If you listen to the progressive left, you might be forgiven for thinking that the ancien régime had made a comeback over the last couple of years. Back then, the nobility and the clergy had privileges, i.e. special legal advantages, such as being exempt from certain taxes. The contemporary social justice movement uses this same term and applies it to all sorts of groups. Thus we get male privilege and white privilege, as well as more obscure forms such as straight privilege, cisgender privilege (i.e. not being transgender), Christian privilege, and thin privilege.
This misuse of the term “privilege” should not be accepted. What special rights do men or whites have that are denied to women and non-whites? Supposedly, various societal attitudes and prejudices are keeping women and non-whites down. The evidence offered for that proposition is slim, but even if misogyny and racism against non-whites were rampant, it would be inappropriate to call that situation male privilege or white privilege, since that would imply men and whites having special rights or immunities. “Sexism” and “racism” are perfectly good words; if that is what you mean, use those, but don’t pretend that (supposedly) men and whites not being exposed to sexism or racism is some kind of special right.
In the past, men and whites were indeed privileged in the Western world, but all of these privileges have since been abolished. What often gets ignored in the progressive narrative is that women also had various privileges under the old patriarchal system, such as not being forced into military service and having the right to be financially supported by their husbands (without the reciprocal obligation to support their husbands, even in cases where they had or earned more money). Some of these old privileges were abolished, but others were retained. Additionally, this narrative has led to new privileges being created for women and certain non-white groups, such as pension systems which treat women favourably, hiring quotas, and other forms of affirmative action.
The fact that the reality of privilege is the exact opposite of the progressive narrative leads me to believe that all the talk about privilege is not really about some groups being privileged, but merely about some groups doing better than others on some metrics. If white men earn more money and occupy more positions of power than non-white women, the radical egalitarians who are so prevalent among today’s left cannot consider the possibility that the success of white men might be due to differences in abilities and inclinations. No, we are all equal, so the only explanation is discrimination and bigotry. This also explains why Jews and East-Asians are generally not considered under-privileged, even though these groups have historically defintely experienced discrimination and persecution. Such successful minority groups don’t fit into the progressive world view and are conveniently ignored.
This kind of thinking is deeply pernicious because it denigrates successful people and groups, thus incentivising mediocrity. Instead, we should celebrate those who are successful and try to learn from them.