An opinion piece by Charlotte Audley-Coote.
Whenever discussing the purpose of feminism with people I usually list some problems which effect women within Australia. When I do this, I’m often met with the exclamation that “actually, men have problems too you know, so really, you’re the sexist!” Usually a defiant look and smirk ensues as if someone has ‘caught me out’ on my secret radical feminist agenda. I’m not entirely sure what they think I’m hoping for, although I guess equality is a pretty crazy idea. It seems to me that words such as ‘discrimination’, ‘prejudice’, ‘oppression’, ‘sexism’ (along with other isms) have been used in a way that leaves them interchangeable, even though this creates a huge problem when trying to break down the way different people are affected by a social system. You can’t slap on a one-word-bandaid to describe the massive spectrum of hurtful experiences. Not only will it have a generalising effect on something which should be discussed in detail, but it will also distort the role power/domination plays within patriarchal culture, when it is that specifically which needs attention to properly understand how oppression works. Although this silencing effect might be desirable to some, these semantic inaccuracies can only help fuel the fire that hopes to dismantle feminism as a faux cause.
When we talk of experiencing prejudice, we can safely use it in a way to cover most people’s experience of someone having preconceived notions about you according to some characteristic (skin colour, sexuality etc) before actually knowing you. We can speak of discrimination when someone acts on that prejudice, when someone experiences negative behaviour towards them which is based on such ignorance. When we move onto words such as sexism and oppression, a sweeping effect can no longer be accurate (vocab-lesson over). Now, I often get told that stereotypes of men or the behaviour expected from them can be described as reverse-sexism. For example:
- Men being thought of as unmanly or rude if they don’t pay on a date or open a door
- Having specific women’s groups in government or ‘women’s rights’ organisations
- Male sexuality viewed as uncontrollable and compulsive, depicting men as ‘wild beasts’
Although these issues hurt men, they are not oppressed by them. Being oppressed depends on your personal power being taken away by the acceptance and affirmation of a system which inflicts mistreatment on a group. From laws to social beliefs, oppression serves to justify this treatment and invalidate the experiences of people who are oppressed. Even though the issues which affect men are important, what is vital to note is that despite these experiences, men can feel safe in knowing that their personal power will remain intact.
- This stereotype (aka: benevolent sexism) puts women on a pedestal as ‘delicate’ and in need of support. It empowers men to be independent (powerful) while it enforces the idea that women should be dependant (not so powerful).
- Although men may feel that they’re missing out by not having a special ‘men’s rights group’ (although there are some scary ones lurking out there), it should be remembered that they already have this kind of representation…. The entire government!
- Being teased about not being sexual enough can be embarrassing, I’m sure. However, what his sad expectation really does is enforces the notion that women are the ‘gate keepers’ of sexuality and that because men simply can’t help themselves, it is up to women to make sure they remain safe from unwanted advances, which is an extremely dangerous notion.
There are many more examples, but what these few really illustrate is that the system wants, expects, affirms and praises men for being in power of their financial independence, in power of the legal system and makes it acceptable to overpower women’s bodies. The system hurts, degrades and scorns women for being successful, for expecting equal government representation/consideration, and enforces the idea in which women are responsible for the experience of sexual assault (not deserving to be safe ¾ now that’s pretty disempowering). So, reverse-sexism doesn’t exist because men cannot experience oppression. What does exist is a sexist society which oppresses women that can also have a negative effect on men.
The real red-flag with these attitudes, I think, is that they perpetuate the ideals which reverse-sexism spokespeople are apparently angry about. It invalidates women’s experiences by forcing them to take gender out of the picture, even though that is central to the problem. Women experience their lives differently because they are women, and there should be space for them to speak about how this has affected them without being criticised for neglecting men’s problems. Because patriarchy promotes male domination in almost every (mostly powerful) societal facet, the idea of women commanding their own domain of experiencing oppression really goes against the grain, especially as this notion can be extremely powerful! People fighting to insert men as victims of sexism are perpetrators of sexism itself, as insisting that men dominate every part of society only serves to sustain patriarchy.
~ Charlotte Audley-Coote