Believe it or Not, Women Are Sexist Too
In 1991, during an interview with Playboy, Spike Lee famously declared that “black people can’t be racist.” I must admit that did not sit well with me as it stood in direct opposition to the understanding I had of societal race relations. From my experience, every ethnic group has the capacity for racism. Ironically, that is part of what binds us together in the human experience. But I was missing what Spike meant until I read the remainder of the quote, “Racism is an institution. Black people don`t have the power to keep hundreds of people from getting jobs or the vote….Now black people can be prejudiced. Everybody’s prejudiced about something. I don`t think there will ever be an end to prejudice. But racism, that`s a different thing entirely.”
I found this semantic distinction between racism and prejudice to be a thought-provoking and potentially informative insight into the power play involved in the race dynamic. The slave and the master may each despise each other, but only one of them has the institutional capacity to do anything about it. And let’s face it- that makes all the difference here. But how does this play out in our modern interpersonal dynamics on a day to day basis? As a white male, I am well aware of the favoritism I receive by a court system that we all know is never as colorblind as we would like it to be, but what happens when the power dynamic is shifted in an individual situation where say an employer happens to be African-American? If he or she allows their hiring decision authority to be influenced by their racial biases, would this not then constitute the type of institutional prejudice Spike Lee suggests is indicative of the type of power relationship involved in his definition of racism? In other words, I get the pendulum generally sways in the direction of institutional favoritism towards white people, but is it not equally unacceptable when the balance of power if unfairly skewed in the opposite direction? As a society that continues to progress towards a world free from racial preference, we must acknowledge that it is always unacceptable when individuals are debased, limited, or denied based upon their ethnic background, even if they have historically been the ones who benefitted from racial inequities.
The same can be said of gender discrimination. As the child of a single mother, you certainly don’t need to tell me about the continued wage gap in America. Hilary Clinton may be banging her head against the glass ceiling, but make no mistake, when and if she does go charging through it, there will be shattered shards of ramifications that rain down on the continued struggle for equal pay and treatment that the rest of the female workplace will endure. While women have come a long way since they earned suffrage in the early 1900’s, there is still a patriarchal structure in place that limits their potential and demeans their competency and professional stature.
But aren’t men the subject of gender discrimination as well? Before you scoff at that contemptuously, let me show you what I mean. For example, let’s start with the topic of domestic abuse. Regardless of the gender of the perpetrator, domestic violence is unacceptable, and fortunately, this topic has stepped out of the shadows to be addressed more directly in the last two decades or so. That said, there is a clear discrimination that occurs in both the gender profiling by law enforcement and in our society in general. When you think of a domestic abuse perp, what do you think of? Exactly- men are widely considered to be the more violent gender, and arrest records support this, with a whopping 75% of arrests for domestic violence being for men. Now I know what your response will be: Men are arrested more often because they commit the crime more often. First of all, think of what would happen if I reversed that type of latent gender stereotyping and suggested something like “Women should be less entrusted with decisions because they are more prone, biologically-speaking of course, to emotionalism”. You know darn well that shit wouldn’t fly. I would rightly have feminists jumping down my throat for spewing off a bunch of sexist bs that simply isn’t true. So why is it any more ok if we make these types of stereotypes about men being more prone to domestic violence?
And you know what the great irony is? It isn’t even true. According to a study done by the CDC and US Department of Justice, 53% of victims of domestic violence are men and 41.7% of victims of severe physical violence are men with women being designated as the primary aggressor more frequently than men. Furthermore, studies in New York, Boulder, and Massachusetts have all shown that men were three to five times more likely to be arrested than a woman in exactly the same circumstances. In the last 12 months, 5.4 million men were victims of intimate partner violence, 2.3 million victims of serious physical violence, yet there are virtually no programs to serve them.
And the same biases fall into play when it comes to the application of family law. Even though most states have moved towards a presumption of a 50/50 custody split in parenting time adjudications, mothers are the official primary parent in 5 out of 6 divorce cases. Just as the glass ceiling and wage gap implicitly suggest a questioning of women’s professionalism, so does this parental favoritism indicate an unfair skepticism of male parenting, a patently biased appraisal of men as less nurturing. Where is the outrage about this?
If you have read my work for long enough, you know I have your back, ladies. I am the first to stand up for your right to the same opportunities and liberation that men enjoy, and I am also the first to point out the subtle conventions of messaging a patriarchal world uses to deprive you of them. But Gloria Steinem once said a feminist is “anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men”, so if you want to truly call yourself a feminist, if you really want to champion the cause of gender equality, then you have to be right there too, equally ready to fight against the injustice, when the sexism swings the other way.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 Words or Less every TUESDAY and FRIDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com