Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Cross dresser and male privilege

To many, M to F transgender people would seem to be the natural ally of Feminists. Many of us express empathy, sympathy, a sense of sisterhood with natural born women when it comes to the status of women in our culture. Many of us are as repulsed by the behavior displayed by men we know as any Feminist would be. The stumbling block for some Feminists in accepting us is male privilege.

I gleened the following from Wikipedia:

“Male privilege is a term used to describe the rights allegedly granted to the male population in society on the basis of their biological sex. The female, transsexual, transgender (Chow: 2005), and sometimes the gay male populations (Jacobs: 1997), are usually denied these rights, but females may have other rights not granted to males. For these purposes in cases alleging discrimination, "sex" is usually preferred as the determining factor rather than "gender" because it refers to biology rather than socially constructed norms which are more open to interpretation and dispute (Render: 2006 at p102). Thus, biologically "male" privilege is only one of many power structures within a given society (Foucault: 1976), and levels/manifestations of male privilege differ both between disparate societies as well as in different contexts within the same society. The term "male privilege" does not apply to a solitary occurrence of the use of power, but rather describes one of many systemic power structures that are interdependent and interlinked throughout societies and cultures (Narayan: 1997).”

The Wikipedia article seems to have been reworked a few times and even has a debate page linked. Even though gender varient people may be on the down side of male privilege, “sex” is preferred as the determining factor rather than “gender”.

Some would say that since our biology was sufficient to gain us a designation of “male” on the birth certificate, we were irretrievably placed on the path to male privilege. We were raised and aculturated as boys to men. We may not like this and we may object but it does not change the fact that we are somehow part of and in some ways perpetuating the power structure built on male privilege. A trip through URNA, Yahoo, and Myspace profiles of transgender people, testify to the objectivication of women. We may desire to look pretty but do we think like, accept the status of, and standbeside women. If not, are we to be accorded the respect and acceptance of women?

There is a male privilege checklist that you can find on the web ( ) it seems to be quoted often on other sites. I can debate about how any given point relates to me, but I have found as time goes by a perspective that accepts the truth behind some points and how they relate to my behavior. The last line of the checklist is “I have the privilege of being unaware of my male privilege.” ; it is our biggest violation when we say “I am not part of societal male privilege.”
Some Feminists are concerned that we want to be around for the party but absent from the struggle, or when work needs to be done. Can they take us seriously? Are we worth wasting their time? Are we to be accepted as equal? I frequently describe myself as “I’m transgender, I just pass easier as a man than a woman.” It is the fact that I can be on which ever side of the fence suits my needs, that make some see us as traitors.

Anecdotes abound of women being ripped off by mechanics and car sales people or atleast being treated like idiots. Men even of minimal intelligence are not treated the same way. The number of women mechanics being small, the old boy network rules.

I spend quite a bit of my life enfemme or gender bending. Once last year the fan belt popped on the van. I've put it back on myself a few times before and know how. We pulled into a parking lot and I climbed under the hood. A fifty something male in a pick up truck pulled up to help. I got the "Maam, you don't belong under the hood" routine.

Now even though I was enfemme, I don't think I pass well; but a number of older folks here in PA are not even capable of imagining a guy in wig makeup etc... With that type it is hard not to pass. I tried in my not particularly femme voice to explain that I knew what I was doing and could handle it. In a very polite condescending tone, he would not let me fix my own vehicle (I think if he read me the polite part would have been dropped).

At the time I was amused. Even if it was a poor way to treat women, I was pleased to be treated as one. In reflection I felt I had a taste of what it was like for a woman to deal with "Men and Machines".

Now for my male privilege moment. Recently my vehicle needed some work. With that incident in mind, and knowing women who were given a hard time by mechanics I intentionally did not go to get work done enfemme (I go enfemme/genderbend anywhere my wife does not suggest I should not). I did not fear prejudice against a trans person, when it came to things mechanical, I just did not want to be treated like a woman. I, an enfemminist trans person invoked male privilege.
When life on the feminine side has troubles it is too easy for us to retreat to our male selves. How much of what we as transgender people perceive as discrimination, is just people shitting on us the way that they do women? It’s not just the guy in a dress, they treat everyone in a skirt lousy. We can run away though, will we be there when it’s tough. When faced with work place discrimination we hide ourselves, real women can’t hide they fight or put up with it.
As long as we take advantage of male privileges, we are traitors to woman kind. To be a woman is not a series of beauty contests and fun filled girl’s nights out; It is a struggle to find your place in a male dominated world. To balance career and home. To bear children and raise them. To meet the expectations of a world that thinks you need to be better than the other guy (but won’t recognize it).
To those trans people who feel that they are an example of femininity for woman kind. What have you done to earn the word she, maam, or her; that you should be considered woman. Sure you can wear a dress, a wig and apply make up, but can you really say you’ve lived a woman’s life, just because you took a trip to the mall?
Before you call yourself WOMAN, and label yourself a member of the sisterhood consider whether you’ve earned it. Be aware of male privileges, and recognize how you make women feel when you are not Enfemme. You may consider yourself a T-activist, but what are you doing for the rights of all women. Remember when you go back into hiding to avoid negative consequences, that most of womankind can not do that.

Another pondering from,
Samantha Leigh Rieth



Alexis Rene said...


You have made a brilliant yet poignant synopsis of where gender lies. After reading your words I went and was just going to glance over the "male privilege" list and found myself reading the entire thing with great interest. Ya know while we may dream and some even fantasize of how our lives may be different had we been born opposite, we rarely take these, the most important facts of how life truly is under consideration. Club/partime life and day to day life are two entirely different realms.

I have been talking to a wonderful woman on alot of different ideals concerning the very perceptions you mentioned here over the course of the summer and it has been an education to say the least. Hearing her perspectives of how office life really is and watching people based on gender, promoted, All the while doing the mundane things of daily life while putting up with the stereotypes that comes with being female. I thought I was up to date on such and found out how clueless I really was. While we may find empathy, we can never know the understanding until placed on a full time basis. Even then it will be different.

However I do believe that gender bias is evolving, though slowly, this truly makes me realize how much work has yet to be done. Think about the perception of gender say in twenty year increments over say the last eighty years and ya realize how far people have come and how far we still need to go. Not just for transgender women and men to fit into society, but for all people to be free of persecution no matter how light or dark, based upon their gender. This is the greater task at hand, as obviously it impacts the entire population.

I am going to read this a few more times as I feel this encompasses horizons that are expanding! Great writing Samantha! :)

Michele Angelique said...

Re: The crossdresser and male priviledge, by Samantha Leigh Rieth

Thank you Samantha for this truly insightful post. You are absolutely correct that male privilege is one of the feminist contentions. It is very real, and exists to a greater or lesser degree, everywhere in the world. I will absolutely agree that it is a very real phenomenon, and feminists have a legitimate concern.

I would contend that both genders have a list of "priviledges"... and as well, both sides have a list of "duties" too. Female priviledge exists just as well as male priviledge. Neither side is all priviledge. Of course, we could argue all day long about which side of the gender priviledge is more valuable, or advantageous, but I would say both sides have equal value... like yin and yang.

While male priviledge has been identified by feminists and men as being more advantageous, many people would choose to live a life of female priviledge instead. This is why I have stated many times in the past that "transwomen were born with the birthright of manhood (ie male privilege) yet instead they exhibit femininity. This to me is evidence that femininity has just as much value as masculinity, for if it did not, transwomen would not exist".

On the other hand, Samantha you make an excellent point to crossdressers. Dressing femme, expressing your feminine self on occasion, does not make anyone a woman! No one can claim to know womanhood unless they have lived it! Having the safety of "guy-mode" and the convenience of "male priviledge" is something that authentic women and full-time transwomen don't enjoy. Therefore a part-time crossdresser should not presume to know all there is about womanhood. Instead they must recognize that they are merely expressing feminine traits, not actually "being a woman".

Thanks again for your thoughts Samantha. It is refreshing to hear an open-minded feminist perspective on the crossdressing issue.

Much love,