This, submitted by The Other Anne, surprised me because it actually comes from one of our other regular commenters. That makes things a little awkward, but it’s a big case of fail that needs to be discussed. Clarissa of Clarissa’s Box says male privilege doesn’t exist:
As a woman, I am routinely underpaid and discriminated in the workplace. In this country, women in all professions are paid less than men for performing the same work. This is disgusting, unfair, and wrong. When you experience it yourself, as I did, it is also very painful. So is that male privilege at work? You could say so if it weren’t for one little thing. I could quit my job today and spend the rest of my life painting my nails and snoozing on the couch while my husband would exercise his male privilege to pay all of my bills, bear the financial responsibility for both of us, stress out about the competition in the workplace and the danger of being laid-off, and die several years earlier than I do.
Clarissa, seriously? How long have you been reading my site, girl? You totally disappeared about 95% of American women in that comment – it would be funny if you weren’t serious. First, Anne’s response:
My reaction: WHAT IS THIS I DON’T EVEN.
Where to begin? Well, for one, no. Not all women can stay at home and paint their nails while their husbands work. For one thing, not everyone has or wants a husband. Not everyone likes men. Not everyone is upper class, or upper middle class, and can afford to have only one person contributing to a household (assuming this is a hetero marriage). Case in point: my parents. My mom had to work to make ends meet the first many years of their marriage. Then she worked to save her from the boring tedium of not doing anything all day. Now she works because her current husband is a retired pilot with a monthly pension and part time job who mostly sits around all day.
And that’s barely scratching the surface of why this post was so full of ablism, classism, sexism, and completely disappeared non-hetero non-cis-gendered people. Quite honestly the laziest argument I’ve ever read–and one that I got, honestly, last year from a mysoginist “friend” of mine who, after learning I was feminist, went all MRA on me about lazy women and how sexism is a lie because women don’t HAVE to work and men DO and the social pressures on men and girls want to be the little spoon and lesbians just need to find better men and they’ll be cured!
Very well said. My first response had a lot of foul language in it, to be honest, because I am one of those women she “disappears.” I’m from a low-class background, and you tend to attract people from your own class, so I’ve never gotten within spitting distance of marrying a man who was ever going to earn enough to feed two people, let alone kids, too. There are precisely two ways for “low class” women to move up a class: if they’re beautiful, they might get to “marry up.” If, like me, they are not beautiful, they have to get out there and earn it themselves. In either case, depending on a man for anything is usually trouble because you’ve got your class and gender screaming “Walk all over me, no one will care” louder than any badass attitude you might radiate. It tends to attract predators.
Oh, yeah. I didn’t even manage to “mooch” a college degree off my parents. I will be stunned if someday some man making great money offers not only to pay my expenses for life, but to pay for servants and services so I don’t have to stir from the couch, the way Clarissa describes – and comments reveal she really did absolutely mean she wouldn’t have to do anything around the house, except occasionally pop a TV dinner into the microwave. Clarissa’s husband must be earning way above the median household income for their area. But two-earner households earning the median or less by far outnumber households like Clarissa’s. Therefore, our experiences count a lot more than hers, from a statistical standpoint, in determining what options are available to “women” in general. Clarissa claims that all privilege talk is just “lazy thinking” that lacks analysis, but no one’s ever provided a better example of jaw dropping unconscious privilege – or lack of analysis – than this post.
In fact, when you think about it, when did more than maybe five percent of American women ever have the option to actually sit around doing nothing while the house and kids were tended by others? The idea that all women have the eternal option of simply mooching off Hubby is one of the most ignorant and embarrassing holdovers from pampered white well-to-do second wave feminism*. Don’t buy into it.
The system Clarissa’s describing also depends on the economic exploitation of underpaid women: women who continue to provide the services on which Clarissa and her husband depend, women who manufacture the goods which Clarissa and her husband divide, and the women whose unpaid labor (child care, elder care, disabled partner care, etc.) make it possible for the working class men to put in the sort of hours that households like Clarissa’s rely upon them (directly or indirectly) to work.
We all look at society from our position upward. We mainly see the people who have it at least as (relatively) easy as we have it, and until some “lazy thinker” babbling about privilege actually causes us to indulge in quite a bit of “analysis”, we don’t notice all the people who have it tougher than we do. Therefore, ironically, society is better understood by people nearer the bottom, who look upward and see all the layers of people having it “easier.” If you’re already near the top and looking upward, then you aren’t in a good position to recognize how many, many people your uninformed “theories” fail to account for. Privilege absolutely does exist, and it’s lazy thinking and failure to analyze and big unexamined, unrecognized privilege that would make someone think it doesn’t.
At least someone nearer the bottom would be aware of all the types of women Anne mentions, and of what’s been happening to salaries in the US in recent years, and that women who do live like Clarissa describes sometimes find themselves in a scary position if the Prince Charming upon whom they’re 100% dependent turns out to have a dark side.
If patriarchy had ever even potentially worked for every single woman – if all us women could all happily marry someone who would take care of us while we did nothing but take up space and provide sex, and in so doing we would never be at risk for abuse, and never be having sex we don’t want to because it’s the only way we know to get our bills paid – do you really think feminism would ever have gotten off the ground? Who would turn down such a sweet deal if it actually worked for women more than maybe 20% of the time? And I think I’m being generous with that estimate: about ten percent of women are lesbians; some other unknown percent are asexuals; a significant percent of women who depend financially on men find themselves abused; and a huge, vast number of women are in a financial class where Clarissa’s “option” is just a fantasy flogged in romance books and movies of the week. This was all true even when single-income households were feasible for a lot of Americans.
And don’t forget that for some women, staying at home isn’t one option among several: it’s the only choice they have due to disabilities that prevent them from working outside the home, if they’re lucky enough to have a partner who can earn for the whole household. Somehow, painting this “choice” as one endless sunny afternoon of lolling on the cushy sofa disappears those women in a whole new painful way.
The truth is, this great “privilege” Clarissa says women enjoy was designed to work for men. Oh, absolutely, it put a difficult burden on a lot of men who weren’t privileged with the ability or correct skin color or connections to earn enough to provide comfortably for a family. We’ve discussed ad nauseum elsewhere on the site how patriarchy hurts men, too, so I’m not going to derail this article with that.
But men created the arrangement by which women could only obtain the resources they needed to survive by spreading their legs to men, either in holy matrimony or on the streets. Men created it, and men benefited from it, because it was the only way to ensure paternity, provide constant availability of women’s bodies for sex and enforce female faithfulness. And if it’s bothering them so much, they can just ensure fair pay and fair employment any ol’ day now, and let up on the pressure for women to marry men and be faithful to men and bear men children, and we’ll all just take care of ourselves and our offspring while men get to run around free of family commitment unless they opt for it, and see how that arrangement works out. Feminists have been proposing this since forever. No problem, guys! Any day now! Guys? Any takers? Was that a tumbleweed that just rolled by?
The system didn’t evolve to make sure women got well taken care of, or else it would have been tweaked until it, you know, actually did that for more than a small minority of women.
*Check out Elizabeth Warren comparing today’s typical two-income household with the single-income household of 1970, because government data indicates that’s the typical household. Now there’s a woman who, coming from humble roots, actually gets what the typical options are for people in the U.S. today, and on a not-entirely-related note, I thoroughly recommend listening to that lecture.