Advantage is not the same as Privilege

Yes there are silver linings to being a woman. No that doesn’t mean men have it just as hard.

Photo by Mink Mingle on Unsplash

Women sometimes get let in free to clubs, or get free drinks certain nights of the week, generally called “Ladies Night.” I am not one to turn down a free sugary cocktail, so I’ve been to a fair few of these, and heard the men around me groan. Ladies Nights are an advantage to being a woman, you could say, from the generally shared point of view that getting things for free is a good thing.

It is an advantage of being a woman, it is not a privilege. The person who is privileged in this scenario is men, who aren’t objectified by society to the extent where bars can base their publicity plan on bringing in a lot of women, and getting them drunk, so that it will be easier to hook up with them. The foundation of Ladies Nights is rape culture. Women are not privileged in rape culture, men are.

When we talk about sexism and the systemic and structural oppression of women, a lot of anti-feminists retort with a list of advantages of being a woman, suggesting that there is no such thing as Male Privilege. I think it’s important to recall the difference between an advantage and a privilege.

An advantage is a one-off thing. Everything in this world, from stepping in shit to falling in love has advantages. That is where the notion of silver lining comes from. When you are homeless, at least you don’t have to spring clean. When you lose a leg, at least you have less to shave. You can define these as advantages if you look at them in a certain light, but it would take an extremely callous person indeed to actually argue that being homeless is better than having a roof over your head, or that being amputated one leg was a desirable affair.

Privilege is different. Privilege is structural, in the same way that oppression is. It means that the weight of the advantages compared to the disadvantages you hold within a certain society, simply because of belonging to a particular group, makes it more desirable to be in that group than outside of it. It is the opposite of oppression.

When you are part of the oppressed group, sometimes the advantages you have are more visible than those of the dominant group, because the latter’s advantages are ingrained into the very system. Bars put up huge signs to announce ladies night, employers don’t put up huge signs saying that men get paid on average 1$ for every 0.75 cts a woman earns . Positive discrimination schemes single out marginalised individuals, the discrimination built into the system that makes it easier for the dominant group to reach those positions without help is part of the normal functioning of society that we take for granted.

In the same way, when you are privileged, you can have disadvantages, you can have bad days. Being privileged doesn’t necessarily mean that you are happy — which is why, I think, so many people hate being told they are privileged. They feel like they work hard, and like their lives have ups and downs. But the fact is, on the one hand, their challenges are taken far more seriously than those of the oppressed, and, on the other, that the oppressed face this kind of challenge on top of the extra ones originating from structural violence towards them.

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