Feminist Friday: Reverse Sexism

I’ve been meaning to write a Feminist Friday post for a while.

Certainly I have lots of feminist things to say: as a woman, first and foremost, but also as a mother, as a married woman (that I chose to get married and took my husband’s name – for all sorts of not very interesting reasons, I might add – is about a week’s worth posts on its own)… I could write a few essays.

Maybe that’s why I don’t post about it that often; because there’s so much to say I might NEVER STOP. Also, I do write a lot of things for BitchBuzz on that theme, like this piece on the feminist nightmare of children’s TV shows. Or maybe it’s because I feel like sticking my head above the feminist parapet can sometimes be unsafe, and that makes me less active than I’d like to be. Certainly I’ve read enough utterly terrifying and distressing posts about what outspoken feminists are subject to online to make me shy away from stating my feelings about emotive subjects publicly too often.

I do, though, like the Feminist Friday prompt, which helps consolidate my thoughts on a single topic. This week it’s ‘reverse sexism’.

Let me start by defining the term, because on the surface it makes no sense. I don’t think ‘sexism’ (unlike ‘misogyny’) denotes lesser treatment of women per se. If you’re treating a man badly because of his sex or perceived gender, it’s just plain sexism. Nothing reverse about it.

But it’s telling that we think of sexism as just applying to women, isn’t it? It’s telling that we basically know that misogyny is far more common than misandry (a term that, for the record, does not mean the opposite of misogyny; the opposite of misogyny is not hating women). When we say that it’s ‘reverse sexism’, we’re already admitting that we believe there is a privilege imbalance, and that men are so rarely treated badly – as a group, not individually – by society that we even need to qualify the word ‘sexism’ in order to apply it to them.

So what do I think when men are treated badly, or pointlessly exluded or villified? Well, I think it sucks. Because I think it sucks when anyone is treated badly for a stupid reason, particularly something as uncontrollable as an accident of birth. I think it’s bad for men, and I think it doesn’t help women in the slightest either. In fact, I’d argue, most cases of sexism towards men are invariably sexist towards women as well (perhaps because thinking of people as biological sex or percieved gender first and people second is never going to end well).

There seems to be a slight tendency among some women to think it’s funny when the sexist lens is turned on men, or think it’s somehow levelling the playing field. Depicting a man as a bumbling, inept oaf in an ad? Drooling over half-naked pictures of a footballer or movie star? Infantilisation and objectification ftw? Erm, no. And might I just say that ‘Darren’, a commenter on the piece I just linked to explaining my dislike of lazy man-bashing, is possibly the best proof I have that this definitely affects women as much as men; see his pearl of wisdom on housework.

Not only do two wrongs definitely not make a right, but by doing these things we are not bringing things down to an equal footing. We’re merely providing approval for more ridiculous patriarchal nonsense.

For example, when we objectify a famous man, we’re saying it’s okay to use women’s bodies to sell things because we’re using men’s bodies too, rather than asking ourselves if it’s really okay to mindlessly use people’s bodies that way at all.

And when men are portrayed as domestically useless, we’re underpinning the ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’ trope that insists women can’t have it ‘all’ where ‘all’ is never defined for men. Despite women storming into the ranks of the working world, they still do more than their fair share of domestic labour, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a woman expressing discomfort with the idea of a man getting involved in that domain at home, even though she’s working as many hours out of the home as he is.*  Now, of course for men there’s a payoff into being made to look like idiots here, which is that they don’t have to do housework. So what starts out looking like sexism against them still turns out to hand power over to men. And the worst part is when women start internalising it all, believing that it’s biologically determined that she shalt never fix the drippy tap and he shalt never change a nappy.

I will leave the rant about the limits of biological determinism is for another day (it’s been put much better by Dr. Lise Eliot and Natasha Walter, among others, anyway).

So, maybe the reason why we think of it as ‘reverse’ sexism is just that. That even when we’re putting men down, we still seem to shove women even further down the ladder of equality and respect.

I’d like to make a brief side-note about ‘whatabouttehmenz‘. If you’ve not come across that concept before, in a nutshell, it’s when you try to discuss an issue, in a feminist space, that disproportionately affects women but someone pops up to insist you’re leaving men out. It’s related to the argument that says women-only spaces are sexist.

The thing is, that when those things happen to men they are not less important, or serious or tragic. It’s just that sometimes the same issue can affect different genders in different ways, not because those genders are pre-determined by biological sex, but because of varied upbringing. There might also be cultural reasons why those things happen that differ depending on the group you’re in. So sometimes it can be right and not discriminatory in the negative sense to segregate for the purpose of tackling a major issue. That doesn’t stop men from gathering together themselves and deserving the same respect and attention paid to their issues. And of course, men only spaces are not automatically misogynist.

Naturally, there are many cases when there is no need to separate and standing together is both appropriate and welcomed.

So, there you are. My first Feminist Friday post. It might or might not become a regular occurrence; we shall see.

*Not me. If anything the housework duties are weighted in my favour, and I need to pull my weight more, but that’s not because I think it’s ‘man’s work’ or beneath me or because my husband thinks I’m too stupid to do it, it’s because poo-filled nappies are better avoided if you can possibly get away with it.

8 responses to “Feminist Friday: Reverse Sexism

  1. I completely agree that in most cases of sexism towards men are invariably sexist towards women as well! Thanks so much for taking part and be sure to grab the badge and add it to your post so others can link up!

  2. Great post and some very good points made. It is not fair when men aren’t treated equally, I find especially with children it’s always the mother who is favoured. x

    • alexandragoldstein

      Thank you! Again, in the example you give – which I totally agree is one of the worst – it works out worse for women again as they end up with yet more on their plates!

      And I totally agree; it’s the height of ridiculousness to claim that men can’t be primary caregivers just because they’re not the ones who pop ‘em out (and talk about effectively erasing adoptive parents!). I frequently think my husband is actually a better parent than I am!

  3. Really great post. It’s interesting that I’ve never heard the term misandry before – quite telling that!

    • alexandragoldstein

      It’s not a word I’m dead keen on, as I think it’s a bit of a men’s rights red herring much of the time, but yes, I know what you mean!

      Thank you!

  4. I’ll tell you a curious story…

    Another female friend of mine recently started telling me to stop referring to Woman X (whomever it was I was ranting about in the papers that day) as “a bitch” or “a c—“. She said gender-specific cursing was sexist.

    Naturally, I replied “don’t be a silly cow”. Ok, I didn’t, but anyway…

    So I decided to try a little test.

    For a few hours I would occasionally use “prick”, “knob”, “dickhead” about Man X in the papers to see if it would solicit a response. None.

    I don’t know what this tells us other than that women are more sensitive to women being called “bitches” than they are to men being called “knobs”.

    Personally, I prefer women running things than men running them, but I found this little experience quite curious.

    People of England, YOU decide.

    • alexandragoldstein

      I don’t think gender specific cursing is sexist, and you know perfectly well I’ll happily use anything that sounds entertainingly rude enough! I think the sexist bit – or at least misogynist bit – is that all curses related to women’s genitalia, say, are more offensive, no matter who they’re applied to, than the equivalent about men. Except perhaps ‘fanny’. Or if not so offensive, they are applied to men to make them look weak and ridiculous (like women, obvs).

      If you accept that women are more sensitive to these things than men are (and I don’t think that’s necessarily a given), perhaps it’s for the reason that a person with disabilities is more likely to wince at the word ‘lame’ or ‘retard’. (Both make me clench, for the record.) When you’ve been in the firing line for long enough, it gets harder to have a sense of humour about it. And then you get called a humourless feminist! Joy.

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