Sunday, March 9, 2014

How not to argue against privilege

Today while reading an otherwise brilliant and moving piece about the struggle of one father to see his own son, I had to forgive the author for making a common error when he closed with a shout against the concept of male privilege. Specifically, he wrote:

This is why I have a problem when people tell me I’m “privileged” just by virtue of my being a male.

As I wrote before, there are clueless social justice warriors who misuse the legitimate concept of privilege and treat it as a dumb "I win" button in discussions. Those people act as if accidents of birth dismiss the validity of someone's arguments, and only personal experience can be used to find truth in the world. Those people are wrong and should not be taken seriously.

But the actual privilege arguments are much more modest and reasonable. They do not say that men or whites have every advantage in society, but say that there are certain scenarios where some people do not have to worry about certain things. Tim Wise used the example of a cop helping jimmy open the lock on his car without checking to make sure it was actually his. If Tim has been black, the cop probably would have at least asked.

But what Tim Wise and the other social justice warriors don't include in their message is that all groups have privilege, including women. Female privilege, for example, includes not worrying about being accused of pedophilia while interacting with kids, sitting next to them on a plane or when using a public skating rink bathroom.

As Warren Farrell said, our society is sexist against men and women at the same time in different ways. That is not to say that they automatically break even, but that the two are not mutually exclusive.

Many, many times I see someone going up against an activist by pointing out some injustice men face and asking how they could possibly be "privileged." When they say that, I know they don't really understand the concept, and they are guilty of making the same simplistic assumption the social justice warriors make by assuming only one group can experience harm at a time.


  1. Great article. I've been making the same arguments with the "warriors" for years. Of course, it lands on deaf ears. This side of these concepts is difficult to find on the internet. I'm happy to see it here!

  2. Thanks for the mention. I wrote the blog piece you opened with. You're probably right about my shout being out of place or errant, but the act of putting my story to writing was a very emotional experience. In retrospect, I should probably have left it out.

    I enjoyed your article, by the way.