Here on this blog I constantly rail against and complain about the rampant sexism women endure, both globally and at home. And as many female readers know, every time I do -- especially when it concerns female genital mutilation, fat acceptance and pressure to be thin, pornography, gender bias in advertising -- men drop in to post comments along the lines of "If you're so opposed to sexism how come you don't bring up sexism against men? We put up with a lot of crap but you ignore that."
For women who've experienced gender bias on a regular basis, it can be hard to have much sympathy for that argument. Leena -- an occasional commenter on this site -- once noted, "Why is it that whenever someone writes a piece about women and girls there are so many comments arguing that boys and men have it just as bad or worse?"
Maybe they do, but hey, they're men, right? They're supposed to just suck it up and deal with it, not whine like a bunch of babies. (Long pause.) That was a joke -- a sexist joke -- riddled with stereotypes and as derogatory as any comment made about women. Individuals -- regardless of their gender -- are harmed by sweeping generalizations, behavioral expectations, and assumptions based solely on sex.
That's the issue Greta Christina addressed in a recent piece at Alternet.org, "5 Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men." Here's her rationale:
...[W]e don't talk as much about how sexism hurts men. Understandably. When you look at the grotesque ways women are damaged by sexism -- from economic inequality to political disenfranchisement to literal, physical abuse -- it makes perfect sense that we'd care more about how sexism and patriarchy and rigid gender roles affect women, than we do about how they affect men.
But men undoubtedly get screwed up by this stuff, too. Not screwed up as badly as women, to be sure... but not trivially, either. I care about it. And I think other feminists -- and other women and men who may not see themselves as feminists -- ought to care about it, too.
To put together her list, she says she asked "friends, colleagues, family members, community members, guys I know on the Internet -- what kinds of expectations they get about Being A Man and how those expectations affect them."
The list is what you'd expect, but what's surprising is the intensity of the reactions of men who are candid about hating many of the cultural 'norms' they're supposed to live up to. The man code, it turns out, is less a brotherhood than a fraternity that harshly hazes every individual born with a Y chromosome. Many men don't like it, but to talk about it is to risk being labeled "less than a man."
One might make the argument that if males were liberated from these cultural expectations, we would see fewer men and boys engaged in fighting over their turf, showing aggression, dominating and controlling those around them. The fallout would be that women would benefit. If power became a non-issue for men, then perhaps we'd see a reduction in rape, assault, sexual abuse, prostitution, and pornography.
I'll still write about the injustices women and girls endure, and I'll still bristle when a guy posts that he has it just as bad. But I'll better understand what he's trying to say: that the oppression men face may not be as visible as the oppression women encounter, but it's just as insidious and damaging to one's sense of self. Although the saying, "a rising tide lifts all boats" is most often applied to economic events, the same principle can be applied to women's rights. If we battle sexism on all fronts, everybody wins.