About 6 years ago, I commented to my girl that I was frustrated with how few opportunities for lenience I received with customer service reps. I was calling my gas and electric company to ask for a week-long payment extension and the operator, as were a million prior to her over the years, was cold and heartless. She simply said, “Sorry sir. Pay or we’ll turn off your gas and electric tonight by 6pm.” Then silence. Now this has happened so often that it never dons on me to even suspect lenience. In fact, when I do get it I’m often shocked. Anyway, after mentioning this to my girl she casually stated that there really wasn’t anything wrong other than that I just didn’t “ask right.” She just knew I hadn’t properly charmed the operator…or that I likely hadn’t stated the right combination of words that would make her give me a break. It would seem that she was right when I asked her to make some calls to my bill collectors on my behalf and ask for extensions or penalty fee reductions. They (for the most part) conceded to her requests. But later, when I would use the same words and phrases with another operator (even in my girl’s presence) it didn’t work. What was the catalyst here that changed the dynamic?
A few years later I met women who paid less than I did for daycare while I had to pay full price at the same center. Why? According to the daycare manager it was because as a man, I likely made more money than they. Funny…they hadn’t actually asked me how much I made. Since then, I watched women buy cars and rent apartments with no credit checks (one woman told a female colleague she rented a house to that she did so because she felt my colleague was a “good mother”), use other people’s credit cards in stores without having to show ID, have men they dated pay debts, get expensive weaves paid for by men who wanted their time, and even cry on the phone with bill collectors only to be treated more humanely. I’ve never experienced any of this directly. I’ve watched people in sales, law enforcement (from police not giving drunk-driving women tickets to judges giving women considerably less time on criminal sentences),* customer service and education (male and female) cater to women in a myriad of ways not available to Black men like myself—even since childhood. (Hell, I just received a notification from my son’s school that we’re going to have a week-long observance of breast cancer week, replete with suggested clothing. Yet I have NEVER received a notification from either my son’s school or any of mine in observance of prostate cancer, despite that there are reports that it exceeds breast cancer rates).
Is this privilege? And if so, what type? Gender privilege? If so, then what is it for Black women who’ve benefitted from this? Intersectional privilege? Is it just beautiful women? And if so, is that beauty privilege? Do unconventionally (un)attractive women experience this (recognizing that this is a highly subjective quotient)? Is this just patriarchy (i.e. horny men giving women they want to have sex with a break)? If so, how does this explain female attendants giving women a break while not doing so for men? In truth, women participate in this economy by supporting one another, often not extending such treatment to men, and accepting it when it’s extended to them. Female attendants seem to routinely treat men as simply “clients” unworthy of empathy while male attendants do the same, but women are often perceived as being being worthy of empathy. In other words, if this is merely patriarchy, then it’s the aspect of it that most don’t mind ignoring—the chivalrous aspect that refers to women. This aspect goes hand-in-hand with oppressive elements of patriarchy. The catering to women is PART of even the most oppressive elements of the practice.
I wouldn’t deign to resolve all of this in a short blogpost, but I can say there’s either a tax benefit to being a beautiful woman or a tax deficit for being a man (curious if convincingly trans-men experience a shift in societal treatment in regard to favors and lenience). Still, I haven’t seen a great deal of activism to make sure such unmeasured benefits cease (e.g. the extending of welfare to women and not men).
The Pruitt Igoe Myth
(start at 31:18min)
Not one protest yet. Not even a hashtag like #WeShouldAllPaytheSame. In fact, the social expectation that men pay unobserved “fees” for women is so prevalent that if one doesn’t, he is considered “uncouth,” and people start asking questions about whether or not chivalry still lives (as a shaming measure).
There’s no question that people such as Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby have much to answer for in their treatment of women. No question. I do wonder, however, where such sexual practices fit into this under-theorized area…what I refer to as the “Micro-Pandering Sexual Economy.” In other words, in situations not quite as extreme, meaning situations that aren’t quite as overtly determined by expectations of sexual favors, is access to opportunities strangely gendered? What about aspiring actresses that plan for (if not initiate) such sexual exchanges? How do we coneceptualize them? Are we even allowed to contemplate this?