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The State Of Male Privilege In Contemporary Society Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 3364 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The state of male privilege within society is greatly debated. Both past and present day academics, have considered the extent of its presence and effects within society in relation to spatial and geographical dimensions. Over time, a vast selection of literature claiming that male privilege heavily affects women’s power and opportunity for equality between the sexes has accumulated. This literature is a reaction to issues such as women consistently taking lower wages in the workforce and being repressed by the family unit, cultures, religion, politics and society as a whole. This has resulted in limitations for women due to stereotypical gender roles reinforced in both work and home spaces. However, the increased empowerment of women must be noted through the last century, for example, when women won the right to vote. The last decade witnessed Farrell’s (1993) works on ‘The Myth of Male Power’ which has cast a rather different light on the alleged privileges of man. Leaving one to question whether, in fact, it is to women that freedom and privilege belongs; Goldin and Katz (2006) discuss this phenomenon in ‘The reversal of the college gender gap’. Are men perhaps, as Farrell (1993) suggests, perhaps the subordinated sex?

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For the purposes of this essay, male privilege will be defined as the notion that the male population of society is granted rights and statuses based strictly on the grounds of their gender, thus women are denied equal liberties. Patriarchy, as a concept strongly associated with male privilege is defined as a system of social structures and practices, through which men dominate, oppress and exploit women, according to The Dictionary of Human Geography (Gregory et al. 2009).

Cosslett et al (1996) highlight the theme of patriarchy is evident within theological structures. They also refer to a verse from the book of Timothy in the New Testament which clearly suggests that women are subordinate to men.

“Let a women learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, bit the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”

(1 Timothy 2.11-15)

1 Timothy 2.11-15 suggests that women are the cause of sin and deception. Eve, as the representation of the female form was deliberately disobedient when provided with the opportunity to exercise her own authority. Christianity interprets this foundational allegory in order to offer an explanation for the sexual hierarchy existing within society.

According to Therborn (2004), the world of patriarchy remained part of society throughout the 1900’s. The law of the father remained a substantial part of understanding society during the 1900’s. The role of the father was to rule over the children continuing into adult life, until they were married. It was generally perceived that men were super-ordinate to their wives, thus men had generational authority. So much so, that despite a general expectation that men should keep a mistress in Latin Europe and America, divorce was incredibly difficult and a uniquely male privilege in China and Muslim countries (Therborn, 2004). Female freedom was incredibly restricted, entirely controlled by their male authority, whether it be by their father or husband. Movement in public spaces for women was physically restrained almost everywhere, however, restrictions varied to a great extent. In North-America and North-western Europe, sexually ambiguous spaces including the streets after dark, restaurants, theatres and other places of entertainment were usually off-limits to women unless being escorted (Therborn, 2004). However, Therborn (2004) noted that more extreme measures were taken to restrain women’s movement elsewhere, for example, in an area of land between the Gangetic plains of the redundant Mughal Empire to the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Women of the upper conservative classes rarely left their female quarters, let alone their home; it was expected that they should only set foot outside their home for events such as their marriage, their father’s death and at their own burial. On the few occasions’ when they did leave their home, they were wrapped up and veiled.

Therborn (2004) discusses not only the restrictions that were placed on women’s movement through space but physical restraints places on their body by men. Women in China endured great suffering; forced to conform to the male concept of beauty – their feet were broken and bound up as a tribute to their male authority.

Jackson (1990) suggests that some homosexual men may have suffered oppression under patriarchy (such as compulsory heterosexuality), as well as the inherent exploitation of women. Brittan (1989, p.4) considers that masculinity or patriarchy ‘assumes that heterosexuality is normal, it accepts without question the sexual division of labour, and sanctions the political and dominant role of men in the public and private spheres’. Essentially certain forms of masculinity are privileged, subordinating other forms. Thus, homosexuality is treated as secondary to heterosexuality, just as women are to men.

The continued oppression and abuse of women through time and place inspired the sentiments of Mary Wollstonecraft two centuries ago, who wrote, “I [only] wish women to have power…over themselves”, as highlighted by Finch (1996). As the second wave of feminism began to gain strength in Britain in the 1960’s, views of the family changed, as feminists argued the family was a fundamental cause of women’s oppression (Finch, 1996). Finch (1996) questions whether or not the family represents restriction of opportunities, thus positioning women as subordinates to men within the family unit. He suggests that the gender relations characteristic of the dominant family form are key to understanding a woman’s place within society. However, Finch (1996) argues that in recent years the family form has altered. Therborn (2004) suggests that the early twentieth century saw ‘de-patriarchalization’ occurring at an incredible rate. No other social institution through time has been forced to retreat and loosen its hold as much. The retreat of patriarchy from society has been aided by legal enforcement; for example, when women (all over the age of 21) won the right to vote in 1928 as well as the UN declaration of human rights 1948, which stated:

“Men and Women of full age, without any limitations due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage, and its dissolution”

“Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses”

So the family form has changed and continues to change; as the first wave of feminism spurred on de-patriarchalization in the early twentieth century followed by the second wave come the 1960s, women’s rights within marriage and the family were increasing.

A woman’s ability to succeed in the eyes of Mary Wollstonecraft has to go ‘against the grain of social life’ (Finch, 1996, p.20), in combination with favourable circumstances allowing a woman to gain financial independence. However, Finch (1996) recognises that this remains a difficult task even at the end of the twentieth century.

Callen and Wren (1994) report a sharp rise on the hourly wages that Irish women received relative to their male counterparts during the 1970s, after the introduction of the equal pay legislation and anti-discrimination legislation. Over the past few decades the male-female wage gap has seemingly shrunk by about half. This narrowing was particularly dramatic in the 1980s but since has levelled out and remained more stable (Doms and Lewis, 2007). However, it remains that women only earn approximately 70% of the amount their male colleagues earn for the same jobs. This is evidence that men seem to have privileges which women lack. Simon and Landis (1989) suggest that the wage gap between men and women cannot narrow to equality until both genders have equal employment. Conversely, most of the figures quoted for the male-female wage gap are for production workers in the manufacturing industry, but this group of workers amounts to just 1 in 3 of all employees and less than 1 in 5 of all female employees (Callen and Wren, 1994). Thus, it is debateable as to whether this sub-group of the economy can provide an accurate representation of the male-female wage gap. It is also important to note that women are more highly concentrated in the younger age groups within the workforce; 70% women: 52% men were aged 35 or below. This is usually attributed to many women, especially married women, tending to leave the labour market during the years of child-bearing and child-rearing (Callen and Wren, 1994). This can affect the wage gap because generally wage gaps for groups of a similar age, or possessing similar labour market experience are smaller. The wage gap is often around just 7% for those under the age of 35.

Despite increasing numbers of women returning to work after having children, many still feel that child-care and other family responsibilities are the main reason that they did not seek out paid work. The presence of a pre-school child (age 0-4) makes it much less likely that a woman will return to work (Callen and Wren, 1994). This effect is not at all mirrored in the case of men. McDowell (1997) suggests that this is due to the binaries that exist in society; the workplace is a male dominated space while the home is a female dominated space. However, Hochschild (2003) notes a staggering increase in mothers returning to work in America with children aged 3 and under, from 34% in 1975, to 61% in 2000. 90% of women that do return to the workforce have found that they still are expected to be responsible for finding and organising childcare. Whilst this increase in the number of mothers that are working outside the home may suggest that women are gaining ‘power over themselves’, it may also be attributed to a change from Fordist notion’s of a family wage. Rather, women’s work has absorbed the deindustrialisation of America and the decline in men’s wages (Hochschild, 2003). In fact, Pratt (2002) predicts that by 2025 women in the UK will possess 60% of the nation’s wealth, and by 2020 just 47% of the UK’s millionaires will be men.

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Garai and Scheinfield (1968) suggest that the majority of studies report that men advance further in the workforce, whilst women are left behind with the expectation to get married and have children because “boys have a clearer concept of their future occupational roles, are more realistic in their vocational planning, and less frequently engaged in unrealistic fantasies and pipedreams about future happiness than girls”. Is the privilege and success of men within the workforce due to a lack of aspiration and focus on employment from women? Or is it as Spencer and Podmore (1987) have suggested, that women’s careers are unplanned due to an indecisive nature as well as suffering from breaks for child-rearing?

This began to change as in the 1960s and 1970s, young women’s expectations for their futures were changing, and no longer did they expect to follow in their mother’s footsteps. By 1980, levels of male and female graduates had reached parity, but women’s greater increase rate did not slow; in 2003, there were 1.35 for every one male 4-year college graduates, and 1.30 for every one male undergraduate (Goldin and Katz, 2006). Thus the 21st century witnessed a reversal in the college gender gap. This effect is not purely a phenomenon of the USA; it is now occurring in nearly all OECD countries. In the three surveys conducted to assess the college gender gap, Goldin and Katz (2006) reported that girls achieved consistently higher grades than boys did throughout high school. In the Wisconsin data of high school seniors graduating in 1957, the high school rank of the median girls was 21 percentile points above the median boy. This difference whilst less extreme still remained with a 16 percentile point difference in 1992 graduated in the NELS data (Goldin and Katz, 2006). Therefore, demonstrating that girls have an academic privilege over boys.

Evidence that the college gender gap and the male-female wage gap is narrowing perhaps lead to Farrell (1993) to question whether male power is a myth, further exploring the idea that men are not the privileged gender. Farrell (1993) considers the many ways in which women are argued to be subordinate to their male counterparts; feeling of powerless through fears of pregnancy, ageing, rape, date rape, and being physically overpowered, less exposure to team sports and its blend of competitiveness and cooperation that is so helpful to career preparation, greater parental pressure to marry and interrupt career for children without regard for her wishes, to name but a few. The conclusion to these experiences of women across the globe is that ‘women have the problem, men are the problem’ (Farrell, 1993, p.27-28). However, Farrell (1993) then puts a different spin on the concept of gender privilege, claiming that men have a different experience.

“When a man tries to keep up with payments by working overtime and is told he is insensitive, or tries to handle the stress by drinking and is told he is a drunkard, he does not feel powerful, but powerless. When he fears a cry for help will be met with ‘stop whining’… he skips past attempting suicide as a cry for help and just commits suicide. Thus men…increasingly become the suicide sex.” (Farrell, 1993, p27-28)

Farrell (1993) suggests that when we look at life expectancy, we acknowledge that blacks dying six years sooner than whites reflects the powerlessness of blacks in American society. Yet a man dying on average seven years sooner than a woman is rarely considered a reflection of powerlessness. If the seven year gap is biological, why was it just a one year gap in 1920? If life expectancy is one of the best indictors of power, then suicide is one of the best indicators of powerlessness, ‘Power is the ability to control one’s life. Death tends to reduce control’ (Farrell, 1993, p27-28). Until boys and girls reach the age of 9 rates of suicide are equal, but from the age of 10, as a boy grows older he is far more likely to commit suicide than a girl of the same age. Between the ages of 20-24, a male is 6 times more inclined to commit suicide than a female. By the age of 85, the suicide rate for men has increased to 1350% higher than for women of the same age. This suggests perhaps that men have a less privileged life, for feeling more stressed with work may cause an inclination toward suicide.

It is easy to ignore the influence and power that a woman possesses, which a mother can have over her children including both sons and daughters. But it is the mother who is able to make their child’s everyday life heaven or hell through discipline, whether that be making their bedtime earlier, taking away desserts, or grounding the child if they do not obey (Farrell, 1993). Few men are able to say they hold this kind of influence or power. Despite the old saying that ‘man is master of the house’, many men feel they were visitors in their wives castle. A wife may feel that a man’s home is his castle, but from a husband’s perspective, his wife’s home is his mortgage.

In the past, the prohibition against divorce gave a woman security in her workplace (the home), knowing they would be supported. However, no man could say he had a similar security in his workplace; his source of income could fire him, whilst her source of income could not fire her. Even today, now that divorce is a legal option, if a man quits his job, he does not receive unemployment pay. Yet, if she initiates divorce, she is able to take a half share of their possessions. Perhaps then, women possess greater privileges than men?

It has been a long held assumption that women spend a greater amount of time on housework and childcare than men spend working, concluding that ‘women work two jobs, men work one’ (Farrell, 1993, p.37). However, a study by the University of Michigan (1991) found the average man worked 61 hours per week, while the average woman works 56 hours a week. A nationwide study in 1975 found similarly that husbands did 53% of the total work, including childcare, housework, work outside the home, commuting and gardening, while wives did only 47%.

A man’s freedom or lack of it has been compared to that of a slave; a slave is expected to give up their seat for a woman, or to help her put on her coat like a slave would for their master (Farrell, 1993). Men as opposed to women are expected to do society’s most hazardous jobs, like one’s slave would have been given (Farrell, 1993).The difference simply being society’s rules and expectations of men, such as that of politeness, whilst slaves act out of subservience.

A man may feel through expectation that in a sense he is being discriminated against, but there is evidence that women also experience this. Black congressman Shirley Chisholm’s statement that she faced far more discrimination as a woman than as a black was widely quoted (Farrell, 1993).

Although, perhaps the greatest discrimination that American men experience of all, purely because of their gender, is the expectation that men and only men should be conscribed into combat in the case of war. Farrell (1993) explores the idea of the pro-choice woman and the no-choice man, arguing that registering all our 18-year old sons for the draft in the event of war is as sexist as registering all our 18-year old daughters for child-rearing in the event that the country requires more children. Is it fair that an 18-year boy can be barred from all federal employment – from the US Post Office to the FBI, as well as facing a $250,000 fine and five years in prison if he refuses to register for the draft? Farrell (1993) suggests that in essence he is subject to being killed purely for not killing; for whilst in prison he will be subject to homosexual rape and thus AIDS because of his reputation for not wanting to fight. Is this fair, while a female who does not register is able to attend a state school or a private school with federal aid, get married, have children, or be single and work. In other words, a woman who does not sign up for the draft is free to live life as she pleases, while a man has an ‘obligation to die’ (Farrell, 1993, p.130).

To conclude, the understanding of male privilege has changed greatly over the last century. There are a great many examples over time and place which suggest that women have suffered under the dominance of man, but, it is by no means a universally accepted concept. Farrell (1993) has persistently argued that men find they are subordinates to women and children. Many of the issues around gender discrimination in the workplace in terms of employment and wages, have found improvements in favour of women, to the extent that Pratt (2002) suggests that in the UK women will possess more wealth than men by 2025. However, male privilege remains prominent in other aspects of society, only time will tell whether this will remain or will gradually fade. It is difficult to say how near or far society is from gender equality due to the vast disputes as to the state of male privilege that exists today.


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