The piece that will be discussed in this entry is part of an ongoing body of work by artistic photographer L. Weingarten entitled “A Series of Questions”. Each photograph is a portrait of a transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, gender-variant, and/or gender non-conforming individual holding a sign. Each sign displays a question that has been asked of each particular person posed by a sometimes transphobic person pertaining to the pictured individual’s gender. The piece being discussed is a portrait of a trans individual holding a sign that reads: “Don’t you think you still carry male privilege?”. I feel this particular question (above others in the body of work) clearly displays a struggle of power. Hegemonic power placement is frequently manifested in regards to gender in today’s society.
I believe gender to be a question answered internally. Gender is which category (or non-category) one feels one belongs in or can identify as. In terms of inward identification of masculinity or femininity, individuals often perform a chosen sociostructural gender: “Gender is accomplished through day-to-day interactions.” (p.13, Pascoe, C.J.) When in the developmental stages of gender identity in early childhood, children typically mimic the performative aspects of gender from a parent or caregiver they feel is dominant to consolidate their identity.
“Identification with a mother as the primary caregiver proves much more problematic in the formation of a gender identity for a boy than for a girl child, producing a self we understand as masculine characterized by defensive ego boundaries and repudiation of femininity.” (p6, Pascoe, C.J.) In terms of the individual in the photograph, she believed the sex she was biologically categorized as was not the gender she identified most with. As she is aware of her former gender category, she could still, technically, carry male privilege internally. In this way, others who are aware of her former gender may also place her in the privileged male category.
Despite gender being a personal and internal decision, members of society who are unaware of gender transformations may categorize individuals based on their appearance, actions, stereotypic levels of femininity or masculinity, and a variety of other factors. “Most of the stereotypic attributes and roles linked to gender arise more from cultural design than from biological endowment.” (p2, Bussy, K. & Bandura, A.) For this reason, if an individual has the outward appearance of a male, they will generally carry male privilege. If an individual has the outward appearance of a female, they will not. Often, chosen aspects of masculinity and femininity create an outward appearance of chosen gender. “For girls, challenging heterosexual identities often solidif[ies] a more masculine identity”. (p5, Pascoe, C.J.) “Sociologists have approached masculinity as a multiplicity of gender practices … enacted by men whose bodies are assumed to be biologically male.” (p.6, Pascoe, C.J.) As these statements’ masculine and feminine pronouns are interchangeable, they may be applied to anyone. Thus, the individual pictured would be generally viewed as a woman (solely based on her appearance in the photograph), and would therefore be treated as such.
Privilege is often based on hegemonies in power dynamics. When speaking of stereotypical gender privilege, one must understand the implications of such. “Gender stereotypes shape the perception, evaluation and treatment of males and females in selectively gendered ways that beget the very patterns of behavior that confirm the initial stereotypes” (p12, Bussy, K. & Bandura, A.). The dichotomization of genders and gender roles also allows for separation in terms of treatment and/or privilege. “Denials that amount to taboos surround the subject of advantages that men gain from women’s disadvantages.” (p164, McIntosh, Peggy.) Power dynamics existant in gender differentiation present levels of dominance and ascendancy. “Whatever a ‘superior’ group has will be used to justify its superiority, and whatever an ‘inferior’ group has will be used to justify its plight.” (p1, Steinem, G.) When discussing “unacknowledged male privilege as a phenomenon”, (p164, McIntosh, Peggy., emphasis added) in terms of stereotypical privilege, one must acknowledge the interchangeability of the pronoun male with any other pronoun pertaining to hegemonic power (or the dominant side of binaries).
Racial hegemonies stereotypically present Whites with privilege. Some connect and associate masculinity with privilege itself; that is to say, masculinity is a result of racial privilege. When speaking of the Mr. Cougar contest transformation, C.J Pascoe states, “this masculinizing process happens through … the assertion of racial privilege” (p3, Pascoe, C.J.). In this sense, racial dominance is interchangeable with gender dominance. “The exaggeration of the nature and extent of gender differences … promotes the social ordering of gender relations and serves to justify gender inequality … and the situating of women in positions of predominately lower status.”(p12, Bussy, K., & Bandura, A.)
While Peggy McIntosh is speaking specifically of racial privilege in her article about privilege, the covariation of othered racial terms are exchangeable with the covariation of othered gender terms. In her list of daily effects of white privilege, she includes: “I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.”(p163, McIntosh, Peggy.), “I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.” (p165, McIntosh, Peggy.), and “I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having coworkers on the job suspect that I got it because of race. ” (p165, McIntosh, Peggy.)
Traditional social behavior (as opposed to the egalitarian behavior that is becoming less uncommon) is used to typify the treatment of women in the workplace. In terms of general corporate decisions, women are commonly treated unequally. They often experience “extensive segregation of jobs along gender lines … women in lower-level positions, [and] inequitable wages.”(p40, Bussy, K., & Bandura, A.) In this sense, the question the individual in the photograph is posing is negated. If the public identifies her as a woman, she will no longer receive the gender privilege that males receive; rather, she will generally experience inequality in terms of her work environment. Furthermore, if the individual in the photograph has chosen an occupation traditionally associated with men, she may receive resistance. “Women’s efforts to gain full acceptance in the workplaces of high status have met substantial resistance. Women in traditionally male occupations are evaluated more negatively than women in traditional occupations or men in occupations dominated by women.”(p40, Bussy, K., & Bandura, A.)
Unfair power advantages based on racial, social class, gender, ethnicity, age, disability, or any other prejudices continue to award privilege. This privilege stems from the unearned power and entitlement social structures have placed on particular homogeneous groups.
Bussy, K., & Bandura, A. Social Cognitive Theory of Gender Development and
Psychological Review, 106, 1999
McIntosh, Peggy., White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
Gender Through the Prism of Difference, 2nd ed., 2000
Pascoe, C.J., Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007
Steinem, G., If Men Could Menstruate
View more of L. Weingarten’s work here