Everywhere from Tumblr to Twitter to Facebook groups, there are women getting together and talking about what it means to be both a woman and a feminist. And in many of these circles, there is a heavy focus on “male privilege,” and what that means in an operational sense. There are near-endless blogs dedicated to pointing out everything from the microaggressions to the sweeping legislation which subjugate women. And as the (righteous) anger against some of the institutional disadvantages women face brews, it manifests in a number of ways. “Misandry” has become a cute term to express one’s disgust for the patriarchy. “Kill all men” is another. They are small slogans and concepts which aim to take back a sense of control, of autonomy. The expression of hatred towards men — one regarded as benign because of the lack of societal power behind it — has become a kind of social currency in many more radical feminist circles. It wouldn’t be shocking to see a 16-year-old white girl’s Tumblr with a picture of her holding a heart-shaped card emblazoned with “I Love Misandry” and surrounded by sparkles. It’s cute, and it’s harmless.To sum up: feminists believe that men are privileged at the expense of women and this leads to anger and, amongst radical feminists, to expressions of misandry (hatred of men) as a means of reasserting female autonomy. As it is assumed that women are a victim class, such hatred is thought to be toothless and therefore harmless.
But the idea of leveraging a universal hatred against men, or allowing ourselves to feel as though there is a clear divide in terms of gendered power, and that it falls distinctly on the men vs. women line, fuels a slippery slope of profound privilege denying. Because to pretend as though the 22-year-old white female blogger talking about her hatred of men from the comfort of her prepaid dorm at an Ivy League school does not hold many tangible privileges over, say, the undocumented male worker who is cleaning the bathroom stalls of her building at night, is ludicrous. There are countless privileges she has over him, and countless points of access she has in our society that he will never see.
Chelsea Fagan points out, reasonably enough, that this set of feminist beliefs fails at the first step, as the women making claims about male privilege are often a lot more privileged than large numbers of men in society (she could also have pointed out that the average man works hard in life for the benefit of wife and children rather than to subjugate women, so a measure of gratitude or love is a more appropriate response than anger).
It's a good criticism of the simplistic "group rankings" which occur in a liberal society: if you belong to a group which has been tagged as privileged you lose status in society, regardless of your own circumstances.
Even so, it would be better to ditch the leftist moral focus on privilege rather than merely to refine it.
Chelsea Fagan claims that intersections of privilege and oppression define our lives, but she is wrong. I am not defined by the fact that there are people more privileged than I am in society. There will always be distinctions in status, wealth, intelligence and education. That does not detract from my identity as a man, or as a member of a particular family, ethny or nation, or as a member of a church or a community.
Nor should questions of privilege determine moral status in society. If a man has more wealth and status than I do, that does not make him of lesser moral status; I would ask instead about his integrity, his character, his embodiment of culture, his contribution to society, the quality of his role as a father and husband, his loyalty to the larger tradition he belongs to and so on.