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Sexism is Not Just a Woman's Issue

By July 27, 2010

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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.


August 2, 2010 at 10:06 pm
(1) Susan says:

Men reap negative repurcussions from patriarchy as do women but to a lesser degree because they are the majority in a patriarchial system. Women are oppressed by patriarchy and men are the oppressor. That doesn’t mean that men don’t suffer under patriarchy – they certainly do. I strongly recommend Alan Johnson’s book – The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. He lays out wonderfully how patriarchy hurts men and how men are not, however, oppressed. It’s an easy read and well worth the time.

August 12, 2010 at 3:02 am
(2) Shreya Sen says:

I had written a blog post previously on the same topic


August 17, 2010 at 11:27 am
(3) Lewis says:

Although there are still undoubtedly walks of like where women will experience sexism, a lot of discrimination against men goes unreported, or alternatively is misrepresented in the media. Having worked in Family Law for a number of years I have seen a considerable amount of injustice against fathers. That’s not because women are worse than men at the point of family breakdown, but because the law in response to the feminist movement has changed to the point that it favours mothers much more than it does fathers.

What really makes me bristle is that for years feminists have argued that it is perfectly fair and reasonable for women to be granted half of their husband’s property on divorce, but now that women are in some relationships earning more than their husbands, they have changed tack completely and are arguing that it is harsh for “hardworking women” to be deprived of money they have earned.

I don’t disagree with some feminism in principle but I do think that some feminists tend to start out with the social preconception that women alone suffer discrimination and gender bias and from then on, things they see in the modern world confirm that belief.

I think our society needs to be a bit more objective about the gender question – many men nowadays do not perceive women as a lesser sex and despite what some people think there is no orchestrated plot by males to limit women’s rights and opportunities. I’m not saying sexism doesn’t exist but it’s far from a black and white issue in this day and age.

August 17, 2010 at 11:36 am
(4) Lewis says:

To Susan abve – “Women are oppressed by patriarchy and men are the oppressor”

As I have said, statements like that suggest that men are deliberately and consciously trying to prevent women from doing well. That is not the case. Sometimes I think certain hierarchies tend to establish themselves out of human nature – women can at times be wrongly perceived as having lesser capabilities in the workplace as they do not always come across in the same assertive manner than men do (this does not apply in all cases).

Also, I think you have to allow for the fact that men and women are drawn to different areas. Using the job market as an example again – it could be argued that more men tend to opt for leadership positions and this leads to more male politicians and managers. Conversely, in my profession (the legal profession) women now comprise 85% of new entrants which suggests that maybe women are better suited to/more attracted by law.

What I don’t agree with is positive discrimination – I can see why people vouch for it but I think this leads to equal outcomes rather than equal opportunities and is still a form of bias whether it be in the context of gender, race or anything else.

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