The second sexism

 
 

In the aftermath of the Richard Keys and Andy Gray scandal, Leanne Waters questions whether our society is promoting a new breed of sexism.

It is no secret that sexism remains a rampant disease in society today. Andy Gray’s recent sexist comments about the professional ability of assistant referee Sian Massey sent the media into a feverous tizzy and marked one of the first scandals of 2011. At the height of public interest, it was reported that the incident was followed by the swift removal of Gray.

The ensuing statement read as follows: “Gray had his contract terminated following the release of the new footage, 24 hours after he and fellow presenter Richard Keys were disciplined for their remarks about Massey. Sky Sports reporter Andy Burton was also disciplined this afternoon (January 25th 2011) after footage emerged of him and Gray commenting on Massey’s appearance. He loses a job that reportedly earned him almost €2 million per year.” Needless to say, Andy Gray is at least one person who has been thinking over the issue of sexism of late.

And yet, for all our individual convictions on the matter of the Gray scandal, it remains to be seen exactly how sexism has evolved in our ever-changing society. Today, following decades of feminist movements and revolutions, one does pause to wonder whether the roles have in many ways been reversed; has sexism turned against men?

Rachael Shortt, a History MA student, believes sexism remains prevalent in our society. “I think it does exist but is generally ignored, which is very unfair; especially on the part of house-husbands. I also think our family law in Ireland is ridiculously harsh on good dads. This I would argue is a form of institutional sexism.

“Anti-male sexism does exist [and] is largely ignored. But it’s not entirely comparable with female sexism, because female sexism appears acceptable in humour, which I don’t agree with. Of course it all depends on how far you take either side that is the real problem.”

From the very serious to the light-hearted, issues surrounding male stereotypes – like that of women and the offside rule – are difficult to ignore. It is a rare occasion, for example, to hear any woman praise men in their treatment of women. Indeed, with the explosion of our Sex and the City generation, men seem more often than not, to be tarred together under the one brush of being terrible in relationships.

Frequent comments that I’m sure we’ve all heard at some point or another include: “He just doesn’t care”, “Men are only after one thing” and of course, “I hate men!” These remarks lie in the vast bubble of generalisation and are probably a result of a failed relationship. Nevertheless, while women convince themselves that men have it so easy, it may be of value to individuals – regardless of gender – to reconsider the former and reconceptualise what exactly sexism is and what it can mean.

Pressure that men face as a result of sexism often involves matters such as body image and the ambiguous idea of masculinity. With a growing understanding of sexuality and its many properties, the modern public have become more acceptable and comfortable with terms such as heterosexual, homosexual, metro-sexual and transvestite, to name a few. With so many varying facets in the complicated matter of sexuality, one would think that men – be they straight or gay – could be comfortable in their own skin.

And yet, body image is a way in which many men are being discriminated against. This form of sexism demands that men conform to an allusive ideal of masculinity; in how they speak, dress, behave, think and even feel. First-year Agricultural Science student Eoghan Wogan talks through what he sees as a gross form of sexism against men: “Men are always expected to be all masculine (…) and are under pressure to not be feminine and therefore just presumed as gay. Also, I think that people always seem to be in favour of women in any sort of criminal or domestic issues, as people presume the lads are the bad [guys].”

One form of this ‘second sexism’ – as it has often come to be known – can be found in the matter of car insurance. At a time when most are struggling for money and constantly looking for a good deal, it seems men can’t get a break. It seems unfair that when looking for something as simple as car insurance, there is a monumental distinction between young men and women; so much so, that each gender often have their own categories when looking for a quote.

On the matter of this institutional form of reverse-sexism, Maeve Loftus, a second year Economics student, comments: “I suppose it is kind of bad that lads are forced to pay higher car insurance. I mean, I know loads of lads who are brilliant drivers but are labelled straight away as ‘boy-racers’ just because of their age and because they’re guys. But in fairness, men have been sexist against women for years. It’s more that things are starting to balance out and there’s a massive backlash now against men.”

It seems incorrect, however, to simply meet years of sexism with a new brand that is anti-male. After all, the concept of men against men is not unheard of. Men, for example, are often the targets of aggression more so than women. This is something to which we can all testify on any given night out. We’ve all seen it; men brawling outside nightclubs, being attacked and having to defend themselves. Further persecution, therefore, seems entirely unruly on the part of women. And I’m sure I can guess what a few readers may be thinking: men fight other men.

But what of those who don’t? For quite a majority of men, violence is something that is, by rule, unacceptable and that must be averted to the best of our ability. And yet for many men, violence in particular circumstances is often unavoidable by virtue of the fact that they are indeed male.

To walk away, firstly, is often seen as cowardice. And worse still, when trapped in a moment whereby they must defend themselves, it is appears un-empathetic to be of the opinion that all men can defend their own bodies with physical efficiency. Moreover, several experimental studies – all of which are open to be viewed online by the public – have shown that men and women alike express a great deal more aggression towards men than they do to women. And so if this is the case, second sexism has taken a violent turn.

On this notion of the ‘second sexism’, an article released by the Social and Theory Practise publication in 2003 wrote that: “In societies in which sex discrimination has been recognised to be wrong, the assault on this form of discrimination has targeted those attitudes and practices that (directly) disadvantage women and girls. At the most, there has been only scant attention to those manifestations of sex discrimination of which the primary victims are men and boys. What little recognition there has been of discrimination against males has very rarely resulted in amelioration.

“For these reasons, we might refer to discrimination against males as the ‘second sexism,’ to adapt Simone de Beauvoir’s famous phrase. The second sexism is the neglected sexism, the sexism that is not taken seriously even by most of those who oppose sex discrimination. This is regrettable not only because of its implications for ongoing unfair male disadvantage, but also (…) because discrimination against women cannot fully be addressed without attending to all forms of sexism.”

In modern society’s interpretation of what makes a man, we must evaluate the sex as a whole and in comparison also to their female counterparts. To do this effectively, there can be no discrimination against either sex. Sexism – or second sexism as the case may be – remains a gross generalisation in our contemporary western world and a means of undermining an individual based on a genetic predisposition in which they played no part.

The properties and many manifestations of sexism, be they light-hearted jokes or otherwise, can hinder the development of either gender. And as we step away from sexism against women and gradually develop to a point of new reconciliation on the matter, so we must do the same for men. And so, on the matter of sexism, it seems that only properly executed power over the individual and the self will eventually blot out a problem hitting men and women alike.

And as the famous Buddha once said, “A man may conquer a million men in battle but one who conquers himself is, indeed, the greatest of conquerors.”

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