Male privilege refers to men having unearned social, economic, and political advantages or rights that are granted to them solely on the basis of their sex, and which are usually denied to women. A man's access to these benefits may also depend on other characteristics such as race, sexual orientation and social class.
In legal 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.[better source needed] In "Defining Male and Female: Intersexuality and the Collision Between Law and Biology", Julie Greenberg explains that although gender and sex are separate concepts, they are interlinked in that gender discrimination often results from stereotypes based on what is expected of members of each sex. In J.E.B. v. Alabama ex rel. T.B., Justice Scalia distinguishes sex and gender:
The word ‘gender’ has acquired the new and useful connotation of cultural or attitudinal characteristics (as opposed to physical characteristics) distinctive to the sexes. That is to say, gender is to sex as feminine is to female and masculine is to male.
Thus, biologically "male" privilege is only one of many power structures that may exist within a given society, and levels/manifestations of male privilege differ among both similar and 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.
Some linguistic conventions have privileged men and the male perspective and suggested that maleness is the societal norm. In English, nouns such as "man" or "mankind" and forms of address like "you guys" are routinely used for women while it is not accepted to refer to men as women. Associating a man with something feminine and calling him girl or sissy is usually considered an insult. Expressions like "freshmen" or occupational titles such as "chairman" are supposed to apply to both sexes and many prestigious occupations are implicitly associated with men so that people use modifiers such as "woman doctor" or "lady doctor" to signal deviations from the norm that doctors are usually men. Male images and exclusively male language for deities such as referring to God as "he" or "father" have reinforced male privilege. Men's greater resemblance to God has been used to justify men's religious and cultural position.
Similarly, the third-person singular pronoun "he" is used as a sex-indefinite, generic form for all people (e.g., "anyone can do it if he tries") whereas the use of "she" to refer to people in general is not allowed. Masculine generics were first introduced by prescriptive grammarians in the 19th century who argued that "he" was the only correct sex-indefinite referent. Prior to that, singular "they" and "he or she" had been widely used in written and spoken English. In 1850 a special Act of Parliament was passed that legally proscribed singular "they" and "he or she" in favor of "he". According to one study, the Basque language is structured in such a way as to create an "iconic relationship" between authentic Basque identity and masculinity.
In many societies including India and China male offspring are privileged and favored over female children. Some manifestations of son preference and the devaluation of women are eliminating unwanted daughters through neglect, maltreatment, abandonment, as well as female infanticide and feticide despite laws that prohibit infanticide and sex-selective pregnancy termination. In India some of these practices have contributed to skewed sex ratios in favor of male children at birth and in the first five years. Other examples of privileging male offspring are special "praying for a son" ceremonies during pregnancy, more ceremony and festivities following the birth of a boy, listing and introducing sons before daughters, and common felicitations that associate good fortune and well-being with the number of sons.
Reasons given for preferring sons to daughters include sons' role in religious family rites, which daughters are not permitted to perform, and the belief that sons are permanent members of the birth family whereas daughters belong to their husband's family after marriage in accordance with patrilocal tradition. Other reasons include patrilineal customs whereby only sons can carry on the family name, the obligation to pay dowry to a daughter's husband or his family, and the expectation that sons will support their birth parents financially while it is regarded as undesirable or shameful to receive financial support from daughters.
Men's rights activists dispute that men as a group have institutional power and privilege and believe that men are victimized and disadvantaged relative to women. For example, men's rights activists Warren Farrell and Herb Goldberg believe that men are disadvantaged and discriminated against and that power is an illusion for most men. Goldberg has criticized the notion of male privilege, calling it a "myth". In The Myth of Male Power, "a debunking of the myth of men as a privileged class" Farrell points to the over-representation of men among groups such as the homeless, suicides, alcoholics, the victims of violent crime and prisoners.
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