Does Sexism Against Men Exist?
4:00 pm, August 29th | by Amy Tennery
Professor David Benatar knows a thing about uphill battles. After all, Benatar, the head of the philosophy department at the University of Cape Town, just released a book arguing that men are victims of widespread sexism.
Yes, you read that correctly: Sexism against men. Men, who rule the boardroom and the pay gap — they’re victims of sexism? According to Benatar, yes. His new book, The Second Sexism, claims that men are routinely undermined by their gender. And while this might sound like anti-feminist mumbo-jumbo, Benatar says it’s anything but.
In a recent interview with The Jane Dough, Benatar explained why he believes men are subjected to unfair biases due to their gender — and showed why feminists better take notice.
The Jane Dough:There have been a number of commentators who’ve described your book as a “backlash” to feminism. Do you think it is? Do you think there’s still a need for feminism?
David Benatar: It would seem that those commentators have not actually read the book or, if they have read it, that they have not understood it. While I am critical of the excesses of some feminists, I do not think that my book is a backlash against feminism in general. Indeed, I take my arguments to be a logical extension of the feminist enterprise – namely equality of the sexes. Since
sex discrimination (against both men and women) still persists there is still a need for any movement genuinely interested in countering that discrimination.
TJD: Looking at the numbers in the U.S., where men still dominate political offices, the CEO ranks and other positions of power, it’s difficult to see how men are victimized by sexism. How do you reconcile this inequity with your own claims that men are hampered by sexism?
DB: The question assumes that victimization takes place only at the top. That assumption is mistaken. If one looks at the least powerful positions in society, such as the homeless, and at the victims of murder and other serious non-sexual violent crime, one finds that they are disproportionately male. In other words we need to broaden our vision about where sex discrimination takes place.
TJD: Some of the arguments that you make in your book sound eerily familiar
to some feminist causes. In particular, your claim that it’s sexist that only men are sent into combat has been a feminist cause for a while. Do you feel there’s a reciprocal effect to anti-male sexism? Does the sexism that hurts you also hurt women?
DB: Most (but not all) feminists have objected to the exclusion from combat of those women who wish to enter battle. What most feminists have ignored is the related but different manifestation of sexism – the exemption of those women who do not wish to enter the armed forces or to be sent
into combat, while men are not similarly exempt in those societies that conscript. I think that these two instances of sex discrimination are both manifestations of the same sexist ideas, but I see no reason why we should focus only on the female victims.
TJD: Guy-shaming does appear awfully prevalent these days. For example, we noticed a grim editorial in the New York Times last month that wondered whether “modern men” are “manly enough.” What in your view is the most prevalent form of anti-male sexism?
DB: Gender roles constrain both men and women but in the developed world the female gender role has eroded much more than the male one has. Society is much more tolerant of women engaging in activities previously reserved for men than it is of men who exhibit behaviour that has historically been deemed to be feminine.
There are many possible contenders for the “most prevalent form of anti-male sexism”. One of them is murder and other severe non-sexual violence. All over the world, males constitute the great majority of victims of these crimes.
TJD: Okay, one complaint I have with a lot of the “guy panic” lately: everyone seems so freaked out that women are going to college in greater numbers than men. What’s the deal with that? No one seemed to care when the ratio was the other way around.
DB: On the contrary, feminists cared a great deal when men were earning more university degrees or more graduate degrees. Now that the tables have turned most feminists are curiously quiet about this matter.
TJD: Parting thoughts: what can we do to challenge male sexism today? And what are the consequences for us if it goes unchecked?
DB: As feminists have learned, sexism is not easy to combat. Established ways of thinking and doing things are difficult to uproot. There are no easy solutions, but we might employ the same sorts of techniques as feminists have used to counter anti-female sexism. The first step, of course, is to acknowledge that there is a problem in need of fixing. If anti-male sexism is not fixed the main consequence is that a form of unfairness will persist. All women and all feminists (whether they be male or female) should be concerned about the persistence of unfairness. But there are also more personal reasons why women should be concerned about discrimination against men. First, women care about their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. Second, anti-female and anti-male discrimination have common sources. The former is unlikely to be eliminated entirely unless attention is also given to the latter.
Image via Shutterstock.