by Lottie Kent
1. Attitudes or behaviour based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles.
2. Discrimination or devaluation based on a person's sex, as in restricted job opportunities; especially, such discrimination directed against women.
This is why philosopher and writer Professor David Benatar’s new book, ‘The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys’ has been the subject of recent controversy: it argues that, in modern society, males are being discriminated against just as much females and that, furthermore, this discrimination is being ignored by most of us. Benatar feels the blame falls particularly on those whom he identifies as ‘partisan feminists:’ feminists who only care about women’s rights, not equality.
Many fiery-tongued females were quick to counter such a notion, expressing a view that was perfectly put into words by Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore, and that many of us hold in regard to sexism against males: ‘the Second Sexism is just victim-envy.’ Such discrimination is almost laughable, yet Benatar’s polemic is that this is the crucial problem – we’ve watched women struggling so hard and for so long to achieve seemingly impossible victories, we’ve forgotten prejudice can happen against men too.
Some of the evidence Benatar gives for this argument includes the issue of military conscription – it is virtually unheard of for women to be conscripted into national armed forces, whilst for men this is very common. Benatar also states “men are… more often the target of aggression and violence of a non-sexual kind… In experimental studies, they’ve found that both males and females are more likely to inflict violence on males than on females. There are less inhibitions about inflicting violence on males.” I wondered, when I read this, whether I would be alone in thinking either I was missing something or this was evidently because men commit the majority of crimes.
Benatar goes further.He says there were other spheres in which men got sacrificed and women got protected – such as in the old adage of ‘Women and children first’, when it comes to shipwreck etiquette, which he says is “inappropriate”. Yes, ‘inappropriate’ is probably the right word here. In the world we live in today, to claim shipwreck etiquette to be evidence for sexism against males is to clutch at frail straws. To claim this is to attempt to disparage the fact that, right now, in terribly poor countries, girls are left to die in starve and die in famines whilst the last food is given to baby boys, and in terribly rich ones, political battles rage over whether exploiting women's bodies should be allowed in the media. I would not call these issues ‘inappropriate,’ I would call them outrageous.
Benatar even had the nerve to say, in an interview with The Observer, “It’s true that in the developed world the majority of economic and political roles are occupied by males. But if you look at the bottom – for example, the prison population, the homeless population, or the number of people dropping out of school – that is overwhelmingly male. You tend to find more men at the very top but also at the very bottom.” In his book he backs this up with the statistic that ‘of the 25 lowest-ranked professions in the USA, e.g. collecting rubbish, 24 are filled by a majority of male employees’. If prostitution is the last low-ranking profession (I am almost certain it is,) I can say with some confidence that this industry is to a far, far greater extent mistreating, exploiting and disrespectful towards its employees than any of the other 24. With further regard to employment and sexism, Benatar seems particularly averse to a certain statistic that, for me, whether he’d label me a ‘partisan feminist’ or not, defines the system in which we must work today: taken on average, women do 66% of the world’s work in exchange for 10% of its income, and only own 1% of its property.
Moreover, in terms of principles, the idea that men are now not only being discriminated against by their former victims, but also that this ‘sexism’, as opposed to that against women and girls, is deemed ‘more acceptable’ by society, is ridiculous. Benatar says ‘if women are sex objects, men are success objects.’ This is true, yet, though this male ideal is a deeply-embedded standard within our culture, spanning millennia of history in which power, strength and success are presented as inherent to the role of the man, such an ideal comes not from centuries of oppression from women and a gender paradigm they have have fiercely imposed upon men. No. This so-called ‘Second Sexism’ against males has in fact sprung from the stock of their own cultural oppression over the ‘Second Sex’, and the paradigm men created for women: weakness, inferiority to men, inability to labour, less intelligence and the refusal of a choice - just to name a few. If women were expected to be all of the above, then surely it is intrinsic that men would have had to satisfy these roles that women supposedly could not.
Has Benatar concluded, therefore, that throughout the centuries of this oppression, women had both the desire and the freedom to create their own societal ideal for men, and that they were just waiting for the chains of enforced femininity to be broken in order to have their ‘revenge;’ to give back and inflict this standard?
In my opinion, yes, men and boys do receive discriminatory treatment and do have to live up to certain ideals, as women do – I cannot deny that there is truth in Benatar’s arguments – but this discrimination isn’t sexism. Women haven’t created these ideals and the pressure placed upon males to achieve them, they’ve come as a result of a system dominated by males that hence assumes all males must reach these expectations, or they are a failure. The idea of sexism against men comes because women perpetuate such pressure by breaking into this system, by taking male jobs and roles and, therefore, creating more competition between males to succeed. When feminists fought to open doors for women, they never intended to close any for men. Benatar and others now feeling the strain and ‘disadvantages’ of equality between the sexes, missing the days when being successful was alien to females, should look further than to place the blame upon women because it is easy. They should look back, deep into the foundations of self-dictated male ideology, within their own masculine culture in order to seek the answer. In reality, however, we do not need to salvage male pride by taking action against this ‘sexism’ – in the words of Suzanne Moore, affirmative action for men already exists. It’s the status quo.