Harassment, male privilege, and jokes that women just don’t get

A familiar theme comes up frequently in internet discussions: Women who complain about online harassment are just missing the joke.

As an initial descriptive matter, it’s pretty clear that women and men are often treated differently in online discussion. (Quick, name a case in which someone was harassed online. Was the person you thought about a woman? I thought so.)

A few months ago, John Scalzi noted that:

In my experience, talking to women bloggers and writers, they are quite likely to get abusive comments and e-mail, and receive more of it not only than what I get personally (which isn’t difficult) but more than what men bloggers and writers typically get. I think bloggers who focus on certain subjects (politics, sexuality, etc) will get more abusive responses than ones who write primarily on other topics, but even in those fields, women seem more of a target for abusive people than the men are. And even women writing on non-controversial topics get smacked with this crap. I know knitting bloggers who have some amazingly hateful comments directed at them. They’re blogging about knitting, for Christ’s sake. . .

I can contrast this with how people approach me on similar topics. When I post photos of processed cheese, I don’t get abused about how bad it is and how bad I am for posting about it. People don’t abuse me over my weight, even when I talk explicitly about it. I go away from my family for weeks at a time and never get crap about what a bad father that makes me, even though I have always been the stay-at-home parent. Now, it’s true in every case that if I did get crap, I would deal with it harshly, either by going after the commenter or by simply malleting their jackassery into oblivion. But the point is I don’t have to. I’m a man and I largely get a pass on weight, on parenting and (apparently) on exhibition and ingestion of processed cheese products. Or at the very least if someone thinks I’m a bad person for any of these, they keep it to themselves. They do the same for any number of other topics they might feel free to lecture or abuse women over.

It’s this sort of thing that reminds me that the Internet is not the same experience for me as it is for some of my women friends. (Emphasis added.)

That bears repeating: The Internet is not the same experience for men as it is for women. (No wonder women are numerically underrepresented in prominent internet discussion spaces.)

Why is the internet a different place for men than for women? There are doubtless a number of contributing causes, but one of the major factors is that the internet is largely a male-constructed discursive space, and internet discussion norms often build on assumptions of male privilege.

Men build discursive spaces and discursive norms based on their own experience. And for instance, in a male-built discursive space, a threat of sexual violence may be viewed by male participants as an obvious joke. After all, the vast majority of men will never experience sexual violence in their lifetime. (Fewer than 4% of men will be sexually assaulted.) And so within the context of a male discussion on a World of Warcraft forum, for instance, it may seem entirely innocuous to use ideas of sexual violence to express one’s views on the game, or to use “rape” as a verb to describe one’s gameplay skills.

Women as a group have a vastly different experience with the idea of sexual violence. One in six women will be a victim of sexual assault during her lifetime. (Yes, some men are also sexual assault victims. But the numbers are overwhelmingly female — about 90% of sexual assault victims are women.) Rape is not an abstract idea or an obvious joke. For thousands of women, it is an immediate and extremely painful reality.

At one point during class I was talking about male privilege, and one student asked me to explain. He noted that he is a man and he doesn’t feel particularly privileged. In response, I noted my own privilege: “When I leave the building late at night, I don’t give a second thought to my safety as I walk to my car. If it’s ten at night, if it’s dark, I just assume that I’ll be fine. But for many women, there is a constant thought process: Do I find someone to walk me to my car? Is it safe at this hour? What are my options?” And then I asked, “who has gone through that train of thought recently?,” and every woman in the class raised her hand. And then they told stories: About avoiding parts of town; about setting their schedule in certain ways; about making sure that they had someone to walk them out; about being on their guard, all the time. The need to guard against the possibility of sexual assault is simply not part of most men’s everyday thought process, while it is a major part of many women’s everyday lived experience.

And the fact that as a man I don’t have to spend mental energy thinking about protecting myself from sexual assault is itself part of male privilege. One part of male privilege is that you never have to notice the ways in which you benefit from male privilege.

The same goes for statements about violence in general. In a male-dominated discursive space, it may be viewed as normal to make aggressive, threatening statements. However, men’s and women’s experiences with violence are also vastly different. One in four women in the United States has been a victim of domestic violence. Suddenly, the joke about wanting to punch somebody else isn’t so funny.

Women face these kinds of microaggressions on a daily basis, in all sorts of environments ranging from the workplace to the public sphere. And they seem to be especially prevalent (surprise) in discursive spaces built by and dominated by men. (It’s true that not all women struggle to express themselves in male-built discursive spaces, and some women develop real facility for the kind of bullying that sometimes passes for dialogue on the internet. But, as Danielle’s work makes clear, many don’t.)

And then when someone (almost always female) stands up against the male-constructed discursive norms in which threats of violence and sexual violence can be characterized as merely a joke, she is attacked for being oversensitive. These attacks are another instance of denying of the reality of women’s experiences. Male commenters discount women’s experiences as irrelevant if when those experiences don’t conform to male discussion norms. Feminist blogs have a term for this: Mansplaining, where a male interlocutor explains to a female writer that she ought to ignore her own experience and bow before his superior wisdom.

This discounting of women’s experience echoes equally problematic discussions that happen in the political arena, where male writers incredibly feel comfortable opining that sexual harassment probably doesn’t even exist, it’s all just something made up by overreacting women. For instance, here’s a direct quote from prominent male conservative writer John Derbyshire: “Is there anyone who thinks sexual harassment is a real thing? Is there anyone who doesn’t know it’s all a lawyers’ ramp, like ‘racial discrimination’? You pay a girl a compliment nowadays, she runs off and gets lawyered up.” Yes, Derbyshire is arguing that sexual harassment does not exist. Of course, this is a topic about which he has a vanishingly small likelihood of having any personal experience, since sexual harassment is overwhelmingly targeted at women. But I’ve never personally seen a zebra; therefore, they probably don’t exist.

Male privilege on the internet — or in law, or in society at large — isn’t going away any time soon. But let’s call it out, and let’s label it for what it is. When male interlocutors tell a female writer that she is overreacting and just isn’t getting the joke, they are speaking from a starting place of male privilege. They are assuming that casual threats of violence are something which can easily be shrugged off, and are ignoring the vast difference between lived experiences of men and women in America. And they are denying the reality of something which, in all likelihood, they don’t even understand.

Which Scalzi explains well in a follow-up post:

Underlying all of that is the basic set of advantages I get unearned by being what I am, i.e., a white male. I became aware of this fact only over time, by having this advantage set pointed out to me repeatedly by those who are not what I am. Which is a bad deal for those folks, to be sure — the highest life crisis of everyone else in the world is not, in fact, making the White Male understand what he gets unearned.

I suspect in my case it would have been even more work for the rest of the world if I hadn’t had the experience of growing up poor, which meant that every time I saw or read someone who’d never been poor expound obliviously on what was really going on with poor people, I had to fight back the urge to beat them to death with a hammer. The experience of having to deal with people wealthsplaining poverty, and then trying to get them to listen to someone who had spent actual time in poverty, made it possible for me to more easily conceptualize the idea there were lots of subjects about which I had great potential to show my ass simply by opening my mouth.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. So sit back. Calm down. Pay attention. Take notes. Learn. And stop denying the reality of women’s experience.

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42 Responses

  1. Cynthia L. says:

    Good post. It’s unfortunate that it is a timely one. You’d think we’d have made more progress on this as a society by now. I saw that Derbyshire quote yesterday and you’d think it wouldn’t be possible to shock me anymore with things like that, but I was shocked.

    A relevant link I’d like to share is this one, which I consider to be the best blog post ever written on any topic, and I’m only half joking with the hyperbole: How Not To Be An A**hole: A Guide for Men.

  2. Cynthia L. says:

    (By the way, I’m not sure what this audience is used to, but perhaps a strong language warning is in order for that link.)

  3. Thank you for that link, Cynthia. It is a link of pure awesomeness. I’m bookmarking it for regular future use. It’s perfect.

    And thanks for the support, both of you. I appreciate it.

  4. kmillecam says:

    I’m glad to have you as a ally, Kaimi. Thanks for writing this. I will share it widely 🙂

  5. Juliane says:

    I want to hug you. I know there must be more men out there like you, who get it. I will share this 🙂

  6. Risa says:

    All you have to do is click the link to the Slate article on the denying sexual harassment exists and you will see this topic in action in the comments section. I had to quit reading I was so sickened. These women were being vilified as gold-diggers and other such disrespectful female terms.

    I’ve been sexually harassed at work. It exists. I’ve been harassed online. I’ve been called a “bitch” and other lovely terms. I’ve had my opinion so discounted that I’ve considered using a more male sounding pseudonym.

  7. angela says:

    Well-put. You’ve articulated something I sometimes have trouble explaining. In general, it’s hard to divorce ourselves of our own experiences and truly picture ourselves in someone else’s shoes. While this issue is particularly applicable to this discussion, it is not limited to this context.

  8. Frank Pasquale says:

    Thank you for an eloquent and illuminating perspective on this issue. It’s really important that the web be made a safer space for all perspectives.

  9. PrometheeFeu says:

    I often find myself troubled by the term “male privilege”. No, I’m not contesting that there are many ways in which women are disadvantaged compared to men. What bothers me is that a privilege is something one does not have a right to and is undeserving of. That bothers me in 2 ways:

    -First there is the implication that as a man I do not have a right to walk to my car on my own without fearing for my life or limb. Obviously, I disagree. I very much have a right to go through life unmolested. I sometimes get the distinct impression from feminist bloggers that I should feel ashamed because I do not fear assault when walking to my car.

    -Second is an embedded implication that women also do not have the right to walk to their cars without fearing for life or limb. After all, it’s a privilege, not a right. Obviously, that is also foolish. Women just like other human beings have a right to go about their lives unmolested.

    I think this is a noxious approach. I think it would be much preferable to speak of it in terms which would describe the fact that women’s rights are being violated. I cannot offer a term but maybe somebody else can.

    In my mind, a joke about violence while often in poor taste should not hit so close to home. Women just as men should live in a world where they can shrug it off because it is so unlikely to be something of concern to them. That’s not to say one should not be sensitive about how one affects others, but I find the goal of making women comfortable by not engaging in behavior that reminds them of actual violations of their rights to be a very tame one and am much more interested in ensuring they are not victims of physical violence in general.

  10. A.J. Sutter says:

    I don’t often find myself in agreement with PrometheeFeu but I think he has a good point here. Why refer to this as male privilege rather than as a denial or infringement of women’s rights? The goal should be for everyone to enjoy the same high degree of respect, security and peace of mind (sc. by defending the rights of everyone thereto), instead of the same reduced degree (sc. by eliminating a privilege).

  11. I got here from the facebook Feminist Mormon Housewives closed group, and I found the discussion here (and there) interesting, especially PrometheeFeu’s point that “an embedded implication” exists that something is a privilege, not a right.

    Guess I need to blog on this.

  12. PrometheeFeu and A.J.,

    That’s a sensible enough comment on the definitional level. I agree that basic safety shouldn’t be thought of as anyone’s privilege, it should be a taken-for-granted. A lot of other tokens of male privilege should be given to everyone. And so perhaps a more accurate label reflecting those aspirations would be to call these problems evidence of female un-privilege, or female disempowerment, or disadvantage, or the subordination of women. Which are all accurate, and maybe more accurate in a Hohfeldian sense.

    I think that the male privilege label is still a useful one, because it makes people stop and say “huh?” and take notice and perhaps think about their privilege, in a way that saying “women’s subordination” probably wouldn’t. But yes, in a sort of Hohfeldian sense, what we’re looking at isn’t so much something which should be seen as limited to an elite set, but as something that should be baseline for everyone (and isn’t — and that’s the problem).

  13. hp lehofer says:

    Helen Lewis-Hasteley recently covered the reality of women bloggers’ experiences at the New Statesman: “You should have your tongue ripped out”: the reality of sexist abuse online


  14. Rich says:

    Terminology nit-picking aside, excellent consciousness raising food for thought here Kaimi.

  15. Brett Bellmore says:

    I think it’s worth pointing out that the average guy, walking out to his car at night, hasn’t particularly done anything to arrange to not be afraid. It’s a combination of a lesser tendency of guys to be afraid, (Even when we should be, as it happens. We’re stupid that way sometimes.) and the choices of criminals. Which non-criminal men should not be held accountable for.

    A general principle here, which I think would help, and which statistics say a lot of women are starting to pick up on: If you can resolve a problem by doing something yourself, rather than waiting for society to change, you should.

    Pack a gun.

  16. Kate says:

    Excellent article–not sure if this was partly inspired by this, but the twitter hashtag, #mencallmethings, started a Monday by documenting the comments women receive from men when they post on the internet. It all seems of a piece.

  17. Laura B. says:

    Nice post, Kaimi, especially noting how many people people seem to believe that a smug, eye-rolling, “It’s just a joke!” is some kind of case-closing response to words that someone else finds hurtful. I start from the point that virtually nothing is off-limits when it comes to humor and a thick skin is a good thing, but what is “funny” vs. offensive can be so context dependent, especially since so much basic humor comes from our identification as “us” (speaker/listener) vs. “them” (an “other” of some kind). Hence this kind of debate: why can Chris Rock use the “n” word and not me?

    I find that I’ve had the same frustrating conversation over and over recently — and with different talented, well-educated, successful guys. A falsetto mincing voice to parody gay men is supposedly clever (this speaker tells me he has carte blanche because he’s Jewish). The word “fag” is per se hilarious (and this from someone who advertises as a “clean” stand-up comic). Bizarre speculation on how kids of interracial couples might turn out (fun because he has black friends). And the one I’ve probably encountered the most: imperviousness to a mild, blameless request just to leave a topic alone for now, maybe it’ll be funny on another day, but I’m feeling uncomfortable (but no need to let up because it’s only a joke).

    This kind of interactions are occasionally good opportunities to talk, to untangle why one person is laughing and the other offended, rather than just congratulate myself for my virtue. (I’ve certainly been the insensitive idiot on many occasions). But unilaterally ending the matter with a demand that everyone get the joke is just not cool.

  18. KN says:

    Thanks very much for this post. I just want to defend the value of the concept of “male privilege” from the commenters’ criticism. No doubt it should be a right not a privilege for men (and women) to be able to walk safely to the car. But the term “privilege” in this sense (at least as I understand it) can do different work. It’s about the fact that many (not all) men have the “privilege” to remain unknowing about these inequalities. This unknowing may be non-culpable or it may be wilful obliviousness. But the failure to self-educate or just listen respectfully to others w/ different experiences can itself lead to harms like inaction, leaving someone in a risky situation, ridicule & dismissiveness, denying the problem exists when resources might be reallocated for prevention, giving someone a hard time when they report a wrong, etc. So the “male privilege” label doesn’t have to be about beating up on men, making them think they should experience more harm. If there’s another good term for this epistemological issue that is less divisive, I’m happy to switch. Just not sure what other term serves as well.

  19. AYY says:

    No one should be subject to threats or overt harassment, but let’s make sure we don’t use cries of sexism to cut off legitimate debate.
    Also if we’re talking about male privilege, shouldn’t we also be talking about female privilege?

  20. allgoodtees says:

    No one should be subject to threats or overt harassment, but let’s make sure we don’t use cries of sexism to cut off legitimate debate.

    And yet the topic is about how harassment affects women, and how women are routinely dismissed as being “too sensitive” or having no sense of humor when they complain about sexist behavior. When they speak up about sexism online, all you have to do is see the Twitter hashtags #mencallmethings (mentioned above) or #ThreatoftheDay (the things feminist bloggers are subjected to) to see that this is, in the vast majority, an issue that women are faced with by men.

    Any woman, particularly one versed in feminist discussions online, will come to one of these blog posts and know that it won’t be long until someone comes along and, in the name of “legitimate debate” or similar terms, want to make sure everyone concerned with this issue should instead focus on how it affects men.

    There is no such thing as female privilege. Pretty much everything that men may perceive as being an advantage for women has roots in a male-dominated society that only nominally recognizes women as people.

    We women, the ones that “cry” sexism (see the parallel to crying wolf?), are glad to see that some men like Mr. Wenger understand the world we face, and that elevating women to the SAME level upon which men are born, does not take anything away from men but makes us all better people.

  21. FredC says:

    I am a white male born upper middle class. Yet I found this an excellent articulation of “blind privilege”, but found nothing in it I was not already aware of for most of my adult life. If you believe that I am the minority and want to keep me part of one, then feel free to ignore these observations and advice:

    We all have privileges, including women over men; and much harassment stems from resentment of that privilege. Self righteousness is an emotion that can easily look like harassment from the other side. Don’t mix conscious powerplays and resentment with innocent gaffs. If the privileged are unaware of their advantages, then you might look for teachable moments rather than lash out or obsess at thoughtless blunders.

    And try to undertand your own privilege. We all have our “wealthsplaining poverty” advantage. As an atheist I am in the most hated group in the US. I used to find someone saying “god bless you” when I sneezed offensive, now I don’t even notice their ignorance.

    Sorry, couldn’t let the moment pass. . . .

  22. PrometheeFeu says:

    “There is no such thing as female privilege. Pretty much everything that men may perceive as being an advantage for women has roots in a male-dominated society that only nominally recognizes women as people.”

    I’m not sure I understand that argument. You seem to be saying that because society is “male dominated”, it cannot produce anything that is a “female privilege”? I’m not sure how that follows. How would you define the “group X privilege” and “Y dominated society”?

  23. PrometheeFeu says:

    @Kaimipono D. Wenger:

    I have considered this further based on the comments. I think that what is referred to as “male privilege” could be split into three categories as I see it:

    1) Violation of women’s rights which are independent of men’s status. For instance, the fact that women have better reasons to fear walking alone at night than men.

    2) Actual privilege usually resulting from the relative status of men and women. For instance, a man getting a job over a woman because the man is considered more qualified qua man. There, the man is getting an undeserved advantage.

    3) What KN said which if I understand it correctly is broadly speaking the social interactions that result from men not knowing about 1 and 2. So for instance the fact that men need not be aware of the effect on women of a joke concerning domestic violence.

    What do people think of this taxonomy and what sort of names would best apply? I like “female victimization” for the first category, “female subordination” or “male privilege” (I think the two terms are effectively symmetrical here) for the second and I have no idea for the third category.

  24. allgoodtees says:


    Just about anything that can be put forth as so-called female privilege has roots in misogyny.

    Commonly Cited Female Privilege: When custody arrangements are made during a divorce, rarely does a woman have to fight for the right to be with her children.

    Misogynist Roots: Women have always been considered the primary caretakers of children, and are pressured from every side to do so to the point where men who are observed publicly tending to their own children are often asked if they’re “babysitting” them until their wife gets home. If men and women were equally considered to be caretakers, custody arrangements would more than likely be equally considered.


    Commonly Cited Female Privilege: Women can be around large groups of young children and not be suspected of being a sexual predator.

    Misogynist Roots: See above; if men and women were equally assumed to be caretakers of children, a man wanting to be involved with childrens’ activities (as anything other than “coach”) more than likely wouldn’t be viewed with suspicion.


    This hurts men too, in very detrimental ways.

    Commonly Cited Male Issue: Men are far more likely to commit suicide than women.

    Misogynist Roots: “Big boys don’t cry”, “Man up” – Expressing emotions is something routinely coded as female (less than), so men are more likely to bottle them up and less likely to seek therapeutic help if bottling them up fails to work. If being emotional were a human thing instead of a woman thing, I’m willing to be those statistics would level out in time.


    Commonly Cited Male Issue: Men are sexually assaulted, but there is far less attention paid because they are even less likely to report it than women.

    Misogynist Roots: Because sexual assault is overwhelmingly a crime that happens to women at the hands of men, men who are raped have been “made the woman” (less than). Because of this, not only are they less likely to report it, but because of this attitude, they are less likely to be taken seriously by the police.

    If men were truly concerned with raising awareness of this issue, the best way to do it would be to form their own organizations and fight for the recognition of this crime. They would seek out funding to form shelters for men who have been victims of sexual assault or domestic violence instead of routinely coming into discussions of the victimization of women and, politely or otherwise, ask that they be given equal consideration.


    I think that covers a few of the bases.

    A society that values a man’s contribution more than a woman’s automatically privileges men above women. Men who are unaware of this privilege are either ignorant of this idea or consciously perpetuate it. The ignorant will learn if they listen to why women are sick of it and change their behavior for the better. The conscious perpetrators will continue to perpetuate by either sending loud, vulgar, sexually violent and silencing messages at women who speak up about it (ie, the topic of this article), or they’ll feign ignorance to try and narrow the argument down to something they can refute so they can dismiss the entire argument as emotional and irrational, which is pretty much the same way they view women.

  25. PrometheeFeu says:


    Thank you for providing examples. That helps me to understand what you meant. However, I remain unconvinced. Granting for the purpose of discussion that misogyny is an accurate description of the roots of what you describe, how does that negate the idea of “female privilege?” I would consider something a “female privilege” if it is an undeserved advantage that a woman is likely to get because she is a woman. So we can break that down into a three factor test:
    1) Is it an advantage?
    2) Is it undeserved?
    3) Is the privilege obtained because the beneficiary is a woman?
    You seem to disagree, but I’m not quite sure in what way.

    Taking this out of the gender arena, I am reminded of the cast structure in feudal Japan as decribed in The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. Each cast has its own lost rights and superior privileges which both come from the same source. The problem is not really that the samurai have undeserved authority to use violence, or that they are prohibited from trade. (though those are obviously serious problems) The problem is the cast-role assignments which hands out to all both privileges and violated rights. Perhaps the peasants have the short end of the stick, but that does not make their monopoly on cultivation any less of a privilege. I see gender role assignments similarly. Women may be getting the short end of the stick in the gender-assignment game, but that does not mean they don’t get some undeserved advantages or that men don’t loose some of their rights.

  26. allgoodtees says:


    For the third time: There is no such thing as female privilege. Full stop. To remain “unconvinced” only means that you’re not listening.

    Going by the assumption that you’re a white man, by the nature of your birth, you never had to fight for the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.

    Until recent history, women weren’t allowed the right to vote, and were considered the property of their husbands.

    Until very, very recently, men were able to rape women if they were married to them.

    Even now, the battle over a woman’s right to her own bodily autonomy is being fought. Can you imagine the right to control what happens to your own body still being something that wasn’t a basic human right?

    These are things about which men, especially white men, have never had to face, or fight for, or gain, because to them, having those rights are the norm. It’s the equivalent of being “born on third and thinking you hit a triple”.

    Men aren’t losing rights by elevating women to the SAME level of humanity as men, they are losing the privilege to treat them as lesser creatures. Women aren’t fighting for undeserved advantages. They are fighting for the same opportunities that men are given by nature of their birth.

  27. FredC says:


    Is child bearing the result of misogyny?

  28. allgoodtees says:


    The fact that other people still question and place restrictions and requirements on our right to bear children on our own terms is the result of misogyny.

  29. Kaimi says:

    I’ve been dashing from class to faculty meetings and now I’m off to class again.

    It’s absolutely true that some men, and at least some women, believe that female privilege exists.

    It’s also true that, as allgoodtees points out, these instances in general are areas which actually reinforce patriarchy.

    (More after class.)

  30. PrometheeFeu says:


    “For the third time: There is no such thing as female privilege. Full stop. To remain “unconvinced” only means that you’re not listening.”

    I apologize if I missed some of your points. I thought I answered them thoroughly. If you see a flaw in my reasoning, feel free to punch a big hole through it. If I missed a crucial point that you made, please bring it to my attention. I am a bit confused with your claim that I am “not listening”.

  31. allgoodtees says:


    I have made point after point after point. You have suggested new taxonomic designations and hearkened back to feudal Japan, all so you can be less troubled by the reality of how women are treated in society and your unwitting contribution to it.

    If you feel uncomfortable, that’s a good thing. I doubt that you’d have felt as troubled with male privilege being re-named to something that only concerns women. Not recognizing your male privilege isn’t something that you do deliberately; it’s the currently enforced reality.

    Now it’s been pointed out, by me and others, you can find more evidence at #mencallmethings and #ThreatoftheDay on twitter, or read here: http://www.amptoons.com/blog/the-male-privilege-checklist/

    It’s probably going to make you even more uncomfortable. Don’t take it personally. You never noticed it because you’ve never been denied access to these things. I hope this sheds more light on what we women face because people are so concerned with the taxonomy of privilege than acknowledge the troubling fact that it exists.

    I hope you check out the hashtags and links, because the only way that society is going to change is when men both understand their privilege and challenge other men on theirs.

    Because when we try, we’re told that we’re being too sensitive and too emotional about the whole thing. We face demands that we acknowledge the false idea of female privilege and specifically educate them about the reality of male privilege. And even then? Men still have the privilege of remaining “unconvinced” and have it not change their life or comfort level in any way.

  32. Kaimi says:


    I actually have a draft post on this, and so maybe I’m spilling the beans. But since it’s come up, let’s discuss it.


    On review, I think this is too complicated of a topic for just a comment, so I’m going to edit my comment slightly and post it as a stand-alone post. Sorry for any inconvenience this causes.

  33. PrometheeFeu says:


    I think your posts are going to be interesting.

    The first thing I notice is that we don’t seem to disagree on the position I expounded on above. I simply meant that there are some areas in which women do have an unwarranted advantage without trying to quantify whether those outweigh the areas in which they are disadvantaged without good cause.

    Unfortunately, I have some matters to attend to for now, but I will try to see if I can get back here later tonight. Just one last thing:

    I broadly agree that one effect of such female privileges no matter how small they are is to mollify activists. However, your language leads me to believe there is some intentionality involved in creating these privileges. Am I reading that right? If so, whom do you perceive as being the bearer of that intention? (Full disclosure: I have my bias as a methodological individualist and so I may simply be reading a metaphor too literally.)

  34. allgoodtees says:


    However, your language leads me to believe there is some intentionality involved in creating these privileges. Am I reading that right?

    Short answer: Yes.

    If so, whom do you perceive as being the bearer of that intention?

    Men who consider granting women the same privileges as men as a zero sum game, and thus wish to preserve their unwarranted and unearned advantages.

  35. I just posted a post which is a stand-alone discussion of the idea of female privilege. (I don’t want to completely fracture the conversation, but it was really too big of a discussion to put into a comment.)

  36. A.J. Sutter says:

    Two small points:

    1. The Chrysanthemum and the Sword is a bad basis for drawing conclusions about almost anything. It’s a highly romanticized view by an author who didn’t have any experience in Japan. The book was an outgrowth of a wartime study that advised the US government that without the Emperor, the Japanese would be like “lost children” — even though many Japanese wanted the office abolished and/or its incumbent executed for his role in the war and its accompanying domestic oppression. This deep misunderstanding of Japan by the occupying power (a version of which still animates US policy) has created tremendous havoc in the political system here for the past 60+ years.

    2. I don’t know precisely what the difference is between “misogyny” (algoodtees #25) and “patriarchy” (Kaimi #30), though I’d hesitate to deny categorically that any exists. And I wouldn’t necessarily call childcare a privilege in all contexts — though people who have wanted children but have not been so blessed might admit that usage. And I’m agnostic about whether the greater likelihood of mothers being awarded custody in disputes should be called a “privilege,” either. BUT it does strike me as simplistic or even wrong to say that the greater likelihood of mothers being awarded custody “has its roots in misogyny.” This makes it sound as if children are a punishment. Not everyone thinks so; there are fathers who grieve for loss of access to their children after a divorce. Mothers aren’t required by law to seek custody; and in cases where neither parent wants custody, courts are ostensibly guided by the principle of the child’s best interests. Comment #25 makes it sound as if the only explanation for a woman with a career (or who has otherwise broken free of the patriarchy) seeking custody of her children is that she has been “pressured from every side to do so” — surely the comment greatly underestimates women.

  37. allgoodtees says:

    BUT it does strike me as simplistic or even wrong to say that the greater likelihood of mothers being awarded custody “has its roots in misogyny.”

    Childcare, taking care of the house, and cooking (at home) is considered, nearly universally, as “woman’s work”, not a privilege. Raising children is the nurturing behavior routinely coded as feminine (less than), to the point where men caring for his own kids is referred to as “babysitting” instead of taking an active part in childrearing.

    Women are pressured by men and women alike that “the most important job in the world” is to be a mother, particularly a stay-at-home mother, and that raising the next generation is the highest achievement to which she can aspire. When a working couple has a child, it’s the woman who is expected to leave her job and take care of the baby.

    Women who choose not to have children are treated with disrespect by women and men alike, called unnatural and somehow broken by not wanting to do the work for which she was specifically designed.

    Women running for office who have not had children are often treated with suspicion because a woman who hasn’t known this most “natural” love couldn’t possibly be trusted with the responsibility of caring for all her constituents (ie, a non-parent will never support anything important to mothers). Or, conversely, she will likely to be assumed to get pregnant during her term of office and be “useless” while she takes time off with her baby.

    And that’s not even touching how a career woman is treated in nearly every field, and then men have the privilege of idly speculating about how women obviously value family over their own career.

    So when she does choose to stay at home and raise her children, should things get bad enough in her marriage that divorce results, men can grieve all they like, but the fact remains that the person who raised them will likely get custody.

    And, for those men who might grieve for such losses and considers himself an exemplary father, I’ll quote a list of questions that another blogger posted:

    Who’s his/her pediatrician? When’s his next appointment? When was his last one? Who’s his teacher? Who’s his favorite teacher? What’s his favorite subject? Best friend? Least favorite subject? What percentile weight and height is he? How long did it take him to potty train? What percentile is he in for reading, writing, math? Does he still believe in Santa? If not, when did he stop? And why?

    These are things that women are expected to know without even thinking, and men aren’t ever expected to know (or if they do know even a fraction of this, they’re treated as some kind of superdad).

    I’m not underestimating women – I’m acknowledging and challenging the misogyny that makes it all but impossible for a woman to succeed socially, sexually, occupationally or politically in a world where a man is assumed to succeed as a matter of course. The sooner that men can do this as well, and challenge it when they see it at the expense of their own privilege, then we’ll be that much closer to a society that sees women as people instead of not-men.

  38. A.J. Sutter says:

    Sorry, I gather from your response that you are too wedded (pardon the expression) to your dogma to be interested in a dialogue about this. To clarify my comment, however, I should explain that I understand “misogyny” in its etymological sense of μισογυνία, i.e. hatred of women. Perhaps modern theory has expanded the referent of this term somehow so that it’s now relevant to mention women who choose not to have children at all when considering the question of who is more likely to get custody of children in a divorce; I admit that my imagination is quite pedestrian by comparison.

  39. S.M.Freundschuh says:

    Great discussions…great view points…thank you everyone.

    My only comment, really, is that I have a difficult time accepting statements that suggest representativeness and universality. For example, the post by allgoodtees has the following statements: “Raising children is the nurturing behavior routinely coded as feminine (less than), to the point where men caring for his own kids is referred to as “babysitting” instead of taking an active part in childrearing.” and “When a working couple has a child, it’s the woman who is expected to leave her job and take care of the baby.” I agree that this happens, but these (and statements by others) are not a universal by any means. My experiences and beliefs are quite different.

    When I was married, I took leave from work to help care for our infant children. I was the primary caregiver when our children were preschool age. I did a large share of the daily housekeeping chores, like cooking, cleaning and laundry. And I worked a full-time job, as did my wife.

    In spite of this, when my wife and I divorced, she filed for custody. She believed it was in our children’s best interests. This was an extremely hurtful experience, one that I will never forget.

    Please be mindful that men are not uniform in their thoughts, beliefs and in their experiences. Making categorical statements for or about any group minimizes the diversity within that group, and negates the individuality of members in that group. There is more to me, and to many of my male friends, than the label “male.”

  40. Kaimi — finally got my posts up that launch off this one. Thanks for making me think.

  41. C.Castel says:

    In the end, I agree with you, but I think you are criticizing the wrong crowd. Terms like ‘rape’, in the context of competitive gaming, have no more to do with real violence than any other aggressive metaphor. (‘break a leg’, ‘shot down’, ‘with guns blazing’, and so on) There may be an argument in saying the language is inherently sexist, but the people using it mean no harm or offense, which is why the ‘oversensitive’ defense comes into play.
    Similarly, to claim that physical threats are specifically harsh to women on the grounds that women are the target of more domestic violence, is also flawed. Men are easily the target of far more overall violence, and the taboo against a man hitting a women is always in play. It is not any more normal or comfortable for a man to be punched, than a woman.

    The bigger fish that are left un-fried, are the seedier yet ever influential corners of the internet that downright reject the equality of women. Telling women to show pictures or leave is unfair. Telling women to stay in their kitchen is ridiculous and unfair. These sentiments may also be in jest, but the source of the humour is actual sexism, targeting only women. This is then excused and normalized every time the ‘joke’ is repeated. When the internet wants to be sexist, it does so openly, and doesn’t hide it behind rape and punching, which are used as gender-neutral terms.