when the status quo frustrates.

When Your Male Privilege Stops Applying To Your Situation, It Goes Beyond Inconvenient, Doesn’t It?

I had seen this post by Melissa MacEwan of Shakeville before Hugo wrote about it, but I hadn’t been aware of her follow-up post til he linked to it. Basically, her emphasis in her follow-up post and Hugo’s primary message in his own were the same–in their own words:

Melissa: Feminist men who do the right thing often do it quietly, while misogynist men spew their rubbish at incredible volumes…If, my esteemed male feminist allies, you don’t want to be part of the problem, these fights have got to be your province, too. Giving yourselves the permission to not get publicly involved, or to get publicly involved only when it’s convenient and not all that risky and not all that hard, is the ultimate expression of privilege.

Hugo: I was able to assent intellectually to the principles of feminism long before I was courageous enough to espouse them in potentially hostile settings. I had to take baby steps. Identifying as a feminist in a women’s studies class came before identifying as a feminist in an all-male environment. But I felt a sense of urgency; it is male privilege that allows feminist men to pick and choose to join battles into which women are regularly drafted against their will. If we’re serious about our feminism, we can’t just be allies when it’s safe or convenient, we can’t merely offer soothing reassurance in private to the women in our lives. We’ve got to do it as publicly as possible, remembering that our primary usefulness to the egalitarian cause lies in our willingness to model publicly a different way of living as brothers, fathers, sons, husbands, lovers, bosses, students, roommates, coworkers and friends.

(emphasis on convenient mine)

Certainly this is something I’ve thought about before–even written about, rather passionately–grounded as it is in the unavoidable knowledge that women will never achieve true equality if we can’t get more than 50% of the human race on board with that as a basic societal truth. But seeing Hugo write about it made me pause for a second, because Hugo is, after all, a man…who apparently doesn’t entirely know what he’s talking about. Not when it comes to being a man representing feminism, or even anything remotely like feminism, in an all-male environment…a hostile setting.

I used to be pretty close to someone, a man, who had spent nearly 20 years in the military by the time I knew him. When he was 19 years old, he was stationed in Korea. Now, nobody in the Army brought his family over to Korea then; the Army wouldn’t pay for it and there was no real housing available there for family, schools for the kids, etc. Few Army women were sent to Korea, as nearly all the military specialties over there were either combat arms (outright banned to women) or very closely combat arms-related, in which there weren’t too many women serving to begin with. In short, it was essentially an “all-male environment”–not just for a few hours a day every few days or so, but 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And as anyone who has either been stationed there himself or has been very close to someone who has been stationed there knows, the standard operating procedure was for all the guys to go out together at night, get hammered, and patronize prostitutes.

Now, my friend was not particularly feminist–certainly not at age 19. But he didn’t want to patronize prostitutes. He’d only had sex a few times in his life period prior to being stationed in Korea; he was, he told me, frightened and repelled by the idea of doing it with a prostitute, just like that. His stint in Korea was only a month long–it was a training exercise–so, he said, he did manage to avoid having to do it–though both he and I doubted that he would have been able to continue to successfully refuse if he’d been stationed there for the standard 12-month Army rotation.

Because I don’t think Hugo and Melissa really know what a hostile all-male setting really consists of, sometimes, especially to a five-foot-nine inch, 140 pound, 19 year old boy. Like this*:

A Youth Radio investigation has found that between 2004 and 2006, sailors in the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain Military Working Dogs Division, or “The Kennel,” were subjected to an atmosphere of sexual harassment, psychological humiliation, and physical assaults.

It was inside that Bahrain kennel in July 2005 that Petty Officer Joseph Christopher Rocha, then 19 years old, says he was being terrorized by other members of his own division. “I was hog-tied to a chair, rolled around the base, left in a dog kennel that had feces spread in it.”

Rocha says that beginning six weeks into his deployment, he was singled out for abuse by his chief master-at-arms, Michael Toussaint, and others on the base, once Rocha made it clear he was not interested in prostitutes. “I was in a very small testosterone-driven unit of men,” Rocha says. “I think that’s what began the questioning-you know-‘Why don’t you want to have sex with her? Are you a faggot?’”

Youth Radio has conducted interviews and obtained documents released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) showing that the hog-tying episode was not the first or only case of harassment and abuse during Rocha’s deployment. In another incident cited in the documents, Rocha was forced to appear in a twisted “training video.” A member of the Working Dogs Division, Petty Officer Shaun Hogan, recalls the scene.

“Petty Officer Rocha and another junior sailor…were instructed to go into a classroom by Chief Michael Toussaint, who orchestrated the entire training. And Chief Toussaint asked them to simulate homosexual sex on a couch,” Hogan says.

Next in the simulation, Hogan says a handler and his dog barged onto the scene, and that’s when “one person…would sit up, kind of wipe off their mouth, the other would get up, and they would be fixing their fly.”

Rocha says Toussaint bullied him, “telling me I needed to be more believable, act more queer, have a higher pitched voice, make the sounds and gestures more realistic…I didn’t think I had a choice…It made me feel that I wasn’t a human being, that I was an animal, rather.”

Youth Radio has obtained a copy of both Braden’s investigation and the Navy’s Findings of Fact, which detail what happened to Rocha, in addition to incidents involving other service members. The FOIA documents have been redacted, so names are blocked out, but the actions listed include: throwing hard balls at the groin, spraying down uniformed personnel with multiple hoses, and a dog attacking a sex worker on base to the point of hospitalization.

Youth Radio’s investigation includes interviewing four members of the Bahrain Working Dogs Division who served between 2004 and 2006. All say the tone was set by Chief Toussaint. Some sailors participated in the culture of hazing as victims, others as perpetrators, or in some cases both.

When discussing his own Korea experience with my friend, I suggested that it might have been different if he’d been sent there as a sergeant in his 30′s rather than as a scared private of 19–he laughed and agreed: “Oh my God yeah…I wish I could go back there now…and this time they’d be like, ‘What’s wrong with you, man? Are you gay?’ and I’d be like, ‘That’s right, not only am I gay…I am THE gay**!’” But that’s now…as a mature adult man who has been to war and seen terrible things, who has the full growth and strength of a male in his physical prime, who has had enough sex of his own choosing to feel comfortable and confident in his own sexuality–and also, as a man with the authority of a senior noncommissioned officer’s rank.

I was in the Army myself, at age 18, in a heavily male environment–I know exactly what that’s like. There is no way in hell you could reasonably expect any of those boys to buck the system, and no, not just because they would be called names, or ostracized–they would be at serious risk of physical and sexual assault…just like I would have been if I’d ever made waves myself. And no feminist alive would have expected me to open my mouth and speak out under those circumstances. Male privilege doesn’t exist anymore when everyone in the group is already male, does it..?

So Hugo’s and Melissa’s messages are important…but they are lacking context. Which would be the privilege of never having served in our glorious Armed Forces, I would imagine. If you really want to advance the cause of feminism, first you’re going to push to make those spaces safe for the young men inhabiting them. That must come first, or you will never accomplish anything real and lasting in terms of encouraging young men to speak up for gender equality. And for God’s sake don’t trivialize a situation you can’t or won’t understand by calling it inconvenient…haven’t we had enough of that from the anti-choicers?

*via Pam

**He’s heterosexual, I should mention–you get his point, though.

12 Responses to “When Your Male Privilege Stops Applying To Your Situation, It Goes Beyond Inconvenient, Doesn’t It?”

  1. Toysoldier says:

    I do not think it is a matter a privilege, so much as it is a matter of Melissa and Hugo never being in the situations they are criticizing. One could call that “privilege,” but I think the undermines the fact that everyone does not experience the same things. What may seem simple for someone without those experiences may seem impossible for those who had those experiences. That is why I also think that addressing these kind of issues cannot simply be placed on the shoulders of one group of people nor should anyone associate the cause of the problem with only one set of situations. Of course, it is easy for people to demand others to take a risk they are unwilling or do not perceive as necessary for them to take themselves.

    That said, I do not think Hugo or Melissa would agree that any man or boy’s privilege stops in any situation, whether it is an all-male situation or whether it is predominantly female situation.

  2. OuyangDan says:

    Good post, but a sort of minor quibble:

    Now, nobody in the Army brings his family over to Korea; the Army won’t pay for it and there’s no real housing available there for family, schools for the kids, etc. Few Army women are sent to Korea, as nearly all the military specialties over there are either combat arms (outright banned to women) or very closely combat arms-related, in which there aren’t too many women serving to begin with. In short, it is essentially an “all-male environment”–not just for a few hours a day every few days or so, but 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And as anyone who has either been stationed there himself or has been very close to someone who has been stationed there knows, the standard operating procedure is for all the guys to go out together at night, get hammered, and patronize prostitutes.

    Do you mean, at the time? Because my husband and I live there now (he’s Navy, but that isn’t the exception). The Army has been pushing for quite some time to get this to be the desirable duty station for soldiers with dependents. Only IET service members are not allowed to bring families, but that is true of many duty stations world wide, and in Korea an unaccompanied tour is only 1-2 years.

    It is also about 1:4 female to male, which is typical for the military overall, with the exception of Military Intelligence, which is 1:3 (I was MI when I was AD). The Rate and MOSs are pretty spread out, too. MI is probably one of the biggest there, I would imagine, and the only thing directly combat related that happens is a twice annually, month long exercise that takes place Peninsula wide. Further, if you are caught even inside or near an establishment that has been “redlisted” as being where prostitution is available you will be brought up for an Article 15 or a Captain’s Mast, since soliciting a prostitute was made illegal under the UCMJ at least three years ago, even in places where it is currently legal to do so in the civilian world (like Vegas). Service members and their families spend several days in briefs being told where we are and are not allowed to go.

    There is ample housing, K-12 schools and lots of family oriented facilities for all four branches to use. In fact the DoD school on Garrison Yongsan is rated one of the best in the entire DoD system. But there are similar facilities at Camp Humphrey’s and all the way down in Pusan. I bring this up because Republic of Korea gets a bad rap as a duty station, and I have friends even now who ask if I walk around all day in a bullet proof vest and send our daughter to school in kevlar. (http://www.usfk.mil/usfk/)

    It certainly doesn’t make your point less valid, as it is a great point. It certainly is less easy to overcome certain forms of privilege in certain settings, especially in a military setting (even as a female). While I was proud to serve, and heartbroken to have that cut short due to health, it is a setting rife with male privilege, and I can see how that would be hard to overcome.

  3. Lisa Kansas says:

    LOL, yeah, sorry–I meant at the time, which was a while ago, like 20 years ago. I will go back and change the tense. :)

  4. OuyangDan says:

    Ha ha. Then I super apologize for the super long comment. :) Like I said, the point you made was stellar either way.

  5. [...] Kansas:  When Your Male Privilege Stops Applying to Your Situation it Goes Beyond Inconvenient, Doesn’t [...]

  6. Hugo says:

    Thanks for this corrective, Lisa. You’re right: the solution isn’t just about individuals making changes; as you point out, that’s simply impossible in a great many situations. Movements for social transformation can’t expect martyrdom to be the norm. One mistake we liberals (as opposed to radicals) always make is to assume that what is needed is more conscientiousness on the part of people acting alone. That is privileged indeed — we need more top-down activism and legislation to impose and enforce gender equity in traditionally all-male and authoritarian spaces. It’s not the private’s job to correct the sergeant — it’s the chain of command’s job, and that chain extends to the president and to the legislators.

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  8. ACW says:

    This post and the subsequent comments have my wheels turning.
    I agree that, in a group of all males, male privilege is moot. So, then, within that group, power is either attained or ascribed by other criteria. Do we have examples of the ‘top dog’ in an all male group setting an acceptable tone? I agree with Hugo that it is the responsibility of the chain of command to ensure a proper environment and to condone gentlemanly behavior.
    This is what I contribute: My father was career military. I grew up on military installations. When I was a senior in high school, he served a tour in Korea alone, but that was fifteen years ago, and dependents were discouraged from living there “due to pollution”. I don’t know, because I wasn’t there.
    My father was raised with six sisters. He married and had two daughters. My strongest memories from childhood are of him speaking up for women. He enjoyed the Army (for the most part), rose in rank to CSM and headed up three academies during his last eight years. I know that when he got to that point and had some clout, he was able to make sure the female soldiers didn’t have to put up with crap. Even earlier, when he was a drill sergeant and first sergeant, I can recall stories told across the dinner table of him checking soldiers for inappropriate behavior or comments.
    My wheels are turning because that commendable leadership was confined to a specific period of his life – the part I remember. The next time we speak, I’m compelled to ask about his earlier years in service, when his voice was likely limited, and about his leadership role now, as a high school instructor. He is in a better position now, to influence the minds of the next generation, and his opinions are respected. I wonder how vocal he is about women’s rights these days. I also wonder how many times inappropriate behavior or comments came across, went unchecked, and were omitted from the dinner conversation.

  9. minerva says:

    YOu ask: “Male privilege doesn’t exist anymore when everyone in the group is already male, does it..?”

    Absolutely, it does. Your example here describes it exactly.

    The situation you discuss IS about “male privilege” – the enactment and enforcement of a particular kind of masculinity, in a frame of domination. The “top dog” here declares himself as the paradigm, then uses his power to declare ‘Other’ those who he deems do not fit in, and imposes a regime of humiliation and control to maintain that definition and that hierarchy.

    It’s actually a classic example of “male privilege” – the term itself may seem incorrect, especially if we assume that “male privilege” can only be used against women – but if we realize that gender-based supremacy is aimed at both women and men, there’s no contradiction at all.

    It’s simply the logical working of sexism.

    I also wonder at who you mean in this comment: “If you really want to advance the cause of feminism, first you’re going to push to make those spaces safe for the young men inhabiting them.” – if by that you mean MEN need to take leadership and focus on how men play out supremacy on other men, yes I totally agree. (If you mean “all feminists” however, that smacks a bit of asking women to care for men’s needs, yet again.)

    I am waiting for the movement of MEN that seeks to end these poison cultures of supremacy, where informed by feminist (and anti-homophobic, anti-racist thought) their focus is on the issues men have with supremacy and the chains of male sexist thinking.

  10. Kate says:

    And here is where the phrase ‘the patriarchy hurts men, too’ is totally applicable and ought not to (I say ought because this is the internet after all) start a flame war.

    In a situation like that, if you don’t play by the rules, you de-identify yourself from the privelage. You step out of the umbrella and you become the other, because the other isn’t there to directly terrorise.

  11. Edel says:

    I’m with Minerva on this one. This statement, “If you really want to advance the cause of feminism, first you’re going to push to make those spaces safe for the young men inhabiting them” is both insulting and ridiculous. FIRST we have to once again take care of men? Because we can’t do any good without you? Guys, I sympathize, really, but this is a male problem in a male space. You have to take care of it yourselves.

  12. Lisa Kansas says:

    Well, of course you personally don’t have to do anything, nor do you have to show even the remotest empathy for anyone else’s situation nor evince the slightest desire to be supportive to anyone else for any reason whatsoever. However, if someone is going to recommend that another someone puts himself in physical danger for the former person’s benefit, I would hope that the former person would feel inclined to at least give a twitch of acknowledgement of that danger and supportive empathy.

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