Blinding Privilege

Long ago, at the very start of this site, I posted about a question Nialla had raised on a forum: was a male poster right when he said women who criticized female characters for representing us poorly were just jealous of them? Since then, I’ve noted that women who complain about female characters also stand accused of taking shows too seriously, of being judgmental, of jumping to conclusions.

If you’re a young white straight man, you’ve grown up seeing People Like You disproportionately well-represented in positions of governmental and business power – only you don’t think of it as disproportionate, because no one ever points that out. You’ve seen thousands of People Like You written as solid, well-drawn characters on TV, and when you run across a badly written Character Like You, you have dozens of others to watch instead. Just sit back and take your pick.

My reality’s a little different. Very few People Like Me hold public office, even though we outnumber you guys. Very few People Like Me hold powerful positions in business. No one ever points out how disproportionate it is. It’s just the status quo. In 30+ years, I’ve seen a handful of well-drawn Characters Like Me, and the rest are so inonsistent or fantastic, I can’t recognize them in even the poorest real-life examples of my demographic. When I find yet another craptastic woman character, I’m damned unlikely to have any better options.

This is what the target audience wants me to ignore. It’s the usual privilege argument: “The system works great for me; why are you complaining?” And we’re not talking about unfair toy sharing practices. We’re talking thousands of years of denied education; denied rights to vote, hold office, work for a living (instead of marrying or prostituting for one); of legalized spousal rape and battery; of the right to be judged by talent and achievement instead of gender.

It should come as no surprise the target audience is mostly satisfied with how women are characterized in the film media. The media is, after all, customized to their desires. The assumption that complaining women (and non-white men, and gays, etc.) are just Negative Nellies to be dismissed with an eyeroll is also, sadly, no surprise. Some of us live on a planet where the only thing keeping us from extreme power and wealth is competition: the rest of us know if we just manage to get into the competition, it will be history in the making.


  1. Graculus says

    It’s merely an opening gambit that’s used to support the Myth of Male Rationality, which is a paradigm that goes like this:

    Men are rational, critical (which is good), detached and thoughtful.

    Women are irrational, judgemental (which is bad), over-involved and emotional.

    The problem with how women characters are written in the media is that they’re not written as characters – they’re two-dimensional representations of whatever plot device the writer needs this week. They don’t happen to be characters who are also women, which is what well-written male characters are (and they’re not exactly overwhelmingly represented on television nowadays either).

    And if you don’t see yourself up on that screen, you probably ought to be grateful that you’re not quite that two-dimensional… 😉

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    That’s a very good point, and another example of how privilege creates double-standards: we are all taught to presume rationality in men’s arguments, and presume irrationality in women’s. Therefore, men start out with credibility and can only topple themselves, while women start out having to battle doubt before our words are even heard.

  3. SunlessNick says

    I have seen it the other way round – but only once. (I was told that sexual jealousy was the only reason I disliked the character Spike on Buffy).

  4. notintheface says

    While I am not denying the existence of male privilege (although female privilege is prevalent as well), the one “privilege” that many feminist bloggers constantly overrate is “being disproportionately represented in positions of power in business and government by People Like Us”. While this disporportionate representation may greatly benefit those men in positions of power, this benefit doesn’t generally extend to us average middle class men. These men are generally seen as cannon fodder by the men on top; they’d throw us to the lions at the first opportunity, especially now in the current administration.

    An example of this is found in the treatment of another predominantly male group: veterans. Over the last few years politicians have given lip service to valuing the contributions of our war vets, only to turn around and vote to reduce their already meager benefits. My uncle currently resides in a veterans’ hospital, and his monthly medical bill recently TRIPLED as a result of yet another benefit cut.

    As I see it, the difference in representation amounts to the difference between saying “I’m getting ripped off!” and saying “I’m being ripped off by People Like Me!” Not much of a privilege there.

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    While this disporportionate representation may greatly benefit those men in positions of power, this benefit doesn’t generally extend to us average middle class men. These men are generally seen as cannon fodder by the men on top; they’d throw us to the lions at the first opportunity, especially now in the current administration.

    And what about men of color, poor men and mentally deficient men? I suppose they’re sipping tea in the officer’s tent while Whitey’s getting tossed on the live grenades?

    Oh, wait… nope. I got it backwards, according to the annals of history. 😉

    Even in your own argument, a Congress full of white men is shown to be serving you relatively well, and you show yourself to be blind to it.

    Just to be clear to you or anyone reading this, I have the utmost appreciation for the military and those who serve in it, even when I disagree with the ends to which politicians put our forces. I regard it as a great misfortune that women are still prevented from serving in every capacity that’s open to men, and that many people would still prefer to deny gays the right to serve their country at all.

  6. notintheface says

    Beta, you missed my point completely.

    My point was that although the rich and powerful men in society (like, say, heads of American government and corporations) reap the benefits of having predominantly male representation in those positions, those males in the middle class or lower generally don’t.

    I’m partially at fault because I should have written “us men who are middle class or lower” instead of “us average middle class men”. Clearly, it didn’t convey the intended message.

    However, assuming I meant that men of color, poor men, and mentally deficient men were enjoying special perks like “sipping tea in the officers’ tents while Whitey’s getting tossed on the live grenades” is a big reach that would make Ralph Dibny and Mr. Fantastic green with envy.

    Also, how does my saying “I’m getting ripped off” translate into Congress serving me relatively well and me being blind to it? That was the OPPOSITE of my argument.

  7. notintheface says

    Also, Beta, I completely agree with your own last paragraph. Although emotionally I wouldn’t want more women risking harm, I fully support their right to. As for gays, don’t get me started on how stupid our current rules are. They are releasing Middle Eastern translators due to their sexual preference, at a time when we have DIRE NEED of Middle Eastern translators.

    BTW, I was never questioning your respect for our nation’s vets, only our current government’s. I was only using the vets to demonstrate that being a predomintly male bastion doesn’t protect you from being screwed over on a regular basis.

    In other words, those in power are pitting both ends against the middle, while they’re doing us in the rear.

  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    I didn’t miss your point. Unfortunately, I should’ve cut the conversation short to begin with, and I am cutting it off now, for this reason:

    The fact that men are oppressed too is irrelevant to a feminist blog. No one’s denying your oppression by not mentioning it, as you implied in your opening comment. Several of us have posted repeatedly about how gender bias damages men and men’s opportunities as well as women’s. How the powers that be like to play men and women against each other.

    This is a media site, not a political site. My point about Congressional representation referred strictly to how it’s one more arena in which young girls can see themselves missing, and internalize the idea that they face an uphill battle if they want to serve their country by becoming an elected representative.

    I thank you in advance for discontinuing the discussion at this point. :)


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