3 Reasons Why it’s Tough to See Male Privilege
I certainly think that was the case last week at Fresno Pacific, where I had the joy of speaking to the men at two chapel services, on Wednesday and Friday mornings.
Together we wrestled with the notion of male privilege, and I challenged them to respond by admitting that male privilege exists, submitting their privilege to Jesus, and then committing to use their privilege to empower and advocate for others (find an older post about this three-fold response framework here).
It’s that first one, admitting that privilege exists, that I find to be the biggest challenge for men. At least that’s true the first time they engage teaching on this topic.
Why is that?
I think there are at least three reasons.
First, by its nature, male privilege is extraordinarily subtle and therefore difficult to spot. Male privilege sort of lurks in the culture. Because of this, it takes intentionality to locate, and that intentionality can be difficult to come by. On Wednesday morning, I told the men this story, of Tommy the bug guy. In hindsight, my male privilege becomes clear, in the stark contrast between my experience with Tommy and Amy’s. On the other hand, if Amy and I hadn’t intentionally made space to debrief the experience, it’s quite possible that we would never have been able to see (or feel) it.
Next, no one likes to be told that they have more power than someone else. That’s not exactly a popular message, and it’s almost like we have an allergy to the idea of privilege. In our perfect worlds, we’re all equal and there’s no such thing as a power differential. Sadly, the world doesn’t work that way, and yet I find that coming to grips with that reality can be a difficult paradigm shift.
And the kicker is that that is particularly true if you are the person with the privilege. In the same way that it’s hard for white people to see white privilege, it’s hard for men to see male privilege.
Finally, male privilege is tough to see because few people or institutions are pointing it out. During Friday’s talk, I offered to buy lunch for anyone who had heard teaching on male privilege before, either in class or in their churches. Needless to say, I only paid for myself. Perhaps this is a post for another time, but I think part of the reason for the silence is that, deep down, as men we like our privilege. After all, when the system is working in your favor, there is risk in pointing out its flaws. With this in mind, I think it’s incumbent on those of us who see male privilege to point it out to others.
In the end, on Friday I exhorted the men to step out of the river. I think culture can be like a river, carrying us all along. And, from time to time, we all need to swim over to the bank, get out onto the shore, take a long step back and contemplate at the river. When we do that, we’ll undoubtedly see good things, beautiful things, things worthy of praise.
But we’ll also see broken things. Things that cause others (and ourselves) pain. Things that must be redeemed.
Things like male privilege.