Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sexism and Racism: Not a Two-Way Street

Percusso made an interesting comment below, that attacks on men because they are men is "sexist". It's an interesting point, but I'm not sure I agree with it. Prejudiced? Yes. Bigoted? Probably that too. But not actually sexist. Sexism, like racism (and most other "bad" isms) are largely about the combination of prejudice with power.

There are a lot of people who support my definition, but a lot of people who don't. And there's very little to argue definitively that power is a neccessary precondition of racism or sexism, or vice versa. But I think it's very important that we define it as such because it helps distinguish between the dangerous impact that sexism and racism has on people's lives, as opposed to only people's feelings being hurt (which is also no laughing matter, but a less serious designation nonetheless). When people are sexist or racist (or a similar ideology), entire classes of people are subject to being second-class citizens economically, socially, or in terms of physical safety.

This distinction is more than merely semantics, because it separates "being a prejudiced jerk who we shouldn't imitate" from "being a prejudiced jerk who can cause unbelievable pain and suffering to entire groups of people--and we especially shouldn't imitate him." While working against prejudice of all kinds is important, preserving the distinction of prejudice and power is important to understanding why injustice exists for entire categories of people.


percusso said...

I like the subtleties in your definition, and I agree with you that such semantic distinctions are important when defining such terms as sexism, prejudice, bigotry, etc. However, I would argue that men, as a class, are frequently "subject to being second-class citizens economically, socially, or in terms of physical safety". Take just one example: violence. Men as a group are twice as likely as women to be victims of violence. Women, as a group, are twice as likely to experience physical safety as men are. I'm happy to give many more examples if you'd like, and statistics to back myself up - just let me know.



JusticeForAll said...

I guess you could argue that men suffer sexist violence at the hands of other men, since the (identity) ideology that produces violence against men is undeniably sexist and homophobic. Men who fail to act in violent and controlling ways tend to be labeled as a derogatory name for female or gay (bitch, sissy, fag, etc.) However, I'm not so sure that just because sexism helps create such violent individuals means that it in itself is a "sexist" attack. Is the attack motivated by sexism? In a very roundabout way, yes, but certainly not directly.
That said, it is worth stating that men have a huge stake in removing sexist and homophobic labeling of other men, because it creates an environment that is safer for men to live in.
With regards to (direct) sexist violence, however--violence motivated by the belief that the opposite sex is inferior--that basically describes the profile of batterers and rapists we've developed over the years. You might want to check out some work done at the University of Michigan on this--they have several profs active in this work.
With regards to your other examples--I'm not so sure that you can justify men as a second-class citizen, because that would mean that they are second-class in relation to women. Considering the imbalance of political power (look at our elected representativeS) and economic power (look at earning power, particularly at the top--this is especially true given the economic disparities in our country) I really doubt that you can prove your thesis.
Social disparities are harder to prove--you could take a look at incidents of sexual harrassment or regulation of the physical bodies of both men and women as a relatively good measure. I'd reccomend "Back Off" by Marty Langelan for more measurement of that--it's a little dated, but it still applies today.

JusticeForAll said...

Feminist Allies has a really good discussion of this topic here: