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.