Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sexism, men get it too

Let's start with the disclaimers: I am a white, heterosexual, male.  As such I have been lucky with regards to discrimination.  I accept this.  I am not an academic and have very little experience in writing, so please be patient and polite when pointing out flaws - I will listen to any and all criticism on subject and/or style.

Much discussion is being had in some corners of the internet about sexism and more specifically feminism.  In my opinion this is no bad thing, discrimination against anybody on any grounds is a serious business that we should not hesitate to confront.

Sadly though it appears that the old chestnut that only women can be discriminated against is still rife. And the definition of anti-female sexism is now growing broader covering everything from unwanted flirtation to straight out molestation.

An excellent project is attempting to catalogue discrimination against women, but only women.  Reading this site can be hard, seeing what so many people have to go through each day, though in many cases these are not cases of discrimination, but sexual assault.  To my mind this is creates a straw man, by calling cases of rape sexism, we then cheapen both offences.  Discrimination is being treated differently on the basis of your sex, rape is about power and control, young men get raped too, though this is not seen as a crime against "men", rather a crime against "a man".  So this leaves the position where if you challenge claims of sexism, you are implicitly  denigrating the experience of people who have suffered assaults and are therefore bad. On the flip side, equating sexism with rape means that men who are "mildly sexist" will never learn the boundaries because they are not as bad as the rapists.

Whilst women undoubtedly get a raw deal from many aggressive men, it may not surprise many to know that most men get physically assaulted too.  While these seldom venture near my nether regions,  they involve elbow nudges, pushing at bars, and threats for simply being a short-arse near the wrong  testosterone (or lager) fuelled bloke. I have even been attacked by drunk blokes because of a perceived sleight from my partner (as if I am responsible for their behaviour). We also see discrimination based on our sex, this may be in slightly different forms but is still discrimination.  I would like to touch on this and illustrate how this has affected me directly and also where society itself seems okay with treating men differently because they are men.

I am not trying diminish anybody's experiences, simply to point out that men encounter this too and that if you are highlighting sexism you should not focus only on its effect on womanhood.

So to my experiences where I feel that my sex has resulted in my being treated differently.

Exclusive Clubs
Tried joining a goskyride event recently?  A large proportion of these events are "breeze" rides for women and children only.  This is ostensibly because women feel intimidated by men.  It is my belief that these feelings are only exacerbated by segregated events as they perpetuate the myth and do nothing to help women realise that most men are decent human beings.  Furthermore at the mixed events the women cycle as hard and fast as the men, so why segregate? and why _so many_ segregated events?

This discrimination is in the workplace too.  I work for a University which is quite frankly a bastion of equality on every conceivable grounds, but still we have "Women in IT" groups, where no analogue exists for men, and would likely not be tolerated if it did.  They only accept men to their meetings if they come with a woman.  In the workplace itself we are all treated equally, so why in the sidelines do I now need supervision?

Away from my own direct experience we have the matter of differences in the Scouting and Guiding movements.  For several years the scouts have accepted girls yet the guides resolutely remain for females only.  In this matter I actually support the segregation (boys talk about willies, sorry but they do, at a young age it is an important appendage) But I shall not go into this further today.

Reproductive Health
This is the one area where my treatment as a man as actually caused  me distress and is in two parts.

Firstly my (now-ex) partner of many years developed problems with the ovary on one side of her body, showing symptoms that at first looked like an ectopic pregnancy, but were diagnosed as a "lump".  This was causing pain for several days and eventually she was admitted to hospital.  While there we were faced with a decision of how to proceed.  The simplest way was to remove the tube and ovary in the left hand side, which we were informed may well have an impact on future fertility.  Having already made the decision not to have children this was a no-brainer for us.  Despite this though I was not allowed to be a part of the decision.  My partner requested that I be allowed into the discussions but was constantly refused. This is apparently because many men force partners into these decisions though to me such secrecy would only serve to make some men more suspicious of their partners.  I was basically treated like a threat.  In the words of my partner:
"I was asking for you to stay. The whole way it was done suggested I had something to hide which, while I understand the motivation, would risk feeding a violent partner's paranoia. I wanted you to be there to remind me of stuff I had forgotten and to help me remember what I was being told as actually it was pretty stressful and I was worried I would forget the advice"
So her rights to be accompanied during her consultation were ignored BECAUSE she is a woman, yet I was left feeling that the blame for this state was placed upon me.

Secondly.  Following this scare I decided to get a vasectomy to ensure that any accident in the future would not negatively impact the health of my loved one.  Now this process was very different.  Her input was as valued as mine throughout the process and I was discouraged from making this decision on my own as it would not only affect me.

Men pay for things
This is how I was raised, and it is just as negative and damaging as "girls wear pink" or "blondes have more fun".  Having spent the requisite 18 years in the family home before setting out into the world I was led to believe that as a man it was my role to provide.  This is how it was in my family home, and this is how it should be in the real world.  These pressures were there when I chose my GCSE's and when I selected courses for university.  This notion of having to be the breadwinner shaped my decision at these key stages of my life.

Luckily I have grown out of it, but it took time to accept that when my partner earned double my salary, it was all right not to complete, not to feel that i had to provide more.

I used to sport a rather snappy (at least in my own mind) ponytail.  I was refused two jobs because of this despite each employer employing women with similar haircuts.  One employer told me I would have to wear the female bar uniform as they matched the regulation hairband - I called their bluff, they changed their mind, shame I think I am quite fetching in a knee length skirt.  Similarly I have been told how I am allowed to wear my facial hair, and prevented from choosing to wear a skirt at school despite girls given the choice.

Finally on this subject.  Suits are not comfortable in the summer, I would love to have been able to wear a strappy colourful top, shorts and sandals to work, just as my female colleagues did.

At last....
I am not trying to undo the work of generations of feminists here but am trying to realign us all in the cause of ''people'.

So it seem that progress in feminism and progress in sexism, for both sexes, still has a way to go.  We risk trivialising sexual assault while isolating those most likely to learn from their mistakes. We imply that women are responsibility for themselves and their partners and hold men at arms length as a permanent threat.

For my next post I want to talk about how I feel men are affected in other areas that I have been fortunate enough to avoid so far.  If you wanna get in before me check out attitudes to male nursery teachers, or Virgin Airlines policy on solo male travellers.

Laters all



  1. This is really well put. But stick it above the line in The Guardian and you would still be lambasted. The medical section was particularly disturbing. I don't understand what threat a male partner causes in this situation, especially with medical staff present.

  2. I'm enjoying your blog quite a bit having wandered over from the Good Men Project, but it disappoints me that while you preach equality, you still refer to feminists as 'them'. In fact, YOU are a feminist, and if you don't appreciate the abuse of the label, you have the power to define it by actively participating (as you already are) in the conversation. Personally, I despise so-called feminists who practice muzzling the men. But my views are often marginalized as privileged (my grandmother had a college degree, my mother has advanced degrees and earns more than her husband, and I am a computer programmer). Your position on these issues is not one of a disgruntled man, it's one of a committed feminist. If you step up to take that label, your complaints read with more weight. I say that as a woman who, on the other side of the coin, has advocated for men as part of my feminist practice. Equality is the definition.