A Guide for Men with Good Intentions
As the title indicates, this is not a post for men who don’t care whether their sexual advances frighten women. This is not a post for men who think that a woman can ever do anything to deserve being raped. This is not a post for men who just have a serious problem with women in general because their big sister never shared the Nintendo controller or whatever. This is a post for the men who really do respect women and either are being confused with the assholes or are simply afraid they might be.
This is for men with good intentions. I am creating this in the hopes that it will be linkable to men in multiple situations whose good intentions may not always be coming across. Given that, if you have been linked this, it is not necessarily because someone thought every single one of these headers was about you. If you have been linked this, it is because someone absolutely does think you care about them and the other people around you and because they believe that you have the empathy and self-awareness to be both willing and able to consider how your actions affect others.
Basically, if you got linked this, someone thinks you’re a good person.
If they didn’t think that, they probably wouldn’t be talking to you at all, let alone going to the trouble of reading, collecting, and linking resources that will help you have as many positive relationships as possible. If they didn’t think you deserved to have the people around you be comfortable with you and be intimate with you, they would be spending their energy to mess with you instead.
So please take this in that spirit. I am not trying to talk down to you, but if you have not ever lived as anything other than a man then I am going to be talking about experiences you have not had. That makes you not the expert on them, and that doesn’t mean you’re bad. It just means that we’re talking about stuff you probably won’t understand unless you consider the accounts of people who have experienced it.
As an aside, women are not the only people who could explain this to you. A trans man, for example, is a man, but has probably been erroneously treated like a woman at some point in his life and can therefore probably give you some perspective on what it is like to live without male privilege. Even if he is currently identifying and identified by others as male, this is probably stuff he has seen. Ditto for genderqueer individuals who are or have been misidentified by others as female. Odds are that they also know things.
Despite that, I am going to use “woman” as shorthand for “someone who lives without male privilege” despite the fact that that is not even close to covering absolutely all such people, just because “woman” is far more concise than “someone who lives without male privilege.”
This all means there are plenty of people who can and often will give you a picture of what’s going on in the world for people with a different set of pressures than your own, and odds are if they are sharing their experiences with you it’s not because they think you suck; it’s because they are operating under the assumption that you care, and if they’re right, this entry is for you.
“Wait, wait, what do you mean male privilege? I keep hearing this word and it pisses me off!”
This word is jargon. I will make sure you understand it before using it too extensively, because it’s important.
You know how there’s stuff that you can worry about less because you’re a guy? Nobody is saying you should have to worry about those things. A lot of the privileges you have from being a guy are things that everybody should have. For example, just as women shouldn’t have to worry that everyone within arm’s reach of their drink is going to slip them drugs and date-rape them, you should not have to worry about that either. However, we do worry about that and you are less likely to need to because that’s less of a credible threat to you every time you consume a glass of anything in the presence of other humans.
Lots of privileges are things we want everyone to have, but which are not distributed based on anything approaching merit; they’re distributed based on circumstances of birth. That is what blows here. You are definitely not a bad person for having male privilege, and you don’t need to be a sexist male to have it. It’s not “misogynist privilege,” after all. It’s just the stuff you get for being a guy, along with some stuff you’re sheltered from for being a guy.
I mean, as a white person, the fact that I am less likely to be profiled by law enforcement doesn’t make me bad. That says nothing about my character at all, so my white privilege is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just the kind of thing I need to be aware of because frankly it’s always good to be aware of the ways our own lives differ from those of others, particularly if those other people will be our friends, neighbors, lovers, or family and we are aiming to be good friends, neighbors, lovers, or family to them in return.
One of the biggest effects of privilege, though, is that it blinds us to what it’s like not having privilege. If you have ever met a kid with rich parents who doesn’t know the value of a dollar but is otherwise really awesome, you know what I’m talking about. There are people out there who don’t know how anybody raises a kid on less than half a million dollars a year. That doesn’t make them bad. It just means that they’re too far away from a situation to have a particularly good picture of it. Short of experiencing a lack of class privilege personally, the best they can do is listen to those who are living in the midst of the situation they’re too far away from to understand.
You are here because you just happen to not be living a life that has shown you what it’s like without male privilege, and so someone is doing the best they can for you by giving you a closer window into the situation than you might have otherwise.
It is also very important to note that “privileged” and “oppressed/marginalized” are not mutually exclusive categories. Bad things happen to privileged people all the time, and many people who are marginalized in one way will have an advantage of another kind. It is not a continuum in which being “more privileged” or “more marginalized” will assign you a single point on a line. Sometimes privileges help compensate for marginalizations, but sometimes they just aren’t powerful enough.
For a quick example, I am a white woman. Now, being white makes a lot of stuff easier for me. However! I am still a woman. I have to worry all the time about being raped because if I haven’t done every imaginable hypothetical thing to prevent it then someone will find a way to blame me for the fact that somebody else was a rapist. These even intersect, creating a myriad unique experiences of privilege and oppression. It’s considered in poor taste to play Oppression Olympics and compare these experiences in an effort to decide some kind of oppression pecking order. So if someone said to me, “You have this privilege because you are white,” it is not at all topical for me to answer with, “Yeah well I’m a woman!” I am, but that’s not germane to the conversation because being a woman doesn’t erase the fact that I am white.
So even if you are poor man, disabled man, gay or bisexual man, or a man of color, you’re still also a man. None of those things erases that, so bringing them up like it means you don’t benefit from male privilege is a total non sequitur. Those things can undermine your male privilege (such as cultural habits of feminizing gay men) but they don’t take it off the table because they don’t fully take that privilege away from you.
Privilege Discussion 101, geared specifically toward moderators of discussion-oriented community spaces like message boards and the like.
A Woman’s Worst Nightmare, a great essay about the fears women have about situations that men do not always even notice because men can get by better and longer without having to notice.
The Problem With Men Explaining Things: Countless women are being told that they are not reliable witnesses to their own lives, that the truth is not their property, now or ever. This essay is one of those things that is very easy for a lot of guys to write off as just being a problem of a few isolated jerks, so as you read it please remember that the very attitude that women are inherently unqualified to make valid observations about things (such as… oh… a trend of problematic male behavior…) and make sure that you aren’t one more “isolated” example.
In fact, because of how often male geeks and nerds do this very thing to me, I am linking Nerds and Male Privilege especially for them.
“I can’t help if I offend people.”
Offense and harm are not the same things. Personally, I think you’re right to be dismissive of offense. However, it’s important not to take that so far that we are dismissive of the harm we do.
Every time someone tells a joke whose punchline only makes sense if you assume that women are stupid, that does harm because the idea that women are somehow inherently less sharp than men does impact the opportunities women are given, and even should they receive such an opportunity, the “women are stupid” meme makes it harder for those women to be taken seriously.
Every time someone tells a joke whose punchline only makes sense if you assume that rape victims got themselves raped because they were negligent screw-ups, you are passing on the meme that we should always find some way to fit the crime of rape into a just world where bad things only happen to people who deserve bad things to happen to them, and that makes the world less safe for real rape victims.
I could go on, but you probably get the idea.
“I don’t think women need to be treated specially. I mean, I think a strong woman won’t let sexism stop her. You’re the one who thinks women are weak here.”
Lots and lots of women are badass enough to succeed despite sexism. This is a fact. However, the problem with this assertion is that because some women can succeed in spite of sexism… well, that doesn’t mean the sexism wasn’t there. If some women are comfortable around a man despite his sexist behavior, it’s still a cool thing for him to be less sexist. Why? Because the price of being friends with that guy is dealing with sexism.
Wouldn’t it be nice if he were charging a little less?
Women are frequently capable of being strong enough to put up with more than men have to. Nobody is saying that women are incapable. We’re saying that requiring women to be more hardcore than men just to accomplish the same things may be possible, but it is also bullshit. If a man can coast through a situation but a woman would have to work harder, work longer, or just generally bull her way through on sheer cussedness, you have identified an instance of bullshit.
The point is not that it’s never worth it to fight through sexism to get to a goal, or that women are incapable of surviving these things. The point is that we shouldn’t have to, and as a friend, neighbor, lover, or family member of women, on some level I know you already understand that.
Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is and an accompanying exhaustively sourced post from Jim C. Hines.
HERE ENDETH GENERALITIES. HERE BEGIN(eth?) SPECIFICS
“I can’t believe nobody is sleeping with me. Women are so stupid. I’ve earned that poontang, damn it!”
I know that in movies and books a successful or virtuous man is rewarded with a woman. Unfortunately, in real life, women get to decide where they go and are not awarded by the universe to anybody.
You live in real life, and that means that no matter how fantastic you are, to get a woman, she has to want you. Women may not want you for all kinds of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with the woman’s worth. Just because you have decided she is The Best Woman doesn’t mean you’re compatible, and she gets a say there, too.
If you view a failure to sleep with you as an unjust act on the part of a woman, the message women receive is that you have some kind of problem with the fact that women are allowed to say no to you. If you aren’t comfortable with the fact that the woman has just as much right to say no as to say yes, then that makes you look scary because we women in the Rape Avoidance biz have a word for a guy who resents a woman’s authority over her own body and who allows that resentment to shape his attitude toward rejection. I think you know what that word is.
“I just complimented her! Why is she so upset?”
One thing that can be hard to understand for people with the protection of male privilege is why women so frequently seem to treat a compliment or a friendly and non-threatening sexual advance as a red flag rather than being pleased the way many guys would be.
The first thing to keep in mind is that a lot of sexual advances women deal with are not actually as friendly as they seem. A lot of men compliment women at times or in places or in ways that they don’t realize are the same ways a potential rapist or abuser would approach a woman. It’s important to note that a man who waits for a woman to be alone before approaching her and standing between her and the exit to deliver her a compliment might not be a rapist, but he’s exhibiting behavior identical to what a rapist does just before he attempts to commit rape, and is thus indistinguisable from one.
If you want to strike up a conversation with a woman and you want to make it clear that you are not just weighing her worthiness as a sex toy, there are lots of ways to compliment a woman without sexualizing her. It’s just that a lot of guys open with, “So I noticed you have a female body. You should know it meets my standards. *wink wink*” Now, her body probably does meet whatever standards you have got or you wouldn’t be talking to her, but women get sexualized all the time and honestly guys doing that really blur together–which is bad when a lot of the guys you are being blurred in with are rapists.
Women will feel sexualized by a compliment far less often if they’re being complimented on something other than the traits which are part of their sexual market value (and sadly wit, knowledgeability, wisdom, and talent are not on the standard list–just a narrow sort of physical attractiveness).
For an extreme example (and therefore not necessarily reflective of what’s going on with you, but intended just as an idea of the dynamic I am talking about that women commonly get tired of), I knew a guy once who swore up and down that he wasn’t hitting on me, but he had something to say about my appearance in seriously every conversation we ever had over a period of nearly two years. In fact, he did this to a lot of women that he just happened to also think were attractive but he wasn’t hitting on anybody he swore. We will call him Smarmy McOldBalls because he had offspring older than I am.
We got together a couple of times to try and explain to him that if he cares more about us as human beings than about our worthiness as candidates for temporary penis storage, Smarmy should try talking to us about things other than our appearance so that we can tell he has even noticed anything else. We got together a couple of times to explain that it is possible to be friends with women without sexualizing them (an important skill if these women are not interested and also peer-friends with his kid), and one of the times when we showed up, Smarmy’s greeting to me was, “That is a very interesting necklace.”
I gave him a long look to see if he was going to realize that he had done it again and to someone who had explicitly asked him very recently to stop harping on her appearance, and when he didn’t I did the “eyes up here” gesture with my fingers, at which point he did that sort of… it wasn’t a smile, but y’know how chimps sort of grimace when they’re nervous? That face.
Now, it WAS an interesting necklace, which is why I often wear it, but he had sat down in this particular space with these particular women because it was a problem that his interest in women seemed about as deep as his dick is long and because he needed to find ways to express interest in women as fellow whole people, and Smarmy had once again failed to find a way to relate to women except in terms of which women nearby look the way he likes women to look.
This is a real guy, and not the only one like this I have known. It’s just the one that is easiest and quickest to explain, so I am using this example for brevity’s sake.
Again, I am not saying you are doing this, but (unfortunately) you’re not the first dude most women you’ll talk to have interacted with and been complimented by, and if they’ve talked to a Smarmy or two earlier that day, they might be pleasantly surprised to be complimented on something other than their appearance, which will both make them happy and make it quite clear that you are not one of the Smarmy McOldBallses of the world.
It’ll make the excellentness of your intentions much clearer by preventing you from blending in with the ubiquitous OldBalls clan. That is good for everyone.
The next day, another girl: “Hey, can I buy you a coffee?”
This time, I was trying to work out a difficult programming solution in my mind, and she asked me at exactly the right moment to have all of my thoughts collapse like a house of cards. “Are you just going to ask me about Jesus?”
“Oh, no,” she said, reassuring me. “It’s just that I think you’re cute.” And she was kind of pretty.
“…all right,” I said, guardedly. She bought the coffee. Sat down at my table.
“But if you were wondering about Jesus…” she said earnestly, and I ejected her from my table.
This really doesn’t require that you even be hitting on a woman, just like the person offering coffee is not necessarily always going to use it as a segue to talking about Jesus. It just means that so many people offer coffee (in this case a metaphor for friendly approaches) as a pretext to talk about Jesus (metaphor for the dude actually just wanting to get his dick wet) that a lot of women disengage from the initial offer to pre-empt the second thing that may or may not be happening but often does.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done something incorrectly. You are still a cool dude if you double-check yourself just in case, but there is a non-zero chance that you will have done everything absolutely right. Unfortunately, you might be offering her coffee after a bunch of other people who have only done so as a segue to evangelize. Or maybe she just doesn’t want coffee! That is also an option. Sometimes a woman just doesn’t want your coffee, and it’s not because you suck or she’s a bitch. There doesn’t need to be a value judgement at all; we do not need to find anyone to blame.
Rejection is the natural result of giving women the right to say no and making them feel like they’ve got a right to have that answer be respected. It’s not always a fun side-effect, but it’s well worth it. Sometimes a woman will say no for reasons that have nothing to do with how well the men approaching her are rolling on their Seduction check, and that’s not unjust.
Doing everything 100% creep-free is not just another way to “earn” sex. It’s something you do because of your own standards for your own behavior, and the fact that women who are less scared of you are more likely to be open to sexytiemz doesn’t mean you are owed that sexytiemz. But! If you are doing everything 100% creep-free, odds are you don’t think anymore that sex is a thing that only a heinous and immoral bitch would deny a worthy male, so while it’s important to mention this pitfall, a guy who’s really comfortable with a woman’s right to deny him access to her body won’t fall into it. So be that guy.
The “Nice Guy” defense, including a list of actual rapist behaviors to avoid if you don’t want to seem like a rapist.
Flirting, sex, and lines: removing skeeze from the movement, written by a guy so that other people can happily flirt and hook up, skeeve-free! Good info for both men and women here.
“Wow. Well, I’m a great person, so I can help, right?”
YES. YES YOU CAN.
This essay is about why “feminists look for stuff to get mad about” is bullshit, which I am linking because it makes the excellent point that even if feminists did hunt around for things to be mad about, if we find something, that thing is still there and that thing is still bullshit. I am linking it right here and now to you specifically because you–as a man–really will have to look for the things for feminists to get mad about, because you are less likely to notice them if you don’t, even if to women they are obvious.
Be a guy who looks for the things feminists get mad about. We’re not going to stop finding those things anytime soon, but it’ll help a lot if you are paying attention, too.
It’s a common Buddhist saying that one of the best gifts you can give to the world is to enlighten yourself. Work on your own personal issues and you will be a better presence in the world and you will make life better for the people around you, many of whom will learn from you and go on to be the most excellent humans they can be, and it becomes this whole daisy-chain of self-improvement that only requires each person to get their own selves in order.
Do that. It’s great.
Be the guy who listens when a woman has an issue with another man. Be the guy that other guys don’t tell sexist jokes around because if they do you will remind them that their dicks aren’t going to fall off if they give women basic human respect. Be the guy that people don’t dare tell about this chick they got drunk so that she’d put out because they know you’re going to call them a rapist for committing rape. Be that guy.
Not only will you be living up to your own standards of human awesomeness, but the guys around you will quickly get the picture that when you’re in the room, masculinity is not defined by shitting on people. You will carry with you a bubble of safe space, and women notice that shit. We really really do.
I mean, being witty is neat. Being handsome is a plus. But creating a zone around yourself where rape culture is less powerful? Believe me, women want that more. Click that link and imagine how nice it would be for women if men were creating zones around themselves where we could worry about all that shit just a little less. Imagine how different your direct vicinity would be from the whole rest of the world, and make it happen.
All it takes is to be the kind of guy I know you want to be. Look at the enormity of the change you’d be making in your corner of the world. You being a good guy will immediately change the world for the better. It’s one of the best chances you’ll get to leave the entire world better than it was when you got here, and all it takes is for you to personally reject misogyny and rape culture.
You can do that.
Never underestimate what a big deal it is.
Never underestimate the enormity of the impact you can have just being one man who doesn’t tolerate misogyny.
You should know that women are ALSO taught to perpetuate rape culture, and one of the best ways to surround yourself with happy, relaxed women who are comfortable enough near you that some may even be sexually intimate with you is to make the spaces within your social reach into spaces where these are no longer the rules women must obey to survive. You won’t just be making them safer when they’re with you. You’ll be making them safer everywhere else.
If you have been linked this essay, it is because somebody needs you to be that guy right now. If you’ve been linked this essay, it is because somebody who knows you knows that you care, and knows that you can do it. They’re right. You can.
An Uncongenial Post which runs down some more of the pitfalls you can easily avoid and set yourself apart as a cool dude.