Discussing our society is difficult at the best of times.  Getting a handle on some of the basics can never hurt as we struggle to make our civilization more progressive and humane.  Toward that end a look at some of the salient features of how we have organized our society is in order.  I’m borrowing from FinallyaFeminism101, a blog that helps set the stage and create the tools for discussions on how society has been structured.

**update** – A big thanks to Rob F from the Words on What for bring to my attention to a specific listing of male privilege on the blog, Alas a blog.

The first installment is about privilege or white male privilege (WMP) and how it affects all aspects of our society.

Privilege is: About how society accommodates you. It’s about advantages you have that you think are normal. It’s about you being normal, and others being the deviation from normal. It’s about fate dealing from the bottom of the deck on your behalf.

[Betty, A primer on privilege.]

Since social status is conferred in many different ways — everything from race to geography to class — all people are both privileged and non-privileged in certain aspects of their life. Furthermore, since dynamics of social status are highly dependent on situation, a person can benefit from privilege in one situation while not benefiting from it in another. It is also possible to have a situation in which a person simultaneously is the beneficiary of privilege while also being the recipient of discrimination in an area which they do not benefit from privilege.

Male privilege is a set of privileges that are given to men as a class due to their institutional power in relation to women as a class. While every man experiences privilege differently due to his own individual position in the social hierarchy, every man, by virtue of being read as male by society, benefits from male privilege.

When first dealing with the concept it might be easier to approach it from a systematic, rather than personal, approach. Consider what Lucy says here:

[T]rue gender equality is actually perceived as inequality. A group that is made up of 50% women is perceived as being mostly women. A situation that is perfectly equal between men and women is perceived as being biased in favor of women.

And if you don’t believe me, you’ve never been a married woman who kept her family name. I have had students hold that up as proof of my “sexism.” My own brother told me that he could never marry a woman who kept her name because “everyone would know who ruled that relationship.” Perfect equality – my husband keeps his name and I keep mine – is held as a statement of superiority on my part.

[Lucy, When Worlds Collide: Fandom and Male Privilege.]

In this case the inequality is perceived, in part, because taking one’s husband’s name is considered “normal” for a woman, whereas choosing to keep one’s own name deviates from that. Popular culture often labels this behavior as “emasculating” to a man, but never bothers to question how a woman might feel being asked to give up something that has been part of her since her birth. This is an example of a culture of male privilege — where a man’s position and feelings are placed above that of the woman’s in a way that is seen as normal, natural, and traditional.

Going back to Lucy’s article, this is what she said in the paragraph directly preceding the one quoted above:

Male privilege may be more obvious in other cultures, but in so-called Western culture it’s still ubiquitous. In fact, it’s so ubiquitous that it’s invisible. It is so pervasive as to be normalized, and so normalized as to be visible only in its absence. The vast, vast, vast majority of institutions, spaces, and subcultures privilege male interests, but because male is the default in this culture, such interests are very often considered ungendered. As a result, we only really notice when something privileges female interests.

[Lucy, When Worlds Collide: Fandom and Male Privilege.]

Most people do not think twice about a woman who shares the same name as her husband; they simply assume that the shared name is his family name. This is an illustration about how male privilege operates in stealth. When a wife does not share the same name as the husband, however, it often leads to confusion and even anger — as Lucy’s example illustrated. This is because the male-oriented option (wife taking husband’s name) is seen as default, and the neutral option (both parties keeping their original names) is a deviation from that norm and therefore comes across as privileging the woman because it doesn’t privilege the man.

It is important to keep in mind that the above example is not an outside incident; male privilege is an institutional problem that has a long history associated with it. In addition to her anecdote above, Lucy discusses how male privilege interacts with fandom; in “Occasionally Conversations with my Man Are Instructive” Ilyka talks about the impact of it in terms of male commenters on feminist blogs; and in her “Privilege in Action” series tekanji takes instances of privilege that she’s witnessed in various aspects of her life (both online and off) and deconstructs them, looking specifically at why they are problematic. All of which points to one thing: it’s not about one person saying or doing one thing, it’s about a whole lot of people saying and doing things that, collectively, end up giving men an overall advantage.

Sociological Images also comes through with some data about women and the workforce and the precentage of money they make in relation to a man doing the same job.