Surrendering male privilege

One of the oft-made criticisms of trans-women made by radical feminists is that they grow up experiencing all the benefits of male privilege, evading the discrimination that marks the lives of many women. These are complex issues. Perhaps the most foundational question is, does male privilege exist? In a very interesting interview on the BBC web site, Vivienne Ming, a tech industry entrepreneur, describes how she experienced the removal of her privilege after transitioning in her 30s. “Overnight, people stopped asking me maths questions”, she says, and she places the value of those male privileges at around a quarter of a million dollars. It’s an intriguing insight. One can accept, intellectually, that discrimination on the grounds of gender is an ill, and something to be resisted, but to hear a first-hand account of the outworking of people’s unconscious prejudice is shocking and illuminating.

For Dr Ming, male privilege evaporated as she transitioned. There is no doubt she has entered into the discrimination that all women suffer. But does that deal with the complaints of the radical feminists? The answer to that is complex. Caitlin Jenner, who has become the media-appointed poster-girl for transgendered people, presents a rather different case. Having made fame as an athlete, and fortune as a celebrity, she transitioned as only rich girls can, with expensive reconstructive surgery in an effort to realise a vision of feminine glamour that many women feel to be a straight-jacket. As a wealthy celebrity, every piece of publicity could only increase the value of the stock first accumulated as a privileged male. Its a very different story, and it underlines how problematic it can be to take a single celebrity and make them a representative for a broad and diverse community of human beings.


Drssing rooms

I’ve always wanted a kilt, but they have a tendency to look either too matronly, or too flirty (I’m about several decades too old for schoolgirl charm to look anything other than ridiculous!). However, Hobbs have some adorable kilt-style skirts in stock at the moment. Not just one, but several! They’re not too short and not too long, and they’re very stylish. I headed off to try one but was waylaid by a very pretty floral dress. I’d promised myself one purchase only, Decisions…

Enough is enough

The furore about Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein has cast a light on a dark corner of male behaviour. The number of women coming forward to tell their stories is shocking, but perhaps the fact that they do at last feel able to speak out may mark a watershed; the opprobrium heaped upon Weinstein marks a public shaming of behaviour that has no doubt been prevalent in Hollywood throughout its history. Suzanne Moore’s piece in today’s Guardian, “My whole life has been marked by sexual harassment – just like all women” reminds us that such behaviour is not rare – indeed it is widespread, even rampant. The same awful conclusion is drawn by anybody who has visited the everyday sexism web site.

One of the unexpected consequences of being trans has been to be able to acquire a small insight into the disgraceful way that some men behave towards women. I thought that the photographs of erect penises that men sent me on Facebook were a special gift because they found I was trans (and obviously a prostitute). But a piece in the Guardian a few months ago described how two women had set up a dating web site where men were not allowed to make the first move, because they had got so fed up with conventional web sites where they were inundated with photos of erections. I cannot begin to imagine what goes through the mind of a man who decides to send a photograph of his penis to a complete stranger.

One of the recurring tropes in rape cases is that the girl was “asking for it” because of the way she dressed or walked. Just a few months ago, in an appallingly mishandled retrial of the footballer Ched Evans for rape of an inebriated teenager, the judge allowed the defence to reduce the trial to a consideration of whether, in fact, the victim was “a bit of a slapper”. I remember a movie a few years ago in which a provocatively dressed woman was raped, and the argument was all around whether, in some sense, she “deserved it” because she looked so sexy. The idea is that if a woman causes a man to be inflamed with desire she should watch out because he will need to be satisfied. This idea is monstrous but in surprisingly common currency. I always believed I was quite liberal and was sympathetic of women’s concerns on such issues. But being trans has helped me understand the sleaziness of some men in a new way. What I’ve learned is that what you wear has nothing to do with it. You can dress in a very downbeat way, you can advertise that you are married, not looking for sexual adventure, not attracted to men; it will still count for nothing if a guy has a hardon. I find it hard to be confrontational – I say “no” politely, but some guys just push. In the end, when you tell them to fuck off, most get the message. But no doubt there is the odd one who will still claim you were just talking dirty to him.

For the great majority of my life I have enjoyed what feminists call “male privilege”. I don’t claim to have suffered anything like as much as an average woman. But I’ve had tiny glimpses of the sleaziest aspects of the behaviour of some men and it has been both an education and a horror.