• Jon Matthews

On My Male Privilege

I am sad to admit it but most of the time I am completely oblivious to my own male privilege. The system is so effective that for the vast majority of the time I don't even notice it's existence. I am sure this is true for many men. From time to time, however, there are moments when I come face to face with my own privilege. Sometimes it is very difficult to know how to respond.

A few months ago I went shoe shopping with my partner. I've never had much problem with finding shoes for myself, other than being slightly hampered by having quite big feet. If I want work shoes I am usually able to find smart, comfortable and well fitting shoes without much problem and without much expense. I thought this was normal. Helping Liz on her quest for work shoes proved more difficult. Finding smart women's shoes without a heel, that fit well and are comfortable, yet inexpensive proved to be a quest worthy of Gandalf! I tried to be helpful, I really did, offering suggestions, looking for shoes that might work and Liz is a kind patient woman who took my efforts well and let me think I was being useful even though I probably wasn't.

Whether I was helpful or not, the whole experience led me to walk in on my privilege. It is easy for me to buy shoes that fit comfortably and look smart, it is far less easy for women. There are still companies that force women to wear high-heels. Fashion still attempts to dictate uncomfortable footwear to women. This is not a problem I have personally, but what can I do? If indeed it is my place to do anything.

As a comedian, I get to see lots of other comedians and the truth is most of them are men (probably at least 90%). I have, however, seen quite a lot of female comedians. Some of them are amazing. Some of them are terrible. Some of them just aren't my cup of tea. The exact same goes for the men. A subject often talked about, amongst (mostly male) comedians, is how to have more female comedians performing. People often say that we need more women to do comedy, in the same way that people often say that we need more women to become scientists or engineers or [insert other male dominated profession here]. A friend of mine very wisely pointed out that what actually needs to happen is that men need to stop telling women what to do with their lives. Our job, as those who (wrongly) have power and privilege (because of gender/ race/sexuality/nationality/class) is to make it easy for people to do what they want to do, never to tell them what they should want to do. We are the snowplough not the sat-nav.

I would love to see more female comedians but rather than tell women they should do comedy, I need to think about the barriers (some of which I may have even been unconsciously responsible for myself) to performing comedy which are experienced by people who don't have my privileges. After performing somewhere I often get the last (or at least a very late) bus or train home, something which sometimes involves a certain amount of hanging about and waiting. The vast majority of the time I feel safe doing this. Sadly, due to the ills of society, this may not always be the case for a lot of women. They may not feel as comfortable waiting for a bus late at night as I would.

Realising this was another example of me waking up to my own privilege. Though I would love to see a world where everyone could feel safe walking the streets late at night, sadly this is beyond my power. I can, however, when I organise an event, listen to anyone who says to me 'actually, can I go on earlier so I don't have to get a late bus home' and do everything in my power to accommodate that. It is by using our positions of power and privilege to clear the way for women to arrive at positions of power and privilege that men can best help in the fight for gender equality.

I want to be more aware of how I can be a good ally to feminism. I want to be helpful and supportive and I want to be more awake to how privilege affects me so that I can give some of it away or use it to help others. I know this may paint a target sign on my back. Male privilege is a often much more than a personal feeling of superiority and enhanced ability to do what one likes, it can often take the form of a club, a circle that defends other members and rounds on anyone who attacks it. I have been labelled a 'gender traitor' before, as absurd as that is. The truth is that the 'battle of the sexes' is not between men and women, it is between those who would divide us with those who would unify us. Though sometimes I am blind I wish to continue standing with my brothers and sisters in arms and keep fighting for a better world. Sometimes though, probably quite often, I will need you to tell me how.

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