There is no 'debate' to be had over the existence of male privilege

Triple J’s current affairs show Hack has been tackling some big feminist-related topics recently.

A few weeks ago it was “stealthing”, a rather generous term for what is essentially a form of sexual assault, and now Hack is preparing for a “live debate” on June 20, in which feminists and people who hate them will argue for and against the following premise: is male privilege bullshit?

In this “debate”, host Tom Tilley is set to ask the question, “does male privilege really exist and if so, how does it impact us today?”

Houston …we have a problem.

It may well be that Hack is sneakily approaching this from the “give them enough rope” angle, which seemed to be the case with the “stealthing” special, where the young man defending his right to endanger the lives of women who trusted him came across sounding exactly like the entitled jerk you would imagine.

Even so, the entire exercise is grossly misguided. First, because it frames male privilege as a question for which the answer has not yet been resolved, and second, because it takes an apparently neutral stance, presumably intending to give both sides equal time to air their views.

This, of course, is the basis of much journalism today. The reporter keeps themselves out of the story, does not blatantly offer their opinion, and, having presented the information to the audience as impartially as possible, leaves it to them to make up their own minds.

This approach to “objectivity” needs to be put to rest once and for all.

Not every topic is up for debate. Just because there are vehement disagreements on certain issues, it does not automatically follow that each opposing viewpoint is equally valid, and that the job of the journalist is to never take sides.

In 2011, for instance, the BBC revamped its science coverage after an independent report, Balance As Bias, found the media giant was prejudicing its own coverage by giving undue weight to fringe viewpoints on issues such as climate change, vaccines and GM crops. By putting fringe views on equal par with scientific fact, just for the sake of debate, the media was creating bias in the form of false balance.

To put it another way, when journalists insist on a morally neutral “we don’t know what the truth is stance” on controversial issues, they risk legitimising viewpoints that simply lack credibility and can often be dangerous.

We may all have the right to an opinion but that does not make our opinion right – or even worthy of a place in a debate

What regular people think about climate change is irrelevant given that qualified scientists overwhelmingly accept its reality – and that it is already happening. Similarly, to deny male privilege in a society where women remain at obvious disadvantage across multiple arenas is also a form of balance as bias.

The Hack website, for instance, featured a survey (now closed), for the purposes of the debate and “future research”. One of the multiple choice questions asked Triple J listeners “what they thought of feminists”, with the options either, “they make some good points” or “they hate men”.

So, in other words, the usual false man-hater stereotype. This was made worse by the inclusion of an identical question on men’s rights activists, with the second option changed to “they hate women”.

This places MRAs and feminists on an equal footing, presenting them as opposing but essentially the same. But these are not movements with anything approaching similar motivations or goals. One wants to elevate women by levelling the playing field, the other wants a return to the “good old days” of unquestioned male power.

By framing this as a question that is still up for debate, Hack is tricking its audience into accepting the claims of MRAs, based not on statistical data, research, theoretical framework, or history – which is what feminism bases its own claims on – but on the opinions of MRAs and anonymous respondents.

Feminists get called “man haters” for anything from objecting to rape culture to expressing our opinions online. MRAS, on the other hand, popularised terms such as “feminazi” and “feminism is cancer”.

Additionally, feminism and its fight for women’s rights is an organic movement that grew as a response to the centuries of oppression women faced, and still face, across the globe. It is a testament to the resilience of women who resisted this oppression. Feminists today stand on the shoulders of giants, from Susan B Anthony to Ida B Wells. From Anbara Salam Khalidi to Huda Shaarawi. From Simone de Beauvoir to Betty Friedan.

It is their activism and their words that we build on, these generations that came before us, many of whom were denied tangible reward for their efforts within their lifetimes.

To equate them with men’s rights activism, a far less intellectually as well as ethically rigorous movement, which only sprang up recently – not as a rights movement seeking to redress structural inequalities – but as a backlash against feminism, is as unfair as it is irresponsible.

It has taken feminists decades to get terms such as “male privilege” and “rape culture” into the mainstream. And, whether Hack intends to or not, it is undermining this work by legitimising the idea that there is no such thing as male privilege – which is easily disproved by everything from the ratio of male to female executives, the wage gap, the superannuation gap, domestic violence statistics, women’s representation in Parliament, the ratio of female and male voices in the media, and even Triple J’s own perennial controversy, the lack of female artists in its annual Hottest 100.

At a time when male school and university students – Triple J’s demographic – are in desperate need of leadership when it comes to issues regarding sexual violence and women’s rights, the last thing they need is a program that gives equal weight to arguments of anti-feminists and rape apologists. 

We may all have the right to an opinion but that does not make our opinion right – or even worthy of a place in a debate. The truth on climate change does not rest on the halfway point between what scientists say and what Senator Malcolm Roberts says. Nor does the truth about male privilege lie somewhere between the claims of feminists and MRAs.

By framing this as a legitimate question, Hack is living up to its ironic name and setting itself up for a hack-job, attempting to give balance to “both sides” when there is no balance to begin with. There is some bullshit here alright, but it’s not the existence of male privilege.

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