The issue of privileges enjoyed as a man compared to that as a woman can be a really unusual mix. Sometimes it’s the small things, and other times it’s huge. You can write it all down on paper, dissect it, and philosophize about it, but when you actually live in both those sets of privilege the differences are very stark.
How can someone live the day to day life of a woman, and still understand intimately how much more male privilege gives you? You have to live as both.
I lived the first 40 years of my life being perceived as a woman. I am very specific with this language because I am transgender. Although I am in the beginning of my medical transition, there is a huge difference in how people perceive me, and how I am treated now. Some of it is remarkable.
One of the first things I noticed is in my daily commute, I receive zero street harassment now. When I was in makeup, heels, and in public before, I felt I had to be on my guard at all times because you never knew when the construction workers would play out the cliche and say something horrible. I would have to fend off men in cars following me down the sidewalk when I walked, trying to ask me for my number. Even worse, were the bus creepers. There is no time in a woman’s life when drunkenly drooling incoherent statements about her chest is going to win you favors.
As a man, even a Trans* obvious one sometimes, I can walk anywhere I want day or night. My travel is not encumbered by anyone. If a man turns to talk to me, it’s because he wants to know the time, or if the bus has come yet. I would liken it to having a super power that allows me to do my daily travels without having to keep my guard up 100% of the time.
That revelation makes my life infinitely easier. If I want to go jogging before dawn, or late at night, then I can. Nobody will look twice at me. If I don’t want to own a car, and want to rely on the bus in a bad area of town, I can do it with impunity. Women are just not afforded that luxury. It’s a huge privilege to feel safe when you travel alone. It takes so much less mental effort to sort out. Being on your guard all the time is very taxing.
Another privilege I noticed pretty immediately is an allowance for one’s face to be serious. When I was perceived as a woman, I was often accused of having “bitchy resting face”. My neutral expression is stern, period. The fact that there is a phrase called “bitchy resting face” should tell you how women who don’t smile are perceived. I would have complete strangers tell me to smile regularly. If I was seriously studying, I would be asked if something was wrong. I would be told I’d be prettier if I smiled. It was all very intrusive. This cultural pressure to be pleasant is pervasive.
Now that I am perceived as masculine, nobody tells me to smile. Men are afforded stern facial expressions. If I am studying, folks nod sagely at me, and say, “Yeah, Finance class sucks.” I’m sure smarter people than myself have dissected this issue, but as someone that flipped this coin, I find it incredibly odd that my gender expression changes how folks feel about my stern expression.
In the same vein, as male, I am allowed to be competitive, assertive, loud, and bold. I am assured by my husband of 20 years, I have always had these qualities. The only difference is that now, presenting as male, these are good qualities.
When I was presenting as a women, the first thing that came up, if I behaved that way, was that I was a bitch. Over and over again, if I stepped up to a leadership role, or told someone in no uncertain terms there was a problem, that word was flung at me.
Now, I get patted on the back, and folks admire my tenacity. They tell me they wish they could be as assertive. This is a whole new realm of acceptance for traits I have had my entire life.
Also, If I am a real jerk, I get rueful smiles, and “Dude, it’s cool.” Then it’s all fine. That just shocked me. The instant pass I get if I mess up. I don’t get labeled the office bitch, only to have everyone treat me like I’m a real hard ass that’s going to snap at them. It’s like the “boys will be boys” motto now applies. It’s definitely seductive to be allowed that kind of out, even when it would be nicer if folks held your feet to the fire once in a while, so you’d learn not to be a jerk.
These are just a couple of the differences I have seen in how I am treated. These are generalizations, but they weren’t ones I expected to experience. There are so many small things I see, but I’m still in the beginning here, and I am sure, as I start growing whiskers, and passing to everyone, that there will be more.
Wolsey Bradley is a gamer, a cosplayer, and a perpetual student. He’s married to a fantastic man, and takes care of a very pushy cat. He’s also trans* and seeking transition medically, giving him a window into different gender roles.