not in Primary anymore

addressing claims of “reverse sexism”

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…

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14 Responses to “addressing claims of “reverse sexism””

  1. Frank Pellett

    If it were a men’s march, and women were asked to go “dutifully” to the back of the line, that would be just as sexist as telling the men to go to the back of a women’s march. Discrimination is discrimination, no matter who is in the majority. Being in the minority doesn’t make it any more acceptable.

    But you’re right that “reverse sexism” is a misnomer. Sexism is sexism. Calling it “reverse” is like saying “I know you are but what am I”

    Reply
  2. Darryl Reid

    One of the problems encountered constantly in activism is that groups who traditionally have the most privilege or power in the larger social context often inadvertently monopolise conversation/actions within the activist community. For instance men (especially white upper-class men) often lead conversations and actions, thus marginalizing minority groups within the movement. Activist communities/groups have to work to balance this out so that everyone has a voice, especially those who don’t normally have a voice in the larger social context.

    For example many of my female friends left the “occupy movement” very early on after it became apparent that gender imbalances weren’t being addressed properly. Men were often monopolizing the conversations/meeting and leading the actions while the women weren’t being heard (same goes for other minority groups), Also there were issues where women didn’t feel safe or comfortable and when they brought these concerns with the group, nothing was done to address those issues. This isn’t about denigrating men to the back of the line because they are men, its about letting a group that traditionally isn’t given a voice the ability to be heard and have a voice without having to worry about being silenced/over taken by men (even well meaning men). Many people with privilege mean well, but they are often unwilling to let go of the privilege they have and inadvertently feel they should lead/be heard to the exclusion of everyone else.

    I’ve been in marches that were being led by Native Americans and out of respect I hung out at the back of the march, because although I stand in solidarity with them, I have no right to speak for them or be at the front of the line. It is their movement I’m just there to to lend support. This isn’t racist or sexist.

    Reply
    • Frank Pellett

      But women -are- the traditional voices in a women’s movement. In this case, the women are the ones with the privilege, not the men. Also, this wasn’t about not letting men be at the front, or even giving the idea that men were leading – it was about not wanting the men to be part of the movement, so putting them in the back is a way to hide them, as if embarrased by them. With how few men are involved in any women’s movement, assuming that they’ll “monopolize the conversation” is demeaning to everyone. Isn’t the whole idea of the movement that women can hold their own against men? It makes it seem like they can’t do it if they let the men sneak in where they are outnumbered 10-1.

      Reply
  3. Darryl Reid

    The problem is that outside of those movements women don’t have a voice and are still trapped within a patriarchal society, So even within the woman’s movements, women are still victims of patriarchy and men still see themselves as privileged within the larger context and frankly that privilege comes out quite often. So you can rail about women having the privilege when in fact they don’t because at the end of the day they are still trapped within the larger patriarchal society. This is perfectly explained in the article but if you need a primer on feminism here you go http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/ check out the FAQ section.

    You have yet to bring a valid counterpoint to my article. Please prove me wrong.

    Reply
    • Frank Pellett

      Your feminism101 quote says specifically that “a woman being prejudiced against a man is simply “sexism,””. It seems that you’d prefer to use a biased definition, as it helps make your point. Sexism is sexism. Just becuase one group is stronger in a larger realm doesn’t make one sexism better or worse than the other.

      You say that women are still victims, even when in a group by and for women, simply because the larger world they belong to makes them so. This is like saying it is ok for a kid to be a bully because they are being physically abused at home. Neither is ok. Yes, the phyiscal abuse should be more strenuously fought than the bullying, but that doesn’t make the bullying acceptable.

      Reply
  4. Darryl Reid

    You take a piece of a quote that proves my point and use it to prove your point.

    You take a small part of my article and use it to de-legitimize my entire argument -an argument I back up with facts.

    You have yet to bring a quote, reference or source that backs up your argument. You are simply turning my argument against itself without backing up or even bring forth a well thought out argument.

    To be honest: are you saying feminists discriminate? If so, prove it in some way other then using an example out of an article that does a pretty good job disproving your argument.

    If not I can go tit for tat all year.

    P.s: a little thought on bullying.

    As someone who has experienced bullying its a subject I care dearly about, but all this anti bullying awareness shit is getting me pissed, because it completely ignores the fact that bullying is a symptom of a problem and not the problem itself.

    Even as a bullied kid I could see that bullying was an outgrowth of social structures, hierarchies, gender policing and many other complex problems. For example the recent case of Retheah Parsons: it seems no one wants to mention the fact she was gang raped and seem unwilling to attribute that to her suicide, but decry the bullying she endured. Bullying that was an outgrowth of rape culture.

    You can tell kids bullying is bad all day long, but it will not end if our society constantly tells them to be bullies and quietly supports their behaviour. We need to change who we are as a society to end this problem.

    Reply
    • Frank Pellett

      It would be impossible for me to convince you with quotes against, since you would just dismiss them as invalid. Thus, the only words I can use are the ones you accept, being yours. You’re not presenting facts so much as giving statements you accept as fact. Your entire premise is that feminists cannot be sexist, since they are oppressed in the larger scope. That is not a fact – that is what you are trying to prove.

      What I am trying to say is that your logic depends on the lesser wrong being ok, simply because they are victims of greater wrongs. To leave bullying out of it, it’s like saying that it’s ok for a woman to beat her children if she is being beaten by her husband. What I am saying is that the larger scope does not matter to the smaller scope being right or wrong. They are not equally wrong, but being beaten by her husband does not absolve the woman of beating her children.

      And you right, hearts need to be changed to end bullying and abuse both. But we cannot turn hearts by saying that sexism is ok, simply because the person being sexist is female. You’re telling the kids they aren’t really hurt, just cause their mother is being hurt more.

      Reply
  5. Darryl Reid

    “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.””

    Reply
  6. Darryl Reid

    One last point. Women’s movements don’t happen in a vacuum, their movement is not happening in isolation. Feminism is not happening in some separate dimension free of the larger social context. You seem to think that it is all happening in a vacuum that is somehow outside of patriarchy, but it isn’t. After the march-and during- the women in that march must still navigate a society and culture that is geared to keep them down, while the men don’t have to worry about many of the problems women have to deal with everyday.

    Do you as a man-I’ll assume you are a man- have to worry about violence, rape and murder at the hands of women? Do women pay you less for being a man? Do women objectify you in the media, do women harras you on the street? Are you told what to do with your body and life by women? Are you treated as a second class citizen by women? how many men are sold into sexual slavery by women?

    Sorry dude you are not a victim of discrimination, you just claim you are so you can silence and de-legitimize feminism.

    Reply
    • Frank Pellett

      Never said I was a victim of discrimination, though this last comment actually is discrimination. You are discriminating against me, saying that my mere participation, because I am male is making your cause less. If I simply used a female name, your objections would be lost.

      And my participation does not silence or de-legitimize feminism, any more than yours does. I’m proud to be a feminist. I just don’t believe as you seem to that men get in the way.

      No, the movement does not happen in a vacuum, and neither does abuse. Just because one person (or group) is a victim of sexism does not make their sexism ok. Yes, women have a lot to deal with on a daily basis – that does not validate being sexist themselves.

      I am also not saying that sexism by women against men is worse, or somehow validates men being sexist. Sexism against women is plainly worse and more prevalent. Two wrongs, even if one is smaller than the other, do not make a right.

      Reply
      • Anon

        So you’re basically saying that the bullied shouldn’t fight back against the bully, just because ‘two wrongs make a right?’ Women are just supposed to suck it up and not give men a taste of their own medicine, aren’t they? Silent sufferers, if you will.

        We all have a sense of justice or karma.

    • Anonymous

      Many men face violence and the hands of women. However this goes unreported or just ignored b/c the harm women can cause to men is downplayed by media and police. Yes- men are stronger but women are encouraged to “protect” themselves at men’s expense. Women can also rape men. Even if women to men rape is minority- it still happens and usually not reported. You have to realize that women can be just as bad as men and that our laws do not reflect this.

      As about women’s pay- employers can’t afford to promote women into crucial roles if there is the slightest possibility that she will take a maternity leave. Other than this, women are not 2nd class- they have all the equality of men.

      Reply
      • Anon

        http://geekfeminism.org/2011/11/03/quick-hit-sexism-in-games-bingo/

        You’re denying that women are at an unfair disadvantage in society.
        You’re justifying it by saying men are discriminated against by women. As if that’s somehow supposed to make us feel better.
        That bit about the ‘maternity leave’ is just a fucking excuse.

        Is the topic on this blog about how men have it just as bad? Stop justifying the point the creator of this topic was originally trying to get across.

  7. Charles Sterzel

    We are created in the image and likeness of God. We are not men or women. That is but a mask we wear, a garment we have wear. It is not who we are. We are told to love; enemies, neighbours, others. There is no need to compete with different masks or garments. Ego is what makes one think they are more important than another. Acknowledge, and love, and then give all these consuming thoughts and ideas to the Father. Below them is what we are in essence.

    Reply

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