Philadelphia and Starbucks: How blind are we to sexism hurting men?

The past few days have seen many articles on the Philadelphia police arresting two black men in Starbucks. Let’s look at the New York Times article, Starbucks Arrests, Outrageous to Some, Are Everyday Life for Others, for example. It begins

PHILADELPHIA — The video of the police arresting two black men in a Starbucks, viewed more than 10 million times online, quickly prompted a full-blown crisis: accusations of racism, protests both in and around the cafe, and a corporate apology on “Good Morning America.”

In the context of cops arresting people, I certainly understand focusing in the words “black men” on “black.” According to Wikipedia’s article Incarceration in the United States,

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in 2013 black males accounted for 37% of the total male prison population, white males 32%, and Hispanic males 22%.

This graph, from Race in the United States criminal justice system, illustrates the racial disparity.

The rest of the New York Times article, and nearly all the coverage I’ve seen, focuses on race. Even people who don’t think race was an issue in this case — including, for example,

Initially, the city’s police commissioner, Richard Ross, emphasized that the officers who made the arrest “followed policy, they did what they were supposed to do, they were professional in all their dealings with these gentlemen”

probably overwhelmingly agree racial disparity is a major issue in policing, as do I. I believe we should talk about it and work on it.

What about sexism?

There’s another word in “black men” that almost no one pays attention to: “men.” I think it detracts nothing from examining and improving racial issues to examine and improve sexism. On the contrary, I think understanding and treating all inequities helps understand and treat all others — that is, that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

As best I can tell, most people don’t see sexism when it hurts men. The media doesn’t seem to cover it. Most times people tell men to “man up” or similar, but in the case of criminal justice, the disparities are overwhelming.

Did the racial disparities bother you? They’re small compared to the sexual ones. From Incarceration of women in the United States,

Men make up the majority of prisoners in the United States, approximately ten times as many as women in 2013.

Ten times! How does such a disparity not even get lip service?

It continues

The number of women on death row is significantly less than the number of men, women make up only 2% death row as of 2013. . . Women on death row have a relatively low chance of actually being executed.

2% means 49 times more men than women.

Graphically, the sexual disparity is more clear:

Yet no one focuses on sexism to the degree they do racism.

Just looking up statistics, there is a Wikipedia article Incarceration of women in the United States, as there should be, in my opinion, but none on men, despite our populating ten times more of it.

Do people see men in prison as so normal as not worth mentioning? That Wikipedia article has sections on issues specific to the female one-tenth of the population such as “Effects on motherhood and family structure.”

What about fatherhood?

Is it worth writing about?

There is a Wikipedia article Race in the United States criminal justice system, as there should be, in my opinion, but none on sex.

I recommend rereading the New York Times article with an eye toward how the two men’s sex factors in, imagining how differently women would have been treated. Look at the intensity with which people want to address the racial disparity and the lack of addressing the sexual disparity. Consider this paragraph:

Though most of the attention is being directed toward Starbucks, some activists, politicians and policy experts place the blame for the incident on a system of law enforcement that is disproportionately harsh toward black people.

Though I’m no expert, I agree with the activists, politicians, and policy experts. But why not mention the system’s disproportionate harshness toward male people?

Does it matter?

When fewer women are in STEM fields, nationwide efforts arise to change STEM fields. When more men are imprisoned, people respond “but men commit more crimes” who would cringe at the suggestion that women are the problem in STEM.

They say change the STEM system. Articles on the Starbucks incident don’t even talk about the sex disparity. People aren’t suggesting to change the sexism in this system in this case. The same holds for many headline issues today — gun violence and education, for example.

If we don’t address an issue, how can we do anything about it? If women were imprisoned ten times more than men, would we ignore it? On the contrary, where women seem disadvantaged, our society helps them, or at least tries, and we expect that help to help society in general, not just women.

Would we not expect helping men’s disadvantages to help society in general?

The New York Times article closed with this note from a longtime resident of the area:

Even back then, she said, she remembered that little black boys who wanted to play in the square were often asked to leave.

If little black boys are still preferentially asked to leave but now because they’re boys, have we made their lives better?

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