Typically, we hear about male privilege – and especially white male privilege – in the context of how it hurts everyone else. Today, I want to point out that – whilst we don’t have to like it – that male privilege can also be used to help women.
A few days ago, I shared this article on social media: What’s rape anxiety? This woman explained it to her favorite men, and they were shocked. In the article, the author shares some things she believes women would want the men in their lives to understand when they hear the women in their lives talking about harassment and violence.
I am fortunate in that the men in my life not only listen to me when I speak about my experiences with harassment and violence and how it impacts women on a daily basis, but they’ve also come around to advocating right alongside me.
And, when they have questions about something I share, they ask.
After reading the article, one of my best friends, T, had a question about microaggression. The third tip that the author offered up was:
I need you to use your privilege as a shield.
Guys, it’s exhausting to have to do all of this work ourselves. We really want your help.
The perpetrators of gendered microaggressions, sexual harassment, and sexual violence aren’t strangers — they’re the men in your classes, your workplace, your gym. So if you see something, please say something.
If a coworker makes an inappropriate comment to you about another coworker’s body, please tell them it’s not OK.
If you see a dude harassing a female friend at a party or a bar, please tactfully interject yourself into the situation to give her an out.
And, for the love of all that is holy, PLEASE teach your sons, brothers, and friends to do the same.
We were sitting in a pub, so I used an all too familiar example and explained that a man coming up to me and saying something that makes me feel uncomfortable (or worse) is, of course, bad and people would easily understand how I might feel threatened or otherwise unsafe.
However, what people don’t give a lot of thought to is that if there was a table of men talking about a bunch of “hot chicks” and what they wanted to do to them (because it’s always doing to, never with), that behaviour would make me question my safety, whether those men were talking about me and my friends or not.
Male allies can do a lot to help in these situations. They can use their male privilege to tell other men to knock it off with that kind of talk/behaviour. They can call out their friends, teammates, colleagues, and complete strangers when they hear or see that kind of behaviour. They can intervene when they see or hear a woman being harassed in the street, at the gym, or in a bar. Often, all it takes is making one’s presence known. True, their masculinity might be called into question for doing so, but it is unlikely that their actual physical safety will be in jeopardy.
So, men who love us and believe that women deserve to be able to travel through their various spaces and feel safe, please use your privilege to help us.