It’s a rough world out there for people against sexism. Even though overt sexism and discrimination is discouraged, it manifests in other allegedly banal ways.
When women express discomfort with sexism, they’re labeled as uptight. Men in particular jump to the conclusion that they must be man haters to make such a fuss.
This also seems to be the primary deterrent preventing women from speaking out against sexism – because they don’t want people to think that they hate men.
But here’s the thing: Being against sexism is not the same thing as being against men.
In fact, debunking the following five myths and biases will reveal that the false correlation between criticizing sexism and being anti-male is actually just a giant smokescreen to avoid talking about the real issue at hand – sexism.
Myth #1: Calling Out Sexism Means You’re a Buzzkill
One of the most common lies about feminists (or those who stand up for women) is that they lack a sense of humor.
How many times have you been told that you just “can’t take a joke” when you take offense to something sexist?
You hear it from both men and women – everyone dreads being around that person who sucks the fun out of the situation. These cynical killjoys can’t wait to pounce on your political incorrectness.
Although men can (and do!) call out sexism, you’ll notice that this myth is heavily directed towards women. Any woman who refuses to give sexism a pass must have a chip on her shoulder.
Now imagine the guy who makes the sexist comment is a family member – or worse, someone you have a crush on.
You might feel like you can’t call them out for fear of making things awkward or jeopardizing the chances that they’ll be interested in you.
Soon, you’re sitting there biting your tongue for the sake of maintaining the imagined cultural status quo.
In reality, there’s nothing wrong with you for being upset by sexist remarks. You’re not the killjoy who ruined the party – they are. Because they’re the asshole who thinks belittling women is an acceptable source of comedy.
Never compromise your beliefs to please people who clearly don’t respect you to begin with.
Myth #2: Being Angry About Sexism Means You Want to ‘Even the Score’ and Exact Revenge on Men
There is a small, but vocal segment of people who raise alarm bells over the women who dare to protest sexism or criticize the patriarchy. Their bitter resentment supposedly predisposes these women to be violent towards men.
Yes, the real victims of sexism are men!
This article from Women Against Men cites a variety of quotes from the most radical sector of militant feminists, many of which suggest that men are brainless sex machines and that they deserve to be targeted for physical brutality as payback for patriarchal oppression.
The author responds to the apparent backlash to the article by shaming readers who claim “not all feminists” are like that. Feminists are all belligerent misandrists, but #NotAllMen is a legitimate social movement against discrimination!
Funny how generalizations are only considered prejudice if they’re targeted at the majority.
I really do understand where men are coming from. It must be horrible to be reduced to a sex object and face the threat of random violence as a result of a society warped by needless and arcane gender biases. I’m sure it’s difficult to find another group that can empathize with being stereotyped on the basis of gender alone.
Notice that by taking offense to sexism, you’re accused of laying the groundwork for a society that’s perilous for men and also looks a lot like the everyday realities faced by women.
The threat of women’s anger is emphasized for a reason. Anger is volatile and unstable. Anger is impulsive and can’t be trusted.
That means the only thing that you can do to protect men’s well-being is to be the opposite of angry. You should be happy and polite and passive!
All of this conveniently circles back to women conforming to men’s expectations, which sounds a lot like – you guessed it – sexism.
Shockingly, women actually do have the capacity to reason.
They can distinguish between an individual and the systematic power structure that’s been privileging men for centuries. A woman isn’t going to attack a man on the street because she blames him for the last 400 years of oppression.
Sexism perpetuates the patriarchy, which perpetuates rigid and unrealistic gender roles, which hurts men, too! Women don’t view sexism as an opportunity to scheme flipping the system to make men the victims. They want to eradicate sexism to ensure that everyone has the right to express gender however they want.
No one should be dehumanized or limited because of their gender.
I think that’s something that we can all agree on.
Myth #3: Acknowledging Sexism Widens Gender Disparity
Sexism might feel annoyingly passé. By continuously talking about it and making it an issue, we are acknowledging that gender has an impact on how you are perceived. Namely, women are perceived as less-than specifically because they are women.
Just like people who claim they don’t see race, there are people who claim that they don’t see gender. The argument follows that women should insist that their individuality transcends their gender.
It doesn’t matter that they’re a woman; in fact, there is a very acute anxiety that acknowledging gender in their identity will somehow tarnish or distort their accomplishments. What matters is that everyone else sees them as just another engineer or gymnast or CEO.
In their minds, only by ignoring gender can we achieve a truly egalitarian society.
However, as Heather Martin points out, believing that gender is now irrelevant strips your identity of important cultural and historical context. Women are taught that they have to disassociate themselves from their gender as quickly as possible because their gender will be a hindrance to them.
Not to mention the internalized misogyny in thinking that calling attention to your womanhood will automatically forfeit your chances of personal success or respect in the workplace.
Being a woman doesn’t make your accomplishments any less impressive. Admitting that you have to work harder to achieve your goals due to arbitrary stereotypes is not the same thing as asking for special treatment.
You can be a woman in conjunction with all your other identities. It’s not a scarlet letter. It shouldn’t be grounds for ostracism, and it definitely shouldn’t be the source of any self-loathing on your part.
Embrace being a woman! Don’t buy into the peer pressure that commanding respect and validation while being self-aware of gendered politics is equivalent to using your gender as a crutch.
Instead of scrambling to be “post-gender,” women should feel emboldened to start more discussions about sexism and female empowerment in the context of multiple, intersectional identities.
Don’t distance yourself from other women to assert your own superiority. Instead, offer them a hand.
Myth #4: Focusing on Sexism Ignores Men’s Issues
Any topic that suggests even the vague possibility that men might be overlooked in favor of women begs the immediate question “BUT WHAT ABOUT MEN?!”
For the time that they spend advocating for their own rights, women arguably spend twice as much time reassuring men. This frequently results in the entire conversation being monopolized by male oppression, as opposed to focusing on women’s oppression.
Often times, these dialogues are mandatory before an earnest discussion of sexism can even begin.
A recent example involves the #HeForShe campaign catalyzed by Emma Watson’s UN speech advocating feminism. Cathy Young criticizes the movement and chastises Watson for asking men to join the feminist cause while simultaneously omitting double standards against men, such as the stigma against male survivors of rape and domestic abuse.
Many of Young’s points are valid. Male survivors need to be treated with as much care and compassion and taken as seriously as female survivors, and in turn, female abusers and attackers should face the same consequences as their male counterparts.
Feminism is about the equality of all genders, and conscious steps should be taken to actively include all genders. We need to acknowledge the various challenges faced by men, women, and non-binary individuals at the hands of patriarchy and the different contexts that influence those situations.
Yet repeatedly insisting that failing to prioritize men effectively invalidates your entire perspective on sexism and feminism paradoxically proves why we need to battle sexism and advocate feminism in the first place: the belief and sense of entitlement that everything should be about men first and foremost, all the time!
Am I saying that men can’t be feminists or be against sexism? Of course not! Male allies are crucial and much appreciated.
Most men (and people in general) know that women-oriented spaces and discussions of sexism aren’t part of some secret coup to create a matriarchy. The same should be true for any majority with an actual understanding of any marginalized movement.
Stop demanding that minorities have to kowtow to your ego and adhere to your agenda before they can be deserving of basic human rights. That’s usually the reason why movements start in the first place!
Also, can we please direct our energy towards proactive things like helping male victims and stop whining about trivial shit? Yes, all hate for hate’s sake is bad, but anti-male sentiments haven’t been reinforced by institutions to subjugate 50% of the population for centuries. I’m pretty sure your fragile ego can survive a picture of a teenage girl sipping coffee out of a “male tears” mug on Tumblr.
Myth #5: Taking Offense to Sexism Ignores the Rights Women Have Already Been Granted within Patriarchy
The modern woman has a variety of opportunities afforded to her. She can have a job, go to college, vote, and get a divorce.
She can accomplish all of this while living in a patriarchy, so maybe sexism isn’t as big an issue as we’d like to believe. Why criticize a system that allows you to maintain a basic quality of life?
Honestly, I have no patience for anyone who thinks that women being afforded the most basic subsistence and legal rights means that sexism no longer exists.
It’s not 1914. We shouldn’t be expected to be complacent just because we’re generally recognized as citizens.
Society has come a long way, and women have succeeded in obtaining many civil rights, but the patriarchy is still thriving.
Women are discriminated against in the workforce for being pregnant or having to take care of their children. Women can’t walk alone at night. A bunch of old, white cis men are given the authority to decide what women should be able to do with their uteruses. I could go on.
Women may manage to survive in a patriarchy, but it sure as hell doesn’t mean they’re thriving.
Even if it’s something as small as the ancient “go make me a sandwich” joke, the message of sexism is symbolic. Men are in control. Men deserve to feel entitled. Women are inherently inferior and should be reminded at every turn.
Women confront sexism from all angles all the time, from the most broadly sweeping policies (hello, birth control) to the most minute throwaway comments (“nice ass”).
And believe me, such biases aren’t limited to men. Girls internalize the idea that they have to adopt masculine qualities or only associate with boys to prove their social legitimacy.
The “I only hang out with guys because girls are bitchy and annoying!” mentality is becoming frustratingly popular among young women. Because the only thing more toxic than organizing your life and self-perception around male validation is throwing other girls under the bus to do it.
Since this article has admittedly been rough on the men, let me take a moment to address the women who contribute to sexism. Women can be just as problematic as men sometimes.
Your misogyny does not get a free pass just because you’re also a woman.
The patriarchy might “allow” women to be financially and legally autonomous, but if current attitudes are any indication, the battle against sexism is far from over.
Lastly, people worry that if they bring attention to sexism, they’ll be seen as a feminist. Feminism is a dirty word to many people, particularly straight women who see it as boyfriend repellent.
Regardless of whether or not you identify as a feminist, asking for respect or asking for people to just not be dicks to each other isn’t overly imposing. It’s basic social etiquette.
Sexism has nothing to do with hating men. By calling out sexism, you’re simply trying to create an atmosphere where no one feels belittled or insulted. If you’re that concerned about altering your image, you need to reevaluate your priorities and find better friends.
Women deserve to be comfortable and confident, no matter what situation they’re in.
Erin Tatum is a Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism. She’s a feminist, queer theory lover, and television enthusiast living in Pennsylvania. She is particularly interested in examining the representation of marginalized identities in media. In addition to Everyday Feminism, she’s also a weekly contributor to B*tch Flicks. Follow her on Twitter @ErinTatum91 and read her articles here.