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Why 'White Male Privilege' Is a Patronising and Unhelpful Label

21/03/2016 10:49 GMT | Updated 22/03/2017 09:12 GMT

Last November, I tried persuading feminists that an "International Men's Day" is needed in 21st century Britain. Men's mental health is at crisis point, with suicide being the biggest killer of those under the age of 30, and in an era of "lad culture", where men and boys attempt to be the macho-man, the one who heads to the gym five times a week and benches 100kg, I argued that masculinity needs to be redefined; that to be masculine can be to open up about one's feelings and accept one's "weaknesses". Most feminists agree; that men often try and be this way, (although they argue it is a result of the "patriarchy").

But then, I ask the question; why do many on the feminist-left issue patronising statements to men to "check your privilege"? The homogenisation of masculinity that I and others try to avoid and overcome are now being subjected to a counter-homogenisation, that of all men being inherently privileged.

I would describe myself as privileged. I'm of the middle-class, I don't encounter sexism, racism, or any notion of persecution on a daily basis. So I have "checked my privilege", and indeed, the only conclusion I can come to is that I am incredibly fortunate, albeit not without my struggles- for we all go through them.

Yet on university campuses today, the "white man" insult is being used to restrict one's free speech, for the grave offence of being a white man. I have been told by some that I cannot comment on feminist issues, because I am not a woman. Right...

Friends of mine, with similar ideological views, have been told that they cannot comment on Islamic concepts because, you guessed it, they are not self-identifying Muslims. Since when did you have to be of a certain group to fight for the rights of that said group or engage in a dialogue or a debate about issues that affect fellow human beings that might be of a different faith, race or gender?

When civil partnerships were campaigned for in the early 2000s, did gay people tell straight people that they must stay away for being a heterosexual and demand these heterosexuals involved in this campaign to "check your privilege"? Did the Suffragettes movement tell the men who wanted to show solidarity with the women fighting for civil liberties to keep out of it? During the Civil Rights Movement, did Martin Luther King order white civil rights activists to stay at home because it was white people who had been oppressing African-Americans?

Absolutely not. In all of these examples, these grassroots campaigns sought the help of people who may have happened to be white, straight or male.

What is worse perhaps, is that it completely negates some of the experiences that white men go through. Will a third-wave feminist go up the white, straight cis man who has been homeless for five years in the city centre, and instead of issuing a fiver to pay for some food, say "Check your privilege." I would hope not. Would a third-wave feminist say to the white, straight Jewish person in London to "check your privilege" despite being subjected to a rise in the number of anti-Semitic attacks? Again, I would hope not.

Identity politics is on a dangerous rise on university campuses. And just because women, as a whole, have experienced significant disadvantages in civil society compared to their male counterparts, you do not fight marginalisation by making all white men feel shame or guilt, for the males engaged in that marginalisation process. We should not ask ordinary Muslims to feel guilt for the terror attacks committed by a few Islamist extremists. Similarly, we should not be asking white, middle class men to apologise for any historical or present-day marginalisation other white men have inflicted upon women; because that would be to undermine people's experiences.

So stop telling white men they are privileged just because of his skin colour or because of his anatomical structures. The more you tell someone to check their privilege, the more you risk not seeking the support of others for the feminist cause.