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Peggy McInosh's "White and Male Privilege"

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Crina Bondre Ardelean

on 30 April 2016

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Transcript of Peggy McInosh's "White and Male Privilege"

"White and Male Privilege"
Peggy McIntosh

Peggy McInotosh's first chapter in the book called "Privilege: A Reader" opens the discussion of the entire book by introducing the concept of privilege. By first illustrating the mechanisms of male privilege, McIntosh goes on to develop the same for white privilege. She elucidates the different kinds of denial that men have about their own privilege, and then shows how the same mechanisms of denial are at work in many white people and in the dominant culture in general. Then, she creates a list of 46 ways in which she has personally found that she unjustly benefits from being white. After discussing the nature and results of white and male privilege, McIntosh briefly address the subject of heterosexual privilege, offering 8 ways that she has benefitted through being straight.
"In addition, since race and sex are not the only advantaging systems at work, we need to similarly examine the daily experience of having age advantage, or ethnic advantage, or physical ability of advantage related to nationality, religion, or sexual orientation. [...] These is still a more taboo subject than race privilege: the daily ways in which heterosexual privilege makes married persons comfortable or powerful, providing supports, assests, approvals, and rewards to those who life or expect to live in heterosexual pairs" (25).
Other Privileges
Peggy Mctonsh describes the situation she experienced while working toward the inclusion of materials and perspectives pertaining to women in the educational curriculum of subjects such as history, philosophy, and literature. She encountered much resistance to changing the estabilshed curriculum. In the first part of her article, she describes some forms of this resistance and denial.
Male Privilege
When it becomes clear that the only way to include more women or more works by women is by lessening the amount of space that men take up, some men then fall back on arguments of sociobiology or psychobiology to demonstrate that male domination is natural and inevitably follows from evolutionary pressure.
Denial of Men's Overprivileged State in the Curriculum
"If these privileges are true, this is not such a free country; one's life is not what one makes it; many doors open for certain people though no virtues of their own. These perceptions mean also that my moral condition is not what I had been led to believe. The appearance of being a good citizen rather than a troublemaker comes in large part from having all sorts of doors open automatically, because of my color" (21).

"In unpacking this invisible knapsack of white privilege, I have listed conditions of daily experience which I once took for granted, as neutral, normal, and universally available to everybody, just as I once thought of a male-focused curriculum as the neutral or accurate account which can speak for all" (21).
The Myths of Meritocracy and Neutrality
Unacknowledged Privilege
"Its connotations are too positive to fit the conditions and behaviors which 'privilege systems' produce. We usually think of privilege as being a favored state, whether earned, or conferred by birth or luck...The word "privilege" carries the connotation of being something everyone must want. Yet some of the conditions I have described here work to systemically over-empower certain groups. Such privilege simply confers dominance, gives permission to control, because of one's race or sex. The kind of privilege that gives license to some people to be, at best, thoughtless and, at worst, murderous should not continue to be referred to as a desirable attribute" (23).

"Privilege" - Conferred Dominance
"Through Women's Studies work I have met very few men who are truly distressed about systemic, unearned male advantage and conferred dominance. And so one question for me and others like me is whether we will be like them, or whether we will get truly distressed, even outraged, about unearned race advantage and conferred dominance and if so, what we will do to lessen them. [...] We need more understanding of the ways in which white "privilege" damages white people, for these are not the same ways in which it damages the victimized. Skewed white psyches are an inseparable part of the picture[...]. Many, perhaps most, of our white students ... think that racism doesn't affect them because they are not people of color; they do not see "whiteness" as a racial identity. Many men likewise think that Women's Studies does not bear on their own existences because they are not female; they do not see themselves as having gendered identities: Insisting on the universal "effects" of "privilege" systems, then, becomes one of our chief tasks, and being more explicit about the particular effects in particular contexts is anther. Men need to join us in this work" (24, 25).
The "Privilege" of Being Ignorant (About Privilege)
Chapter One from the book:
Privilege: A Reader
Edited by Michael S. Kimmel and Abby L. Ferber

Important Terms and Vocabulary




Unearned assets/advantage

Conferred Dominance

As McInotosh worked with these obstacles, she realized the extent to which men benefit from this pervasive phenomenon without ever having to acknowledge its existence. Because of various changes to the law throughout the civil rights movements, male privilege has become mostly invisible, easier to deny, and protected by the status-quo of institutions' policies. Experiencing this so clearly as a woman, McInosh began to realize that she as a white person benefits from an invisible white privilege in the same way that men benefit from male privilege. She realized that men's oppressiveness was largely unconscious, and so they are often surprised when told they are acting oppressively. In the same way, she began to understand that white people can act oppressively without knowing or understanding how they are doing so. The conclusion is that everybody needs to become conscious of the particular privilege he/she carries.
Some claim that men must be central in the curriculum because they have done most of what is important or distinctive in life or in civilization.
Some recognize sexism in the curriculum but deny that it makes male students seem unduly important in life.
Some agree that certain individual thinkers are blindly male-oriented but deny that there is a systematic tendency in disciplinary frameworks to over-empower men as a group.
Some who admit that male privilege takes institutionalized form are still likely to deny that male hegemony has opened doors for them personally.
Virtually all men deny that male overreward alone explains men's centrality in the highest levels of governance of the most powerful institutions.
Those who acknowledge male privilege often think that it would be enough to work to improve women's status in the curriculum, without lessening men's status or centrality.
Women are no longer a minority within higher education. According to the most recent statistics released by Unesco, women’s enrollment in graduate education in the United States has been greater than men’s for each of the last 30 years; as of 2012, there were 13 women enrolled for every 10 men. Yet, every school year, science, technology, engineering and math programs — known as the STEM fields — shed women the way the trees on campus lose their leaves in the fall.
She Wanted to Do Her Research. He Wanted to Talk ‘Feelings.’
Excerpt from A. HOPE JAHREN's article - New York Times, March 4th 2016
Within my own field, physical sciences, the results of this shedding were clear. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, seven B.S. degrees are granted to women for every 10 granted to men; three M.S. degrees granted to women for every five granted to men; one Ph.D. degree granted to a woman for every two granted to men. The absence of women within STEM programs is not only progressive, it is persistent — despite more than 20 years of programs intended to encourage the participation of girls and women.
Plenty of explanations have been offered as to why women leave science, but the reason doesn’t appear to be performance. The University of Washington found no difference in G.P.A. between the women who remained and those who transferred out of its STEM programs from 1991 to 1996. Within the same study, women reported both isolation and intimidation as barriers blocking their scholarly path; and while 23 percent of freshmen reported not having experienced these barriers, only 3 percent of seniors did.
In the rare case when a female scientist becomes a faculty member, she finds herself invested in the very system that is doing the weeding, and soon recognizes that sexual harassment is one of the sharpest tools in the shed. My own experiences as a student, scientist and mentor lead me to believe that such harassment is widespread. Few studies exist, but in a survey of 191 female fellowship recipients published in 1995, 12 percent indicated that they had been sexually harassed as a student or early professional. My experiences have also convinced me that sexual harassment is very rarely publicly punished after it is reported, and then only after a pattern of relatively egregious offenses.
Loosely paraphrased from McIntosh
White Privilege
"White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks" (Intosh 16).
I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
I can enroll in a class at college and be sure that the majority of my professors will be of my race.
I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be 'followed or harassed.
I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to "the person in charge," I will be facing a person of my race.
If a traffic cop pulls me over, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.
I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children's magazines featuring people of my race.
I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.
I can choose blemish cover or bandages in flesh color and have them more or less match my skin.
I can walk into a classroom and know I will not be the only member of my race.
As a "white" person.....
"[T]hough "privilege" may confer power, it does not confer moral strength. [...] Just as Women's Studies courses indicate that women survive their political circumstances to lead lives that hold the human race together, so "underprivileged" people of color who are the world's majority have survived their oppression and lived survivors' lives from which the white global minority can and must learn. In some groups, those dominated have actually become strong through not having all of these unearned advantages, and this gives them a great deal to teach the others" (23).
The Privilege of the "Underprivileged"
The Damaged Culture of the "Privileged"
"My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture. I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will. At school, we were not taught about slavery in any depth; we were not taught to see slaveholders as damaged people. Slaves were seen as the only group at risk of being dehumanized" (17).
1. My children do not have to answer questions about why I live with my partner (my husband).
2. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.
3. Our children are given texts and classes that implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.
4. I can travel alone or with my husband without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.
5. Most people I meet will see my marital arrangements as an asset to my life or as a favorable comment on my likeability, my competence, or my mental health.
6. I can talk about the social events of a weekend without fearing most listeners' reactions.
7. I will feel welcomed and "normal" in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.
8. In many contexts, I am seen as "all right" in daily work on women because I do not live chiefly with women.
Heterosexual Privilege Checklist
Part of belonging a dominant group in a system of privilege is that part of the privilege itself is not to have to realize that you are privileged. Now that Peggy McIntosh has outlined the kinds of unearned advantages white people and heterosexual people have, the question remains: how can we be accountable to what we've learned? McIntosh ends her paper with this very question:
"Though systemic change takes many decades, there are pressing questions for me and, I imagine, for some others like me, if we raise our daily consciousness on the perquisites of being light-skinned. What will we do with such knowledge? As we know from watching men, it is an open question whether we will choose to use unearned advantage to weaken hidden systems of advantage, and whether we will use any of our arbitrarily awarded power to try to reconstruct power systems on a broader base" (27).
What Will We Do With This Knowledge?
Two Levels of Action and Activism
Pegggy McIntosh points out that "[i]ndividual acts can palliate, but cannot end, these problems. To redesign social systems, we need first to acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions" (26). What she is pointing to is that it is one thing to use one's privilege to help out individuals in individual situations, and it is another thing to use one's privilege to change entire systems. Interferring in individual racist, sexist, homophobic, trans-phobic, and/or other instances of oppression is necessary and good. However, once you all acheive positions in institutions as adults, be it in schools, hospitals, businesses, governments, places of worship, and any other institution, if you use your unearned privileges and power to further yourselves only, whether consciously or consciously, you are in fact helping recreate racist, sexist, etc. structures, and being actively oppressive, although you may not consider yourself racist, sexist, etc. and although you might not agree with oppression.
Background of Author and Text
In the nineteen-thirties, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote about the 'psychological wage' that enabled poor whites to feel superior to poor blacks; during the civil-rights era, activists talked about 'white-skin privilege.' But the concept really came into its own in
the late eighties
, when Peggy McIntosh, a women’s-studies scholar at Wellesley, started writing about it.
Short History of the Term "White Privilege"
The New Yorker, March 2014: http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-origins-of-privilege
Peggy McInotsh's "White Privilege and Male Privilege" was first a lecture presented at the Virginia Women's Studies Association conference in April 1986, and was published for the first time in 1987. McIntosh was born in 1935 in Brooklyn and grew up in New Jersey. She became a teacher at an all-girls school and realized then that she was teaching an "all-male curriculum". After gaining her PhD and teaching at various universitites, she founded the "Seeking Educational Equity & Diversity" (SEED) Project in 1987. This project works with teachers and professors to make school curricula more gender fair, multiculturally equitable, socioeconomically aware, and globally informed. She still works on this project, almost 20 years later, and has helped over 2000 teachers and millions of students have a better and more equitable learning experience.
Short History of Peggy McIntosh
Full transcript