Gender Equity is Not Reverse Sexism
This rant is in response to a recent debate between students from my campus on the women’s only workout hours in our cardio room. The accusation from some students was that these women’s hours are reverse sexism. Let’s apply this logic to some other forms of accommodations.
We have a LGBTQ centre on campus that provides resources and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersexed, queer, questioning and Two-Spirited individuals on campus. Where is the heterosexual support centre? Is this reverse discrimination against heterosexuals? Equality dictates that we should also have a centre for heterosexual support, right?
We have an AccessAbility office to support students with disabilities, to try to eliminate barriers to academic success and participation in all areas of university life. Are the resources and accommodations for individuals with disabilities unfair to able-bodied/abled students? Is this reverse discrimination against able-bodied/abled students? Equality dictates that we should give all students the same resources and accommodations, right?
We have many different clubs and groups representing the different races and ethnicities on campus. Are these groups discriminating against white people? (FYI these clubs do not have member discrimination, anyone can join). Are these clubs reverse racism? Equality dictates there should be a white people club to support our white students and faculty, right?
There are many bursaries, grants and resources for low-income students at our university. Are these bursaries, grants and other resources unfair to non-low income students? Is this reverse classism? Equality dictates that we should all give students the same resources, right?
I hope all, or at least some, of these assumptions about reverse forms of discrimination seem ridiculous, otherwise my point will be lost on you (unfortunately, I have heard some people make these arguments). Normativity means that we have certain cultural norms that shape our social structure. These norms give more privilege and power to certain members of our society over others, including: heterosexual privilege, white privilege, abled privilege, and middle and upper class privilege. These norms are entrenched in our society and they are naturalized by members of our society; therefore, privileged members, that do not experience a certain form of discrimination or oppression, often do not notice it.
So, this brings us to equity. The notion of equality (everyone gets the same thing), can be used as a copout for not trying to have a richer understanding of how certain members of society are more privileged. On the other hand, EQUITY means justice or fairness. Equity can mean equal or unequal distribution depending on the circumstance, i.e. what would be just and fair in a specific context. Equity is important for members of underprivileged groups. Some groups and individuals need specific resources and support because they have more challenges being a minority and/or underprivileged member of our society — a society that caters to certain groups over others.
Now, back to gender. In my experiences I have found that many individuals can see some of the other forms of privilege I have discussed but are blinded to male privilege. If you can understand that some members of society are valued and privileged more, is it that difficult to understand that this can also run along gender lines? We live in a patriarchal male-normative society. No, it is not just in third world countries, patriarchy is everywhere. Therefore, we have certain resources and accommodations for women on our campus. This is not sexism. There is no reverse sexism. A man can be treated negatively by a woman, but this is not sexism. Women experience sexism because they experience systematic, socially sanctioned oppression.
These resources and accommodations on campus are not sexist against men, they gender equity for an underprivileged group. Unfortunately, if patriarchy is not acknowledged than some individuals cannot understand the importance of gender equity. So, here is my challenge to those of you who do not believe patriarchy exists: instead of disregarding the idea that patriarchy exists, look into it, try to understand what it means and how it informs our society. Maybe you will hold the same view you do now or maybe your eyes will open to something you have been blinded to. How can it hurt to just open yourself up to the possibility that male privilege exists? If women are oppressed don’t you want to understand how, and what can be done about it?
P.S. Feminists and pro-feminists recognize that men can suffer from forms of oppression, and as equalists we are fighting for the end of all oppression. Some of these forms of oppression include the forms that I have discussed, sexism is just not one of them.
If anyone knows of some great resources for understanding patriarchy please comment with them.
*If anyone needs access to any of these centres for support and resources please contact me and I will help you access them.
Male Privilege Checklist: http://sap.mit.edu/content/pdf/male_privilege.pdf
Resources for Men: http://www.feminist.com/resources/links/men.htm
Resources for Men: http://www.michaelkaufman.com/2011/the-guys-guide-to-feminism/