Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Powerless White Male: A Confrontation

I want to confront the notion, that some people I consider friends buy into, that in this day and age, white American men "are powerless" and "get fucked over every day"* because they are white. Because they are male. One friend of mine in particular likes to point out that their are no "white guy scholarships," and since everyone else gets all the help, he is not privileged. In fact, he is disadvantaged. I don't want to address the issue of affirmative action in this post. Instead, I want to point out something much more pervasive in American society.

American life has been tailored to convenience white, heterosexual males.

Let us consider for a moment the endless amount of advertising that we are exposed to on a daily basis. Sexual images of women almost seem like something that should be expected in advertisements these days. But if you think more carefully about their content you will notice a few distinct patterns.

This Skyy Vodka image makes some assumptions about the viewer of the ad: 1) The viewer is a heterosexual male who would be enticed by the female in the image, 2) The heterosexual male is white, and could most effectively be enticed by a woman who looks as white as possible. This advert was clearly made with a specific demographic in mind, which is interesting considering vodka is a product that can and is used by people of all genders and sexualities.

Even adverts not directly speaking to white heterosexual males do not remove them from their privileged place in the mind of those creating the images. For example, this image of Beyoncé in a L'Oreal ad has caused some controversy about having been made to appear more like a white person. This image shows that even when an advert is for a "women's product" it is white males that are supposed to be pleased. Even if it is not an overt plot by the advertiser, this image is saying that all women should want to be white (or as white as possible) if they want to appeal to men (assumed to be white and heterosexual).

Another aspect of American life that white males can feel at home with is major national evening news shows. Some basic cable examples include World News, currently anchored by Charles Gibson and NBC Nightly news, currently anchored by Brian Williams. CBS Evening News is currently anchored by Katie Couric, but only after a line of previous anchors that has been dominated by men. It is important to note the impact of hearing about world news from someone similar to oneself. It helps determine to some extent the kinds of topics that are covered and how one thinks about the topics that are brought up.

Yet another example that is less specific, but just as important is street harassment. The fact that white males who more or less fit into the gender role society expects them to fulfill can walk in public without being harassed, without being treated like public property that is open to comments from strangers, that is privilege. Being able to exist in public spaces without having to face verbal and physical harassment, a tactic meant to strip people of the idea that they deserve to exist in such places, that is a privilege.

Of course, not all forms of privilege apply to all men. Sexuality, gender expression, ethnicity, race, income, and other factors can have an effect on what one's privilege looks like, but these factors don't make male privilege disappear completely. And I am absolutely sick of hearing my white, heterosexual male friends complaining about how the world treats them so unfairly because of the very characteristics that elevate them to a level of privilege in American society that is so entrenched in their daily lives that they can't even seem to identify it.

Being able to deny your privilege in such an adamant way and to demand that your own situation deserves to be addressed (as some of my friends have done), is also a luxury of the very privilege you deny.

*Quotes from a conversation with a male friend that touched on this topic.


Ryan said...

Touching upon that whole scholarship thing, the way they make it sound is that every single black person in the country will get money from the United Negro College Fund or something. Never mind the fact that while there are scholarships for most minority groups in the country, there are scholarships for different ethnicities, as well. And what about all those scholarships that are available to white people? Seriously, this angry white boy garbage pisses me off. They feel like they're entitled to something and that they're being held down.

As for the advertising, it reminds me of the time I went to Las Vegas and quite a few of the billboards (okay, who am I kidding? MOST of the billboards) pictured a half-naked woman. Sometimes she was with a tiger, sometimes a pole. Nevertheless, it was a constant bombardment of sexual advertising and it was absolutely nauseating.

And don't even get me started on anchors and pundits. The only female pundit on cable news is Rachel Maddow and no one really takes her seriously. I've heard my own friends refer to her as a "stupid dike."

Cole said...

About the "white boy scholarship thing"...

Hasn't there been a movement by some colleges to give males some precedence over females in the application process, so as to try and keep the gender ratio near to 50/50?

More females are applying to college than males; from what I understand, if colleges didn't do this most would have 70 percent of their population as female at least.

I'm currently looking at colleges myself, and the most equitable ratio I've seen has been 47 male/53female. Most of them seem to even out around 60 f/40 m.

Amelia said...

To be completely honest, I am not 100% sure about admission practices at schools, hence me not addressing that particular topic in this post. But I think you make an interesting point, Cole, when you said "More females are applying to college than males." Some of the people I mention in this post would not accept that. They would think that it is only because women get special treatment. Very interesting.

lindsay said...

In the words of Ben Folds, it's hard being male, middle class and white.

Jake said...

There's a fair amount of evidence that colleges, especially liberal arts colleges, are using affirmative action for men to keep their gender balance proportional with the general population.,9171,1727693,00.html

In some areas where women are still underrepresented such as engineering, being a woman will still get you some points.

Amelia said...

I find it interesting that people keep bringing up the affirmative action aspect that did not even appear in this post.

Can I take that to mean that my other points are clear and uncontested by readers? Or have people who disagree not yet commented?

Ryan said...

I'm assuming the former, Amelia. This issue has always seemed kind of black and white to me.

Another example: I was in Chicago over the weekend, and a female cop chastised a white male for something (I didn't hear what), but his response was, "Calm down, honey. Just because you have a gun, doesn't make you a real cop." So she maced him. It was awesome, but I couldn't help but think of how a male cop wouldn't have gotten the same guff from him.