainly women can behave badly and get away with it, but so can men, and arguably, more often.

Camille Paglia, author of Sexual Personae, noted that women do have sexual power–what men want–and many are not particularly reticent about using it. That’s a part of the conflict between the genders, perhaps explaining the “she asked for it” defense of rape, but I think few would disagree that there can never be a real excuse for rape. Manipulation, sexual or other, can be very effective, but physical violence can trump it.

Mark Saunders’ essay makes it pretty clear that he fears and resents women. Not all men are considered “creepy” by women, are unable to get dates, or are mocked because of their gender, looks or behavior. It seems, though, that women meet that kind of mockery fairly often, when some men think they’re being “uppity”. What does “uppity” mean? That they’re claiming rights they don’t, or shouldn’t have. As many have noted, discrimination against women is analogous to discrimination against races or ethnicities. Someone thinks they can be superior by putting others down. A very human trait, but not an admirable one.

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One thought on ““Female Privilege”

  1. I enjoyed reading this post and I am amazed by your compassionate perspective regarding women but mostly, the depth of your understanding of women. I absolutely agree with what you have said here. Thanks for sharing this!

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