The Story of Tommy our Bug Guy, or, A Time I Benefited from Male Privilege
Recently, convinced that we had a bed bug infestation, Amy and I called out our pest control company. In response, a technician named Tommy stopped by the next day. Tommy took a look around our house, put out some glue traps, checked in with Amy, checked in with me and then he was gone. Altogether, he was in our house for 10 minutes.
After he’d left, Amy and I convened in the kitchen to compare notes, and as we did, what was obvious was that Tommy didn’t think we had a bug problem. Praise the Lord. But at the same time, it was also obvious that Amy and I had had two completely different conversations with Tommy.
To Amy, Tommy had come across as condescending and patronizing. He had treated her as if she was a panicky and uninformed child. In fact, his final words to Amy went like something this: “There, there, darlin’. There’s nothing to worry about!” By contrast, to me he had been polite and cordial, and he had treated me with respect. “Nothing to worry about sir, I think you’re fine.”
What was going on in that interaction? Amy and I had heard the same exact message (“there are no bugs in your house”) but we’d experienced two completely different conversations. I’d left mine without any angst whatsoever. Tommy had treated me as an equal and I basically felt validated by the interaction. Amy, on the other hand, was less than pleased. “Can you believe how that guy treated me?” she wanted to know. Honestly, she felt belittled, unseen and small.
And here’s the ironic thing: Amy knew far more about bed bugs than I did, thanks to hours (and I mean hours!) of research on the internet. I mean, if Tommy was going to have an intelligent conversation with someone who knew something about bed bugs during his visit, it should have been with her!
What we experienced that day is the reality of male privilege, and I clearly benefited. Conscious of it or not (and I’m sure he wasn’t), Tommy had treated me as an equal, as someone worthy of respect, simply because I am male. Of course I would know about bugs and not be troubled by the possibility of them in our house. I didn’t need to be consoled, just informed. By contrast, he treated Amy like he assumed that she needed to be comforted, pacified and instructed.
That’s male privilege in action. And I think that our experience that day was more normal than not.
How about you? Have you ever had an experience like this one? Depending on which side of the interaction you were on, how did you feel?