Male privilege

Male privilege is the system of advantages or rights that are available to men solely on the basis of their sex. A man's access to these benefits may vary depending on how closely they match their society's ideal masculine norm.

Feminist scholarship in the area of women's studies during the 1970s produced the earliest academic studies of privilege. These studies began by examining barriers to equity between the sexes. In later decades, researchers began to focus on the intersectionality and overlapping nature of privileges relating to sex, race, social class, sexual orientation, and other forms of social classification.


Special privileges and status are granted to males in patriarchal societies.[1][2] These are societies defined by male supremacy, in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. With systemic subordination of women, males gain economic, political, social, educational, and practical advantages that are more or less unavailable to women.[2] The long-standing and unquestioned nature of such patriarchal systems, reinforced over generations, tends to make privilege invisible to holders; it can lead males who benefit from such privilege to ascribe their special status to their owned individual merits and achievements, rather than to unearned advantages.[1]

In the field of sociology, male privilege is seen as embedded in the structure of social institutions, as when men are often assigned authority over women in the workforce, and benefit from women's traditional caretaking role.[3] Privileges can be classified as either positive or negative, depending on how they affect the rest of society.[1] Women's studies scholar Peggy McIntosh writes:

We might at least start by distinguishing between positive advantages that we can work to spread, to the point where they are not advantages at all but simply part of the normal civic and social fabric, and negative types of advantage that unless rejected will always reinforce our present hierarchies.[4]

Positive advantages include having such things as adequate nutrition, shelter, and health care, whereas negative advantages accompanying male privilege include such things as the expectation that a man will have a better chance than a comparably qualified woman of being hired for a job, as well as being paid more than a woman for the same job.[1]


The term "male privilege" does not apply to a solitary occurrence of the use of power, but rather describes one of many systemic power structures that are interdependent and interlinked throughout societies and cultures.[5]

Privilege is not shared equally by all males. Those who most closely match an ideal masculine norm benefit the most from privilege.[1][6] In Western patriarchal societies this ideal has been described as being "white, heterosexual, stoic, wealthy, strong, tough, competitive, and autonomous".[1] Men's studies scholars refer to this ideal masculine norm as hegemonic masculinity. While essentially all males benefit from privilege to some degree, those who visibly differ from the norm may not benefit fully in certain situations, especially in the company of other men that more closely match it.[1]

Men who have experienced bullying and domestic violence in youth, in particular, may not accept that they are beneficiaries of privilege. Such forms of coercive violence are linked to the idea of toxic masculinity, a specific model of manhood that creates hierarchies of dominance in which some are favored and others are harmed.[2]

The invisibility of male privilege can be seen for instance in discussions of the gender pay gap in the United States; the gap is usually referred to by stating women's earnings as a percentage of men's. However, using women's pay as the baseline highlights the dividend that males receive as greater earnings (32% in 2005).[1] In commerce, male dominance in the ownership and control of financial capital and other forms of wealth has produced disproportionate male influence over the working classes and the hiring and firing of employees. In addition, a disproportionate burden is placed upon women in employment when they are expected to be solely responsible for child care; they may be more likely to be fired or be denied advancement in their profession, thus putting them at an economic disadvantage relative to men.[2]


The earliest academic studies of privilege appeared with feminist scholars' work in the area of women's studies during the 1970s. Such scholarship began by examining barriers to equity between the sexes. In later decades, researchers began to focus on the intersectionality and overlapping nature of privileges relating to sex, race, social class, sexual orientation, and other forms of social classification.[1]

Peggy McIntosh, one of the first feminist scholars to examine male privilege, wrote about both male privilege and white privilege, using the metaphor of the "invisible knapsack" to describe a set of advantages borne, often unaware and unacknowledged, by members of privileged groups.[1] According to McIntosh, privilege is not a result of a concerted effort to oppress those of the opposite gender; however, the inherent benefits that men gain from the systemic bias put women at an innate disadvantage. The benefits of this unspoken privilege may be described as special provisions, tools, relationships, or various other opportunities. According to McIntosh, this privilege may actually negatively affect men's development as human beings, and few question that the existing structure of advantages may be challenged or changed.[4]

Efforts to examine the role of privilege in students' lives has become a regular feature of university education in North America.[1][6] By drawing attention to the presence of privilege (including male, white, and other forms) in the lives of students, educators have sought to foster insights that can help students contribute to social justice.[1] Such efforts include McIntosh's "invisible knapsack" model of privilege and the "Male Privilege Checklist".[6]

Gender neutrality in English

Some linguistic conventions have privileged men and the male perspective and suggested that maleness is the societal norm.[7][8][9] In English, nouns such as "man" or "mankind"[10][11][12][13] and forms of address like "you guys" are routinely used for women while it is not accepted to refer to men as women.[14] Associating a man with something feminine and calling him girl or sissy is usually considered an insult.[15] Expressions like "freshmen" or occupational titles such as "chairman" are supposed to apply to both sexes[9][14] and many prestigious occupations are implicitly associated with men so that people use modifiers such as "woman doctor" or "lady doctor" to signal deviations from the norm that doctors are usually men.[16][17] In Western culture, male images and exclusively male language for deities such as referring to God as "he" or "father" have been argued to have reinforced male privilege.[18][19][20][21] Men's greater resemblance to God has been used to justify men's religious and cultural position.[18][19][20][21]

Historically, the third-person singular pronoun "he" is used as a sex-indefinite, generic form for all people (e.g. "anyone can do it if he tries") whereas the use of "she" to refer to people in general is not allowed.[7][9][14] Masculine generics were first introduced by prescriptive grammarians in the 19th century who argued that "he" was the only correct sex-indefinite referent.[22][23][24] Prior to that, singular "they" and "he or she" had been widely used in written and spoken English.[22][23][24] In 1850 a special Act of Parliament was passed in the United Kingdom that legally proscribed singular "they" and "he or she" in favor of "he", especially to shorten the language used in Acts of Parliament.[22][23][24]

Cultural responses

Many men have responded to discussions of male privilege by saying that they do not feel that they have been given any unearned advantages, such as in their struggles to find success in employment, education, or relationships.[1] Advocates for men's rights and father's rights as well as anti-feminist men often accept that men's traditional roles are damaging to men but deny that men as a group have institutional power and privilege, and argue that men are now victims relative to women.[25][26]

Some have taken active roles in challenging oppressive sexism, arguing that male privilege is deeply linked to the oppression of women. They describe men's oppressive behaviors as cultural traits learned within patriarchal social systems, rather than inborn biological traits.[1] Advocates within the broader men's movement oriented towards profeminism or anti-sexism argue that traditional gender roles harm both men and women. "Liberal" profeminism tends to stress the ways men suffer from these traditional roles, while more "radical" profeminism tends to emphasize male privilege and sexual inequality.[25] Some men may also be advocates of women's rights but deny that their privilege as a whole is a part of the issue at hand.[27][neutrality is disputed]


In both India and China, male offspring are often privileged and favored over female children.[28][29][30][31] Some manifestations of son preference and the devaluation of women are eliminating unwanted daughters through neglect, maltreatment, abandonment, as well as female infanticide and feticide despite laws that prohibit infanticide and sex-selective pregnancy termination.[31][32][33] In India some of these practices have contributed to skewed sex ratios in favor of male children at birth and in the first five years.[29] Other examples of privileging male offspring are special "praying for a son" ceremonies during pregnancy, more ceremony and festivities following the birth of a boy, listing and introducing sons before daughters, and common felicitations that associate good fortune and well-being with the number of sons.[34]

Reasons given for preferring sons to daughters include sons' role in religious family rites, which daughters are not permitted to perform, and the belief that sons are permanent members of the birth family whereas daughters belong to their husband's family after marriage in accordance with patrilocal tradition. Other reasons include patrilineal customs whereby only sons can carry on the family name, the obligation to pay dowry to a daughter's husband or his family, and the expectation that sons will support their birth parents financially while it is regarded as undesirable or shameful to receive financial support from daughters.[31][32]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Phillips, Debby A.; Phillips, John R. (2009). "Privilege, Male". In O'Brien, Jodi (ed.). Encyclopedia of Gender and Society: Volume 2. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications. pp. 683–685. ISBN 978-1-4129-0916-7.
  2. ^ a b c d Keith, Thomas (2017). "Patriarchy, Male Privilege, and the Consequences of Living in a Patriarchal Society". Masculinities in Contemporary American Culture: An Intersectional Approach to the Complexities and Challenges of Male Identity. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-31-759534-2.
  3. ^ Rohlinger, Deana A. (2010). "Privilege". In Ritzer, G.; Ryan, J.M. (eds.). The Concise Encyclopedia of Sociology. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 473–474. ISBN 9781444392647.
  4. ^ a b McIntosh, Peggy (1988). "White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women's Studies" (PDF). Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College, Center for Research on Women. Working Paper 189.
  5. ^ Narayan, Uma (1997). Dislocating Cultures: Identities, Traditions, and Third-World Feminism. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-91419-2.
  6. ^ a b c Coston, Bethany M.; Kimmel, Michael (2012). "Seeing Privilege Where It Isn't: Marginalized Masculinities and the Intersectionality of Privilege". Journal of Social Issues. 68 (1): 97–111. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.2011.01738.x. ISSN 1540-4560.
  7. ^ a b Wildman, S. M. (1996). Privilege revealed: how invisible preference undermines America. New York: New York University Press. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-8147-9303-9.
  8. ^ Barnett, M. (2012). Rastafari in the new millennium: a Rastafari reader. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. p. 234–235. ISBN 9780815650799.
  9. ^ a b c Briscoe, F.; Arriaza, G.; Henze, R. C. (2009). The power of talk: how words change our lives. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-4129-5601-7.
  10. ^ Roman, C.; Juhasz, S.; Miller, C. (1994). The women and language debate: a sourcebook. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press. p. 451. ISBN 978-0-8135-2011-7.
  11. ^ Davies, D. (2005). Varieties of modern English: an introduction. Harlow: Pearson Longman. pp. 78–79. ISBN 978-0-582-36996-2.
  12. ^ Cunningham, G. B. (2007). Diversity in sport organizations. Scottsdale, Ariz.: Holcomb Hathaway. p. 122. ISBN 978-1-890871-77-2.
  13. ^ Anderson, K. J. (2010). Benign bigotry: the psychology of subtle prejudice. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 203. ISBN 978-0-521-70259-1.
  14. ^ a b c Kleinman, S. (2002). "Why sexist language matters". Qualitative Sociology. 25 (2): 299–304. doi:10.1023/A:1015474919530.
  15. ^ Rosenberg, R. (2001). Women's studies: an interdisciplinary anthology. New York: Peter Lang. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-8204-4443-7.
  16. ^ Flood, M.; Pease, B. (2005). "Undoing men's privilege and advancing gender equality in public sector institutions" (PDF). Policy and Society. 24 (4): 199–138. doi:10.1016/S1449-4035(05)70123-5. Retrieved April 17, 2013.
  17. ^ Powell, B. (2010). Counted out: same-sex relations and Americans' definitions of family. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. p. 172. ISBN 978-0-87154-687-6.
  18. ^ a b Lindley, S. H. (2006). "Gender and social roles". In Keller, R. S.; Ruether, R. R.; Cantlon, M (eds.). Encyclopedia of women and religion in North America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-253-34685-8.
  19. ^ a b O'Brien, J. M. (2008). Challenging prophetic metaphor: theology and ideology in the prophets. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-664-22964-1.
  20. ^ a b Chandler, K. J. (2007). How to become a 'blackman': exploring African American masculinities and the performance of gender. Detroit: Wayne State University. p. 184. ISBN 9780549293866.
  21. ^ a b Lorenzen, L. F. (1999). The college student's introduction to the Trinity. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-8146-5518-4.
  22. ^ a b c Henley, N. M. (1987). "This new species that seeks a new language: On sexism in language and language change". In Penfield, J (ed.). Women and language in transition. Albany: State University of New York Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-88706-485-2.
  23. ^ a b c Bodine, A. (1975). "Androcentrism in prescriptive grammar: Singular 'they', sex indefinite 'he', and 'he or she'". Language in Society. 4 (2): 129–146. doi:10.1017/S0047404500004607.
  24. ^ a b c Hegarty, P.; Buechel, C. (2006). "Androcentric reporting of gender differences in APA journals 1965–2004" (PDF). Review of General Psychology. 10 (4): 377–389. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.10.4.377. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  25. ^ a b Flood, Michael (2007). "Men's movement" (PDF). In Flood, Michael; et al. (eds.). International Encyclopedia of Men and Masculinities. London: Routledge. pp. 418–422. ISBN 978-0-415-33343-6.
  26. ^ Clatterbaugh, K. (2007). "Anti-feminism". In Flood, Michael; et al. (eds.). International Encyclopedia of Men and Masculinities. London: Routledge. pp. 21–. ISBN 978-0-415-33343-6.
  27. ^ Shaw, Susan; Lee, Janet (2015). Women's Voices Feminist Visions (Sixth ed.). New York, New York: McGraw-Hill Education. p. 54. ISBN 978-0-07-802700-0.
  28. ^ Ryju, S.; Lahiri-Dutt, eds. (2011). Doing gender, doing geography: emerging research in India. New Delhi: Routledge. p. 212. ISBN 978-0-415-59802-6.
  29. ^ a b Weiner, M.; Varshney, A.; Almond, G. A., eds. (2004). India and the politics of developing countries. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications. p. 187. ISBN 978-0-7619-3287-1.
  30. ^ Joseph, W. A., ed. (2010). Politics in China: an introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 308. ISBN 978-0-19-533530-9.
  31. ^ a b c Lai-wan, C. C.; Eric, B.; Hoi-yan (2006). "Attitudes to and practices regarding sex selection in China". Prenatal Diagnosis. 26 (7): 610–613. doi:10.1002/pd.1477. PMID 16856223.
  32. ^ a b Singh, K. (2012). "Man's world, legally". Frontline. 29 (15). Retrieved May 13, 2013.
  33. ^ Koop, C. E.; Pearson, C. E.; Schwarz, M. R., eds. (2002). Critical issues in global health. San Francisco, Calif.: Wiley. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-7879-6377-4. Across the world, male privilege is also variously reflected in giving sons preferential access to health care, sex- selective abortion, female infanticide, or trafficking in women.
  34. ^ Croll, E. (2000). "Ethnographic voices: disappointing daughters". Endangered daughters: discrimination and development in Asia. London: Routledge. pp. 70–105. ISBN 978-0-203-17021-2.

Further reading