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19Jun/1148

“Reverse Sexism”

A few days ago, a man I know leveled an allegation at a woman of "reverse sexism."  It was within the context of him alleged that referring to men as "guys" or "boys" was derogatory, infantilizing, and thus, "reverse sexism."

I feel like talking about sexism, and "reverse sexism" deserves a post of its own.  Let me begin by saying that generally speaking, there is no such thing as "reverse sexism." There just isn't.  When one uses the word "sexism," you're not just referring to say, a derogatory term for a woman (e.g. "slut"), but rather, sexism exists at a macro level.  It describes a system that privileges men (and specific kinds of men) over and at the expense of women (all women generally, while privileging some women over others).  A remark or action that we call "sexist" is sexist because it exists within that larger context.  If you call me, a man, some slur, let's say "bastard," that's not "reverse sexism" or anything of the sort, because it's not a manifestation of a larger system that is working against me based on my sex.

And of course, as has often been noted, the worst slurs against men are ones that attack their masculinity, and thus their privilege within that system.  Calling a man a woman (not a man), or gay (not a man within the traditional system) are the worst things you can usually call a man and aren't "reverse sexism."

Talking about examples probably best illustrates this: I've seen some men point out that since "the feminists" say that terms such as "gals," "ladies," "chick," because they are frequently infantilizing, dismissive and such, then similar  terms "boys," and "guys," must also be similarly infantilizing and dismissive towards men.  This is wrong.  The terms described above for women are dismissive and infantilizing depending on their context and within the heteronormative patriarchy, which is where we after all live.  The terms for men are not derogatory, and if we examine them specifically, we'll find out that they're actually privileged terms.  Think of colloquialisms for each term.  To be described as "one of the guys," is a good thing.  It means fitting in.  Men are almost automatically "one of the guys;" women are not.  Same with the term "boy."  (Discarding the racial use of the term for now.)  I think of the phrase "boys will be boys" as a means to excuse behavior in (grown) men that would be unacceptable in women.

In fact, I can't really think of many terms for men that are derogatory and based on their sex.  "Dick" comes to mind.  All the others I can think of either are A) terms that reduce their masculinity by associating them with a woman (e.g. pussy), B) terms that relate them to women (e.g. motherfucker), or C) terms that are sex-neutral (e.g. asshole).

Now, I don't doubt some commenters might take issue with my description that the larger system isn't biased against men.  A fairly typical MRA argument points to alimony, divorce law, custody, and things of that nature.  Although addressing those points could very well be posts of their own, I would merely point out that those laws are structured in ways that "favor" women in order to redress the systemic imbalance that exists in the system.  So rather than pushing a scale against men, it attempts to equalize.  (Let me editorialize a bit about the scale metaphor, and just state that I strongly dislike metaphors describing women and men in some sort of "war" or having "sides.")

So next time you hear someone make an accusation of "reverse sexism," just remember, it simply doesn't exist.

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