One of the main arguments about feminism is that it promotes reverse sexism or that movement is “sexist towards men.” These arguments come from people who do not understand oppression and how it works. Reverse sexism does not and cannot exist.
Systematic oppression is when a society has normalized over a long period of time unjust treatment toward specific groups based on gender, sex, race, class, caste, ability, and sexual orientation. It is called systematic or institutionalized because it’s methodical, based on a system of societal norms, functions, and activities, coming together to oppress one whole social group. Institutional oppression happens when laws, customs, and practices cause inequality based on social groups.
Oppression flows in one direction only, from the oppressor to the oppressed. The oppressor has the power to make laws and enact customs and practices. Women do not have a higher position than men, in any society on this planet, so while men are the dominant group, they cannot be victims of sexism.
The dictionary defines sexism as: “discrimination on the basis of one’s sex.” This implies that both men and women can be sexist towards each other. That is nice, but we can’t break down the complex realities of female oppression and sexism into one sentence.
Oppression flows in one direction only, from the oppressor to the oppressed
While women may make stereotypical assumptions about men and can be prejudiced and discriminate against men, they simply are not in the position (based on years of oppression) to be sexist. This does not mean that prejudice or discrimination against men is justified, and it is not a solution to sexism. However, the concept of sexism is based on the diverse social arrangement that privileges men over women and enables their automatic access to intellectual, material, and spiritual resources. Essential resources are something women have to fight for, whereas, they are more or less given to men.
Garda Lerner, in her study The Creation of Patriarchy has argued that patriarchal society was an important precondition of slavery.
“Humans first introduced permanent inequalities in their society by establishing unequal gender relations. The subjugation of women provided the model for subjugating fellow human beings. Now, these permanent inequalities were established to gain control over another social class or group so that the group or class that is acting as the oppressor can benefit from it. That is the whole point of oppression.”
While men gain the upper hand when obtaining material or intellectual dominance or superiority in society, women do not.
The rejection of reverse sexism does not mean that men are not victims of sexism or patriarchy. We all are. There are unfair expectations and pressures on men in our society as a result of patriarchy. Not all men are powerful or oppressive in a patriarchal society, men from non-dominant communities, gay men, men who are seen as ‘feminine,’ and men who covet and desire femininity. The reality is that the institution of sexism has constructed a standard of what ‘masculinity’ is and men who do not come under this narrow definition of it are discriminated against.
But, men are not culturally, politically, socially, or economically oppressed by women. The fact remains that all men can and do lay claims to resources and power far more easily than the women in their society or communities.
Gay men are highly discriminated against, but as long as they do not defiantly display their sexuality, they continue to enjoy access to masculine and public spheres of influence and power. While lesbians are oppressed not only because of their sexuality but also because of their gender, here oppression works on two different levels.
Why is feminism not just called equality?
Equality is important, and as human beings, everyone deserves it. But, there are certain things that happen to me, because I am a woman, not because I am a human being. Calling the movement “Equality” disregards the struggles that women face on a day to day basis, because of their gender. Feminism highlights the basic idea behind the struggle for women’s rights, as it acknowledges the gender-based prejudices that exist in our society.
Sexism is when a particular gender or sex is systematically oppressed and discriminated against. To the point that the oppressors have a dominant position in society, where they can manipulate the resources present in society. Hence, the notion of reverse sexism cannot exist in society.
Positive Discrimination – Affirmative Action
Through all industries, there has been movement and debate for having diverse representation on company boards and for a more balanced workforce. Sadly most company boards and workforce are still predominantly male, (excluding careers that are stereotypically acceptable for women, secretaries, assistants, teachers, nurses, psychologists, etc.)
Direct positive discrimination is viewed as unlawful by the European Courts. For example, job advertisements that specifically highlight the need to recruit women are not permitted. In the United States, it is also illegal to place a job advertisement that “shows a preference for or discourages someone from applying for a job because of his or her race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” Prohibited Employment Policies/Practices
Another argument is this may cause women to be paid higher or receive a better employment package because of their gender. The Treaty of Rome 1957 under Article 141 provides that women are entitled to “received equal pay for equal work.” So it is evident within legal instruments that positive discrimination does not mean allowing women to benefit when they are undeserving.
Positive Discrimination should not be viewed as a negative thing
Studies and academic research have highlighted that the traditional white male majority board of directors is not often the best for an organization. Having a diverse boardroom allows for expertise and viewpoints to be considered. The makeup of men and women is different so what may be a good decision in the eyes of a male director may be viewed differently by a female director, and together the combined perspectives will provide an organization and its shareholders with greater comfort that different aspects were considered before a particular course of action was taken.
Having women working and contributing members of society rather than stereotyping into traditional roles is also not helpful to a society’s development. Having a fair and equal workplace will encourage discussion and debate in an intelligent manner and enhance both profits for organizations and governments.
Also, consider that having a workplace not limited to gender does increase employment rates and therefore increase the level of tax a government can make from its workplace. Money that does need to be spent on the social welfare system. Meaning money is left over for the government to contribute much better to its overall needs. This is particularly the case where women make up more than 50 percent of the workplace in most countries.
Having women working and contributing members of society rather than stereotyping into traditional roles is also not helpful to a society’s development. Having a fair and equal workplace will encourage discussion and debate in an intelligent manner and enhance both profits for organizations and governments alike but also increase reputation.
The South African King Report, which is the corporate governance code of South Africa, is vastly seen as one of the most influential corporate governance code of its time. It states: “Every board should consider whether its size, diversity, and demographics make it effective. Diversity applies to academic qualifications, technical expertise, relevant industry knowledge, experience, nationality, age, race, and gender.”
It seems to work. A recent survey indicated that South Africa ranks fourth globally for the percentage of board chairs that are women at 7.8 percent, against a global average of four percent.
Karrie Keyes: Karrie’s blog deals with her work as long term monitor engineer for Pearl Jam, issues facing women in the industry, and balancing being a single mom with touring. She is a co-founder and Executive Director of SoundGirls.
About Karrie: Karrie got her start 30 years ago when she met Dave Rat at a Black Flag show. She started working for Rat Sound loading trucks and setting up shows in clubs and theaters for $20. She worked for Rat Sound for 20 years and had worked with RHCP for ten years (1990-2000) and Pearl Jam for 26 years as their monitor engineer. She currently bumps between Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder Solo tours.