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  1. occhiblu
    occhiblu June 12, 2007 at 2:54 pm |

    Everybody had common grounds for discourse, and none of us were shy about putting across our points of view, which meant that we were all able to demand (and obtain) the respect of our peers in the group – making us able to assert our equality. It was, however, different from being in groups of similarly confident people, where there were more than one male present, and to be honest I don’t know why (we’re talking about over a decade ago now). I’d certainly welcome thoughts from people on the matter.

    I’m in a masters program for counseling. I think we have four guys out of about 50 students in my year of the program. There’s definitely a similar vibe to what you’re talking about.

    What’s odd is that my undergrad classes did not have that, even though I studied English lit and women outnumbered the guys. Even in discussion sections where we had 10 women and 2 men, the men would almost always dominate the conversation, mainly by speaking up first and not being afraid to interrupt other students.

    I’ve been wondering why there’s a difference now, in grad school. Partly I think because in undergrad, the guys were probably still the majority in their other classes; they weren’t taking only English classes, so they were probably still mostly in male-majority classes. Partly also because people who want to become counselors tend to value listening and finding common ground, so there’s just a less argumentative approach to hearing what classmates have to say.

    But it’s also been really interesting to watch professors single out the guys sometimes and explicitly ask them for male opinions; I wasn’t used to seeing men put on the spot like that in classes. And it’s making me realize how on the spot I often felt in other programs, where even if I wasn’t explicitly asked, “How do women feel about this?”, I’d still feel that whatever I said was going to be taken as speaking for all women, or (probably more likely) be dismissed because it didn’t match the daily experience of the teacher or my most outspoken classmates. Part of it’s just that I’m older now (I took about eight years off before deciding to go back to school) and so more confident in my opinions, but I also find that I’m just more willing to speak up about subjective interpretations in my current classes because I don’t have to worry I’ll immediately be called delusional, more or less.

  2. DAS
    DAS June 12, 2007 at 3:08 pm |

    I’ve not noticed quite this experience when I’ve been the only male in a “female space”.

    Actually, I’ve had some interesting experiences being the only white person where everyone else is African-American. What strikes me is not any reversal of privalege, but how pervasive certain stereotypes are and how they get embraced. I am not a very good dancer — truth be told I’m probably somewhat of a bad dancer — but for some reason compared to most of the African-Americans I know, I’m Bill Robinson, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelley all rolled into one. Yet, I’ve been the token white guy at more than a few parties at which everybody else, all of whom couldn’t dance to save their lives, is taking turns “showing the poor, rhythm challenged white-guy, who can’t help it ’cause he’s white” how to get his groove on.

    I see this in other communities (and in a far more nefarious sense) too: Jews embracing anti-Semitic stereotypes (“we Jews need to have dual loyalties”), etc. But perhaps because when I am with Jews, I am an insider whereas, as a white guy, I’m an “outsider” among African-Americans, even though it’s a more trivial sort of stereotype, the whole “you can’t dance and we can” embrace of a certain stereotype was more obvious to me …

  3. Dr. Confused
    Dr. Confused June 12, 2007 at 3:29 pm |

    What struck me about these two stories is how rare they seem to you. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; if particular groups are mostly one gender, I suppose it follows that most people of that gender tend to be in that group. (i.e. men are more likely to find themselves in mostly-masculine groups then mostly-feminine groups, women vice-versa).

    However, my experience is of, day by day for the last 11 years, in almost all professional groups and many social groups, being one of very few women present. It is not rare for me to be the only woman in the room. At larger professional gatherings, I occasionally count: I tend to find it’s about 10% women.

    Your experience is different from mine in that you have the privilege to “check at the door.” But I think there are commonalities. Being asked to speak for an entire gender is one. Being aggressively approached with stereotypes, and demands to confirm or deny them (the “you think we’re all lesbians” story from your linked post) is another.

    And is your privilege really “checkable?” Is it something you can just toss off? Like occhiblu said, even when in the minority in classes, many men feel more comfortable speaking up, especially dissenting or interrupting. Whereas, whether in a male-dominated classroom or conference room or out in the mixed-gender world, I’m always expected to negotiate the fine line of being feminine enough not to threaten, while not so feminine as to lose my professional credibility.

  4. Vanessa
    Vanessa June 12, 2007 at 3:45 pm |

    The women put me under intense scrutiny the first time I was invited in, testing me to make sure that I could pass muster as “one of the girls” and, I think, that I wasn’t going to bring any unwelcome male attitudes into their safe space. They were very confident of their territory, their ground and their right to govern this social space.

    I don’t want this to come off sounding mean or snarky, but welcome to the other side of the fence! This is what it is like for women/minorities in a multitude of professional and otherwise situations.

  5. Jay
    Jay June 12, 2007 at 3:59 pm |

    Whereas, whether in a male-dominated classroom or conference room or out in the mixed-gender world, I’m always expected to negotiate the fine line of being feminine enough not to threaten, while not so feminine as to lose my professional credibility.

    Yes, that’s precisely my experience, with the additional piece of being a woman of size and therefore by definition not feminine, at least not in the eyes of many.

    My husband and I both do group facilitation work professionally and also for our synagogue. A few years ago we were discussing a session he facilitated at shul and I commented that most of the voices heard were men, although half the attendees were women. He said “I always attend to gender when I’m facilitating with teachers but I guess I don’t notice it in other settings”. That’s an expression of privilege; I always notice gender and I always have to attend to it. I don’t get to choose.

    To his credit, he got that when I pointed it out.

  6. A Pang
    A Pang June 12, 2007 at 4:15 pm |

    What’s odd is that my undergrad classes did not have that, even though I studied English lit and women outnumbered the guys. Even in discussion sections where we had 10 women and 2 men, the men would almost always dominate the conversation, mainly by speaking up first and not being afraid to interrupt other students.

    Oh my goodness. That’s exactly why I stopped going to my (ironically!) philosophy of feminism tutorial.

    I suppose whether you can “check your male privilege at the door” depends on the group of women in question?

  7. debbie
    debbie June 12, 2007 at 4:17 pm |

    I think there’s some misunderstanding of what the concept of privilege means in the context of anti-oppression work. Privilege is not something you can put on and take off, although for some people (people of colour who pass as white, queer people who pass as straight), it might be something that you are accorded in a given situation depending on how you are perceived.

    Being the only man in a given situation does not mean that you don’t have privilege. Being a man in a space that is intended for women, and/or dominated by women does not mean that you don’t have privilege. Choosing to be conscious of one’s behaviour so as to not act on one’s privilege is indeed challenging. Being in a situation where you, as a privileged person, are a numerical minority, and it’s clear that you will be tolerated only as long as you don’t use act on your privilege can be really hard. It doesn’t mean that you’re being “striped of” your privilege by less privileged people. You’re being asked to take a back seat, you’re being decentred. This is hard and confusing for privileged people, and it takes a lot of practice to feel comfortable with that (I doubt most people ever reach that point, I know I haven’t in lots of situations).

  8. capitalsfn
    capitalsfn June 12, 2007 at 4:21 pm |

    Even when I took women studies courses and was one of two males in the room (and the only straight one), I definitely felt a fair amount of my privilege followed me into the classroom. Though I must say, I did end up feeling like I was talking or defending my gender at times, almost to my horror – I would say things that I didn’t necessarily believe to play some measure of devil’s advocate, but some measure of true defense.

    It was a distinctly interesting position, but in some ways it reminded me of my privilege. I definitely felt that I dominated conversation – though to be fair, I do this in non-women studies courses as well – but it felt more noticeable in such a surrounding. Perhaps I was just primed for it by the subject matter.

  9. SnowdropExplodes
    SnowdropExplodes June 12, 2007 at 5:39 pm |

    Interesting thoughts so far, I think possibly my liking for the flashy soundbite has caught me out. I admit it, the “check privilege at the door” line was more than a little bit flippant.

    The common element to the experiences I described is that I was not simply a minority, but I was a minority of one; and that I was in situations where my male privilege confidence no longer marked me out: the women who surrounded me were equally confident. That meant: that if I did try to talk over other people, they would not back down as is commonly the case; that my opinions would not be given any extra credibility; that I could not expect any back-up from anyone else just because of a shared privilege; that I could (and would) be blanked if I was out of line.

    As I pointed out, in other situations where women were the majority, but there were other men besides me, the same situation did not develop. In those cases I definitely retained privilege, and men could be expected to take a disproportionate amount of the speaking time. I suspect that having even one other similarly-privileged person present makes it possible to find a fulcrum on which to use privilege.

    debbie:

    Being a man in a space that is intended for women, and/or dominated by women does not mean that you don’t have privilege. Choosing to be conscious of one’s behaviour so as to not act on one’s privilege is indeed challenging. Being in a situation where you, as a privileged person, are a numerical minority, and it’s clear that you will be tolerated only as long as you don’t use act on your privilege can be really hard.

    First you say it isn’t possible to discard privilege, but if I choose to go into a situation where that privilege won’t be acknowledged or tolerated, and where I will be rejected if I try to act on that privilege, surely it is the same as putting the privilege to one side while I am in that scenario? If it isn’t, then in what way is it different?

    I’d like to point out that I don’t think my experience is one that would necessarily apply universally. In conversations generally I tend to wait to see if someone else has a reply before jumping in with my own point, unless I have something that I feel is particularly important and pertinent to raise (I like to consider my response before going for it). If someone else starts speaking at the same time as me, I tend to be the one who backs down (regardless of their gender) because I’m just polite like that. Maybe a man with a different conversational style from mine would have had different experiences in the same situations.

    One last observation to add: the last situation where I found people taking inordinate amounts of the floor was just yesterday, in a group interview for jobs at a new superstore opening near here. The strongest predictor of who would speak most turned out not to be gender, but age: it broke down that the four oldest people (all over 30, and three over 50, and two from each gender) took more of the conversation than the rest put together. After that, I was the next oldest, and had more time than the others. After that, the remainder were largely teenagers, and there gender was definitely the strongest predictor: the four boys interjected only short, reticent observations of their own, while the three girls said nothing (even when I made a point of asking them for their input).

  10. kate
    kate June 12, 2007 at 9:57 pm |

    You’re being asked to take a back seat, you’re being decentred. This is hard and confusing for privileged people, and it takes a lot of practice to feel comfortable with that (I doubt most people ever reach that point, I know I haven’t in lots of situations).

    Exactly the point and something I find women have the hardest time with when dealing with men in their presence. The only reason I have become more conscious of the behavior and sensitive to my complicity is the contrast to the way I am treated as a woman who enters into men-only space in my construction business.

    Most mature men have learned to cloak their misogyny, often in overt patronization, belittling by doubt, etc. After such treatment you feel the burn when you sit and watch a group of women treat the one man at their table as if all his opinions are the end of the argument, stop talking when he interrupts or simply prattle and preen over his greatness. Aaackk!

  11. Human Being
    Human Being June 12, 2007 at 10:48 pm |

    Having participated in at least some “women only circles” I never felt marginalized or excluded at all as a male. I had a pretty good relationship with my classmates in Women’s Studies classes, or at least that was my impression. We even talked outside of class and hung out, and I never felt any kind of animosity or anything. So I think the need to justify female-only space is unnecessary I think since I don’t think normal, friendly women would treat a single male in the room any differently than anyone else. Perhaps that’s an awareness a lot of women in feminist classes have for that feeling of being marginalized, so the oppressed are less likely to perpetuate that kind of attitude. Or perhaps it’s just the good manners of the people I’ve had the benefit of interacting with.

    Of course, as a matter of civility, I never tried to talk over anyone or assert “dominance” over the group. It is true that my opinion was often regarded as a “male opinion” but I was never accused of defending the Patriarchy, hopefully because I didn’t. Therefore I would assume and hope that my opinion as a male, and some perceived necessity to defend the Patriarchy, are in fact separate realities. That would of course be a prerequisite to an equal society. Of course, I would suspect that most truly mysogynist men would never agree to participate in a women’s-only space by choice. Or perhaps that is just a Freudian delusion jumping in front of my better reasoning.

    I found the process and environment to be very interesting and fruitful. But, were I to have felt marginalized, it would not be the same as the marginalization of women in society because I would still know as soon as I leave that female space, my priveledge returns.

    Whereas in a female only space embedded within a Patriarchy the opposite is not true. Women return to an unfair, and male-dominated society. So there is no symmetry there. Even in instances where women might conceivably “oppress,” there is never a parallel between the reaction of the oppressed and the oppression which perpetrated the defensive action. That is not to say, however, that all actions are justified when a perceived oppression has occured because admitting a lesser injustice can and should not detract from a larger injustice, only to say that said actions are not symmetrical in any way. Many Palestinian activists walk that fine line between denouncing terrorism, and suggesting that terrorism doesn’t justify the occupation of the West Bank because it, in their view, is a response to the occupation (which would be circular reasoning).

    Nevertheless, I do think the term “decentering” is an odd way to describe the process, since one can be decentered in an unfair way (ie marginalization), or a fair way (equality). So to call it merely decentered, without making reference to what kind of re-orientation process on which it is based, isn’t quite accurate because it “cloaks” one element of the issue which undoubtedly is raised by MRA’s and mysogynists, which is such a circle an example of “reverse discrimination” (which is also an odd term, because in any other discipline, say Economics, the term does not refer to a one-way process which can be “reversed” but exists in any instance in which one person or group is treated differently from others).

    I suspect that in both cases, the terminology is caught up in questions of identity politics. But a semantical debate shouldn’t detract from the underlying issue, which is as I said, there is no symmetry between an isolated incident of a man being oppressed in one classroom or location, and an entire gender being oppressed everywhere else.

  12. Paul M
    Paul M June 13, 2007 at 11:13 am |

    Having spent a fair amount of time working/studying in areas where women tend to outnumber men ( and are stereo-typed as typically feminine — dance, childcare) I would have to observe that male privilege follows you there. When I have chosen, as a man, to take on roles stereotyped as female and/or work in a female dominated environment the women surrounding me have been actively inclusive and supportive of me in that situation, as well as defending my right to be there.

    For a woman in the reverse situation sadly | would have to say my experience would be that often they would be lucky to face only covert, rather than overt hostility.

    Likewise I don’t think we should underestimate the privilege we enjoy of being able to be invited/welcomed, on occasions, into women only spaces. Having been (the only) man allowed over the threshold of a radical separatist household * certainly felt like a privilege, but more importantly all I had to do to be made an exception was not to have behaved like a dick, so that people could feel comfortable with me, and have a decent reason for being (invited) there,( and this at the more extreme end of a spectrum). Women have fought long and hard for their admission to male only spaces, and still don’t get anything like the respect/courtesy I got.

    *With amusing consequences:
    Friend, to someone coming to read the meter: I’m sorry I can’t let you in , we don’t allow any men into the house.
    (turning round) to me :Oh don’t worry, you don’t count.

    ** In short: People want to organize something and you want to stop them?

  13. Lucy Gillam
    Lucy Gillam June 13, 2007 at 1:23 pm |

    I find this very interesting, because I spend a lot of time in media fandom, where more and more, female-created spaces have become the object of contention. It tends to go something like this: male fan finds himself on a community/at a con/in a space that is largely made up of women, and was generally started by women. Sometimes, he shares those women’s interests, and things are fine. Sometimes, he doesn’t (slash fiction is the most common area of potential strife in this regard), and instead of starting a space for his interests, or trying to get discussions of those interests going in that space, he’ll actively try to shout down/silence the discussions he doesn’t like (and then claim oppression when we won’t stop talking about it). Sometimes, he’ll share those interests but claim authority, telling us how we should be doing things “right.” Most depressingly, sometimes, the women sit at his feet adoringly and let his tell us how to do it right.

    There’s been quite a bit of virtual ink spilled on the subject in the last couple of years, including my own.

  14. debbie
    debbie June 13, 2007 at 1:56 pm |

    My understanding of the concept of privilege is that it’s a way of getting people to be aware of and reflect on their individual positions within broader systems of oppression. So when we talk about male privilege or white privilege we’re using a short form to talk about all ways that men, white people, straight people benefit from patriarchy, white supremacy, and homophobia/heterosexism.

    So the problem I have with your statement is twofold:
    1) the idea that privilege is a set of individual behaviours or characteristics that one can act on or not;
    2) the idea that being aware of the ways that your privilege shapes individual situations and interactions (and doing something about it) means that you’re not enjoying privilege at that moment.

    Privilege is systemic. So white people who are amazing anti-racist allies get treated like white people, no matter how aware they are of the unjust advantages they’re getting, no matter how much they modify their behaviour so as to not perpetuate those injustices.

    Personally, I think it’s great that you are aware of the way that your privilege impacts your interactions with women. I just think you’re still priivleged when you do it.

    Does that make sense? This is something I’m really struggling to articulate, and it might take me a few tries to figure out how to say what I actually want to say.

  15. SnowdropExplodes
    SnowdropExplodes June 13, 2007 at 2:57 pm |

    debbie:

    I think I get what you’re saying, but I still think my analysis that my privilege did not apply in those spaces was an accurate one, and here’s why:

    you say, “Privilege is systemic. So white people who are amazing anti-racist allies get treated like white people, no matter how aware they are of the unjust advantages they’re getting, no matter how much they modify their behaviour so as to not perpetuate those injustices.” Now, substituting “men” and “anti-sexist” into that statement, you’re saying that my male privilege is a product of the system in which we operate.

    Here’s how the situation I faced, so long as I attempted to be in the clubhouse bar, or as long as I was in the classroom with the rest of the class, seems to fit with that: in those spaces, a different system was operating, albeit a temporary one, and one that evaporated as soon as the people left those spaces. I am willing to accept that the temporary nature may well have meant that some privilege from outside that system may have leaked in. However, the systems set up in the women’s soccer club, and in the theology class, were systems with genuine equality and where I did not enjoy the same privilege as I did in the wider system outside of those environments. That was the only reason i was aware of my privilege.

    I will accept your reasoning on one level, though: when I first entered the soccer-club women-governed space, my privilege was a factor. It was the reason why I had to prove myself able not to act on it. In that sense, privilege definitely influenced the relationship I had with the women in that space, because although I passed the test, presumably that same awareness of the external privilege would have been operating unconsciously on both sides (I can’t swear to it, because it was unconscious on my side at least, and therefore I wasn’t aware of it).

    I can honestly say, though, I haven’t modified my behaviour to do something about my privilege, and unless there’s something obviously different in the way women react to me as opposed to other women, I don’t really notice the way my privilege affects them. You’re giving me WAY too much credit on that one! My behaviour comes from being myself (and I’ll let you judge what sort of a person that makes me) and not any awareness of my privilege and attempts to do soemthing about it. If I stop to look at situations consciously, I can usually pick apart how privilege was working there, but most of the time I get on with interacting with people (as opposed to “men” or “women”…)

  16. Cola Johnson
    Cola Johnson June 13, 2007 at 5:00 pm |

    I’ve always gotten along better with men than women (though I’m learning) but it’s been an infuriating experience where my closest friends are not concerned. Too often, when I express an idea or philosophy that doesn’t fit in the standard mold of feminine thought, I’ve been belittled and had my ideas dismissed. Talking about movies like 300 (I am a fan of action films and did not like this one) my opinion is often dismissed on the grounds that as a woman, such movies are not meant for me.

    This is akin to saying that a man cannot be a feminist. My boyfriend has long considered himself one; rightly viewing gender roles are restrictive to both sexes. I know too well the fear of being a novelty as a gamer. Online and at conventions, I’m often singled out for the sheer novelty of it, having all of the men involved hurling base insults and converging on me all at once.

    To get to the point, I feel that you’ve failed to mention something very important. It’s not so much being the minority and learning to set aside whatever agency you feel you carry around with you, because these are isolated cases of your seeking approval in controlled environments (which sound particularly welcoming in the first place). This is distinct from the ways in which women and minorities are made to feel uncomfortable on a daily basis. It comes from everywhere. Walking into a convention hall filled with men, I’m not tested to see if I can act like a man, but rather I feel that anyone who notices me does so with detached surprise. Their preconceptions are immediately projected onto me and nothing I do can really change their minds.

  17. David Thompson
    David Thompson June 13, 2007 at 9:22 pm |

    I never perceived any of that “privilege” business in my experience. Perhaps the difference is injecting oneself a man into a space reserved to women, and finding oneself in a space that happens to have a high density of X chromosomes.

  18. Being Amber Rhea  » Blog Archive   » links for 2007-06-15

    [...] links for 2007-06-15 Friday, June 15, 2007 | 7:34 pm Feministe » “Check Your Pri [...]

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