Men love to tell women that if we truly want equality we should be able to sacrifice all the privileges that society has extended to us through the years. Apparently expecting to have a door opened for you is too much privilege and this culture of “equal rights and unequal privilege” isn’t working for the men. So, what is this female privilege? Does it really even exist?
Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia
It should come as no surprise that I talk about women’s rights and feminism a lot, nor that I have the oft-loathed skill of being able to bring the subject into any conversation. As far as I am concerned it’s not the matter of an opinion I have on a subject, it’s the lens through which I see all subjects. I wouldn’t call myself an expert though because I am not sure exactly what qualification makes you an expert in this case, in my opinion being a woman is expertise enough but almost no one agrees with my opinion so perhaps there is a logical flaw there that I am not seeing. Regardless, the point is, I talk about sexism et cetera endlessly (and yes, I am entirely no fun to hang out with whatsoever) and as a result I always have a conversation to cite when I have to discuss a subject, it’s just good journalism. So, I was speaking to this man, and I don’t know how we started discussing the subject of how social disadvantage faced by women feeds professional disadvantage, and I continued parlance I used the term “equal rights.”
“Tell me something,” he said in that smug voice that men use when they think of an argument that has a baseless premise but they think they’ve got you, “What do you think of the concept of equal rights but unequal privilege?”
“Are you saying women have unequal and more privilege?” I asked, even though I knew that’s what he meant and it was, in his mind, akin to that moment when bhakts ask you what other choice we have in our country from a prime-ministerial position, and think they’ve made a definitively winning-case.
“Of course,” he said, “Women want all the same things as men but they want to be treated differently.”
Honestly, it’s astounding I haven’t had more concussions from banging my head into walls. Either my skull is made of titanium or contactors in India have been using some shoddy materials to build walls.
“Let me guess,” I told him, “You think it’s unfair women want equal opportunities and not to be raped but also want someone to open a door for them?”
Of course, that is what he meant, but he wouldn’t “put it exactly like that.” This is a commonly heard phrase in the canon of arguments against the women’s movement. Apparently, women want to have all the same things as men but want to be treated differently. Usually the people who make these arguments are referring to two different forms of treatment. The first one, as referenced above, is about chivalry. Personally, I’m over chivalry. I can open my own doors, pay for my own coffee, make my own drinks, carry my own rucksack and pitch my own tent, but let’s say for the sake of argument that there are women who prefer to have doors opened and chairs pulled out for them. Let’s say that is female privilege. Not only does this privilege that women allegedly enjoy exist only in pockets and for short periods of time, it is often replaced by a lifetime of eating last, removing your husband’s shoes and making not only everyone’s drinks but their food too.
Furthermore, I think it’s entirely unreasonable to expect having a door opened for you be the reward for silence in the face of an epidemic of sexual violence, that’s a ridiculous argument but what is far more ridiculous is the belief that women somehow enjoy unequal privilege to men, and the women have it better. Men enjoy endless privilege.
Men enjoy the privilege to leave the house at any hour of the night and hail an auto with confidence that no one is going to try to stick a dick up their ass by force. Men enjoy the privilege of never being asked their marital or childbearing plans in an interview nor are they ever denied a job based on that answer. Men enjoy the privilege of higher pay, more opportunities, sustained career growth and more ease at changing jobs. Men enjoy the privilege of having people, especially government functionaries at university office and the like, actually listen when they show up to have some work done. A clerk at my own college refused to process my documents because he didn’t like how I was behaving like a woman because I was being assertive and I can promise that hasn’t happened to any men. Men enjoy the privilege of getting angry and acting out of ego without anyone thinking anything of it, in fact, most people make adjustments and room for men to get angry.
So is there unequal privilege? Absolutely, and the men have been enjoying that for millennia, yet somehow they believe it is a good argument to demand that women give up having their bags lifted by a man if they want equal rights.
The other form of treatment that rubs these men the wrong way is when women get, what they call, an “unfair” advantage in professional set-ups: Reservation for women in parliament or Panchayat elections, subsidized education for women, lower tax brackets for women, reserved compartments for women on trains and metros. A few weeks ago I was in a conversation, actually scratch that, it was a fight. I was in a fight because for once I actually lost my cool and had an emotion as part of an argument, based on the fact that a couple of men in the army thought women shouldn’t be in the army (or the infantry) because the environment is not right for them and if they wish to be in the army the physical qualifiers for women should be exactly the same as men. That’s not what I lost my cool about, it was the condescension that did that, I just don’t respond well to men sitting me down and telling me I need a lecture on being a woman, a decade ago I probably would have punched the guy.
Their argument was that women would be unable to join the army, even if they were allowed to do so, because they would never be able to meet the qualifications to join if the standard was the same as it is for men. It’s the same argument against reservations and subsides. Honestly, I know a tonne of women who could meet the physical qualifications set for the men to join the army and many of them who would put a lot of men already in the army to shame. Women are fucking strong, and not just “endurance” strong. However if the qualification to be a soldier is only physical strength, why don’t we only hire men between the ages of 18 and 25 anyway? Why are 55-year old uniforms demanding physical perfection from women when unable to pass a basic health screening themselves? Regardless, I digress because the anger has not subsided, I would make a terrible monk. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that there are women who want from different qualifiers for men and women, and those that want reservations in parliament too.
Is that female privilege?
On the face of it, one may say that being given an advantage that someone else does not have is a privilege but let’s not be overly-simplistic or stupid just for the sake of winning an argument. The advantages are provided to women, like many minority groups, not as a privilege but to correct an imbalance. The struggle a woman faces just to be able to make to decision to join a male-dominated profession like the army or politics is monumental compared to men. Where a man might be regarded with prestige for making these decisions, for a woman it is a fucking fight. Where a man might make a decision like this one as second nature, for a woman it means convincing their family, overcoming the bias of authority and society as well as having to work every day to justify their position in that profession.
One might say that these advantages dilute the quality of people employed in these positions or accepted into these colleges and should we really be so keen to correct an imbalance that we are willing to pay more people to do the same job less effectively? And to that I say, god I wish you had studied analytic processes better in life and maybe your school will offer a refund for having failed you? There is such a thing as social advantage and men have enjoyed that for centuries, even with qualifiers being lowered, women still have to be twice as qualified in other regards to even get to the same interview as men. While a man may be offered a job even if he is slightly unqualified but has a family to feed, a woman will need twice as many degrees and twice as much experience to be offered the same job. Moreover qualifiers usually exist only in one sphere, and most jobs are a function of multiple skills. Let’s just take the army as an example, you think that if a woman has to do only five push ups when a man has to do ten the quality of the organisation will be lowered? You actually believe the efficiency of the army is solely a function of physical strength? Do you think a woman who takes 32-minutes to run five kilometres as opposed to 28 is unable to have faster reflexes, more analytical ability, a more strategic bent of mind and more of a community-based approach?
Men love to talk about women having privilege because it’s an excellent method to distract from the fact that they enjoy privilege every day and have since the dawn of the human race. Men like to act as if pulling out a chair for us or allowing us to consider a particular profession is a huge advantage that they are extending to us at their own cost. In that case, please stop opening doors for us, wouldn’t want you to have to suffer through giving us such unequal privilege. It’ll be hard, but we’ll survive. It’ll be such a challenge though, to live without something that never existed.