Feminism | Posted by Anna M on 09/21/2010

An Unabashed Imitation of An Article by Peggy McIntosh

Peggy McIntosh

Peggy McIntosh

In 1990, Wellesley College professor Peggy McIntosh wrote an essay called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. McIntosh observes that whites in the U.S. are “taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.” To illustrate these invisible systems, McIntosh wrote a list of 26 invisible privileges whites benefit from.

As McIntosh points out, men also tend to be unaware of their own privileges as men. In the spirit of McIntosh’s essay, I thought I’d compile a list similar to McIntosh’s, focusing on the invisible privileges benefiting men.

Due to my own limitations, this list is unavoidably U.S. centric. I hope that writers from other cultures will create new lists, or modify this one, to reflect their own experiences.

Since I first compiled it, the list has been posted many times on internet discussion groups. Very helpfully, many people have suggested additions to the checklist. More commonly, of course, critics (usually, but not exclusively, male) have pointed out men have disadvantages too – being drafted into the army, being expected to suppress emotions, and so on. These are indeed bad things – but I never claimed that life for men is all ice cream sundaes.

Obviously, there are individual exceptions to most problems discussed on the list. The existence of individual exceptions does not mean that general problems are not a concern.

Pointing out that men are privileged in no way denies that bad things happen to men. Being privileged does not mean men are given everything in life for free; being privileged does not mean that men do not work hard, do not suffer. In many cases – from a boy being bullied in school, to a soldier dying in war – the sexist society that maintains male privilege also does great harm to boys and men.

In the end, however, it is men and not women who make the most money; men and not women who dominate the government and the corporate boards; men and not women who dominate virtually all of the most powerful positions of society. And it is women and not men who suffer the most from intimate violence and rape; who are the most likely to be poor; who are, on the whole, given the short end of patriarchy’s stick.

Several critics have also argued that the list somehow victimizes women. I disagree; pointing out problems is not the same as perpetuating them. It is not a “victimizing” position to acknowledge that injustice exists; on the contrary, without that acknowledgment it isn’t possible to fight injustice.

An internet acquaintance of mine once wrote, “The first big privilege which whites, males, people in upper economic classes, the able bodied, the straight (I think one or two of those will cover most of us) can work to alleviate is the privilege to be oblivious to privilege.” This checklist is, I hope, a step towards helping men to give up the “first big privilege.”

The Male Privilege Checklist

1. My odds of being hired for a job, when competing against female applicants, are probably skewed in my favor. The more prestigious the job, the larger the odds are skewed.

2. I can be confident that my co-workers won’t think I got my job because of my sex – even though that might be true. (More).

3. If I am never promoted, it’s not because of my sex.

4. If I fail in my job or career, I can feel sure this won’t be seen as a black mark against my entire sex’s capabilities.

5. I am far less likely to face sexual harassment at work than my female co-workers are. (More).

6. If I do the same task as a woman, and if the measurement is at all subjective, chances are people will think I did a better job.

7. If I’m a teen or adult, and if I can stay out of prison, my odds of being raped are relatively low. (More).

8. On average, I am taught to fear walking alone after dark in average public spaces much less than my female counterparts are.

9. If I choose not to have children, my masculinity will not be called into question.

10. If I have children but do not provide primary care for them, my masculinity will not be called into question.

11. If I have children and provide primary care for them, I’ll be praised for extraordinary parenting if I’m even marginally competent. (More).

12. If I have children and a career, no one will think I’m selfish for not staying at home.

13. If I seek political office, my relationship with my children, or who I hire to take care of them, will probably not be scrutinized by the press.

14. My elected representatives are mostly people of my own sex. The more prestigious and powerful the elected position, the more this is true.

15. When I ask to see “the person in charge,” odds are I will face a person of my own sex. The higher-up in the organization the person is, the surer I can be.

16. As a child, chances are I was encouraged to be more active and outgoing than my sisters. (More).

17. As a child, I could choose from an almost infinite variety of children’s media featuring positive, active, non-stereotyped heroes of my own sex. I never had to look for it; male protagonists were (and are) the default.

18. As a child, chances are I got more teacher attention than girls who raised their hands just as often. (More).

19. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether or not it has sexist overtones.

20. I can turn on the television or glance at the front page of the newspaper and see people of my own sex widely represented.

21. If I’m careless with my financial affairs it won’t be attributed to my sex.

22. If I’m careless with my driving it won’t be attributed to my sex.

23. I can speak in public to a large group without putting my sex on trial.

24. Even if I sleep with a lot of women, there is no chance that I will be seriously labeled a “slut,” nor is there any male counterpart to “slut-bashing.” (More).

25. I do not have to worry about the message my wardrobe sends about my sexual availability. (More).

26. My clothing is typically less expensive and better-constructed than women’s clothing for the same social status. While I have fewer options, my clothes will probably fit better than a woman’s without tailoring. (More).

27. The grooming regimen expected of me is relatively cheap and consumes little time. (More).

28. If I buy a new car, chances are I’ll be offered a better price than a woman buying the same car. (More).

29. If I’m not conventionally attractive, the disadvantages are relatively small and easy to ignore.

30. I can be loud with no fear of being called a shrew. I can be aggressive with no fear of being called a bitch.

31. I can ask for legal protection from violence that happens mostly to men without being seen as a selfish special interest, since that kind of violence is called “crime” and is a general social concern. (Violence that happens mostly to women is usually called “domestic violence” or “acquaintance rape,” and is seen as a special interest issue.)

32. I can be confident that the ordinary language of day-to-day existence will always include my sex. “All men are created equal,” mailman, chairman, freshman, he.

33. My ability to make important decisions and my capability in general will never be questioned depending on what time of the month it is.

34. I will never be expected to change my name upon marriage or questioned if I don’t change my name.

35. The decision to hire me will not be based on assumptions about whether or not I might choose to have a family sometime soon.

36. Every major religion in the world is led primarily by people of my own sex. Even God, in most major religions, is pictured as male.

37. Most major religions argue that I should be the head of my household, while my wife and children should be subservient to me.

38. If I have a wife or live-in girlfriend, chances are we’ll divide up household chores so that she does most of the labor, and in particular the most repetitive and unrewarding tasks. (More).

39. If I have children with my girlfriend or wife, I can expect her to do most of the basic childcare such as changing diapers and feeding.

40. If I have children with my wife or girlfriend, and it turns out that one of us needs to make career sacrifices to raise the kids, chances are we’ll both assume the career sacrificed should be hers.

41. Assuming I am heterosexual, magazines, billboards, television, movies, pornography, and virtually all of media is filled with images of scantily-clad women intended to appeal to me sexually. Such images of men exist, but are rarer.

42. In general, I am under much less pressure to be thin than my female counterparts are. (More). If I am fat, I probably suffer fewer social and economic consequences for being fat than fat women do. (More).

43. If I am heterosexual, it’s incredibly unlikely that I’ll ever be beaten up by a spouse or lover. (More).

44. Complete strangers generally do not walk up to me on the street and tell me to “smile.” (More: 1 2).

45. Sexual harassment on the street virtually never happens to me. I do not need to plot my movements through public space in order to avoid being sexually harassed, or to mitigate sexual harassment. (More.)

45. On average, I am not interrupted by women as often as women are interrupted by men.

46. I have the privilege of being unaware of my male privilege.

(Originally compiled by Barry Deutsch, aka “Ampersand.” Permission is granted to reproduce this list in any way, for any purpose, so long as the acknowledgment of Peggy McIntosh’s work is not removed.)

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  • O'Phylia @ at 11:32 am, September 21st, 2010

    *waves her “DON’T FEED THE TROLL FOR CRYING OUT LOUD” banner before posting* Just a reminder in case someone comes here and starts arguing with themselves.

    Thanks for this. So many people believe that prejudice can only be confined to one specific act and even to a different area. (I’m looking at you, delusional Americans not from the South who think racism is confined here in the South.-Love, A black girl from the South who faces racism, sexism, classism (sp?) from every where here.)

  • Zoe @ at 12:49 pm, September 21st, 2010

    Very good post, unfortunately a long one too. I’d be curious to see a list of female privilege, female advantages or some kind of list highlighting the ways men suffer, instead of gain, from sexism as well.

  • Eastern European Girl @ at 1:24 pm, September 21st, 2010

    Good list, and many of them are true in other cultures too. For example the points about sexual harassment and workplace inequality are true in Hungary as well. But here are the things that I can add based on my personal experiences:
    1. Complete strangers don’t keep asking me when I’ll have a baby. And I am not called selfish, if I don’t want to have children at all.
    2.I am not told that I’ll never have a girlfriend, if I’m too smart.
    3. If I’m single, I’m not called selfish, whereas single women are either called selfish or hairy-legged man-hating lesbian feminist.
    4.People usually don’t interpret my polite smile as flirtatious. As a consequence they don’t call me a slut if I smile at two girls at the same time.
    5. People don’t question my relationship if I earn more money than my wife/girlfriend.
    6. People don’t question my relationship if I’m more educated than my wife/girlfriend.

  • Natalia K @ at 7:36 pm, September 21st, 2010

    I read this essay in my women studies class and my prof asked each student to create their own list. Maybe there aren’t many “female” privileges but you may have heterosexual privilege, upper class privilege, white privilege, etc.

  • Natalia K @ at 7:36 pm, September 21st, 2010

    Also, this list of male privilege may not even apply to men from minority groups or gay men.

  • A @ at 9:53 pm, September 21st, 2010

    16 and 18, I feel, are the most open because I think that they depend on your family and your specific upbringing. But this is great, and thank you for sharing it! It’s given me a lot to think about.

  • SarahC @ at 10:54 pm, September 21st, 2010

    I love this essay. I actually read it on my own while waiting to see my pediatrician, only to discover that her mother was Peggy McIntosh! Small world.

  • selects @ at 2:59 am, September 22nd, 2010

    so true. and very depressing.

  • blakerivers @ at 4:30 am, September 22nd, 2010

    @Zoe: A few sparse examples of the female privilege you seek can be found in the comments of the exact same article below:


  • Ryan @ at 8:23 pm, September 22nd, 2010

    Why does the title of this list have to be framed in terms of gender class conflict?

    The fact that downsides of being female are preseted in the context of providing a respective privlege to males for each downside is a falacy.

    I challenge all here to present the respective male privlege for each item on the list. It would provide a more definitive explanation of just what privleges of being male you are attempting to exemplify.

    Your list has provided me with good material for a rebuttal which I will post here when complete.

    Also, do you honestly think there are no advantages or privleges to being female? Do you honestly think there are no gender specific downsides to being male? A myopic view don’t you think?

  • Anna @ at 2:34 am, September 23rd, 2010

    No one is saying there are no downsides to being male, in fact many have already posted on that thought if you care to listen before speaking. This is not meant to be an accusation, just a tool to question how you came to the place you are in your life. We all need to check in on our privilege, in race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, environment, etc… with everything we do. Stop looking at owning your privilege as in insult and look at it as a way to respect others.

  • Steph L @ at 3:58 am, September 23rd, 2010

    47. I am allowed to take my top off on a very hot day and no-one will object!

    Actually, my boyfriend and I were discussing this, when I was sitting behind him with my arms on his chest, and he commented “If I did that in public, it would be inappropriate.” And while there are lots of advantages to being female, a significant percentage of them can be offset negatively.

    For example, women are far more likely to get away with minor offences or insults with just a ticking off, where a man would be in far more trouble. But this is symptomatic of women being considered as less serious than men, so these things are perceived to have less meaning.

  • blakerivers @ at 5:28 am, September 23rd, 2010

    @Steph L.
    I like your thinking here. I think women are more often seen as less potent in general; that is, less threatening in all ways: less threatening to establishment, less threatening physically, less threatening competitively, etc.

    This is both good and bad for women—well in truth, it’s all bad, but on the surface some things appear to be benefits. The bad is obvious, but some examples of the “good” are also easy to spot.

    For instance, I recently saw an episode of “Dexter” in which some psychotic crack-addict female has a gun and is pacing around pointing it at police officers and mumbling to herself. All the officers desperately try to diffuse the situation by placating her. Eventually she gives up the gun. Of course, I thought to myself, if that were a man, the police would have put a bullet right through his chest the first time he lifted his gun. I guess somehow in our culture, men are more deserving of violent & unforgiving treatment.

    Here is another example:

    Watch how the males act to console the woman and calm her down while trying hard not to resort to physical restraint or violence. Now, I realize that this may be a different country and this may be before the 9/11 attack, but nevertheless, if that were a man I fear he would be beaten into submission for all that insane carrying on. Mercy would not be had on him.

    I’m not saying that this is good or bad, for either gender, but it is a follow-up on Steph L’s comment.

  • Ryan @ at 11:48 am, September 23rd, 2010

    Men get harsher sentences for the same crime as a female here in the U.S. The British court system has just anounced that males are to recieve harsher sentences for all crimes. This order was given by a woman.

    Gender equality leader Harriet Harman has announced that all women’s prisons should be shut down and converted to prisons for men.

  • Chris @ at 12:39 am, September 28th, 2010

    Point 32 brings up an interesting point, most of our day to day language is built around a male point of view and because of that when we refer to groups of people who may be mostly women we still say “hey guys”. But if someone brings up this point of a male dominated language and how it should be changed they are commonly ridiculed with sarcastic suggestions like “why don’t we call the mail, female” or other suggestions designed to make a mockery of viable points. I feel like this same thing is applied to many of the other privileges on this list and that’s why many of them have remained unchanged and until someone can find a way to make both genders take these points seriously they will remain unchanged.

  • Hayden Winters @ at 6:42 pm, September 28th, 2010

    I am having a lot of problems getting to load this page. I read it many times before and never got anything like this, but now when I try 2 load the blog it just idles 4 for some time & then just stops. I have tried both with www & without. Does anyone know what could be the reason? Please ask your host support… I hope to be able to come back soon.

  • Greg @ at 12:25 am, October 7th, 2010

    Here is a reply to this list: http://www.the-niceguy.com/articles/Checklist.html

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