One of the main arguments I hear against feminism is that it promotes reverse sexism or that this whole movement or idea is “sexist towards men”. Now, these arguments come from people who do not understand how oppression works and from people who believe that feminism is about ‘hating men’. Let me begin by saying that reverse sexism does not and cannot exist.
I will start by explaining the concept of systematic oppression. On a very basic and simple level, we can state that systemic oppression is when society has normalized and engages in, over a long period of time, unjust treatment towards a specific person or group based on gender, sex, race, class, caste, ability and sexual orientation.
It is called systematic or institutionalized because it’s methodical. It is based on a system of societal norms, functions, and activities, coming together to oppress one whole social group. Institutional oppression happens when laws, customs and practices cause inequality based on social groups.
Also, oppression flows in one direction only, from the oppressor to the oppressed. It is about the oppressor being in a great social power than the oppressed. Women are not in a socially higher position than men, and hence, it not possible for women to oppress men. As long as men are the dominant group, they can’t be victims of sexism.
Many people give the dictionary definition of sexism which goes like, “discrimination on the basis of one’s sex”. This simply implies that both men and women can be sexist towards each other. What we don’t seem to realize is that the complex concept of female oppression and sexism cannot be discussed in one sentence.
oppression flows in one direction only, from the oppressor to the oppressed.
Women can, as Melissa A. Fabello writes in her essay, Why Reverse Oppression Simply Cannot Exist, make stereotypical assumptions about men, they can be prejudiced towards men, they can discriminate against men based on those prejudices. But women simply cannot be sexist towards men. Their assumptions or prejudices about men do not give them a higher social position and nor is it based on years of oppression.
This does not mean that prejudice or discrimination against men is morally correct or justified. Nor is it a solution to sexism. However, the concept of sexism is based on the fact that there exists a diverse social arrangement that privileges men over women and enables their automatic access to intellectual, material and spiritual resources. In simple words, these basic resources are something women have to fight for, whereas, they are more or less given to men.
Related to this is another concept that sexism benefits men. The whole concept is about men having it ‘easier’ (although that is the wrong use words). Garda Lerner in her study The Creation of Patriarchy has argued that patriarchal society was an important precondition of slavery.
Humans first introduced permanent inequalities in their society by establishing unequal gender relations. The subjugation of women provided the model for subjugating fellow human beings. Now, these permanent inequalities were established to gain control over another social class or group so that the group or class that is acting as the oppressor can benefit from it. That is the whole point of oppression.
This is one of the fundamental reason that why women cannot be “sexist towards men”. Keeping in mind all the prejudiced notions that women have about men, women do not benefit from these notions. They do not put women on a higher social pedestal than men. Women do not get the upper hand while it comes to obtaining material or intellectual dominance or superiority in society.
However, the whole rejection of reverse sexism does not mean that men are not victims of sexism or patriarchy. We all are. There are unfair expectations and pressures on men in our society as a result of patriarchy.
It is a well-established fact that not all men are powerful or oppressive in a patriarchal society – men from non-dominant communities, gay men, men who are seen as ‘feminine’, and men who covet and desire femininity. This also encompasses the reality that the institution of sexism has constructed a standard of what ‘masculanity’ is and men who do not come under this narrow definition of it are discriminated against.
In spite of all this, men are not culturally, politically, socially or economically oppressed by women. The fact remains that all men can and do lay claims to resources and power far more easily than the women in their society or communities.
rejection of reverse sexism does not mean that men are not victims of sexism or patriarchy.
For example, gay men are highly discriminated against and looked down upon. But as long as they do not defiantly display their sexuality, they continue to enjoy access to masculine and public spheres of influence and power. On the other hand, lesbians are oppressed not only because of their sexuality but also because of their gender. Here oppression works on two different levels.
One last argument that people give against feminism is that if doesn’t promote misandry than why is it called ‘feminsim’ and not just simply ‘equality’? Obviously, equality is important and as human beings, everyone deserves it.
However, there are particular things that happen to me because I am a woman, not because I am a human being. By calling it a movement for equality, we are disregarding the struggles that women face on a day to day basis, because of their gender only and no other factor.
This does not imply that other factors of oppression and discrimination are not important, but they are not gender specific. Feminism highlights the basic idea behind the struggle for women’s rights, as it acknowledges the gender-based prejudices that exist in our society.
In conclusion, I will like to add that sexism is when a certain gender or sex is systematically oppressed and discriminated against to the point that the oppressors have a dominant position in society, from where they can handle and manipulate the resources present in society. Hence, the notion of reverse sexism cannot exist in society.
Featured Image Credit: Art by Tatsuya Ishida (via Feminist Current)