Privilege: an advice

By skepticlawyer

[A long time ago, I promised various skeptical friends that I would write a post on the idea of ‘privilege’, something about which I have had grave doubts for some time. Unfortunately life and work got in the way, and the post remained unwritten. However, I then made the same undertaking to various classical liberal friends, controversy about the Women in Secularism conference blew up, and I simply had to get my backside into gear. As you’ll no doubt note, I’ve written it in the form of a legal advice. This is for two reasons. (1) Lawyers have to give fair play to the other side, which is why I have quoted the two best discussions of privilege I could find, and tried to be as clear and reasonable as possible; (2) Lawyers have to be firm but polite, not only to the other side, but to their clients. This sometimes means having to find the right way to tell a person something that he or she does not wish to hear. I do not claim to have always and everywhere achieved that, but I have sought to drain some of the fulminating anger out of the issue — very often, part of the lawyer’s role is to keep clients out of court.

One final point: I am neither a philosopher nor an economist, but I have relied on research by one of each: this post is something of a potted summary. I have very deliberately chosen not to link to their work, for the simple reason that many people on both sides of this issue will perceive them as compromised in some way by their existing views. If it is any consolation, one is widely perceived as ‘left’, and the other as ‘right’. I don’t think those labels are very meaningful, but there you go.]


Hume, Smith, and Wollstonecraft LLP
Edinburgh, London, Glasgow, and Oxford
30 St Mary Axe
City of London

25 May 2013

Dear Ms Skeptica Femina,

RE: The utility of feminist conceptions of privilege in skeptical organisations and debates

Many thanks for visiting our offices on 18 May expressing your concerns with Mr Ronald Lindsay’s opening address to the Second Women in Secularism Conference, delivered the previous day. Please find enclosed our advice in this matter. While we have tried to address the core issues in some depth and as clearly as possible, there are places where this advice is of necessity incomplete. This is because there seem to be large empirical differences between the United Kingdom and the United States when it comes to what actually constitutes ‘privilege’. This is a British advice; our sister firm in New York – Paine, de Cleyre, and Anthony LLP – may provide different advice based on local conditions.

Separable issues

Our first observation is one primarily of protocol and etiquette, and is separable from any discussion of privilege. That is, it is our view that Mr Lindsay chose the wrong moment and event in order to express equivocal views about aspects of feminism. Debrett’s advises a Master of Ceremonies or Opening Speaker to be welcoming, hospitable, and — if possible — witty. Debrett’s also recognises that the latter can be difficult — and we have all experienced the Best Man’s speech gone horribly wrong because the humour falls flat. In that context, we advise that humour is best avoided unless one is actually funny. That means Mr Lindsay should have avoided passages like the following:

Or would you? I know that I’ve had some conversations in which the claim has been made there is no significant division among true feminists. There may be people who call themselves feminists who sharply disagree with the correct understanding of feminism, but they’re just fake feminists. Worse, some of them are sister-punishers.

This, however, does not mean that Mr Lindsay’s observations and criticisms were necessarily in error. It just means that they were delivered at the wrong time, and in the wrong place.

The definition of privilege

Traditionally, privilege was a special entitlement to an immunity granted by the state or another authority to an individual, either by birth or on a conditional basis. It could be revoked in certain circumstances. In modern democratic states, a privilege is conditional and granted only after birth. By contrast, a legal right is an inherent, irrevocable entitlement held by all citizens or all human beings from the moment of birth.

Etymologically, a privilege (privilegium in Roman law) means ‘private law’, or a rule relating to a specific individual or institution. In Roman times, an individual could be made immune from conscription, or paying taxes, or giving evidence. Most of these privileges (which persisted in different forms in many societies) were swept away by the Scottish Enlightenment and the French Revolution. A few, however, remain. A very important privilege that we have as lawyers is legal professional privilege, which means in certain defined circumstances, we cannot be forced to divulge — to anyone — the details of our dealings with clients.

However, privilege in feminist discussions had moved far from its Roman law origins and is now routinely applied to groups and the idea of ‘group entitlements’. There are two particularly useful discussions available, the first (in the midst of an extensive discussion that we have found helpful in preparing this advice) defines privilege like this:

Male privilege is a set of privileges that are given to men as a class due to their institutional power in relation to women as a class. While every man experiences privilege differently due to his own individual position in the social hierarchy, every man, by virtue of being read as male by society, benefits from male privilege.

An earlier comment in the same discussion provides elucidation:

Since social status is conferred in many different ways — everything from race to geography to class — all people are both privileged and non-privileged in certain aspects of their life. Furthermore, since dynamics of social status are highly dependent on situation, a person can benefit from privilege in one situation while not benefiting from it in another. It is also possible to have a situation in which a person simultaneously is the beneficiary of privilege while also being the recipient of discrimination in an area which they do not benefit from privilege.

It is our view that this comment is significant and contains important claims that are often ignored in discussions of privilege.

The second discussion does not use the word ‘privilege’ at all, instead outlining the concept using computer games of the World of Warcraft type. It has the merit of genuine candour and is well written — its author is a successful writer:

Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?

Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.

This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it’s easier to get.

The effect, then, of these definitions is to delimit a term where the ‘privileges’ that were once accorded to certain individuals, or Roman citizens, or people with Keys to the City, or the Catholic Church — or which are now accorded to lawyers when it comes to one aspect of the law of evidence, and which always required explicit enactment by a competent authority (like parliament) — are unconsciously enjoyed by large groups of people, mostly males.

The effect of this definition in practice 

Research by our clerks and trainees indicates that a number of beliefs and practices flow from this definition. They include the following:

1. There is a hierarchy of most advantaged > least advantaged that can be established without detailed information about the individuals involved in any given debate. Often the only known detail is that some of the participants are male, and others female. Males (especially if white) are always at or near the top of the hierarchy, while women are not always at the bottom: black people are sometimes placed there. Little attention is paid to class or cultural capital, probably because many of the discussants are Americans.

2. One’s lived experience as a member of an ‘oppressed’ or ‘disadvantaged’ group confers special knowledge or ‘insider’ information, in much the same way as a trader can go short on a stock if he or she knows that a particular company is about to experience financial difficulties.

3. Members of oppressed or disadvantaged groups — even very large ones, like ‘all women’ — have a commonality of interests.

4. The hierarchy that flows from (1) above — and largely developed in the United States — can be uncritically applied to the United Kingdom.

The problem of privilege

Clearly, (1) and (4) are related, so we deal with them together. We then consider the other effects separately.

Britain has the lowest social mobility in the OECD, controlling for both race and gender. Race and gender are relatively unimportant: in fact, they are so unimportant that women (until the average age of first childbirth) in Britain have now opened a statistically significant gender wage gap on men. If a woman is lesbian or chooses not to have children, the wage advantage persists. Despite repeated claims that austerity has hit women hardest, men are its primary victims, and this is added to a systemic decline in male employment rates and wages over the last 25 years.

We have deliberately used large data sets here, in part to reflect the way ‘privilege’ is used in debates: if being a member of a given group means certain characteristics can be assumed on the basis of one’s membership, then in Britain, to be a middle-class, childless, gay woman confers a significant wage advantage, statistically speaking. Of course, income isn’t everything, but it is an important indication of one’s relative position in British society, at least when compared to other people in equally large data sets.

These studies concern employment and income (apart from the OECD social mobility study). They do not take account of other aspects of British society of crucial importance when one considers who has power and privilege in these Islands: Did you go to Oxbridge? Where did you go to school? Are you from the North? Do you have a Home Counties or Edinburgh accent, as opposed to a Hull or Glasgow accent?

To that end, our advice is that if the concept of ‘privilege’ is to have any utility, Americans (and others) must exercise great care when applying their understanding of it to Britain generally or British women in particular. It is quite possible that none or very little of the understanding behind it is empirically verifiable.

Inside information

In markets, inside information is destructive, which is why there are laws against insider trading. It is also why the LIBOR scandal undermined further the already weakened public confidence in the global banking system. However, the trader who knows that Company X is a week away from an awful annual report knows that inside information because he learned it from an external source. He does not know it because there is something inherent in his lived experience.

The problem with making claims that there is a knowledge advantage to be had from lived experience as a member of an oppressed group is threefold.

1. It may not be true.

2. It assumes that other people (regardless of their backgrounds) have no imagination or empathy.

3. It may be that structural privilege (in Britain: Oxbridge, public school, membership of the professions) confers a knowledge advantage that is greater than any knowledge advantage conferred by the experience of oppression.

Consider, for example, education, which is an outgrowth of (3): many of our beliefs about education and its importance are based on the idea that knowing more and being well-informed about the world around us means that we will be more capable, more advantaged, better able to make wise decisions about ourselves and others. That is why there is a civil service exam, and why we licence doctors and lawyers. Indeed, it may be that the broad education that confers cultural capital and ‘privilege’ — at least in Britain — is of more knowledge value than any experience of oppression. Bertrand Russell, on visiting Soviet Russia for the first time (and rapidly becoming disillusioned with it) made the following observation:

I am infinitely unhappy in this atmosphere – stifled by its utilitarianism, its indifference to love and beauty and the life of impulse. I cannot give that importance to man’s merely animal needs that is given here by those in power. No doubt that is because I have not spent half my life in hunger and want, as many of them have. But do hunger and want necessarily bring wisdom? Do they make men more, or less, capable of conceiving the ideal society that should be the inspiration of every reformer? I cannot avoid the belief that they narrow the horizon more than they enlarge it.

Obviously enough, if (2) were true, the whole of imaginative literature would be ruled impossible tout court. Writers and artists trade on their ability to imagine themselves into the positions of people unlike themselves. It is true that empathising with someone unlike oneself is difficult, but just because something is hard does not mean it is impossible, otherwise George Eliot and Margaret Atwood and J.M. Coetzee could not exist.

(1) is most serious of all. If you claim that there really are ‘ways of knowing’ peculiar to the experience of being a member of an oppressed or disadvantaged group — independently inaccessible to people who are not members of that group — then you are denying everyone else the opportunity to test your knowledge claims empirically. This is dangerously close to making your claims an article of faith, and is characteristic of organised religion. While we are aware that not all skeptics are atheists — indeed, this has been pointed out to us repeatedly — it is our submission that an unwillingness to submit truth claims to empirical testing is antithetical to the aims of skeptical organisations.

Commonality of interests

People are different, a trite but nonetheless demonstrable reality. This means that individuals cannot be reduced to group characteristics, and any comment that begins ‘men do…’ or ‘women have…’ or ‘blacks are…’ must have appended to it the words ‘statistically speaking’. What is likely to be true of 1000 people or even 100 is unlikely to be true of the person one encounters in the checkout queue at Marks & Spencer, no matter how many measurable characteristics he or she has in common with the group about which commonality of interest claims are being made.

Outside statistical evidence, it is unlikely that there is enough that unites all women in order to ensure their political interests intersect, even in a limited way. That is why Margaret Thatcher was a Conservative Prime Minister who supported abortion rights, while Dilma Rousseff is a Socialist President who opposes abortion rights, and why women — like men — express political views that fall across the spectrum. To suggest — as some feminists do — that women like Thatcher or Rousseff (on the basis of their views on, say, economics or abortion) do not understand that they are oppressed as women is to make the extraordinary claim that even the most capable and powerful women do not know their own minds.

Concluding comments

In our view, feminism as a group of related philosophies and political practices is immensely valuable and important, but the argument from privilege — especially as applied to claims about knowledge and inside information — is weak and does not do the philosophy and political movement credit. It is particularly unhelpful in skeptical organisations, which have an independent mission that turns on the empirical testing of truth claims. While — like all community organisations, charitable bodies, and the like — skeptical organisations like the CFI are prone to error and rudeness, it is also clear that they are committed to ideas ultimately derived from the scientific method. As we say in the law, arguments must be ‘put to the proof’.

If you have any further queries or concerns, do not hesitate to contact us at one of our UK offices; if your concern relates to the United States, then please — as suggested earlier — direct your enquiries to our sister firm in New York.

Yours, etc.



  1. Mel
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Helen @48,

    The onus is on you to prove your theory.

    There is plenty of bad faith to be found among feminist academics and bloggers.

    It is bad faith when feminists complain of higher average male earnings but ignore higher death rates and serious injuries for males.

    It is bad faith when feminists complain of higher average male earnings as if it is all about discrimination against women while ignoring or downplaying the fact that once married most couples, consciously or not, appoint the male primary breadwinner with the female appointed the primary care giver.

    It is bad faith when feminists highlight higher female poverty rates but ignore higher male homelessness rates.

    It is bad faith when feminists claim males have it better than females but ignore the lifespan, suicide rate etc differentials

    Females do face discrimination in many ways and that needs to change but the portrait of unremitting misery and oppression one often gets when putting a toe in the femosphere is an absurd caricature of reality.

  2. Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Mel, higher death rates and serious injuries for males occur in only a 10 year period of life and are largely due to risk-taking (i.e. voluntary choice). They aren’t, for example, related to childbirth, a function necessary for continuation of the human race.

    Most couples consciously appoint the male as breadwinner because he earns more.

    Also, in general, it is not “bad faith” to highlight one thing but ignore another. It is evidence of a particular set of interests.

    Differences in male and female lifespan are likely biological, primarily driven by the greater fragility of male infants, and are something that a great deal of effort is being put into changing. Males have higher rates of successful suicide but not attempts, and this is representative of differences in method.

    The fact is that life is easier if you’re a man. SL has not presented any evidence against that view, and neither have you.

  3. Mel
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 10:25 pm | Permalink


    What is bad faith is you playing nice here but putting the knife into SL’s back elsewhere:

    Still, Helen Dale has a history of ascribing a privileged position to the victims of history, doesn’t she…

    Sad little coward.

  4. Posted June 3, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Most couples consciously appoint the male as breadwinner because he earns more.

    Or maybe they do it because society tells them that the only men interested in children are perverts.

    Differences in male and female lifespan are likely biological,

    That’s a convenient assumption. If someone tries to explain female disadvantages with a presumptuous “It’s biology” then they’re called sexist. I don’t think it’s fair to do the same with male disadvantage either. I’m not sure we should so readily ignore the social conditioning of men to take risks and ignore health concerns.

    Also, in general, it is not “bad faith” to highlight one thing but ignore another. It is evidence of a particular set of interests… The fact is that life is easier if you’re a man.

    You can’t ignore a whole set of factors and then expect someone to take your conclusive ‘facts’ seriously. I’ve yet to see an unbiased and comprehensive approach to establishing which gender “has it best”. Let alone an decent explanation as to why such a value and assumption laden conclusion is even relevant.

  5. Mel
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink


    I think families appoint males the primary breadwinner and females the primary caregiver mainly because females have wombs and breasts and because it is tradition to do so and it is easier to follow tradition. The key point here is that it is about choices families make; it isn’t about some type of male Taliban shooting women who break with tradition.

    Faustusnotes’ argument fails because there is little difference in earnings b4 average marriage age and some evidence to suggest that young females are opening up a gap that will almost undoubtedly widen given the now dominant position of females in premium tertiary education courses like medicine.

    Are females dissatisfied with their roles? Not according to Deakin’s Wellbeing Index (PDF). In most of the surveyed years females rate as happier than males and there is almost no difference in the happiness rating for home maker mothers and mothers in full time work with both groups rating higher than their male equivalents and both being in what Deakin defines as the normal range.

    The more you look at the evidence the more it becomes clear that the monolithic edifice of omnipresent and unidirectional male privilege is but a figtree of the feminist imagination.

  6. Mel
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Oops. That should be

    “almost no difference in the happiness rating for home maker females and females in full time work.”

  7. Posted June 3, 2013 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    [email protected],

    The key point here is that it is about choices families make; it isn’t about some type of male Taliban shooting women who break with tradition.

    Unjust social influences on peoples choices might be a rung or two lower in significance than unjust violence or laws, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely without a moral component. Of course care does need to be taken to establish causative links between unjust social pressures and people’s choices, and not just make assumptions about what people’s choices ought to be. The question needs to be asked as to what extent the tradition propagates because of mere familiarity, and to what extent it propagates because of social prejudice against those who fail to follow it. I also think that if the tradition causes external harms then it’s reasonable to question whether it should be abandoned despite the discomfort to those who would otherwise follow it.

    I agree with the rest of your comment though.

  8. Mel
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Desi @58:

    “Unjust social influences on peoples choices might be a rung or two lower in significance than unjust violence or laws, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely without a moral component.”

    Who gets to decide if a social influence is unjust? The comparative happiness of home maker females as per the Deakin survey suggests they don’t see themselves as victims of an injustice.

    Of course it is always open to the social researcher to argue that X is happy because X has low expectations due to false consciousness or some similar phenomena.

  9. Posted June 3, 2013 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Mel, presumably it’s the same crazy mob who get to decide when violence or the law is unjust 😉 I’m not necessarily advocating legislative interference, but rather simply persuasive explanation to attempt to get people to consider the other side of the coin before they act. Although certain social influences (e.g. bullying, discrimination, etc) may be sufficient to justify more substantial action.

  10. Posted June 3, 2013 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Mel, I didn’t sink any knife into any backs (though an interesting choice of metaphor given the implied subject). I simply pointed out the facts about SL’s writing. And given those facts, I think any thread by SL is not really the place to be policing bad faith arguments. I mean, putting aside certain historical … unpleasantnesses … this post could itself easily be called “bad faith argument.” Misrepresenting stats? Check. Putting up links suggestive of supportive evidence when they are actually saying the opposite of the OP? Check. Is that bad faith, or stupidity? It’s up to you to make the call, but neither answer makes SL look very good, does it?

    Desipis, a large portion of male and female differences in life expectancy arise from differences in infant mortality, which are of unknown cause but suspected to be linked to increased fragility of male babies. Do you think that the death of day old neonates represents accumulated social bias? Please do elaborate. A large part of the remainder of the life expectancy differences probably arises from end of life longevity in women, and we don’t know enough about the ageing process to identify or address causes. So all your bleating about “convenient assumptions” is just pissing in the wind.

    You haven’t, I notice, addressed the possibility that the remainder of the male mortality difference is due to choice (fast cars, etc.) Care to differ?

    Mel, nothing in this post shows any evidence that women earn more than men before average age of first child. Women working part-time earn 4% more than men, is the only finding the ONS has to offer. I can’t see why SL said that. But, all her reporting of the stats has been completely wrong, so …

  11. Mel
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 9:53 pm | Permalink


    Nope, you did not point out any facts. Presumably your smear pertains to SL’s work of fiction. You apparently have a chronic problem getting your mind around the concept of fiction, for instance on your blog you hilariously label Game of Thrones misogynist because it portrays a fictional world that is generally patriarchal.

    Let me help you with a definition of fiction:

    1. Prose literature, esp. short stories and novels, about imaginary events and people.

    2. Invention or fabrication as opposed to fact.

    If you still have problems with the concept, by all means let me know. I may find it tedious but I’m willing to workshop you through your problem with abstract concepts.

  12. Posted June 3, 2013 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    The facts pertained to the critical reception the fiction received.

    If you have a problem with my review of GoT, why don’t you try and challenge it there? Though sneeringly pretending I don’t understand it is fiction probably won’t get you far.

  13. Mel
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 10:21 pm | Permalink


    “Mel, nothing in this post shows any evidence that women earn more than men before average age of first child. Women working part-time earn 4% more than men, is the only finding the ONS has to offer.”

    Nope, if you follow SL’s ONS link and open the PDF you find this:

    In 2011 the largest gender pay difference for full-time employees was for 50 to 59-year-olds at 16.0 per cent. There were negative gender pay gaps in the 16 to 17 age group (-0.8 per cent) and the 22 to 29 age group (-3.6 per cent).

    For part-time employees, the gender pay difference was largest for 50 to 59-year-olds at 14.4 per cent. There were negative gender pay gaps (women’s earnings were higher than men’s) in the 22 to 29 and 30 to 39 age groups, at -2.8 per cent and -6.2 per cent.

    Presumably SL linked to the wrong Big Think page re her claim re lesbian earnings. I imagine we’ve all made similar mistakes. This Big Think page discusses what is known as the lesbian wage premium and states:

    The wage premium paid to lesbian workers is a bit of a mystery. Sure, lesbian women are better-educated on average, are more likely to be white, live predominantly in cities, have fewer children, and are significantly more likely to be a professional. But even when you control for these differences, the wage premium is still on the order of 6%.

    My bold in above quotes.


  14. Mel
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    As to faustusnotes’ ruminations re the gender life expectancy differential , I note he introduces the idea of choice, arguing that males in part have a shorter life expectancy than females because of voluntary risk taking. One problem with such an argument is that it applies equally to anything that might by some metric disadvantage females for instance marriage, children etc.. as these are also choices.

    More importantly, however, this line of argument is unfructuous because it ignores the social conditioning that shapes choice as well as the cross-cultural evidence of generic male risk taking which suggests deeper structural causes for such behaviour.

    It is intriguing that faustusnotes should adopt a naive free will stance on this matter given his passionate argument for a more sociological and structural examination of gender differences in a blog post, which is apparently inspired by his banning from feminist websites.

    Beep beep …

  15. Posted June 4, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Mel, it’s very nice of you to write skepticlawyer’s post properly for her.

    Are you now saying that women are more privileged than men because for the lowest paid ten years of their forty year working life they earn 5% more than men? That’s SL’s killer argument?

    Also, the pdf file you link to (and the quote you draw from it) has a sign error in the text and table about pay differences. The pay gap for the 22-29 age group is actually +3.6%, not -3.6%. You can see this sign error from looking at the column of total pay gap (it’s positive) compared to full-time (negative) and part time (negative). It’s not possible for all wages to have a positive gap and both full and part time to have negative. In fact, looking at the previous table (page 19) men earn 3.6% more than women. The only pay gap exists in the 16-17 year age group.

    The lesbian pay gap in the attached article is the pay gap over other women, not men.

    Regarding choice, I would have thought men have a lot more control over their behavior in young adulthood – regardless of how conditioned it is – than they did in the 7 days after they were born or the very last years of life, which are going to be far more biologically conditioned. It’s also a little strange to be talking about childbirth as a choice that women make, at least wrt wages, because the history of labour markets tells us that most of the discrimination women experience in pay and work after childbirth is unnecessary and purely determined by the culture around them – it’s not something they personally can make a choice about or change. Furthermore, throughout most of history – when attitudes towards pay and conditions for women of childbearing age were formed – women had no choice about pregnancy.

    It’s not a naive free will stance to point out that what you claim is a major cause of life expectancy differences (fast cars in young adulthood) is more of a choice than some other factor (such as sudden infant death syndrome). Or do you think all men are robots controlled entirely by biology at every stage in their lives? If so you run afoul of desipis’s dissatisfaction with biological arguments…

  16. Mel
    Posted June 4, 2013 at 8:46 pm | Permalink


    “Mel, it’s very nice of you to write skepticlawyer’s post properly for her.”

    Don’t be such a smart arse. SL is busy trying to fit in blog posts while beefing up on the British tax code, if I understand correctly. SL is an Oxbridge graduate, youngest ever winner of the Miles Franklin Award, fluent in Latin etc etc … It is also perhaps worth noting that SL’s background is lower middle class. Presumably her attitudes about male privilege are in part a product of her own achievements, none of which would have been likely if we lived in the oppressive world concocted by your imagination. Note however that neither I nor SL are arguing that sexism doesn’t exist or that it doesn’t have material consequences.

  17. Mel
    Posted June 4, 2013 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    faustusnotes @66:

    The pay gap for the 22-29 age group is actually +3.6%, not -3.6%.

    Nope. All the totals look to be out.

    Also note this from America:

    The long-lamented pay gap between men and women is finally closing, according to a new study released September 1, 2010. Conducted by the research firm Reach Advisors, the study finds that that unmarried, childless women age 22-30 who live in cities are earning more than their male counterparts (my emph.).

    Given women now have a clear majority of enrolments in uni courses that should lead to high paying jobs such as medicine in most Anglosphere countries, the trend should continue and possibly increase.

    You also need to think a little harder about this issue. Earning money isn’t everything; some people place a higher value on work-life balance while others place a higher value on job satisfaction, consequently a pay differential between groups could a matter of different values rather discrimination.

    I personally retired from work and made a tree change in my early 40s because I value the freedom to indulge in creative pursuits much more highly than I value money. My wife on the other hand values money more highly and also loves her job, so she chooses to work.

    “Or do you think all men are robots controlled entirely by biology at every stage in their lives?”

    I don’t believe in free will. I gave up that particular belief at about age 14, roughly two years after I gave up the belief in sky fairies.

  18. Posted June 5, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    So now you’re arguing that a small pay gap in a specific group of women (age 22-30 living in cities and unmarried and childless) is evidence of no male privilege?

    I don’t “need to think a little harder about this issue.” It was SL who presented the borked stats and tried to claim that women are more privileged than men on the basis of (imagined, apparently) pay gaps. If you think “earning money isn’t everything” you need to take it up with the person who wrote the OP, not the person who is pointing out to her what is wrong with her stats.

    The concept of “privilege” covers a lot more than income, it also extends to attitudes and behavior. But I’m not the one arguing privilege doesn’t exist because a small group of lucky young women manage to earn more than men for a few years of their youth…

  19. Mel
    Posted June 5, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink


    Now you are arguing with a straw skeptic lawyer, as she doesn’t state that the concept of privilege has no utility or that all women are more privileged than all men. SL very correctly argues that reality is more nuanced than the privilege theorists would have us believe and that different factors matter in different places, hence in the UK these questions matter:

    Did you go to Oxbridge? Where did you go to school? Are you from the North? Do you have a Home Counties or Edinburgh accent, as opposed to a Hull or Glasgow accent?

    I think even you should be able to work out that in India one’s caste is a significant determinant of one’s “privilege”.

    You say:

    The concept of “privilege” covers a lot more than income ..

    Very true old bean, it also includes access to education. In Oz women now occupy 59% of all university places, In Canada 55% of uni enrolments are by women whilst in America women have 56.4% of public uni enrolments.

    A single monolithic and undirectional force called privilege that operates the same way in each and every country is a figment of the imagination. Sorry to disappoint you.




  20. kvd
    Posted June 5, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] I don’t think that SL “tried to claim that women are more privileged than men on the basis of (…) pay gaps”.

    Rather I thought she was pointing to the present (UK 2011 wages stats) position that women had apparently benefitted by a “statistically significant” increase in their average hourly earnings as compared to males, and also, from another link, that the effects of the present downturn had markedly more affected men than women – and was likely to continue to do so, going forward. I don’t think either of those points is in dispute, or even contested by anything you’ve said? But I could be wrong.

    I can only repeat that the whole intent of the opinion piece was to compare what is claimed as a monolithic, flat, statement of present and continuing ad/dis-advantage based solely upon one’s sex is somewhat questionable in the UK experience.

    I’ll leave you to argue the toss (because I don’t give a) about the statistical errors you think you’ve found. That is not to the point SL is addressing; more simply that, as a matter of present argument, the gender disparity of times past is not now a particularly relevant drum to keep banging on about.

  21. kvd
    Posted June 5, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Also, what [email protected] said. (Which I hadn’t read)

  22. Mel
    Posted June 5, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Wow. Men are also being excluded from tertiary education in the UK:

    In 2010-11, there were more female (55%) than male fulltime undergraduates (45%) enrolled at university – a trend which shows no sign of shrinking. The latest statistics released by the University and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) revealed a 22,000 drop in the number of male students enrolling at university. This meant that last autumn women were a third more likely to start a degree than their male counterparts, despite the fact that there are actually more young men than women in the UK.

  23. Posted June 5, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    faustusnotes, the stats indicate that the dogmatic assertions common to privilege such as the ‘wage gap’ are not necessarily backed by empirical evidence. It demonstrates that male privilege cannot be applied in a universal manner across all groups of people. It also shows it’s important to examine the empirical evidence in each case before drawing any conclusions on the basis of privilege.

    The concept of “privilege” covers a lot more than income, it also extends to attitudes and behavior.

    Can you provide an objective test to demonstrate the existence of privilege? It’s worth pointing out that any test would have to be something more substantial than cherry picked statistics that reflect traditional male advantages while ignoring traditional female advantages. Such a test would also need to establish a causative link and not just illustrate that current outcomes don’t fit some hypothetically perfect society unshaped by history. The happiness statistics that Mel linked to suggests things that are typically looked at probably aren’t a balanced view of the whole picture.

  24. Posted June 5, 2013 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Can you provide an objective test to demonstrate the existence of privilege?

    No, because as I’ve mentioned several times, I think the idea is bunkum. I could give some examples of how privilege is described by people who subscribe to it as a rhetorical device, but it doesn’t seem worth it.

    I think the point that privilege is a bad concept because discrimination on the basis of sex is not “monolithic, flat … present and continuing” is weak. A stronger point is that even if this discrimination is monolithic and ongoing, that doesn’t mean that the privileges the discriminator gets necessarily blind them to the needs and feelings of others. We all have empathy, we’re all human, etc. Also as a rhetorical device it sucks because it’s impossible for the supposedly privileged person to spot the difference between actual blindness due to privilege, and a rhetorical claim of blindness. In that sense it’s as useful as “false consciousness,” i.e. a good way to shut down an argument but a useless way to find common ground.

  25. Mel
    Posted June 6, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink


    We all have empathy, we’re all human, etc.

    Exactly. So why the cowardly and dishonest attacks on Skeptic Lawyer? Your bitterness, inability to mount a coherent argument, willingness to misrepresent others and disregard for evidence suggest you are an ideal candidate for Mel’s Dude Ranch Personal Development Weekend 😉

  26. Posted June 6, 2013 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    what’s dishonest? And why, Mel, are you decrying my raising of past events when you yourself want to heap praise on SL for those same events? (“youngest winner of the miles franklin award” indeed…)

    If you can give one example of a single bitter thing I’ve said, then I’ll eat a lemon. Ditto with “misrepresent others,” I haven’t represented anyone, let alone misrepresented them.

    In fact I haven’t raised any personal attacks at all here – you dragged one you think is a personal attack in from another blog. Perhaps it’s you who is doing the misrepresenting?

  27. Mel
    Posted June 6, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Male privileged butt cheeks used to taunt a middle aged white woman on a Sydney bus.

    An excerpt:

    Sit the fuck down

    Get a passport bro’

    Sit down bro’ educate yourself

    What do you go to school for?

    You got no education.

    I’m born here, I know what I’m doing


    Get on your boat and fuck off

    No one can get passed because their big asses are everywhere

    (another woman in the background echoes the complaint about big asses)

    Note how eventually the male privileged bus driver who is no doubt a rape apologist gets the two boys to put their offending butt cheeks on seats. Nothing happens to the racist woman, who continues her racist rant presumably all the way to Balmain.

  28. kvd
    Posted June 6, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Hoping that was not an old Enid Campbell video, on her way home from Monash Uni? Mind you, never heard her say “Bro”.

  29. Mel
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Two other factors that make faustusnotes’ claim that “.. life is easier if you’re a man ” too generalised and simplistic to be instructive is the research on beauty premium and height premium.

    Re height:

    “For both men and women…an
    additional inch of height
    [is] associated with a one to two percent increase in earnings.”

    One reason for the differential is that height is linked with self-esteem.

  30. Mel
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    And male beauty:

    We use unique data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study to document an economically and statistically significant positive correlation between the facial attractiveness of men in their senior year in high school and their labor market earnings when they are in their mid-30s and early-50s. There does not appear to be any link between facial attractiveness and direct measures of cognitive skills, such as IQ or high school class rank, or between facial attractiveness and measures of health, including mortality and self-reported health status. While attractiveness is positively related to participation in high school sports and other activities, these experiences do not affect the size of the attractiveness premium on earnings. Attractiveness is also strongly,
    significantly correlated with proxy measures of confidence and two of the “big five” personality traits: extroversion and the absence of neuroticism. But even after including a lengthy set of characteristics, including IQ, high school experiences, proxy measures for confidence and personality, and family background and additional respondent characteristics in an empirical
    model of earnings, the attractiveness premium is present in the respondents’ early-50s. Our findings are consistent with attractiveness being an enduringly valuable labor market characteristic.

    Also note how the methodology used in study means that the beauty premium is probably underestimated.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *