Being Male Has Privileges
Since the beginnings of human civilization, tens of thousands of years ago, most human societies have been patriarchal in nature: that is to say, male mebers of society have held most of the power and the privileges, and women have been treated like second-class citizens with fewer rights and much less power. Historically it could be argued that there is a logical reason for this: only women can become pregnant and in the past this put even more pressure on women, because the risks of death in childbirth were enormously high and, because of the lack of effective contraceptive methods (only widely available since the i960s), some women might have spent almost their entire adult lives being pregnant.
But what is the situation now in the early twentieth-first century? The situation varies all over the world, but, as this essay will show, even in what we consider the most advanced countries of the world, being male does have privileges. According to Pronger, writing in 2002:
Masculinity is seen as superior to femininity. It is more socially acceptable for a woman to be masculine than for a man to be feminine because it is more acceptable to take power than to relinquish it. Because in patriarchal culture it is generally accepted that it is better to be powerful than weak, masculine things are seen to be superior to feminine things. (p.235)
This essay will consider the significant privileges that men enjoy over women in the areas of the economy and business, of education, and in physical and mental well-being. I will conclude by examining, from a global perspective, two contentious issues (contentious for men that is!) giving women the vote and the recognition of marital rape.
Even in countries that we would associate with progress and civilized attitudes to women such as the USA and the UK, women do not earn as much as men – even when they are doing exactly the same work. Furthermore, the opportunities for women to progress their careers is limited even in Western countries, where women occupy very few of the highest and best-paid positions in large organizations, whether private companies or government departments. The plight of women economically is even worse in some Third World countries where stereotypes about women and what they should be allowed to do remain heavily entrenched in people’s minds. In many countries around the world, especially certain very strictly Islamic ones, women are denied access to education, work and have to wear what their governments force them to wear. In the sphere of work it is certainly better to be a man. Career progression at work for women is hampered by biology and a career-break to have children can remove the momentum from the upward progress that a successful female worker is making. Some companies are reluctant to promote women of a certain age to prominent positions in case they take time off work to have a family. Here again it is an advantage to be male.
Even in Western countries or what we might refer to as First World countries there is still a gender bias when it comes to students choosing the subjects that they wish to study at university. Women are over-represented on courses in the Humanities and Arts, and underrepresented in the Sciences and Engineering. Men seem to be freer to choose what they want to study. Remember too the huge number of countries in the world where women and girls are denied even basic education and so have no chance whatsoever of going to university.
We might find the strict dress code that some Islamic countries impose on their women a denial of freedom, but Western countries are just as bad, but in a more subtle way. In First World countries women are judged by their looks and appearance. The media (through advertisements and their coverage of news about celebrities) present young girls with stereotypes of how woman should look which encourages women who are not thin and beautiful to lose their self-esteem or perhaps to self-harm or even to develop conditions like anorexia or bulimia. By contrast, men are not judged in the same way: society might judge a man by his clothes, but not by his looks or how fat he is.
The world is much more dangerous place for women than it is for men. Statistics for every country in the world confirm this. Woman are more likely to be mugged than men; women are more likely to suffer sexual harassment at work than men; women are more likely to abused physically or sexually in the home; women are more likely to the victims of rape and sexual assault; women are more likely to suffer from mental health issues. Even on the mundane subject of housework, surveys have shown that even working women with children do more work around the home than their husband or partner.
In the 19th century in the USA and Western Europe far-sighted women staretd agitating to be allowed to vote. It is interesting today to look around the world to see when different countries allowed women to vote. In 1893 New Zealand first allowed women to vote and they were followed quickly by other English-psekaing countries or countries in western Europe. But in the United Arab Emirates women were given limited voting rights only in 2006. In Saudi Arabia women cannot vote at all. But there are some surprises when you look at the timeline: Switzerland did not give women the vote until 1971! Once agin, in the world of politics it is better to be male. I hope it goes without saying that women are also under-presented in positions of power. There has never been a female president of the United States.
Marital rape is another good indicator of where a country stands on women’s rights. Marital rape is a situation where in a married couple one person (usually the husband) makes the wife have sex against her will. For centuries the right of a husband to have sex whenever he liked was assumed to be right and natural, and the concept of ‘marital rape’ is a relatively new one. Interestingly, the historical spread of the recognition of marital rape as a crime, does not follow exactly the same lines as the votes for women issue. The first countries that recognized marital rape as a crime were in eastern Europe: Poland in 1932, Czechoslovakia in 1950 and then the Soviet Union in 1960. These countries were quickly followed by Scandinavia and other eastern European Communist countries. What I found really surprising was how late it came to be recognized as a crime in some parts of what we think of as the ‘developed world’. South Dakota was the first American state to recognize it as a criminal offence in 1975, but North Carolina was the last in 1993. In the United Kingdom it was not recognized as a criminal offence until 1991 and Germany waited until 1997 to criminalize it. In this area too, it seems, it is better to be a man. There are still several countries that do not recognize marital rape as a crime at all – generally in parts of Africa and some Islamic countries.
In conclusion we can see that it is far better to be a man in every country in the world. Men get better pay and have better prospects of promotion; their appearance is not dictated by religious rules or the influence of the media; their participation in active politics is of longer tradition and they wield power more than women; in terms of crime women tend to be the victims, not the perpetrators. Women are still expected to look good, have children and look after the home. And there are still countries where it is legal for their husbands to force them to have sex.
Pronger, Brian. Every Day Everywhere: Global Perspectives on Popular Culture. Boston: McGraw Hill. 2002. Print.