The Marriage Podcast for Smart People

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Male Privilege in Marriage

These days, it’s difficult to have an open conversation about privilege because it has become such a hot button political issue. But if we can take a step back from political agendas, we can see that there is quite a lot of research that shows the reality of privilege and its impact on marriages. So here, there will be no accusatory fingers, no tearing down of the idea of being men. Taking a look at research-based observations on the reality of male privilege will help husbands empower both themselves and their wives in their marriages. Privilege Explained In general, privilege is an advantage that a person or a group has that others may not. Sometimes, this can be situational. For example, by being the most attractive person in the room, you may enjoy the privilege of being given the most attention. This situational privilege comes and goes depending on your specific context. However, privilege also can be constant, or at least more long-term. By having a certain wealth, citizenship, race, and/or gender, you are afforded certain benefits wherever you go that others without those advantages do not. There is nothing wrong with having privilege! Being born into a specific context does not make you a better or worse person. However, we do need to be aware of our privilege. We need to acknowledge its presence in our experience. One way to look at it would be like how people look at biases and opinions. If someone says that they have an unbiased opinion, you know that this is impossible. Since everyone has certain biases, a more honest approach would be sharing an opinion while acknowledging the biases involved. Similarly, you can have better relationships and conversations when you recognize that others do not have the same privilege as you do. By not recognizing those privileges, you might unwittingly leverage them to your personal gain or even exert dominance. You can better love your neighbor when you can see where you have advantages that they do not and use those advantages for their benefit. Acknowledging privilege can often be difficult because it requires humility. It means realizing that some of your advantages may not be fully earned due to merit, which can be quite hard to admit. But in doing so, you can learn to esteem others better than yourself and reduce the risk of mishandling the privilege that you carry. To bring this concept into the real world, let’s look at what it means for a husband and a wife to be preparing for church or simply going out. Typically, the husband doesn’t have to be worrying about a whole lot when he’s getting ready. However, the wife is much more likely to consciously worry about how she looks: both in terms of feeling that her beauty and her modesty may be evaluated at church. A husband’s frustration with the amount of time required for his wife to get ready in this context is a reflection of the fact that there are different societal expectations based on gender. You tap your feet impatiently, wondering why your wife is spending so much time “unnecessarily”. Why does she need to bother with makeup or spending so much time on her hair? This is an example of male privilege: the husband has the benefit of lower expectations being placed on him. One of the key goals of talking about privilege is to become aware of it. This will help you understand your wife better and extend empathy to her rather than getting frustrated with her for taking the time to deal with things you don’t need to think about. Understanding Male Privilege Generally You can’t help being born as a man or a woman. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the way you experience the world is shaped by your gender. This ranges from physical and biological differences (e.g. typically higher levels of testosterone and greater physical strength) to social differences in priorities, values, and concerns. One researcher observed that the world has generally been shaped to cater to men’s i...