I was taking a reading course in Hebrew in seminary. I said to the female professor that I didn’t understand why we couldn’t all just read the stories and look for wisdom and not focus so much on the gender of the characters. The professor looked at me and said that was male privilege talking.
Honestly, recalling that conversation still annoys me. At the time it really annoyed me. I didn’t feel powerful or in control. I didn’t feel like I had much privilege relative to the other people, both men and women, around me.
There are a lot of men who don’t like the language of male privilege. They don’t feel much like they’re privileged and in many ways they may not be. Everyone is different and some people have it much harder than others. How we see ourselves, though, doesn’t really determine our level of power in society.
Straight white men have it easier than other people. I don’t like it, but it’s true. It’s hard for me to admit that my position and achievements in life may be facilitated by something other than my own merit. But that’s true too.
That doesn’t mean that I haven’t made some good choices or that I don’t have some gifts to offer but it does mean that I am perceived by others in a way that I can’t entirely control. The perception of others makes my life easier. If I was a woman, or indigenous, or a person of colour, or an LGBT person, the perception of others wouldn’t necessarily make my life easier.
Honestly, this all really stinks.
I don’t want my gender, skin pigmentation, or sexuality to shape how people treat me. And I really don’t want those things to shape how I treat other people. I’m pretty sure other people don’t either.
So, as much as it pains me I have to thank the self-identified feminists who pushed me on this. The professor who challenged me and the other people in my life who forced my perspective wider. I learned from them things I didn’t want to know.
But I know now and I can’t pretend they’re wrong. So I’ve got more work to do. Not because I treat people badly but because I can be part of making the lives of women, indigenous people, people of colour, and LGBT people a little bit better.
I have a part to play in that work but it’s not just my work. It’s the work of our parishes, our dioceses, and our church. It’s the work of all of us who want this world to be a little bit better than it is and a little bit more like the Kingdom of God.