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Claims Of Reverse Sexism Reinforce Gender Stereotypes

Francesca Bessey |
July 16, 2013 | 6:53 p.m. PDT

Senior Opinion Editor

The supposed "war on men" doesn't exist in the way Venker thinks it does. (Juli, Creative Commons)
The supposed "war on men" doesn't exist in the way Venker thinks it does. (Juli, Creative Commons)
When I read Suzanne Venker’s latest article about men being second-class citizens, I was—well—confused.

Maybe it’s because neither my country of birth nor my country of residence have ever had a female head of state. Maybe it’s because I’m expected to spend an extra half an hour a day on personal maintenance that would never even cross most men’s brains. Maybe it’s because men on the street seem to think my name is “Tits.” But I’ll be honest, I’ve never sat there and thought to myself, “Gosh, being a man must suck.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sitting here hankering after a penis of my own, either, but come on: the oppression of the white American male is “unlike anything American women have faced”?

Really? I thought Louis CK had settled this question once and for all.

Venker, however, seems to be under the impression that we now live in a woman’s world. That the school system is biased toward girls because they are better at sitting at a desk. That false accusations of rape occur more frequently than actual rape does. That women are exacting brutal revenge on men for millenniums past.

While Venker lists some important problems that males in America face—such as the misconception that men cannot be victims of domestic abuse and the tendency of American courts to award custody rights to women over men—such problems do not constitute a total reversal of gender bias.

Similar to concerns about “reverse racism,” these claims have little credence.

False allegations of rape, for example, are incredibly rare compared to actual incidences of sexual violence. A recent study conducted in the UK found that there were just 35 prosecutions for making false allegations of rape in a period of 17 months, but over 5,500 prosecutions for rape in the same time period.

Indeed, in our own country, a far greater problem would seem to be the fact that less than half of all rapes are ever even reported to police.

Because terrible people come in all colors, classes and anatomical forms, there will always be those who attempt to exploit discrimination protection for their own nefarious purposes.

But that doesn’t change the fact that such discrimination existed in the first place. And unlike individual instances of “reverse racism” or false accusations of rape, such discrimination continues to be perpetrated on a systemic basis, meaning it inevitably impacts and victimizes the population as a whole.

Venker has one thing right: there is something horribly wrong with the way society conceives of masculinity. Just like there is something horribly wrong with the way we conceive of femininity and, in fact, gender in general—namely, our practice of assigning particular characteristics, morals and social roles to particular sex organs.

This is exactly what’s behind the custody bias Venker mentions in her article. Among members of our society, there is a widespread belief that women are more nurturing than men and therefore are better equipped to raise children. We see this belief reflected in court decisions that disproportionately designate mothers as primary caregivers, even when fathers demonstrate an equal desire and capacity to care for their kids.

But Venker seems to forget that this has a downside for women too. Is it not the same cultural paradigm—that raising children is the women’s domain—that accounts for the fact that 78 percent of single parents are women? That makes it far more socially acceptable and more common for dads to walk out on their families than moms? That makes employers less likely to hire a woman because they’re afraid she might prioritize family over work?

What Venker has hit upon is not a new wave of feminist-inspired man-hate, but a negative side effect of a form of discrimination as old as time itself.

Like in medicine, one has two options when faced with such an effect: one, ignore the problem and only treat the side effect; or two, treat the problem.

By writing articles that reinforce gender stereotypes—young boys are naturally unruly, women are vindictive bitches—Venker is treating neither the problem, nor the side effect. She’s attempting to treat the side effect by creating more of the problem.

If Venker is truly concerned about the misconceptions of the American male, why isn’t she working to challenge these misconceptions, rather than bashing the very movement that has asked our society to redefine its ideas of gender? Why isn’t she writing about how men, like women, can be gentle, how they are sometimes dependent, how they experience sexual violence, how they shouldn’t always have to pay on dates? Where is her op-ed championing the stay-at-home dad? When has she taken Hollywood to task for its shocking lack of male characters who demonstrate vulnerability—or female characters who don’t?

Instead, Venker has chosen to write articles that suggest little girls don’t need recess.

I am a feminist. To me, that means that I don’t want to live in a society that discriminates against women or men. But we’re not going to get there until we stop essentializing gender, until we stop insisting that men look, think, act and talk one way and women another.

In other words, people like Venker need to stop publishing statements like “women aren’t women anymore,” especially when it’s because these women dared to speak up about gender bias in the first place.

Here’s a fun fact: fighting oppression is a lot of work. Discrimination is an unpleasant conversation topic. Spending months building up the courage to come forward as a victim of sexual violence, only to have hundreds of people call you a liar is probably no one’s idea of fun.

If sexism didn’t exist, I certainly wouldn’t be wasting my time and energy pretending that it did. I would rather be succeeding at politics or going to parties where it wasn’t acceptable for men I don’t know to smear paint on my butt.

But, seeing as this does continue to be acceptable in at least a few circles I’ve had the misfortune to find myself in, I think I’m going to call Venker’s bluff on this one.


Reach Senior Opinion Editor Francesca Bessey here; follow her here.



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