[TRIGGER WARNING: ABUSE, MALE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN, RAPE CULTURE, STREET HARASSMENT]
I hesitated to use that title for this piece because I know a lot of men are going to feel their hackles rise when they read it, but I reminded myself that I’M NOT FUCKING SORRY.
No, men cannot experience sexism. Just like white people cannot experience racism.
NO NO NO PUT DOWN THE FUCKING DICTIONARY DO NOT QUOTE THE DICTIONARY AT ME I WILL BEAT YOU OVER THE HEAD WITH IT.
I know that the dictionary has been treated as the ultimate authority on words, but trust me, it’s not. You know how I know? The dictionary changes all the time. And in many academic and scientific communities, certain words come to have altered meanings.
For example, scholars who have dedicated their lives to issues of race and gender have come to agree on altered definitions of sexism and racism in order to combat the idea that prejudice against the oppressed and prejudice against the privileged is comparable.
Sexism = prejudice + power. Racism = prejudice + power.
You have to have power over a gender in order to be sexist toward them. However, you can still be prejudiced or biased against a privileged group. For example, I have less trust for men as a whole than I do for women or non-binary persons. That is a bias, and you could even call it prejudice. But there’s a huge difference between this and sexism.
Power imbalance. Survival.
I was told my entire life, in so many words, that I was not to trust men. That if I wasn’t careful, men would hurt me. Or even kill me. I have to be forever on my guard, following that long list of rules to protect myself against men, because if I broke one of those rules and I was hurt by a man, it would be my fault. I was taught that men were predatory by nature and as a woman, I just had to put up with it, and as a woman, I probably did something to bring it upon myself anyway.
So yes, when I walk anywhere alone, I am aware of the presence of men in a way that I am not of women. I automatically keep tabs on them, listen for their footsteps behind me, calculate whether I should cross the street. I cannot trust that unknown men won’t hurt me, because doing so could literally get me killed.
This is not the same thing as when men hate or look down upon or dehumanize women. Most men have literally no reason to fear women. We have no power over them. If we could hurt them, it is much less likely to cause severe injury or be lethal. When women do kill men, they are very likely to be punished to the full extent of the law.
Women do not follow men down the street, they do not shout lewd comments at men on a regular basis to remind them of their vulnerable position.
This is not to say that there aren’t women who have abused men. There are men who were abused exclusively by women when they were children who developed a perfectly understandable fear of women. But this is not an institutionalized, widespread problem. Government agencies, schools and parents don’t give advice to boys on how to avoid being raped by women. Harassment and dehumanization of men isn’t celebrated in top-grossing movies. There are no advertisements with men being pinned down or surrounded by women while the men look helpless or simply dead. A fear of women would be an irrational, psychological problem that would need to be treated with therapy, not something that is literally encouraged by the society we live in.
So you can see why there’s a need to highlight the difference between sexism against women and “sexism” against men. Misandry irritates, misogyny kills. Trying to act as though they’re equivalent is dangerous.
And yes, if men are victimized by women, they are unlikely to find much support from society, either. But the reasons for that comes straight from the reasons why so many women are victimized by men and then blamed for it. Society says that men are basically beasts who always want sex, they can’t control it. So why would a man ever turn down sex? Men can’t be raped, they always want it, according to what we’re taught. You shouldn’t have worn that dress, because men always want it. Sexual conquest is essential to masculinity, says society. If you didn’t want it, if you were dominated instead of the one dominating, then you’re not a man. You’re gay, you’re feminine, you’re woman-like, and therefore bad.