I want to strike, penetrate, and annihilate male privilege. But perhaps not in the sense that is fashionable. And maybe not in a way you are expecting. Undoing male privilege is not the burden of those oppressed by it, and nor should it be in a just world. Unfortunately, that’s not the world where we breathe in. As feminist activists, we cannot wait for men to self-realise their privileges. Far more atrocities will be committed if we simply wait. We need to explore ways in which we can rupture male privileges in everyday life. After all, we are more than passive victims of gender struggles. We are agents who will fight till we draw our last breath in this unjust world. 

But such a noble task also necessitates educating ourselves about male privilege. Oftentimes, we lump men into a singular category and assume that all of them have the same privileges. Have you forgotten about your gay friends? Those who are systematically made to feel abnormal and are othered. What about people of colour? Those who have historically been treated as inferior because of the colour of their skin. Perhaps we forget them because they are less visible in Oxford. What I am trying to demonstrate here is that conferral of male privilege depends on the colour of the penis, and its utilisation during intimate moments. Probably size and thickness too, but that’s a different matter. We need to be mindful of power hierarchies within the category of masculinity to speculate who are leading the oppression, whether that be of women, non-binary folk, or other men who may be POC, non-heterosexual, transgender and even cisgender. Let me explain why I have added cis man to this list.

Male privileges are not embedded in the bodies of men. Rather, male privilege is bestowed through a societal celebration of what men should look like in particular contexts. In most Euro-American settings, muscles accrued in bodies signify hegemonic masculine powers. On the streets of Britain, a lanky white man with a meek personality becomes ‘less of a man’ in comparison to a muscular black bodybuilder who has sacrificed much of his life to gain muscles. If these two men were compared solely based on their race, the black man would be disadvantaged. But in this scenario, the muscular black man becomes the alpha man because he fits into the celebrated ideal of what a man should look like in streets in Euro-America, that is muscular, not meek. 

Now consider a different context: imagine you are that lanky man who happens to study at Oxford. Imagine you take the bodybuilder with you to your tutorial. Does the bodybuilder embody hegemonic powers during your tutorial? Most probably not, because your seminar values the embodiment of masculinity that is academically mature and able to articulate conceptual ideas. Such qualities are perceived to be lacking in professional bodybuilders of any race who have to basically live in gyms to accrue muscles. In your seminar, the muscular bodybuilder loses his hegemonic powers and the lanky Oxford student becomes the victorious man. 

Like most other forms of privilege, male privilege is contingent on fitting into the construct of what is most valued in a given context.  As we value certain types of masculinities in everyday life, we promulgate ideas of what men need to look like. Concurrently, we bestow privilege to men who ascribe to these celebrated traits, implicitly and explicitly forcing men to emulate that ideal to be socially intelligible. Upon embodying the idealised forms of masculinity, these men become emblems and models for younger men. In this sense, we all collaborate to confer male privileges and this ensures future generations do the same.  

Men obviously have to educate themselves and each other. That is an underlying fact. But we cannot simply wait for them. We will educate ourselves to understand that male privilege is not singular and certainly not embedded in the bodies of certain kinds of men. Instead, we will understand that male privileges are conferred depending on compliance to the form of masculinity that is valued in particular settings. Everyone plays a part in this social celebration of idealised masculinity. I suggest we stop celebrating normative ideals of masculinity, instead I encourage you to rupture ideals of what men should look and act like – in streets, in class, and in bed. This is of course not a magic bullet to gender violence, but only a necessary step towards undoing male privilege. It is also no simple task, being one requires distorting our own normative conditionings, including our ideas of romance. Would you be okay if your dad or brother says he’s sick of wearing suits and would rather wear short skirts? Or perhaps a cute dress? Are you prepared to date fat guys, those shorter than you and with meek personalities? Can you handle a cisgender boyfriend who is willing to try performing drag? It is of course not easy, but who likes it easy, eh?

Illustration by Marcelina Jagielka