Guest post by Darryl Reid. Darryl is an activist, writer, and photographer from Ontario, Canada. You can read more by him on Young Mormon Feminists here.
I recently came across an old political cartoon from 1915 that depicted a pair of pants with the words “What will men wear when women wear…” The question is clear: what are the poor fellows going to wear when the terrible suffragettes come though and steal their trousers? Of course this is from the old days, everyone was a sexist back then, we’ve come along way since then. Right? Well…
In my time as as an activist I’ve had the chance to participate in marches, rallies, direct action and acts of civil disobedience. During a “Take Back the Night” rally & march the male participants were asked to march in the back of the line. I got it – this is a march where female issues are being addressed, and women needed to be the face and voice of the march. I dutifully took my place at the back and shouted and marched and had a wonderful experience. Later someone angrily complained that it was sexist that the men were put in the back of the march. He was parroting the popular sentiment that feminists practice reverse sexism, and is a complaint I have heard often amongst members of the church.
Here’s the thing: “reverse sexism” is a myth and a dangerous fallacy, used to silence the voices of feminists and women. Feminism 101 points out:
“No matter what definition of “sexism” you’re starting with, “reverse sexism” is an invalid claim to make. If you go strictly by the dictionary definition, then a woman being prejudiced against a man is simply “sexism,” no “reverse” needed. If you go by the feminist definition, sexism is predicated on having institutional power over a group, and since women do not have that power, they cannot be sexists, reverse or otherwise.”
Men have institutional control in society and in the church. Men are the face, voice, and handlers of power in a religion that has a strict top-down power structure.
For some perspective: the most powerful position for women in that hierarchical structure is subservient to the lowest position in the priesthood. As my wife explained it, “women [individually and as a whole] in the church are not allowed to govern even themselves.” If you want to see real change in the church towards women, demand that a woman speak in the General Priesthood Meeting, the same way a man always speaks in the General Relief Society Meeting. Women must always answer to men in this system, and because of this lack of institutional power, they cannot practice sexism.
The blog More Women In Skepticism says:
“The patriarchy, by creating and policing gender roles and punishing the people who defy them, does hurt men… [s]exism does not hurt men. Sexism hurts women, full stop… Sure, maybe there are individual men who receive negative treatment or are victims of individual, prejudiced women, but that’s not sexism. There’s no social sanction for it, and the very next woman that man encounters is not very likely to repeat the behavior” (emphasis added).
Feminism does not regard men as second-class citizens. Feminism does not create a culture of constant threatened and real violence that men must navigate through every day of their lives. “Reverse sexism” is not sanctioned by the law of the land or the dictates and doctrines of the church. How can feminists in the church (and outside of it) teach or practice sexism in the church when female leaders in the church aren’t even allowed to give direction to the men in the church, let alone discriminate against them on an institutional level?
So why is the cry of reverse sexism dangerous?
It is a tactic to silence woman’s voices of dissent. By attacking the feminists instead of providing a sound and logical counter argument, men are able to spread false ideas and reactionary fear of what feminism is about. If a young women is told that all feminists are just trying to destroy the church or usurp authority all her life, she is less likely to listen to what feminism is trying to teach her. This is called an ad hominem attack: it is a logical fallacy that can’t be used as a credible counter argument. Many of us grew up being told by leaders of the church that feminists were trying to destroy the church and ‘the family,’ and were man haters and sexists, and because of that many women and most men reactively fight against feminism and continue to uphold patriarchy out of fear.
The issue isn’t about expressing a concern for whether men will have a role in society if women take over, it’s a deep-seated fear of women in our society. Not just a fear of feminism, per se, but of women in general. The cartoon I mentioned earlier wasn’t asking a legitimate question, it was simply stirring up that fear. However silly and rudimentary it may look to us now, it is still pertinent in this day and age, because the question is still being asked and the attacks still being made- and the fear still being spread. It isn’t a question so much as a tactic, a fallacy and a tool to spread misinformation.
What will the men do? Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn…