Life in Easy Mode

I read an article the other day about the many ways tools, cars, clothes, and life in general have been designed for a male audience, making it harder for females to do the same things. For example, women are 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car crash. Why? Because car crashes have been tested for years with male-model test dummies. Test dummies that are the height and weight and mass distribution of the average male.

Another example: most public spaces have an equal amount of space set aside for restrooms for men and women, and yet (as anyone who’s ever walked past any restrooms during intermission can tell you) there’s always a huge line for women and almost nothing for men. Why not? Because a men’s room can accommodate more users at a time, using the same foot print. And not only that, but men are finished with their business much more quickly than women.

The whole article is really worth the read, and I recommend you check it out. But it got me thinking on a broader scale about how often things like this come up in our society. I don’t believe the people who designed these things really set out to be sexist. They just made a few base assumptions and never questioned those assumptions over time, to the point that those assumptions became engrained in the way our society is set up.

As a man, it’s easier for me to use current smart phones, because my hands are bigger. It’s easier for me to use voice-recognition software, because it’s been designed to recognized male voices more easily than female voices. (70% more accurate for men than women!) I can go to the store and buy any “one size fits all” thing and be pretty confident it will fit me, because it’s been designed with male proportions in mind.

This extends beyond sex. It’s easier for me as a white male to walk down a dark street at night, because I don’t have to worry (for the most part) about people wanting to rape me. I also don’t have to be as concerned about the police (or bystanders) being suspicious of me. Just another white guy! Nothing to see here.

The thing is, this is something that’s very hard to recognize when you’re one of the people who’ve benefitted from it over the years. I never stopped to think about how awkward smart phone sizes these days are, because they work for me fine. Some people take umbrage at the thought that “white privilege” might exist. That somehow being white made things easier for them. After all, things have been very difficult for them already. And I’m not trying to belittle their struggles at all when I say that. Just because someone else had it harder does not make my personal challenges any less challenging.

But it also doesn’t mean I should ignore the fact that other people are struggling even more due to things outside their control.

It also doesn’t mean that when someone speaks up about something, it can be dismissed because “that’s not my experience.” The more I think about things, the more I see that personal experience only accounts for so much. We go through our lives thinking most people have it more or less like we do. But we’re all different. Even in the same country, the experience of a Mainer is going to be very different from the experience of someone in California.

Is there “male privilege”? You bet. Does it mean that everyone who’s been enabling that privilege for years has been part of some nefarious grand conspiracy? No. It just means they took certain assumptions for granted and never questioned those assumptions after that. And so when I get in a car to go home today, I’m 47% less likely to get seriously injured if my car crashes than if Denisa gets into that same crash.

That’s privilege.

I’m happy to see these assumptions being to be questioned, and I look forward to more questions in the future. Because while it’s great that the world has generally been designed with me in mind, I’ve also been the victim in some aspects. Let’s call it “average height privilege.” If I’m on a plane or in a theater, chances are those seats are not going to fit me at all. And when someone leans back in their airplane seat? My knees are going to suffer. Not because that person is a jerk, but because the plane wasn’t designed with people who are my height in mind.

Once you can recognize how you’ve been personally affected by some of these biases, maybe it becomes easier to recognize how other biases might be affecting others, even if you yourself haven’t been impacted by them at all.

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