When I first heard Wellesley Professor Peggy McIntosh discuss her 1989 essay on “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” at a conference, I was moved.
As the editor and publisher of Women in Higher Education, I immediately wondered whether there was a similar checklist having to do with gender. Returning to her original essay, I reread the first paragraph, and learned that it was inspired by her noting a ubiquitous male privilege.
“Through the work to bring materials from Women’s Studies into the rest of the curriculum, I have often noticed men’s unwillingness to grant that they are over-privileged, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged,” she wrote.
As usual, I was about 10 years ahead of my time. I recently became aware of “The Male Privilege Checklist,” subtitled “An Unabashed Imitation of an Article by Peggy McIntosh.” It was written by Barry Deutsch, a cartoonist and humorist on the staff of the online Expository Magazine, a source of feminist thought and expression, where it appeared in the September 2004 issue. The whole article and great comments on it are at www.expositorymagazine.net/2004/september/maleprivilege_ checklist.php
Listed are 43 items of male privilege, which include males being more likely to be hired, promoted, elected, free of fear of harassment and rape, not expected to do the “most dirty, repetitive and unrewarding tasks” of homemaking and childrearing. Item 43 is, “I have the privilege of being unaware of my male privilege.”
Of course, the author gave short shrift to men’s few disadvantages, like being drafted and expected to suppress emotions.
In contemplating the list with a colleague, we looked at the reverse, and created this list of 25 female privileges. Feel free to share, post, add to or comment on it, being careful to note the inspiration from Peggy McIntosh and Barry Deutsch.
1. I am physically able to give birth to another human being, and then do my best to mold her or him into the kind of person I choose.
2. I am not automatically expected to be the family breadwinner.
3. I feel free to wear a wide variety of clothes, from jeans to skimpy shorts to dresses as appropriate, without fear of ridicule.
4. I can choose to remain seated to meet most people.
5. I am not ashamed to ask for others’ perspectives on an issue.
6. I feel free to exhibit a wide range of emotions, from tears to genuine belly laughter, without being told to shut up.
7. My stereotypical excesses in shopping, clothes, jewelry, personal care and consumption of chocolate usually are expected, even the source of jokes.
8. Public policies generally offer me an opportunity to bond with my offspring.
9. I am among the first to get off a sinking ship.
10. I can usually find someone with superior strength to help me overcome physically challenging obstacles, such as changing a tire or cutting a huge Christmas tree.
11. Changing my mind is seen as a birthright or prerogative.
12. I feel free to explore alternate career paths instead of being bound to a single career ladder.
13. I am used to asking for help, around the kitchen table or the proverbial water cooler or the conference room.
14. People I’ve never met are inclined to hold doors open and give up their seats for me.
15. I can be proud of the skill I have worked to develop at stretching limited financial resources.
16. I am not ashamed of using alternatives to positional power to reach my goals.
17. I know how to put a new roll of toilet paper in use and am not above doing it for the next person.
18. I am not ashamed to admit that the decisions I make reflect my personal values.
19. I am not afraid to create and maintain honest relationships with others.
20. I do not fear being accused of having an ethic of care in my professional life.
21. When I enter an office, I am likely to encounter those who can help me “in low places.”
22. I am more likely to get hugs than handshakes, depending on the situation.
23. I am less likely to be seen as a threat, which allows me more subtle alternatives.
24. I can use men’s “sheer fear of tears” to my advantage.
25. I can complain that these female privileges are relatively minor compared with the vast assortment of dominant male privileges, but I wouldn’t change places for the world.
Thanks, Peggy and Barry, for reminding women that there are times when we do enjoy the last laugh.
Contact Mary Dee Wenniger
Editor and Publisher
Women in Higher Education