White Privilege and Male Privilege, Essay Example

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In her admittedly personal reflection on white privilege and male privilege, author Peggy McIntosh acknowledges the limitations going to the dual emphasis of her subject.  More exactly, unable to objectively perceive her own status as a privileged white woman, she draws parallels based on her less subjective views of male privilege.  She notes, for example, that she is empowered as a white person to move anywhere she wishes to go, provided she can afford to do so, because there will be no social impediments placed before her.  She is white in a society that promotes white independence of action, and virtually welcomes whites wherever they relocate.  This then supports her more distanced assessment of masculine privilege.  In a society wherein race confers privilege and gender relations still rely on traditional models, it is inevitable that white males feel more empowered than white females in this regard.  The gender factors do not necessarily translate, but the racial do, and this then reinforces white male privilege as a pervasive cultural construct.

McIntosh’s example of voluntary relocation also serves to emphasize other points in her reflections, all linking male and white privilege.  The freedom to make a life change at will and relocate is indicative of freedom of movement, and she establishes this as existing for herself in noting that she can shop with no sense of being harassed or suspected.  This actually relates to her later conclusion regarding privilege itself, in that it creates a kind of dominant power base, and one unearned.  McIntosh consistently cites personal evidence of white males as enjoying this type of authority, which is not the less powerful for being generalized by her and usually tacit in form.  She is a woman yet, as a white person, she then enjoys the full freedom of movement within society accorded to the most privileged.  Simply, there is no other individual equipped with the power to challenge the choices made by a white person, and the white male is all the more invulnerable.

Similarly, freedom of movement necessarily carries with it a wide variety of social advantages, and McIntosh cites career or educational progress as one firmly supported by racial privilege.  As a white woman, she observes that she can depend upon finding the support she needs to advance professionally, and this then further validates her assessment of white males as being more privileged.  Put another way, it is implied that any society elevating any race or gender within it to a higher status will inevitably seek to perpetuate those ranks.  Her path eased by being white, McIntosh knows that the positions to which she aspires are peopled by the same demographic, and one eager to protect its own privileges by maintaining the patterns.  Not unexpectedly, white men, again, receive even more cultural favor in these cases because the  social hierarchy is also gender-based.  Consequently, in noting her own advantages from race, McIntosh is poised to observe the greater ones accorded to gender.   While it must be again stressed that the author cities only personal observations, they are nonetheless validated by her process of comparison.  She reports, for example, that she knows few white men who are in any way troubled by the dominance granted them, and this strongly supports her perception of race and gender privilege as self-perpetuating.

Lastly, a point raised by McIntosh is that she can rely on turning to media and seeing her own race as fully represented within it.  This, as with her many other statements, emphasizes the true effects of racial dominance, and in a way also indicating that of gender.  As the positions of power are typically held by white men, and as power dictates media content,  the privileged class of white males maintain the existing social structure by selective emphasis.  The author goes on to speculate in interesting ways on the nature of unearned privilege, as well as the damage actually done to white by this cultural system.  Privilege of these kinds, as she notes, do not confer moral strength; rather, those enjoying the privilege have no impetus to seek it.  The thrust of the work, however, remains that of identifying parallels between white and male privilege.  Given the bulk of her examples, McIntosh is very well-equipped to illustrate how each condition relevant to her, and allowed for by racial privilege, must inevitably be more strongly in evidence in white males.

Works Cited

McIntosh, Peggy.  “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See             Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies.”  Wellesley: Wellesley College,      Center For Research on Women, 1988.  Print.

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