To be very honest with you, I struggled with coming up for a introduction for this write up. I can’t tell you the number of times I tried to be funny, be serious, hell, I even looked up fancy words to make this article seem more legit. But since I know not who is reading this nor whether my intro would be the main reason why you won’t finish reading this, I will not kowtow and give into frustration by not writing this article.
DISCLAIMER: Kowtow is one of the fancy words I looked up. I’m pretty sure I could’ve just used acquiesce instead, but I really just want this to be read.
A More Serious Disclaimer: If you asked me why I decided to write this post, I would answer you with only one word…education. I was reading a book which talked about racism and in many ways than not, I realized that the issues surrounding various isms do not really differ except replacing the “rac” for “sex” (in this case). Most of what I’ll be saying in this article isn’t revolutionary. The book I read helped me find the words I’ve been looking for. So for the rest of this article, anything that’s put in quotation marks represent ideas taken from the book with little tweaks to cater to this particular narrative. Since I’m Nigerian, I will mostly focus on issues I’ve experienced around me.
With the existence of gender pay gap, extensive news coverage of women being mistreated all around the globe, or even votes against gender equality, you would still be shocked to find out that some people do not believe sexism exists nor recognize it as a problem. There will always be that one person who doesn’t realize the difference in opportunities between men and women nor the privileges that come with being a man. And therein lies an issue. “It is important to understand that the system of advantage is perpetuated when we do not acknowledge its existence.”
One of the major factors for such a problem of this magnitude is information. Directly and indirectly, women are being fed the belief that it’s good to place the values of a man over theirs. By now, most people know of Chimamanda Adichie’s excerpt from her TED Talk that Beyoncé included in her song Flawless. One could be directly sexist (or misogynistic) with comments that devalue women, “trying to put them in their place”. Direct sexism is usually easier to spot. On the other (more prevalent) hand is indirect sexism,which usually because it’s unintentional and seemingly innocuous, making it harder to spot. It usually rears its head in jokes with sexist overtones, or at work when men with less qualifications get promoted in comparison to counterparts who are women, or even in the Bible.
At this juncture, I would like to point out that even though I am a christian who believes in the scriptures, there are quite a number of verses that promote sexism. Some examples include
- 1 Corinthians 11:3 — “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman [is] the man; and the head of Christ [is] God.”
- Ephesians 5:22–25– “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so [let] the wives [be] to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;”
I mention religion because it plays a key role in Nigerian society, for if one grows up reading a holy book that subtly advocates for male supremacy, that acts as a foundation for sexist beliefs.
I believe that, as a man, one of the very first steps to understanding think the first step is to understand that being sexist is to be expected. It’s one of the consequences of living in a sexist society. “Picture living in a smog filled environment. Sometimes, it is so thick it is visible, other times it is less apparent, but always, day in day out, we are breathing it in. Nobody would introduce themselves as a “smog-breather” (and most of us don’t want to be described as sexist), but if we live in a smoggy place, how can we avoid breathing the air? If we live in an environment in which we are bombarded with sexist images in the media (if you watch a lot of Nigerian films and you’ve seen Glamour Girls, you’ll see how negatively women are portrayed not just in that film, but on TV in general), or when they’re exposed to sexist jokes of friends and family members, one develops the negative categorizations that form the basis of prejudice.”
After identifying the problem of sexism, another key step is educating oneself on what sexism is, its method of operation, why it feels “normal” and why combating it might feel weird. The problem with fighting issues that aren’t easily visible to the naked eye is that its very difficult to come to terms with its actual existence and the effects of it existing in the first place. Basically, I’m trying to say that it’s OK if you grew up sexist. Taking the smog analogy, it’s next to impossible not to be. However, just because one was brought up in the smog and it wasn’t their fault the smog existed in the first place, doesn’t absolve one of the responsibility. You might not have put the smog there, but if we all work together, we can get rid of it.
As much as Google likes to define sexism as “prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.”, I feel like this definition omits a key word…Systematic. Instead of spending too much time on explaining systematic sexism, I implore you to read these articles which explain systematic sexism and show some effects of it, respectively.
For the purpose of this narrative however, I feel it is more accurate to say that the term sexist applies more for men than women. “Though women can and do have gender-based prejudices, only men can systematically benefit from sexism.”
I’m pretty sure that many of you have heard or seen people who say “All you feminists like claiming everything is sexist when in reality, you just hate men. I know a lot of women who are sexist too.” In between those lines lies the statement “Men aren’t always the bad guys here. Not all men are sexist like the rest of the ones you see.”
Now that statement is correct.
“Of course not all men are sexist, however, all men, intentionally or unintentionally, do benefit from sexism.”
Instead of talking about how all men aren’t sexist, a more fitting conversation would be asking how men are combating sexism. For me, if someone branded me a sexist, my mind would immediately imagine people who beat women, call them derogatory terms and support the subjugation of women. This is my mental image of an active sexist. On the milder level exists the sexist jokes we hear (and sometimes tell) in public, the way we paint marriage as the epitome of a woman’s life, and seek out counterarguments so we don’t have to agree that there are double standards in society that benefit men more than women. I would refer to such mental images and passive sexism. “Because sexism is so ingrained in Nigeria, it is easily self-perpetuating (almost like the invisible hand in Economics).
Think of this ongoing cycle of sexism as a moving escalator. Active sexist behavior is akin to walking fast on the escalator. The people engaged in active sexist behavior have identified with the ideology of misogyny and are moving with it. Passive sexist behavior is akin to standing still on the escalator. No effort is being made, but the escalator moves everyone along in the same destination as those actively walking. Now some people might feel this movement and, on seeing the active sexists in front of them, try to turn around, unwilling to be headed in the same destination as the misogynists. But unless they are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the escalator — unless they are actively antisexist — they will find themselves carried along with the others.
Not all men are actively sexist but most are passively sexist while there is a dearth of actively antisexist men. At this juncture, the pertinent question to ask would be how to move from a position of active or passive sexism, to one of active antisexism. The task of combating sexism isn’t obviously the job of men alone, but the fact that male privilege exists means that men have greater access to the societal institutions in need of transformation.” With great power comes great responsibility.
As we work on bringing an end to gender inequality, it is also valid to ask this germane question that might be never be asked aloud, but will definitely be thought of. Why should beneficiaries of sexism want to end sexism? What are the costs to them?
From an economic standpoint, I cannot begin to tell you how much human capital has been lost as a result of child marriages, nor can I explain the costs of keeping sexist traditions like husbands “chastising” their wives in some areas in Nigeria. But this is not to say that men aren’t also victims of sexism as well. The culture of hyper-masculinity has made it such that “real men” are supposed to be stoic providers of the family and when a man seems less than strong, or cannot provide on par (or even better) than his wife, he is ridiculed. I could go on and on about the costs of sexism to men but I’m not here to compare who is more oppressed, but rather to explain that doing away with sexism is beneficial to everyone and not just women.
As I said before in my serious disclaimer, not all the ideas in this post popped out of my head. I was able to piece these thoughts together while reading the first chapter of Beverly Tatum’s “Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” The worst thing about this write up is that if (and hopefully) this is widely read and appreciated, it wouldn’t be because I said something revolutionary or game changing. I’m merely echoing the words many women have been saying. The only difference in impact is that society values the opinions of the privileged a lot more.