The male privilege checklist

[Note: This version of the list is not the current version. The most up-to-date version of the list can always be found at this link.]

No time for blogging today – gotta draw, gotta go to work, blah blah blah. So instead, here’s a piece I compiled five or six years ago, originally as an exercise for a women’s studies class. It’s probably my most widely-read piece; as well as floating around on the internet, it’s been used in dozens of high school and college courses.

The Male Privilege Checklist
An Unabashed Imitation of an article by 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.

Since I first compiled it, the list has been posted several 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. Pointing out that men are privileged in no way denies that sometimes bad things happen to 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. As Marilyn Frye has argued, while men are harmed by patriarchy, women are oppressed by it.

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 acknowledgement 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.

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. The odds of my encountering sexual harassment on the job are so low as to be negligible.

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 so low as to be negligible.

8. I am not taught to fear walking alone after dark in average public spaces.

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.

12. If I have children and pursue 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. Chances are my elected representatives are mostly people of my own sex. The more prestigious and powerful the elected position, the more likely this is to be true.

15. I can be somewhat sure that if I ask to see “the person in charge,” 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.

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 heroes were the default.

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

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, every day, without exception.

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. If I have sex with a lot of people, it won’t make me an object of contempt or derision.

25. There are value-neutral clothing choices available to me; it is possible for me to choose clothing that doesn’t send any particular message to the world.

26. My wardrobe and grooming are relatively cheap and consume little time.

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

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

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

30. 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.)

31. 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.

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

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

34. The decision to hire me will never be based on assumptions about whether or not I might choose to have a family sometime soon.

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

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

37. 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.

38. If I have children with a wife or girlfriend, chances are she’ll do most of the childrearing, and in particular the most dirty, repetitive and unrewarding parts of childrearing.

39. If I have children with a 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.

40. 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 much rarer.

41. I am not expected to spend my entire life 20-40 pounds underweight.

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

43. Complete strangers generally do not walk up to me on the street and tell me to “smile.”

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

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

(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. If possible, however, I’d appreciate it if folks who use it could tell me about how they used it; my email is barry-at-amptoons-dot-com.)

(Updated since the original posting to add some new items to the list.)

[Note: This version of the list is not the current version. The most up-to-date version of the list can always be found at this link.]

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513 Responses to The male privilege checklist

  1. 501
    Robert says:

    Labor markets clear. If Eytan’s compensation is unfairly high, or that of his co-workers is unfairly low, it is unlikely that any correction will come out of return on capital. Any balancing is nearly certain to come from the labor budget, with the total compensation paid remaining the same.

  2. 502
    mythago says:

    Though if the situation is that his co-worker has been paid less as a result of unlawful discrimination, that’ll probably get paid by insurance.

    I’m truly not getting the argument that acknowledging privilege diminishes everything. If I climb Mount Everest, I’m not going to sit around muttering how it doesn’t mean shit because a blind guy did it, you know?

  3. 503
    Robert says:

    The settlement would get paid out of insurance; long-term the remedy for a rational employer is to equalize salaries. If Eyan got $60 and his next female counterpart would have previously gotten $40 (and they’re the only two employees), then Eyan is going to have his pay cut to $50.

  4. 504
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    where folks tell Joe “you benefit from privilege”, and what Joe chooses to hear is “everything you have is because of privilege, and your hard work counts for shit”?

    Context is important. As is tone.

    If you* tell me I benefit from male privilege in a general sense–let’s imagine that you just did–that wouldn’t be inappropriate. I do, of course, and it’s a general thing. And we’re talking about privilege, after all.

    If you, having not brought it up before, decide to tell me that I benefit from privilege in the middle of a particular disagreement we’re having then it’s quite possibly intended as a convenient means of implying a variety of nasty things.

    *That’s the global “you,” by the way, not the Mythago “you.”

  5. 505
    Eytan Zweig says:

    I’m going to put aside the job example from my earlier post as it was supposed to be a demonstration of principle rather than a realistic portrayal of labour law.

    G&W – I agree that tone is important. I agree that there’s a lot of people posting lots of things that I consider unproductive on both sides of every privilege debate I’m familiar with. But I’m not sure how your latest posting is relevant to the starting point and your questioning of my response to Kai. Do you believe I was trying to imply nasty things about him?

    Do you not see a functional difference between my arguing that Kai is wrong to deny that male privileges matter, and claiming that his arguments are a manifestation of his privilege and therefore invalid? I’m pretty sure I never did the latter.

    If you, having not brought it up before, decide to tell me that I benefit from privilege in the middle of a particular disagreement we’re having then it’s quite possibly intended as a convenient means of implying a variety of nasty things.

    That’s a very odd conversational insecurity – almost anything I say could be interpreted as a convenient means of implying a variety of nasty things, context and tone permitting. Why is it that so many people seem to take the statement that they have had advantages to be a negative statement? It seems pretty neutral to me, but then this wouldn’t be the first time when I was oblivious to cultural differences of this sort.

  6. 506
    mythago says:

    Context is important. As is tone.

    Pfft. I see what you did there.

    Certainly, context is important. But if I bring privilege up in the middle of an argument because you* have just said something that is ten pounds of privilege in a five-pound can, it is also quite possible that I brought it up in the middle of an argument because, well, that’s when you said it.

    And context is also important in the other direction. If you claim in the middle of an argument that I’ve unfairly brought up privilege out of nowhere purely for sinister reasons, it is also quite possible that you are doing so to derail an uncomfortable discussion.

    More specifically, if Bob tells Joe “You benefit from privilege” in the middle of an argument, even if Joe genuinely believes that Bob is playing rhetorical games, Bob didn’t, in fact, say “Everything you have, you got unfairly because of your privilege.”

    *Similarly, generic-you.

  7. 507
    Elusis says:

    I tried to address some of the “So what should I DO???” questions here.

  8. 508
    Ampersand says:

    Sorry, the link didn’t come through. Try again, please?

  9. 509
    Elusis says:

    Hm, it’s working for me Amp – what result are you getting?

  10. 510
    Ampersand says:

    It’s working for me now, too. Oh, well, the web is mysterious. :-p

  11. 511
    Elusis says:

    Cool cool cool! :)

  12. 512
    Alice says:

    Love the list!! I have a suggestion if there is room to expand item 34 regarding names:

    I will not be expected to change my last name if I choose to marry, nor will I be asked to explain myself if I choose not to do so. My title (Miss, Ms, Mrs vs Mr) will not change based on my relationship status, and I will not be asked about this on every form I fill out. Also, I will not be expected to change my name in order to distance myself from my own gender before I publish written work or participate in online gaming/forums in order to be taken seriously and avoid harassment.

    A handful of sites with info on women and male/gender neutral names:

  13. 513
    Erin says:

    I second Alice’s update to the list. Selecting “male” or gender-neutral pseudonyms to be taken seriously is a big problem.