Having Privilege Is Tough

19 Dec

Having privilege is tough. Not having privilege is tougher. Let me be very clear at the outset, I am in no way equating the problems of privilege with the problems of the privilege-less. The latter is a larger issue and much more important. But privilege makes life easier, not easy. Privilege brings with it burdens. I understand that they are burdens that others would gladly take on as the price for privilege, but they are burdens none the less. Losing privilege is tough too, even when you wholeheartedly agree that you should.

To a very large extent the issues facing men today fall under the #firstworldproblems twitter tag. Are there larger issues that people should care about? Probably, yes. But at the same time people need space sometimes just to vent, or more productively, space to talk about issues specific to them. A mom complaining about how a daycare treated her child doesn’t always need to be reminded at least she has daycare. Just as a dad complaining about how a daycare treats him with his child doesn’t always need to be reminded of how women have it worse, even when that is completely true.

I think The Good Men Project writers do a very good job talking about the issues facing men, some of their commenters less so. But at its best, the Good Men Project is basically discussing how to go about abdicating privilege, how to share the burdens of privilege and expand the traditional definition of manhood. And yes, part of that discussion is what privileges men do not want to hand over. The larger discourse on manhood is an important discussion that needs to take place among men with copious amounts of women’s input. But with some understanding that telling men that the problems they face are nothing compared to the problems faced by women isn’t always the best or most productive response even when it is 100% true.

Even many women’s issues in America today could fall under #firstworldproblems. I say this not to denigrate them, because I think they are vitally important, but just to prove the point about having space to talk. Compare what women had to go through in the 60s or 70s workplace versus today and you can make the same critique. But just because things are getting better doesn’t mean everything is copacetic. Or compare a white American woman’s privilege with an average North Korean man and it isn’t even close. I understand that men have used such arguments to tarnish or attack feminism and I completely and utterly disagree with them and distance myself from their conclusions, that is not what I was doing here, I am just trying to show that people can focus on a whole myriad of important issues, not just the most important issue.

That last sentence is important (and long). It is important that I wrote it so that I am clear about what I am trying to express and it is exemplary of the sentence that has been constantly missing from Tom Matlack’s discourse throughout this kerfuffle. I read his original article Being A Dude Is A Good Thing and understood its main premise about the sterotypes and blame facing men. I felt the article had problems, most of which are proficiently addressed in Amanda Marcotte’s rebuttal. Frankly, I don’t really think that women don’t want men to be emotional. And I believe that today’s society sees emotion as feminine precisely because traditionally men decided masculinity didn’t show emotion, not that women wanted to be the only emotional ones. I understand saying that some women don’t help men show emotion, but that is not the argument I read even though I think it may be what Mr. Matlack was trying to say. Another thing that was missing was any acknowledgement that men blame women at the bare minimum as much as they themselves are blamed. Or any mention of the issues women face daily while blaming women for some of the issues men face.

The blame that men deal with is one of the burden’s of manhood and its privilege. We are told by other men to be stoic, hardnosed, and competitive on one hand and then shown by a male dominated media as incompetent, brash and sophomoric on the other. While I agree with Ms. Marcotte that the latter is done with a wink and approving nod, that only makes it worse from my view because I don’t think it should be how men comport themselves. I think as a person Mr. Matlack is doing a good job trying to break masculinity from both of these restraining definitions. But what isn’t mentioned in his article is the fact that it is our duty as good men to rise above guilt and carry on in much the same way Joanna Schroeder describes in her article The (Quiet) Feminist Revolution. The issues Mr. Matlack discusses are burdens of privilege, and we should acknowledge that as much even when the lines between genders defending and attacking that burden become blurred.

To put it in Mr. Matlack’s terms, men don’t have to be constantly apologizing for being men when other men are assholes. They do have to take into consideration that other men are assholes when talking about gender rights and defending masculinity. It is disingenuous to discount the worst of one gender while calling out the worst of the opposite gender. We have to view our discussions as part of a larger context that includes dudes abusing their privilege even when just talking about people who are just trying to help men be good.

Talking about masculinity and women is a tricky issue because the discourse is at its core how much men should ally themselves to the women’s movement. Some men will be enemies, some men will be allies, and telling them apart can be tough in the middle of the discussion, especially on Twitter. Mr. Matlack’s article and tweet that started it all do a poor job of walking the line on a tricky issue and I think Jenn Pozner and Ms. Marcotte were right to push back on them both with valid criticism.

I don’t think Mr. Matlack realized how much his post sounded like the commonplace complaints of enemies of feminism rather than allies. Even though he was trying to critique from an ally position, without any mention of the issues women face it came across as an attack rather than constructive criticism. He compounded this problem by defending himself using his own history of writing and publishing articles to prove he was a feminist instead of effectively responding to the specific critiques of his article. As part of this defense he said the MRA men hate him too and call him a mangina. This is not really helpful. The best way to defend oneself from the charge of racism isn’t to claim your history of helping or loving black people but to talk about the specific reasons why someone leveled that charge and try to change their mind. Even though I know Mr. Matlack has a history of supporting women’s issues and saw where he was trying to come from his defense reminded me of more of Steven Colbert’s one black friend than the measured response I know he is capable of producing.

Mr. Matlack was acting like his feminist critics were attacking him personally rather than what he specifically tweeted or wrote in his article. This view is exemplified in his second article about the twitter discussion. But neither Ms. Marcotte and Ms. Pozner’s attacked him personally; notice how neither are quoted as attacking him. They called out specific issues they had with either his tweets or his article, issues that he still hasn’t responded to even after writing that second article. Mr. Matlack’s basic defense of his history did not work he got upset and started saying feminists were attacking him. Basically, Mr. Matlack was demanding to be seen as an individual with a long history of doing good at the same time he started lumping feminists together. Ms. Pozner explicitly called him out on this to no avail.

The best example of this victim claim is his more or less indefensible tweet to Ms. Pozner:

interesting “feedback.” I really thought the MRA guys were crazy until I engaged the wrath of the feminists. Insane.

Mr. Matlack tries to use wrath in its original sense of anger but is apparently is completely oblivious to the fact that the MRA guys continually use it to denigrate women’s opinions. I understand that is not what he meant, but the ignorance of context is galling. Later Mr. Matlack retweets a tweet from an MRA guy calling him a mangina, I guess to prove that he is on the right side and is still being attacked for being feminist.

The same MRA guy tweeted me and called me a mangina. This made me laugh as the term will be indellibly linked in my mind to my frat brother’s “patented penis tricks.” He usually started off with the tuck/mangina before moving on to harder feats such as the helicopter or hamburger. I clicked on the MRA guy’s profile to see what type of asshat thought he was insulting me. That is when I saw that the same MRA guy had tweeted at one of the main female discussion participants that she should be raped by an entire football team.

This is an instructive example of male priviledge, even when we argue the same thing as our women counterparts we aren’t subjected to rape threats. It’s not like it would be hard, to suggest corrective rape. Examples are easy to think of…such as…”You should be ass raped by a pool cue. Treat you like the bitch you are.” I would note here that even this vast escalation of rhetoric is still less violent than the suggestion the MRA guy made above. Frankly I was upset, at how easily my own made up threat rolled off my tongue but it is telling that they never even think to say it. It is vital to notice and acknowledge that even our most virulent enemies are exponentially more violent in thier speech to women than to men.

With that as context lets look back at Mr. Matlack’s most tweet:

interesting “feedback.” I really thought the MRA guys were crazy until I engaged the wrath of the feminists. Insane.

From Mr. Matlack’s point of view he is right. Tough criticism is worse than being called a mangina. Who the fuck cares about being called a mangina? But, what he thinks he is saying and what every feminist woman took him to be saying are completely different because of what they have to deal with every day. Tough criticism is no where near equal to rape threats, I think Mr. Matlack would agree with me on that. It is unfortunate then, that while specifially arguing the differences between men and women Mr. Matlack fails to empathize with how his comment would be interpreted by women. Again, the lack of context is galling. It is troubling that when presented with this he blithely claims that isn’t what he meant but doesn’t walk it back or explicitly explain how he didn’t mean it that way. It is perplexing that he doesn’t do these things while still attacking the MRA guy back for the rape tweets, taking down his retweet of him, and expressing sorrow to others that they have to deal with men like that.

It seems that Mr. Matlack doesn’t want to be taken in context of other men behaving abominably but still wants his own article to be taken in context of his own history. An article must stand on its own. I urge Mr. Matlack go back and read his original article, not from his point of view with his history but from a woman’s point of view. I am not suggesting he take a woman’s point of view as fact but instead to re-read it to see how his words could be interpreted in the larger context of  gender discussions. I don’t think Mr. Matlack meant to do it, but by trying to talk about just men’s issues while not effectively acknowledging any outside context he comes to close for comfort to advocating MRA views. He relies on some of the same tropes, without explicitly distancing himself from those views in his piece.

Clarity is part of a writers job, and it is especially important when talking about sensitive subjects like gender issues and rights. Mr. Matlack needs to be more clear about exactly what he was trying to say in his article, maybe to the extent of re-writing it for a larger audience. He needs to respond directly to Ms. Marcotte and Ms. Pozner’s questions and critiques of his article instead of claiming they are attacking him personally. He does this to such an extent that his second post doesn’t even link back to his first post. The main issue of this twitter debate is that so far Mr. Matlack hasn’t defended his article with specifics, only himself.

It is tough having privilege, and one of the burdens of privilege should be dealing with arguments based on one’s own privilege constructively rather than defensively. Yes, this is sometimes galling. But as men we need to rise above our own anger and look at it within the context of what those accusing us based on our privilege have to go through that we do not. Empathy is of the utmost importance to being a good man. It is even more important when we are talking about  being a good man within the context of privilege.


9 Responses to “Having Privilege Is Tough”

  1. Tom Matlack December 19, 2011 at 6:29 pm #


    I have pretty much stopped responding on twitter and in comments as I just found the name calling to be counter-productive to my intent and didn’t seem to get anyone anywhere. I wanted to respond to your piece, which I did happen to have pointed out to me, because while I don’t agree with much I do agree with some and frankly I really appreciate the way you wrote in a civil, even tone that didn’t assume the worst about me personally.

    I realize that post-modern (for lack of a better term) feminists and the MRA hate each other with tons of venom. The stuff said on both side quite frankly is not civil. It’s personal and ugly. I feel like I have dipped my toe into the wrong pond only to find it charged with electricity.

    The MRA guys I frankly write off for the most part because at their most extreme they are just insane. I didn’t even know what the MRA was until I pissed them off.

    But the feminists, well I consider myself a feminist. I take very seriously how my daughter and wife get treated by me, others, and the world. I have thought long and hard what it means to love fully. To be a good man, just for me, with regard to women.

    So it’s much more difficult to take the level of personal attack, and frankly organized piling on, by so-called feminists. Sure it hurts. It hurts a lot. But that really doesn’t matter in the end. What it really leaves me asking is, “Where is all this personal bashing getting us?”

    One of the things I asked in my original piece which caused the world to turn upside down is why it is that women want to talk about manhood so much more than men do? We see it right on GMP with our evangelists. The most insanely dedicated are for the most part women. Our CEO, as much as I love and adore and respect and don’t ever want to lose her, is a woman.

    So we hit this divide. What is the point of what we are doing on GMP? Is it to debate feminism? Is it to allow women to talk about their experiences with men? Is it to try to fight off the MRA? It is to have these vicious rounds of name calling in the name of gender?

    That’s not where we started and not where I think we have the widest appeal. Sure it drives a lot of traffic from those interested in gender but not traffic from those who are more interested in how the heck to get through the day.

    In the beginning this was about first person story-telling. Men telling their truth in a way that inspired and opened up the conversation to others. It was an attempt to find common ground among men, and women if they were interested in listening to men’s stories. When a man talks about losing his job or his wife or his child or his arm in war, feminism and MRA are no longer even part of the conversation. It is about hearing some guy talk about what remarkable, challenging, courageous, painful, joyous thing has happened in his life. It is about making men feel less alone. It’s about getting away from sports and porn and digging deep into the heart of the matter. Something for which I think many men yearn.

    To my mind we have lost that thread more than we should. I don’t want to fight with those who call themselves feminists and then throw hand grenades at me. They have proven that they really aren’t interested in what I am interested in: men’s stories and goodness.

    As I told Amanda directly on email before her last round of vicious attacks on me, you all are way too organized for me to mount a one man campaign to try to prove you wrong. I am not a debater. That was never my aspiration. My aspiration was to sit in Sing Sing and listen to a man tell me what happened. That brings tears to my eyes and moves my soul.

    Thanks again for at least writing a response that was thoughtful and civil.
    I really appreciate it.

  2. Kathleen December 24, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    I like the article, “Having Privilege Is Tough” and agree with most of its points.

    I’ve always wondered why The Good Men Project never published excerpts from Allan G. Johnson’s classics, “The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy” and “Privilege, Power, and Difference.” Johnson does a great job of showing that patriarchy is a social system, not a code word for men’s personalities, and that taking equal responsibility for it does NOT mean that men apologize for being men. Quite the opposite.

    After this “discussion” between Matlock, Marcotte, Pozner, and Schwyzer, I know why. Matlock does not want to deal with the reality of male privilege. Sorry, but if you’re going to write about men’s issues with any integrity, you cannot except the inconvenient truth about male privilege.

    Bottom line: A good man takes equal responsibility for patriarchy

  3. What's up? December 29, 2011 at 2:45 am #

    You keep talking about male privilege but never give a shred of proof that there is any male privilege other than some weak point about Internet comments.

    Hm…. Let me think of some of men’s privileges:
    Signing up for the draft
    98% of all work related deaths
    Paying 96% of all alimony
    Paying 96% of all child support
    Only a 5% chance of winning a child custody case
    3 times more likely to commit suicide
    50% of all domestic abuse yet zero shelters for protection
    Descrimination in education (85% of all teachers are women and it has been shown that students perform better when taught by their own gender)
    Men get longer sentences for committing the same crime (just as African Americans get a longer sentence than whites for the same crime)
    Lower funding per death for prostate cancer than breast cancer

    In every area of law in this country women are favored over men. So what is all this privileges we men supposedly have cause I’m not seeing them. The wage gap has been debunked many times. I make twice as much as my sister but that is because she chose to go into publishing and I went into finance.

    I think there once was a need for feminism but they won their rights and no longer had any purpose, so now they fight for more and more and more privileges for women and keep bearing down on men. Enough is enough, leave us alone.

  4. Nikki B December 30, 2011 at 9:58 pm #

    You know, as someone watching GMP closely these days, I’m really trying to understand the disconnect happening there, as well as trying to figure out how to create space to hear from men about the things they deal with – without it either a) pissing off feminists (and me) or b) ignoring men to talk about women or c) just becoming another space for MRAs to vent, and feel like the GMP is validating their arguments.

    Part of it is that is the whole “yes, but” response of men/white people/rich people etc when someone *else* is talking about their own issues (e.g. http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2011/12/29/why-yes-but-is-the-wrong-response-to-misogyny/), as well as the “well I don’t experience that, therefore it’s not happening” issue. I *do* see both happening at GMP, in terms of posts, and especially in comments.

    BUT, fundamentally, the GMP is supposed to be about men. We shouldn’t even be talking about women in a way that ends up with men saying “yes, but” and making someone angry – because it’s actually supposed to be a space where men can say “yes but”. And, perhaps women are coming back with “yes but” in response to men’s issues. Which is also unhelpful to both the GMP mission and the idea of allowing men to speak out their issues.

    What I’m staring to think part of the problem is two-fold:

    1. Some of the writers are unaware, and (it seems) unwilling to discuss their own underlying misogyny, and, at times, racism. It’s so subtle and hidden, that I know they would ALL be offended if I actually said that to them – because they’re actually not racist or sexist. But that’s HOW misogyny and racism are working in most of the culture you and I inhabit, and the readers and writers of GMP (e.g. mostly white, mostly well off, mostly American). However – those underlying biases and the narratives that result (even though the people perpetuating them aren’t actually sexism or racist) are still there in the writing – and readers, especially those experienced in feminist etc history and theory, respond to that – and then “twitter wrath” ensues based on the resulting confusing and inability to see one’s own issues. Which we all have.

    2. The GMP has engaged issues of feminism and other groups that they may not belong to – but then don’t want to have the discussion about that group, they want to talk about men. It’s almost like bringing up rape culture as an introduction to talking about men. See, it’s a very fine line – trying to talk about how one group reacts or feels about issues that involve someone else (e.g. women), because you’re not the other group. You aren’t the authority on that, you might not even see it, and telling people who are in the group that they’re, oh, I don’t know, overreacting is really unhelpful. It derails (to use a catch phrase) both constructive conversation about feminist, etc (which belong somewhere other than the GMP until writers can be more aware) AND about how men feel (because they’ve overstepped the boundary in the way they talked about it).

    Wow. I didn’t mean to write that much. Am I even making sense? Bottom line: I am not sure the GMP should engage these issues without figuring out how to be more sensitive, and more aware. More willing to do some self-reflection and listen, and less willing to post MRA comments (even though, golly gee I hate censorship so who knows the answer there as those dudes are kinda taking over the comment section). I know that may seem unfair, as it is a men’s space… but if you’re going to talk about other people’s issues (ahem, mine) than you need to do that. Plus, isn’t learning and becoming more sensitive (and not just in the “so i can cry now” sense) and better men part of the point?

  5. Kathleen January 29, 2012 at 12:24 am #

    Male privilege means that . . .

    The human race is called “mankind” and women are called “guys,”

    men should make most of the money in the family;

    men should write the great symphonies, make the great scientific discoveries, lead the big corporations, be the war heroes, be the theologians and ethicists;

    men should “delegate” the housework and childcare to women;

    men should be the “seducers” and women should be the “seduced”;

    men should be “heads of households”;

    Male privilege doesn’t means that men have easy lives or that they’re happy. It does mean that the world views them as intellectually, physically and emotionally superior to women and more fit to be leaders and geniuses.

  6. Kathleen January 29, 2012 at 12:26 am #

    I am not convinced that men only have a 5% change of winning a child custody case. I heard that 50 to 75% of the time, men actually win custody of their children.

  7. Trista March 7, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    Very happy to have found your blog via the Ms. Magazine article – look forward to reading more!


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    […] To get ya started, read this awesomesauce post on privilege by Feminist Father: Having Privilege is Tough […]

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    […] of that stick, too. And, you know, we tend to remember the shit end over the privileges we have. As Feminist Father points out: “…mom complaining about how a daycare treated her child doesn’t always need to be […]

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