Male Privilege came up again in a discussion on one of my FB posts. I got the impression that some men either think it doesn’t exist or (if it does) it doesn’t apply to them.
“I grew up in adversity, not privilege,” some say.
That’s not the point. Male privilege isn’t something earned on the individual level. It’s a social and cultural phenomenon where men generally are placed in a position with privilege over women. Access to leadership positions, education, business opportunities, financial resources – in all of these and more there is generally better access for men than for women in most societies around the world.
Some men will cite an example of a woman who attained power or wealth as if that proves the absence of male privilege. Exceptions tend to prove the rule, though.
For example, Angela Merkel is the Chancellor of Germany and Theresa May is the Prime Minister of the UK. Yet a woman who becomes prime minister, chancellor or president of a country is worth remarking on because it’s a remarkable event. And then there are all the men who are the heads of almost all the other countries in Europe, let alone around the world. Not remarkable.
Other men acknowledge the disparities between men and women but then resist efforts to remove those disparities. If men should not hold men-only leadership conferences, for example, a man might say that’s fine as long as there are no women-only conferences.
This misses the point.
Many churches are set up, either intentionally or unintentionally, with men in charge. If the church holds a men’s event, the leadership of the church will likely be in attendance. Conversations about leadership will occur that no woman is ever privy to. With weekly men’s Bible studies or monthly men’s breakfasts, these conversations occur throughout the year. And as leaders engage men in those conversations they might find some men are suitable for various roles in the church, perhaps even joining the leadership.
And that’s how male leadership begets male leadership, which is itself a prime example of the privilege men enjoy merely by being men. Will some men not actually experience the benefits of that privilege, i.e., will they not become part of church leadership? Yes, but the male privilege as a social construct has come into play in that church none the less.
This is why in my own profession we are prohibited from joining groups that discriminate on the basis of sex (among other immutable characteristics). No judge in California, for example, can belong to a club that won’t allow women. Same for clubs that won’t allow men. Yet many judges belong to groups like the Women Lawyers Society (WLS). How can that be?
It’s because the WLS doesn’t restrict its membership to women. Men can join and take full part, and many do. The point of the group is to promote the presence and abilities of women in the legal profession, whether as lawyers or as judges, not to exclude men from the legal profession. The society wouldn’t even be necessary if male privilege hadn’t had such a profound and adverse impact on the profession of law.
If you think this is a thing of the past, here’s a thought experiment: consider the phrase “woman judge” as in “I was on jury duty and we had a woman judge” and you might think the person using it is behind the times; if they said “man judge” you might wonder why on earth they felt it necessary to point out the judge was a man.
Now consider how this works in your church. If you belong to a church that ascribes to a doctrine teaching only men can lead and women have to submit to them, this goes beyond male privilege over women. It’s male oppression of women.
But if you are in a church that says women and men should alike have access to all aspects of church life yet the leadership is predominantly male and the church continues to run separate activities based on sex, you might want to rethink how that might be a manifestation of male privilege.
You might also consider why there are separate activities in the first place.
Does a church really need men’s studies and women’s studies, women’s retreats and men’s retreats (or men’s advances as some churches have taken to calling them on the theory that men don’t retreat, they advance, which is itself a problematic concept infecting discipleship in the church)? It’s not that there is never a place for a couple of men to meet together, or a group, and same for women. But why should this be the norm?
We are to gather in fellowship as members of the family of God.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29.)
The default mode for families is to gather together regardless of sex. There might be times for a mom to talk to a daughter and a father to a son, but is it more often than other match-ups among family members? So too there might be times when a church discussion might have to be limited to one sex, but it should be so rare as to be remarkable in its occurrence. Regular same-sex retreats, Bible studies and breakfasts are not rare.
In accordance with that Galatians passage churches would never exclude a person from an activity or divide people up based on race or social status, because churches recognize that these distinctions don’t count among children of God. Yet exclusion and division based on sex continues within God’s family.
And for those who insist that men and women are different so they need separate ministries, the answer is that they are not so different as to justify regular and institutionalized exclusion from each other’s fellowship. On rare occasion based on unusual circumstances, perhaps; on regular occasion enshrined in the church calendar, no.
We’re a family, after all, and God our Father gathers us together.
I’ve written on white privilege as well, and it too is abhorrent:
Why Black Student Unions Are Necessary and White Student Unions Aren’t.
White Privilege – You’re white? What are you going to do about that?.