Sexism works both ways

May 7, 2014

So I’ve seen a lot of posts and columns about feminism and sexism recently. Maybe it’s the result of having a vast number of former Arts students on my Facebook feed. Most of them are interesting, and the general points about the need to defeat ingrained sexism and gender stereotypes are sentiments I share. Yet it was particularly interesting to read a column in one of our metropolitan newspapers that began with the unapologetic confession: ‘I know it’s sexist.’

Of course, I’m talking about Tracey Spicer’s piece in The Age last week. For those who have not read it or heard about it, Spicer asserted that she would not want her child to be seated next to a man on a plane. ‘I know it’s sexist. But I don’t want my kids sitting next to a man on a plane.’ Of course, Spicer was publicly blasted for her blatant prejudice and demands were made for her weekly column to be shut…..

Nah, not really.

In fact, it seems Qantas agrees, as there have been instances when our national carrier has demanded men vacate their seat next to a minor to be replaced by a female stranger.

We hear much about the need to combat sexism in society, but this chorus is almost completely led by women calling for greater equality and the urgent need to reverse ingrained patriarchal values. Sure, that’s fair enough. But what about reverse sexism? Who’s fighting that fight?

Spicer’s column last week ranks rather high on the prejudice scale. Why does she not want her child seated next to a man? The inference is that she presumes the male gender represents rapists, sex abusers, molesters, paedophiles, bullies etc. The essence of prejudice is when one asserts prejudgment on a person based on race, appearance, sexuality or gender. So Spicer has applied the broad brush to all males, and The Agepublishes it for wide circulation. Cue outrage? Hardly…

It is true that the piece was generally ill received by many fellow commentators, but there was little discussion about what is symptomatic of a wider problem here – the inclination to accept reverse sexism as just part of regular discourse.

The elephant in the room is of course the fact that 90% of sex offenders are male – so sure, one can understand why people like Spicer might hold such sentiment towards strange men. But if as a society we are going to generalise every group based on statistical probability, then we fall into the same trap that equality groups have been trying to fight – that tendency to judge people based not on who they are but what they are. The essence of equality is when we start treating people as individuals regardless of gender, race or sexuality.

However it is encouraging that Spicer’s colleague at The Age, Sam De Brito, penned an article this week that goes some way to highlighting some of these issues. Previously, De Brito has written about the ‘pervert assumption’. In an article entitled ‘Men who hug children’,De Brito essentially poses the questions to his readers: Did that title make you a little bit uncomfortable? Did it sound a bit creepy? His end conclusion is that most men would of course shy away from any public affection around children, however innocent, due to cultural coercion. In much the same way as a woman who wants to be taken seriously won’t bake cookies for her workmates, or how a Jew or a Muslim might not advertise their religion in mixed company.

This week, De Brito responded to Spicer’s column, and he made an interesting point:

‘It’s an interesting time to be a man. On the one hand you must rightfully acknowledge the equality of women but accept you are “naturally” subordinate on issues like childcare, child custody and emotional intelligence while smiling goofily at any derision aimed at your gender when it comes to these subjects.’

‘On the other hand you are unequally suspected of being a rapist, bully, paedophile, abuser, sex pest and murderer because the statistical culpability of men casts such a long shadow, you must bear the guilt of what others have done.’ ‘It is the essence of prejudice.’

‘You don’t need to be a psychologist to see that the social hostility fostered by these attitudes might breed distrust of men in girls and anxiety in boys.’

Well said. Of course, us blokes aren’t really one to whinge. Perhaps it’s the product of the fact that we are still the privileged gender in society. We didn’t endure gender discrimination for centuries so therefore our prejudice radars might not be so finely tuned.  I suppose that is what it gets down to: cultural sensitivity.


Rita Ora – Zac Efron – MTV Shirtless

Recently, there was some commentary about whether Zac Efron being stripped of his shirt by Rita Ora during the MTV Movie Awards was an example of reverse sexism. Now, because Efron is a male, the general populace would hardly bat an eyelid at the popular young star having his chest stripped bare in front of a live audience. Now, for the record, I don’t believe this incident is an example of sexism. I believe it is just light hearted fun. Yet it is the ‘light hearted fun’ argument delivered by men that is so often met with scorn when the shoe is on the other foot. Turn tables – an unsuspecting Rita Ora is stripped to her bra by Zac Efron in front of a live televised audience. Therein lies the cultural sensitivity.

You see, sexism is apparently just something a male does to a female. That is how we have been conditioned to see it.

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