Why We Should Stop Talking About Anti-Male Sexism.
Suffering From Sexism Doesn’t Make You its Target — A Comprehensive Guide
I’ve always been amazed by men who aren’t able to stop themselves from blurting out “But in some cases, men have it worse!” when talking about sexism and inequality. I mean, they do get to be acknowledged as human beings and not as a vagina with (sometimes useful) attachments.
However, this article is not about that. No, this article is about telling them, “You’re absolutely right. But let’s get into that if you don’t mind.”
Quick side note: A drinking game (which gives you random challenges) once instructed me to list every advantage there was to ‘being a woman’. First one unable to come up with anything new loses. The friend playing with me was a fellow feminist. It was both hilarious and ideological torture.
But let’s focus on men’s self-reported issues. When coming up with examples, I’m sorry to say they generally aren’t very creative. Let’s see the ones I’ve heard most often, in order of frequency.
- Men are expected to offer women drinks or food.
- Men are expected to make the first move.
- Men sometimes have to pay full price to get into clubs which are free for women or apply discounts for them.
- Men suffer from a lot of pressure to be “masculine”. (Crying, being emotional, showing vulnerability or weakness is socially punished.)
- Men don’t have as much support dealing with sexual or domestic abuse, or with men’s issues in general.
- Men have difficulty getting custody of their children.
Now I wouldn’t want to stop there, cause I know there are more. Those are the ones I have heard about most often. Notice how the most prevalent are related to dating? This is a very sensitive area for men. It’s also the most salient when heterosexuals talk about gender inequality. That’s because, well, it regards men and women’s relationships directly.
Anyway, I decided to also look on the Internet (Quora) to draw a better picture. I selected answers based on two factors. First, their relevance relating to sexist stereotypes & gender roles. Second, my own perceptions of whether they sound realistic. I’ll make my points known about them in different categories later in the article.
Now, to the point. Anti-male sexism (or sexism against men) doesn’t exist. Yes, I did list blatant examples of inequality that put men at a disadvantage right above. More are coming. Yes, I do believe for most they are serious problems that should be dealt with, and that we should definitely talk about them. Yes, I do support anyone’s efforts to resolve those issues. As long as they do so in respect of women’s rights and without harassing feminists.
And yet, sexism is not directed against men. At worst, men are sexism’s collateral damage.
I know, it’s difficult thinking it’s not really about men — it isn’t always. It doesn’t make their experience any less difficult, or their pain any less worthy. But the sexism they suffer from is the same sexism we suffer from. It’s not a different sexism. It’s the same old patriarchy. And it’s destined to hurt us. It’s important to point this out. Intention matters, and context matters.
Women are discriminated against using a complex system (sexism, patriarchy). That system makes them suffer from disadvantages in every sphere of their lives. And that’s whatever they do, however well they might succeed in conforming to gender norms. They will never escape sexism. At most, let’s say there was such a thing as the epitome of the perfect woman, and one could reach it. She’d still suffer from sexism because she still would not be a man.
Now men can also suffer from discrimination because of that same system of sexism and patriarchy. That’s when one of two things happen. Either they don’t conform to gender norms of dominant masculinity. Or (anti-female) sexism comes back to bite them in specific areas. Again, I’m still not minimising the issue, just giving it context.
I’ll develop those points in examples below. This is my first attempt to make that point in (I hope) a clear and comprehensive manner.
For each theme, I’ll first break down general complaints about how men are at a disadvantage. I’ll sometimes make a few comments about the context or my opinion. Finally, I’ll examine which components of sexism or patriarchy are responsible.
1. GENDER CONFORMITY
This part is the widest because it addresses the first reason I gave for men suffering from sexism. Them not conforming to gender norms. So it will touch anything that relates to that. I’d like to first address the problem in general and then go on to specific situations.
“Men suffer from a lot of pressure to be ‘masculine’. Crying, being emotional, showing vulnerability or weakness is socially punished.”
That’s the general complaint. I hinted at that earlier, but women also suffer from not conforming to gender norms. The main difference is, they suffer from the biggest double-standard of all. Women, of course, are asked to conform to social norms about femininity. Yet because masculine norms are valued higher by society, they also need to conform to norms about masculinity. They will often receive pressure to be masculine (“don’t be such a girl” is something girls will hear too). And they can suffer social consequences for crying, being emotional, or being vulnerable. Or even suffer those consequences just because people will expect them to be. They will also be punished if too masculine. Women simply can’t win that game.
In contrast, men will never be punished for conforming to masculinity standards. Let’s say a man generally conforms to dominant forms of masculinity in the social groups he belongs to. He won’t suffer because of sexist gender norms.
If he doesn’t conform and shows too much vulnerability… Well, you know the answer to that. But why is it still anti-female sexism? Because they’re being punished for acting the way women are believed to act. So, it’s not maleness or masculinity that’s attacked. It’s still femininity.
“Men suffer more judgement for cross-dressing. They have less acceptable dressing options.”
What I said above applies here too. A man looking, dressing, acting feminine will suffer more judgement. That’s because being feminine is considered less worthy. Women can dress like men because, well, why wouldn’t you want to look like men, or to be like men? Men can’t dress like women (according to social norms) because why would you want to look like a woman? Women are scum.
“Men don’t have as much support when sexually or domestically abused, or when suffering about men’s issues in general.”
This is a bit more specific, but I’m pretty sure it’s related. Norms of masculinity include not appearing vulnerable, or dominating women. Those can hinder men’s ability to talk about those issues even more than it does for women. It goes against their conception of maleness to acknowledge themselves as victims. Moreover, starting initiatives to correct those issues, or advocating for them goes even further. It means acknowledging that weakness in public spaces. So again, that’s because gender norms define vulnerability as a feminine trait.
“Men are more prone to suicide.”
Now suicide is something people do for so many reasons, most of them unrelated to gender. But men consistently do it more than women, so gender roles have to play into it in a significant amount of cases. I have no science-backed reason to explain why. I’d say again, it’s related to men’s hindered ability to talk about their issues with others, or to show their vulnerabilities. Which leads to greater mental issues and increased feelings of loneliness. And that can lead to suicide.
Men’s health issues aren’t prioritised.
I’m not sure that’s true in general seeing how period pain is barely researched. (Even though a fourth or a third of women suffer from it every month.) But I read prostate cancer gets a lot less funding than breast cancer for the same rates in men and women. I’m not sure why, but I’m getting the feeling it also has to do with the same issues. Mens’ antagonistic relationship to vulnerability for one. And their difficulty advocating for their rights when they might appear weakened.
If you do know why and it has nothing to do with that, I apologise and would love to correct my point and place it elsewhere in the article.
2. DATING AND SEDUCTION
“Men are expected to offer women drinks or food.”
“Men sometimes have to pay full price to get into clubs which are free for women, or apply discounts for them.”
I do think if you’re bothered by having to pay for drinks or food you’d do better not to go after women who expect you to. I know lots of women (myself included) who’d rather split, either on the spot or by alternating.
Now, let’s get into the subject matter. A few years ago, I was following a MOOC about Google and the web. This sentence (or a similar one) caught my attention and I never forgot it. If a product or service is free, then that product or service is you. In this context, of course, it was about personal user data, but I immediately thought of it in relation to this.
When women don’t pay for drinks, or pay less for ladies night, or get to enter clubs for free, it’s because of an underlying economic model. Women are the product or service, and men are the clients they’re being sold to.
If you think that doesn’t come with pitfalls, think again. It does. Something is always expected in return.
“Men are expected to make the first move.”
That’s because of obvious sexist reasons. Women aren’t supposed to have sexual agency. We are the prize to be won after many hardships. We are to be virtuous and only give ourselves to men deserving enough. If you think this sounds like it came from a badly-written Jane Austen-era novel, well, of course, things have changed since then. But the same logic remains. Think about chivalry. Think about female purity and the myth of virginity. Think about the taboo of female masturbation. Think about sexual shaming. This is another one of the big double-standards. Men would like women to be forward and assertive, but if they are, they’ll often be considered promiscuous. And that can lead to insult, humiliation, violence.
Also, a lot of women don’t make the first move because they don’t need to. I’ve made the first move often enough when I was pretty confident about my chances. Although I don’t remember it being that often in big-picture terms. That’s because frequently men went ahead before I did. It’s a vicious circle. The more you do it, the less we need to, the less we do it, the more you need to.
“Men are deemed more physically unattractive by women than the opposite.”
I’m not sure about the reality of this. But, seeing how I’m heterosexual yet find women more beautiful than men, I’ll go for it. By that, I mean according to my interpretation of beauty standards, not my sex drive.
Beauty and femininity have long been linked. For women, being beautiful is a necessity. That’s partly because according to gender roles, an important goal in a woman’s life is to find a husband. This is a sign of success, especially when you marry up (which relates to the next problem). And to marry up, you have to look the part. Also, women are way more sexualised than men. The woman's body is an endless source of marketing material. It sells everything from deodorants and bedding, to cars or laundry detergent.
Now it also means that women will be judged by their looks much more than men. And they will have more of a challenge being taken seriously about anything else. They’re going to have to deal with being objectified in every area of their life. Finally, their most desirable asset (beauty) is temporary. All of which doesn’t apply to men.
“Men who lack resources have a lot of trouble finding dating partners.”
The income factor. Well, the unprivileged situation of men at the bottom of the success ladder is matched by the same situation for women at the top. I wouldn’t say it’s inequality per se. However, those men have neither financial nor romantic success. So let’s talk about it briefly.
The explanation is simple and relates to a lot of other sexist stuff already mentioned. Women are a product or service you pay for. It’s considered successful for women to marry up. But those are two-way relationships. Men are also very fine marrying down. In relationships, as in life, men tend to like keeping the upper hand.
“Men can’t use seduction to get out of traffic tickets.”
This also works with anything along the lines of “to get better grades”, “to get hired” etc. Well, first thing: who says they can’t? Now, of course, even I’ll admit it’s less likely to happen or to work, so I’ll entertain this thought too. But I do believe it’s possible and it happens.
About women now. Above all, it’s a huge risk for any woman to try this. You have to trust, first, that the person in front of you is going to be attracted to you enough for it to work. Second, that they aren’t honest enough to report your behaviour. But third, that they’re not enough of an asshole to leverage you into sexual favours. That’s a very narrow window.
It’s a misconception that this is very common because it makes great anecdotes. And it’s also a misconception women pay for in everyday situations. They’ll often be accused of ‘using their sexuality’. When have you ever heard that line about a man? They’ll also often be suspected of having arrived to the top by using those methods. Only because men will find them fuckable enough to believe they could have.
Why the gender disparity, though? If it works better for women, it’s because it plays into the “women need to be saved by men” trope. This severely hinders women’s general agency in their day-to-day lives. It also works hand-in-hand with the objectification of women mentioned earlier.
3. VIOLENCE AND AGGRESSION
“Men get longer jail sentences for the same crimes.”
“Men are far more likely to be murdered, assaulted, shot at etc.”
“Men can get drafted for the military.”
This is all related to a gender divide. It opposes male assertiveness and aggression to female passivity and weakness. In most cases, it results in women suffering from inequality. And that divide (like many others) plays into how we raise our kids. We will foster those behaviours in our children. So it plays both into actual behaviours and the perceptions of those behaviours.
Perceived male assertiveness will help men appear more competitive and confident than women. Actual male aggression is a big factor in (sexual or other) violence. Perceived female passivity and weakness is one of the reasons why they won’t get a job (maybe in the military even). Or why they will be discriminated in the course of doing their job. Actual female passivity and weakness are some of the reasons women won’t feel free to ask for what they want. Or it might make them feel they aren’t strong enough to leave men who treat them like shit.
Perceived male aggression results in harsher male sentencing and men being drafted into the military. Actual male assertiveness and aggression, mixed with perceived female weakness, makes men more likely to be murdered, assaulted, shot at etc.
“Men can’t equate violence perpetrated by women (by hitting them back).”
The same arguments about perceived male aggression and female weakness apply here. At least regarding the causes of why people won’t find it acceptable.
But I’d like to add two things. First, hitting a person back isn’t generally the best choice. Second, in those cases where it’s kind of the only acceptable choice, well I say men should hit women back. Of course, you’ll still be judged harshly for doing so by many of your peers. And they should control themselves when fighting. But self-defense is self-defense.
“Men live shorter lives.”
I obviously have no argument about the influence of gender roles here. But it’s being listed as an inequality so let’s mention it and say: I believe this is due in part to biological reasons. (Is there an evolutionary balance between the longer lives of women and the higher prevalence of male babies?) But the most important reasons refer to other stuff already mentioned. Like higher suicide rates, higher murder rates and higher soldier deaths.
4. PARENTING AND CARING
“Men have less control over contraception (except for condoms) and zero say over abortion.”
This has much more to do with biology and science than about gender roles or sexism. However, it does play into overall gender relations. The first part has to do with the pill and how men have to trust women to take it. Well, that’s being worked on — or is the male pill already out there? I haven’t followed much.
I’m not sure what to say about abortion. It’s like saying women suffer from inequality because they get pregnant. It’s true, but it’s not a feminist cry because there’s not much to do about it. Plus, some women say it’s a blessing — I won’t, but having never been pregnant, I won’t contradict them.
Consequently, men not having a say in abortion has nothing to do with sexism. True, it has a lot to do with feminism, but so does abortion. It is, nonetheless, the consequence of only women getting pregnant. Thus, it results from something that can be considered a disadvantage in women’s lives. They are discriminated against at work because of it. They suffer a great deal of pain because of it. And they don’t get the opportunity to walk away and let the men deal with all that. It’s a balance. Deal with it.
“Men suffer from more stereotypes if they choose to be stay-at-home dads. They have more trouble getting parenting leave.”
That’s because women are perceived as natural caretakers with a calling towards house chores. The consequences of that sexist stereotype are endless, but let’s list a few. Being considered an unfit woman if you don’t want kids, don’t like to cook or clean. Being considered an unfit mother if you do have kids, but still want to work. Doing most of the work at home, even if you do work as much as your husband. Care-taking jobs being overwhelmingly done by female workers and thus being underpaid. (Because women are doing what they were born to do for free and still do for free in the home)
I’m sorry for all the cool guys wanting to stay at home though. We need more men like you. But you’re paying a pretty small price compared to what women have to take every day because of their ‘natural inclinations’. Plus, you’ll get to be treated as a hero by most women. That’s for doing barely as much as your female partner would have done if it were the other way around. And she would have taken shit for not doing it well enough.
“Men have difficulty getting custody of their children.”
We’ve gotten to that point. The masculinist battleground. Men not being able to get custody of their kids. Well, it’s a legitimate issue, to be honest. What I’ve said right above applies equally here though.
Plus, because of all that sexist formatting about women being natural caretakers, women actually grow up to do most of the care-taking. Which does give them more of a legitimate claim to keep taking care of their kids than the kids’ fathers. But that can lead to issues. In some cases with unfit mothers, for example, or in which men actually did most of the work. I’m not saying it’s fair, but as everything else here, the underlying cause is… sexism against women.
5. SCHOOL & EDUCATION
“Men (boys) have less male teachers serving as role models growing up.”
Welcome to Sexual Division of Labor 101: When jobs are paid shit, women will be the primary workers. Lesson 102? When jobs consist of taking care of people or educating children, women will be the primary workers.
I know in some countries teachers are better paid than others, in mine, it isn’t great nowadays though. Salaries decreased (when compared to buying power) after women were able to become teachers. They continued to decrease as more and more women did become teachers.
The reasons for most teachers being women lie in the same assumption about their natural care-taking abilities. Which results in lower wages overall. Which in turn results in men leaving for better-paid jobs and women filling those jobs.
“Men (boys) get worse grades than women (girls) on average.”
At first, I was thinking this had nothing to do with stereotypes, but of course, it does. I’ve seen it argued on Quora that the prevalence of female teachers has an influence. It might be true, which wouldn’t invalidate my main point. I’ve explained that issue in the above paragraph.
My guess is that it also lies in girls being taught passivity and obedience to a higher degree than boys. And the class format being more compatible with this behaviour, at least in a lot of countries. A good student is a student who listens attentively and doesn’t make too many waves.
This is also the same female behaviour that stops being valued once you get out of school. Women pay for that when entering the job market, despite having consistently better results.
“Men are more likely to be considered perverts, especially around children.”
I’m putting this here because of the second part, but let’s deal with adult creepiness first. Well, men are supposedly obsessed by sex. They will argue that, too, they need sex more than we do. I have mixed feelings about the truth of that assumption, but that’s something I’ll develop elsewhere. The hidden side of that statement is that women don’t want or need sex as much. Which again will inhibit their sexual desires, limit their agency. It will make them appear as passive sexual beings. They’re here to be taken. Another factor: men assault and rape at a much higher rate than women (I think it’s 90%+ of male sexual offenders). So this will explain that.
About pedophilia, I do believe women are a bit more likely to assault children than adults. Don’t worry men, you still get that prize with winning colours too. But what plays into it, even more, is a general suspicion towards men wanting to occupy caretaker positions. That’s because of all I said earlier. If a man accepts to do a woman’s job for a shitty pay, he must really want it. And that means people are one second away from jumping to unsavoury conclusions. Generally, that they’re doing it to take advantage of the people they’re supposed to take care of. More often than not it applies to children, but it also works for senior patients.
I know, it will feel like I’m looking for far-fetched reasons to explain what many people can perceive as hate towards men. And I will agree that some people do hate men. Shit, I have problems with men too, and not without reason. It’s an everyday struggle not to hate most men’s guts sometimes. I redirect my anger towards patriarchy and toxic masculinity.
But let’s pretend most women felt as ambiguously as I sometimes do — I don’t believe that’s the case. Let’s say women regularly discriminated against men. It still wouldn’t make sexism against men a thing, because it wouldn’t make it a system. The same goes for anti-white racism (a similar issue) or ‘heterophobia’ (this one makes me crack up every time).
I also know I haven’t covered everything here. I do think I’ve argued my point at enough length though. You’re free to think of other examples to see how that way of thinking applies. But multiple types of discrimination against men, however serious when taken individually, don’t make it another form of sexism. Even if they happen in several areas of society.
Sexism* is a system of reproductive inequality. It negatively affects the lives of every single member of a discriminated group and has society-wide repercussions. And it is backed by a whole ideology meant to legitimate one group retaining most of the power over another.
That’s only true when directed against women. There is no symmetry.
*I tried to give it a definition general enough for it to also apply for racism, homophobia, and other systems of discrimination.