Feminists hear it all that time: What about sexism against men? It comes in different forms: “Well, you know, men face discrimination to.” “You’re not really interested in equality, since you want women to gain an advantage and don’t care that some men are disadvantaged…” and on and on in endless variations, each of which presumes, firstly, that misandry is a thing, and secondly, that the existence of disadvantages somehow undermines the need to advocate for gender equality.
This morning, a male poster on a mailing list I belong to sent out the following question:
What are your thoughts on comments on sexism that’s focused at men?
I’d like to share my response to his question, here out of its original context, as a conversation starter. I’d love your feedback:
When I see this question, my genuine response is to wonder how in the world this question could seem, to a person (not necessarily you) writing in the United States, at this moment in history, like an urgent question to ask. It is not a non-problem; but if you’re in a position to be aware of the prejudice directed against people of color, against people of non-majority ethnic or national status, against women, against LGQBT people… how does does the question of discrimination against men seem like a question that needs addressing first?
The response that comes not long after that initial incredulity is, I think, a little more useful. I’d say that the lion’s share of prejudice directed against men is part and parcel of the same cultural attitudes that manifest against women as misogyny. (I could explain what I mean, if you don’t see my point.)
This entanglement is an issue I think of a lot of critics of feminism would be helped by understanding. When you raise half your society to behave as if the other half is enfeebled by lesser intelligence, crippled by irrationality and sentimentality, and designed to use deceit and wiles to capture a spouse’s attention, virility, and well-being for their own personal benefit — that’s a corruption that poisons everyone’s water.
In other words: the misandry that I see in the world seems mostly to be just another expression of misogyny. Which means that the response you sometimes see to misandry — which is itself a reactionary, defensive, aggressively anti-feminist backlash — has the ironic effect of strengthening the cultural conditions that foster that particular form of prejudice.
Feminists are the best advocates I know for men’s rights, though I know many people identifying as MRAs would not agree.
Ugh, it’s hard to look at my “low-stakes” writing later on. Got to learn the power of concision! Less is more, Zak.
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And here’s a response to the same question sent out by another (female-identifying) member of the list:
Sexism directed at men is like racism directed at white people: it may exist, but because white people and men occupy positions of power in society, they suffer many fewer disadvantages due to prejudice than do members of minority groups.
Additionally, I feel that a lot of what men perceive as “sexism” against them is really just the problems of the patriarchy seen from a male perspective. For example, women are often granted custody of children in a divorce, rather than men. This is because of the patriarchal view that women are more ‘nurturing’ and are somehow natural caregivers. That stereotype hurts women by holding us back from obtaining high-level jobs due to widespread prejudicial worry that we might quit or take time off to go have babies.
That stereotype ALSO hurts men by making it more difficult for them to be equal participants in raising their children if they separate from their partners. It’s the same problematic system hurting everyone, really. This concept is sometimes referred to as the “kyriarchy.” That is, all of the current systems of power are designed to keep everyone in their place, and people are raised to believe that some places are better than others. Men are raised to believe that women should be the ones raising children, so they may silence their own desires for parenthood, or may spend more time toiling away at work because they think that the best way to be a ‘provider’ is to make money. That belief hurts women by holding them back at work, or by causing people to have negative views of women without children. But it hurts men by brainwashing them into having particular desires or suppressing desires, too.
TL;DR, if you want less sexism against men, be a feminist.
So, what do you think? Did our replies to the question make the most out of a teachable moment? How would you have responded?