I keep having this conversation with people:
There is no such thing as sexism against men. There is no such thing as racism against white people. Racism, sexism, and classism are INSTITUTIONAL and SYSTEMATIC forms of discrimination on the basis of race, gender and class. People of color, women, and the lower class do not have the power to institutionally and systematically discriminate against you. If you are slighted, I promise you, 100%, that it is not because you are a white male.
That being said, we had an interesting discussion in my feminist theory class today about whether sexism against men was possible. One of my classmates argued that sexism is based on gender stereotypes, and there are indeed certain expectations of masculinity that we impose on men, and these can be just as restricting as those imposed on women. We expect them to be macho, for once, and, as my professor put it, we have this sense that they are “rapacious capitalist pigs”.
Well, okay, I agree and disagree. When men behave in rapacious capitalist ways, having sex left and right and drinking everything you put in front of them, the adage is that “boys will be boys.” This is what people say when they hear about sexual assaults at college or whatever. As Maggie Thatcher said, “Boys will be boys, and girls should say no.” Poor behavior on men’s parts are often excused and even expected. It’s when you DON’T behave like a rapacious capitalist pig that men seem to expect a prize or something. That’s why you have the whole “nice guy” syndrome, where guys think that, just because they’re not abusive and they’ve ostensibly treated a woman like a fellow human being, they deserve sexual compensation. Or they think that being decent to women is something we punish with “the friend zone.” I saw this wonderful image of Morpheus in his glasses going, “What if I told you women are not machines that, when you put kindness coins in, sex comes out?” The point is, men justify and excuse their bad behavior, and feel entitled to women’s bodies.
So what about men who aren’t macho? What about gay men, or simply men who are metrosexual or effeminate? I’d argue that when men are penalized for behaving too much like women, this is not sexism against men: this is sexism against women. If you think about the worst things that you can call a guy, or even little boys as they’re growing up, they are all things like, “Don’t be a pussy, don’t be a sissy, don’t be a little girl.” The worst insult to a man is being likened to a woman. Now who does that actually insult, huh? I defend your right to be emotional, enjoy chick flicks, wear makeup, and listen to Glee. I reject your notion that these are traits that need defending in the first place, even if you simultaneously have a penis.
Just because there is no sexism against men does not mean women can not be sexist. They certainly can be sexist, just not against men. Until women own more than 1% of the world’s property, we can’t be sexist against men. Unfortunately, with things like slut shaming and aligning themselves as ‘bros’, women can effectively be sexist against other women. Whenever a woman tries to set herself apart from “most women” for being less emotional, less preoccupied with clothing/gossip/Adele, being physically stronger or smarter, more virginal or more sexually active, she is degrading the rest of her sex. She is saying, “Look at me, I’m not like other girls, I pride myself on being things that my gender is not.” She is Taylor Swift being a special snowflake, going, “She wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts, she’s cheer captain, and I’m on the bleachers…and she’s a slut so you belong with me.” By taking a positive trait about herself and turning it into a point of difference, rather than something that all women can be, she is reinforcing sexist stereotypes like the worst of men.
The people I was having this conversation with made the argument that there are certain radical feminists who hate men and “think penises are the devil.” I’m 100% sure that they are not as numerous, not as loud, nor taken as seriously as men who hate women, who rape or joke about rape, demand that we stay in the kitchen, and order us to make sandwiches. I am 100% sure that if you were to post a man-hating image on the internet, you would get an overwhelmingly negative response and get called a “feminazi” and all sorts of other things, but if you were to post a woman-hating image on the internet — what’s that? People post women hating images all the time? And people think they’re funny and they get thousands of likes?
So this is the disadvantage of being a man. Even if you have never discriminated against a woman in your life, even if you have never once said anything misogynistic and you have only ever been respectful, you must recognize that this discrimination exists and you are a part of it. You have privilege. You don’t need to be afraid when you walk home alone at night. You don’t need to worry about getting raped when you go out in attractive clothing. When you make a mistake, you don’t need to worry that it might reflect badly on your entire sex. You don’t feel violated when people look and make comments at your body.
You have privilege.
And in all sincerity, I understand how hard that must be. You never asked for privilege, you were just born with it. It’s not your fault. You feel guilty, you do. You’d rather be a victim than an oppressor. You’d rather be David than Goliath. But short of getting a sex change, there’s nothing you can do about it, and you just have to go about the rest of your life with the knowledge that there are certain places you can go, certain things you can do and say, certain advantages you can expect, all because of that lovely organ dangling between your legs. How terrible is that?
But don’t worry, don’t give up yet. Did you know that, as a man, you can be a feminist too? That feminism isn’t some sort of occult club where we do vagina checks before we let you in? Did you know all it takes to be a feminist, is to want equality for all people, regardless of what genitalia they have? It’s that easy. All you have to do is resist your privilege, to stand up against ignorance when you see it, and to never perpetuate the inequalities that exist. You have to be constantly vigilant, always conscientious of the effect you have on people, and it will be exhausting. And sometimes you will mess up. You’ll laugh at that off-color joke, you’ll stare at that woman who didn’t asked to be stared at, you’ll get promoted over a woman who was just as competent. But it’s okay! Yes, you are responsible, but you didn’t create society the way it is. All you have to do is pick yourself up again, maybe let a woman know how much you appreciate and respect her strength and dignity, and move on.
And never complain about sexism against men, ever.