Men checking privilege

Like most rational people, I don’t care for the phrase “check your privilege” (although hearing Julie Borowski say it always cracks me up). It’s overly simplistic, totalitarian, and, dare I say, bossy. However, I recently had a sudden realization that not only is privilege checking a valid concept, but it is already widely practiced by men with no feminist intervention whatsoever.

I’m not talking about men checking their male privilege, though. In fact, I’m not convinced there’s any such thing; respect due to responsibility isn’t privilege, but that’s a different argument. No, I’m thinking about the ways men force other men to check their privilege whether it is from class, position, education, or gender (but not necessarily male).

But first let me back up a little to how I got started on this. The light bulb moment came shortly after the publication of a previous article of mine. I was skimming over it, reading the comments and such, when I saw one particular line:

“like a girl” is a form of hazing

For context, that previous article is about the phrase “like a girl” and how it’s used to accuse others of acting weak and to excuse female under-performance. When I mentioned hazing, I was referring specifically to female athletes being told not to act like girls and to “man up.” But that’s not limited to girls, obviously, as just about any man can tell you. Boys and men are told not to act like a girl, in sports or otherwise, along with countless other phrases and idioms meant to push them toward masculinity.

Some would take that as simple sexism, deriding femininity and using it to attack a man’s masculinity. But then I thought about it again and with a nearly audible mental click the lens of a new perspective slid into place: when men tell each other not to act like a girl, they aren’t being sexist or hazing, they are checking each other’s privilege.

Think about it in sports again, a good analogy for the wider “performance culture” that dictates so much of modern men’s behavior. If an athlete is lagging, his coach or teammates might shout, “Stop running like a girl!” Is it because they don’t respect women or because women are held to a lower standard of performance?

Yes, that’s right, I’m talking about female privilege, as in “if you don’t want to do this, you don’t have to.” That is the heart of all female privilege: not being held to the same requirements as men, be it in sports, work, or combat. Men may be privileged in being allowed to pursue more avenues of lifestyle (not being protected from taking risks), but whatever a man does he is expected to be the best, he is judged on merit, and excuses aren’t accepted.

But women aren’t expected to perform the same way physically or, in some cases, intellectually. Their bar is set lower. When that male athlete isn’t performing to his best without good cause (injury or illness), he isn’t meeting the standards set for him.

It might just be that he isn’t as good an athlete, or it might be that he isn’t giving it his all. That’s where “like a girl” comes into it again; it’s not an insult at all, but a call for him to check his privilege. If he thinks he can perform at less than his best and still have the respect of his peers, then he is trying to cash in on female privilege, to be rewarded equally while achieving a lower standard. Men aren’t prone to allow that.

This isn’t limited just to accusations of girliness. Throughout history, men have been ruled in large part by a sense of honor, a self-policing sort of self-awareness that makes men take a long, hard look at themselves everyday and admit when they aren’t up to snuff. Many lack this discipline, but it is a cornerstone of almost every definition of masculinity.

With that sense of honor comes a disdain for privilege. Putting gender privilege aside, the most prevalent and enduring type of social privilege is probably wealth. The privilege of the rich to buy their way out of jail or conscription, the privilege of the rich to live, work, and vacation wherever the hell they want. That is real privilege, and most working men can’t stand it. You stride into a workshop, mill, or contractor’s office like some gold-crusted peacock, expensive watch, thousand-dollar shoes, and any self-respecting man is going to be so put off he’ll be half tempted to put you out on your ass.

Now, there are always the sycophants who hang on to the rich like leeches, but for most men a rich twit in his favorite bar is a target for ridicule, not a recipient of respect. Men call each other on this privilege too. If you don’t push yourself, then your friends are gonna call you on trying perform to (privileged) female standards. You start acting high and mighty because of some new cash and your friends are going to let you know you’re acting like an ass.

The same thing can be seen around racial privilege. In America, black men have always had it rough, so many hold themselves to a high standard of physical performance. They set their own bar, and if they see some white boy wimping out they will challenge him to meet that higher metric of success.

This is how men check privilege, not in themselves but in each other. Men are naturally competitive, and when we compete it is our peers we wish to prove ourselves to, so who better to hold us to task if we don’t do our best, if we try to pull rank or demand special treatment because of money or pedigree.

That’s why feminists crying, “CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE” every third breath is so absurd. Men have their own way of controlling privilege, and forcing them to abandon it when entering a “female space” serves only to alienate them. That’s the point, of course, that’s why feminists harp on and on about privilege: to undermine men’s self-esteem and make them feel like their natural system of merit-based privilege control isn’t good enough.

Instead, we’re supposed to defer to the biggest victim, the most sexually experimental and whoever the most “under-represented” is. A bit awkward at social gatherings, but it’d make for a hell of a system of government.

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