A little less than two years ago, I was mugged in a Dhaka neighbourhood rather infamous for being infested with muggers, when I was walking home from work around 10 PM. I had never been mugged before and needless to say, I was shaken and dishevelled following the incident. My friends had always asked me to not walk home so late into the evening, but I, having never gotten a taste of what everybody living in Dhaka tends to stay cautious about, had never paid heed to their advice. Now I knew what they meant.
Two days later, I was telling a friend how traumatised the incident had left me. "Now I understand how unsafe this city can be," I told her.
"Well, now you know just a fraction of how women feel out in the streets," she said.
Her words hit me in a way that made me realise just how insensitive my remark was and how, basking in male privilege, men rarely give a thought to how unsafe the world out there is for women, thanks to – among other things – the normalisation of rape culture, the constant fuelling of male privilege and a great dearth of voices seeking to dismantle the patriarchal social structure.
Male privilege refers to the opportunities men get to thrive and stay safe everywhere, be it within their families, in their careers, or in the streets. Knowingly or unknowingly, men enjoy these privileges in every sphere of life. It includes the fact that men can walk down the street without the fear of being sexually harassed or assaulted, that boys are rarely called out for misbehaving because it is easier to say "boy will be boys" instead of confronting age-old practices that have allowed boys to grow up thinking they can get away with anything and everything. The fact that their talents are rarely measured on the basis of how they look and what they wear, that wild insinuations about sexual escapades don't usually fly around when they achieve success in their careers and elsewhere, that they don't have to deal with glass ceilings in their careers, that they are rarely told to treat women with respect when news about a rape circulates (in contrast, women are advised to dress "modestly" and not go out unchaperoned) are all examples of the privileges men have.
On social media and in real life, many men keep saying there is no such things as male privilege, some even going on to say that women have it easier than men in many cases, often referring to (and sometimes singularly focusing on) the concept of keeping reserved seats for women in buses, barely paying attention to the fact that such reservations wouldn't be necessary if men did not harass women and (largely) face no consequences, if women had the same opportunities to thrive as men, if men saw women as their equals and respected them accordingly.
The very fact that it took me almost nineteen years to realise how unsafe it can be to be out alone in the dark proves the existence of male privilege, cocooned in which men rarely get to experience the fear women have to live with on a daily basis. It can't be dismantled overnight, but if nobody addresses it, if its existence is denied, true gender equality can never be established and the world will remain an unsafe place for women.