Ever since 1998, the year I began my undergraduate education at Pomona College, I've heard the term "male privilege" used to describe what campus feminists called "the dynamics of difference and power" between the men and women. Though I prefer different terms when conversing on this subject, I've often benefited from their insights on issues as diverse as date rape, the dearth of female Senators, and the difficulty of being pregnant and staying on the tenure track. American men are privileged in certain ways, I've been persuaded over the years, and there is more work to be done before the feminist project is realized.
But I can't help but notice that I've never heard the term "female privilege" invoked, despite the fact that it too exists, and a failure to acknowledge as much is preventing us from accurately assessing gender dynamics, sometimes in a way that causes women to feel that they are worse off relative to men than is justified by the facts. Perhaps the most dramatic way to grasp my point is to reflect on the disparity between blacks and whites in imprisonment rates, a problem that is much remarked upon, and to appreciate that it is dwarfed by the seldom discussed disparity in male and female imprisonment rates. If prison disparities are troubling even if they aren't grounded in discrimination by law enforcement -- and I think that they are when it comes to race and gender -- more attention is due.
The dynamic I'm discussing is much bigger than prison. In this month's Atlantic, the exceptionally talented Hanna Rosin outlines the unprecedented ways that women are gaining ground in post-industrial America. That today's parents prefer girls is no more or less chilling than that boys were the preferred sex for so long. But the prospect that science might now enable parents to choose the gender of their child, and that the result would be something other than a fifty-fifty split in population, is itself troubling. The last thing I want in our public discourse is a lot of hand-wringing about "female privilege," but it would be better if conversations related to men, women and power stopped presuming a world wherein the privileges and advantages enjoyed by men are both overwhelming and the only "dynamics of difference and power" worth talking about.
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