Feminism is often accused of reverse sexism i.e. discrimination against men and boys. But those who hurl these claims lack a fundamental understanding of the movement. They claim that it attempts to reverse the existing hierarchy and in the processes ‘oppresses’ men.
Clearly, nothing can be farther from the truth.
Melissa. A .Fabello in her iconic essay Why Reverse Oppression Simply Cannot Exist rightfully calls the concept ‘the straw man of reverse oppression’. A straw man argument is an attempt to refute the opposition’s proposition by misrepresenting it. Reverse sexism is based off a skewed perception of feminism. What requires fundamental understanding is that feminism is not an attack on men. Instead, the movement challenges the systems and institutions which facilitate the dominance of one gender over the other. Instead it is an egalitarian movement that beseeches a society where access to opportunities and resources is equally available.
Many scholars and feminists argue that reverse sexism isn’t real. What is referred to in its name is a dictionary definition of sexism- ‘prejudice, stereotyping or discrimination on the basis of sex.’ This definition implies that men and women can equally practise sexism against the other.
What is sexism?
Sexism is not just discrimination based on gender. It is so much more. It works as part of a social hierarchy among genders and is sustained by methodically devised systems of oppression. It is perpetrated through customs, rites, and cultural beliefs over a long period of time. Sexism against women constructs an essentialist concept of womanhood as inferior and incapable.
Sexism is to otherise women.
Sexism, is telling a woman that she is impure because she bleeds or that she isn’t ‘womanly’ if she doesn’t; it is to stage witch hunts because women who transgress subservience must have made a deal with the devil; it is to isolate women from societal participation, to underrepresent women in leadership roles, to practise female infanticide, to normalise marital abuse, harassment and violence, to objectify women, to treat her as property, to question a woman’s character if she walks out of a marriage, to make it women’s duty to flatter male ego, to victim blame because ‘girls mature faster than boys’…
It is without doubt that the cornerstones of sexism are ‘to deny, to dismiss and to disparage.’ Sexism against women translates to denied education, digital gender divide, lack of economic independence, pay gap, disparity in rights and so on. It is embedded in our history. Since it is a time sustained institution, a large social machine, it revitalises, revamps and adapts itself to changing times.
Why Reverse Sexism Does not Exist
The keywords of sexism are: methodical oppression, power relations, privilege and hierarchy.
When women discriminate against men, hold prejudices based on stereotypes it doesn’t translate to sexism. By doing so women don’t attain a higher social position; the pervasive gender hierarchy is not inverted. Oppression by nature is unidirectional, flowing from the oppressor to the oppressed; so what is passed as ‘oppression’ in reverse sexism isn’t so.
Moreover, men are not systemically denied education, economic independence, equal pay, equal opportunities or equal rights based solely on their gender. Sexism does not integrate into their very fabric of existence, governing every aspect of their life.
By no means does the argument invalidate the discrimination faced by men. Patriarchal norms such as ideal masculinity and heteronormativity do take a toll on men who don’t conform to these notions. The claim is not that all men wield absolute power in society. However, it is undeniable that in a patriarchal society being a man is inherently advantageous.
Reverse sexism is only a desperate retaliation, a weak counterthrust to the thrust of a movement that seeks to dismantle the hierarchy. To claim that feminism attempts to put women in power over men stems from a blinkered attitude. Reverse sexism does not exist.