We can’t undermine or ignore the fact that sexism against women pervades all aspects of society: it still exists in education, employment, the workplace, politics, domestic life and in every day social situations. It is worth stressing that the gender pay gap, the idea that men earn more than women for the same work, is largely a myth; as this article explains. The ‘gender pay gap’ rests on flawed methodology and a misinterpretation of statistical data. An article in The Telegraph highlighted that differences in pay come down to differences in lifestyle choices. On the other hand, it does turns out that male bonuses are double those of women and most CEO positions do tend to be occupied by men.
Women are also highly under-represented in politics which means that women’s issues are probably not as high up on the agenda as they should be. Many women also have to deal with the unnerving abuse (both verbal and physical) that stems from male dominance. According to current government statistics, last year 1.2 million women suffered domestic abuse, over 400,000 women were sexually assaulted, 70,000 women were raped and countless women are stalked in a threatening manner on a daily basis. Bear in mind that this still leaves out all of the unreported cases of violence and abuse that women become victims of.
Forced marriages and grooming gangs are another way young women are at serious risk, but due to ‘cultural sensitivity’ and the wish not to offend, these issues are brushed under the carpet again and again. Certain legislation exists to tackle these pressing issues and others – The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 aims to crack down on female circumcision procedures that are performed overseas, whilst the updated Protection from Harassment Act 1997 aims to protect women against stalking which causes for fear of violence or distress. The government has also recently published an action plan, titled A Call to End Violence against Women and Girls (March 2013), the objective of which is to correct the fact that half of the population (women) face the threat of violence and abuse from the other half of the population (men).
Stereotyping, discrimination, subjugation, trauma and suffering is a horrifying reality for many women across the globe. Feminism has achieved a lot in terms of establishing equal rights for women, and it is a movement which should at all times be heard and encouraged in its cause. The point that does need stressing, however, is that because sexism against women is so pervasive and is committed by men, and because feminism is such a powerful force in society, sexism against men often gets sidelined.
In regards to the statistics on rape, last year 9,000 men became victims of this horrible crime (committed mostly by men, not women). Although there are many cases of men being raped by women. The number of men who are raped is far less than the number of women who are raped each year, but it is still an issue lacks the deserved attention. There are posters warning women about the risks of rape (i.e. about how not to get too drunk, to be careful about their drinks being spiked, to not get into unmarked taxis etc.) but where are the posters for men? And where are all the support groups for male rape victims? Might it not make even more sense if there were gender-neutral warning posters?
It’s true that women should be a bit more careful and vigilant than men do when it comes to these types of situations. And of course, awareness should also be raised about the fact that most women who are raped are raped by someone who they know, most often by their partner. However, the lack of awareness about male rape victims (partly due to under-reporting) and the lack of an appropriate response to this problem, I think, does help to strengthen the stereotype that men are incapable of being victims themselves.
Rape can be just as traumatising for a man as it is for a woman – depression, anxiety, shame and fear can follow in a similar way. But what’s worse is that because many men may feel emasculated following the incident, they are too ashamed to report it to the police, or even tell anyone for that matter. It is quite likely, then, that the number of men raped each year is much higher. The stereotype that men should be powerful and protective may lead many male rape victims to feel a deep sense of guilt for having been over-powered and violated by someone else. Men can, of course, be raped and sexually assaulted by women as well – it is completely discriminatory to say that a man cannot be raped by a woman. Rape, defined as the act of sexual intercourse forced upon someone else, is gender-neutral. The fact that a man has an erection during the experience is irrelevant; it has nothing to do with whether the man consents or not. No still means no.
Relating to this point, cases of domestic violence against men by women (or men) are under-reported and are always taken less seriously than cases of domestic violence against women by men. The men’s group Parity published a report called Domestic Violence: The Men’s Perspective (2010). Their analysis of Home Office statistics revealed that each year, on average, 40% of cases of domestic abuse involve a woman attacking their male partner (if we assume that most relationships are heterosexual). This is somewhat surprising, given the widespread impression that it is always women who are battered and bruised by their boyfriend or husband. A recent study by researchers from the University of Cumbria found that women are actually more likely to be controlling, aggressive and violent towards their partners.
John Mays, of Parity, argues that men are treated as second-class citizens in this respect – the police do not take them seriously and their plight is overlooked by the media, official reports and government policy. This striking disparity is also demonstrated by the fact that there are 7,500 refugee places for female victims of domestic abuse, but a mere 60 for men. This unequal provision of support stems from the fact that a man is a man and not a woman. It is not coincidental; it is sexist. Mays also commented that the official figures most likely underestimate the true numbers of male victims; as he says, “Culturally it’s difficult for men to bring these incidents to the attention of the authorities. Men are reluctant to say that they’ve been abused by women because it’s seen as unmanly and weak.” As with the subject of rape, these men are forced to be embarrassed about the violence or psychological abuse inflicted on them and are unwilling to seek out justice as a result, because this myopic stereotype of masculinity still exists.
On a societal and cultural level, the average person will castigate a man immediately if there is even the suggestion that he has harmed his wife or girlfriend. But the reverse is not true. Now I wouldn’t normally use The Jeremy Kyle Show as supporting evidence, but I’ll make an exception in this case. In this particular segment, Jezza talks to a woman who beats her fiancé and at one point broke his nose. Now when she details the way that she attacks him, by head-butting him or hitting him with a frying pan, the audience is not booing and hissing as they would be if the gender roles were reversed. Jezza, on this one occasion I would say, made the valid point that domestic violence is domestic violence – gender makes no difference.
This sexist attitude towards violence exists on another level – if, for example, a woman were to attack a man out in public and the man defended himself by hitting her back (if necessary), people would be disgusted with his behaviour. Why? Because he is physically stronger than her? Well, there are plenty of women who are far stronger than some men. But in any case, if this same man was attacked by a weaker man, and defended himself by punching him, there would not be anywhere near the same level of shock and revulsion as with a woman. This is one more way in which the stereotype of man as the aggressor, and woman as the aggressed and innocent victim, plays out in society. The image of man as the aggressor may also explain why men are more likely to be conscripted into the military than women.
Another way in which men are discriminated against is in the family courts, such as when it comes to having custody of children. The campaign group Fathers 4 Justice is committed to establishing equal parenting rights. In most parts of the world, custody laws show an unfair and clearly favourable bias towards women. David Benatar, the author of The Second Sexism, points out that when the man is the primary caregiver his chances of winning custody are lower than when the woman is the primary caregiver. Ensuring that fathers have an equal right to see their children should be fought for on the basis of equality alone, but it should also be promoted as a way to prevent fatherlessness in the UK. 1 in 3 children in the UK currently live without a father in their lives.
The fact that men are constantly losing custody of their children, whilst women are pretty much guaranteed custody of them, only helps to perpetuate the prejudice that men are incapable of providing emotional support, nurturing and love. Child support legislation also discriminates against men on the basis of their gender – it assumes that fathers are needed to provide financial support to their children and nothing else. Furthermore, the labelling of dads as ‘deadbeats’ is just lazy and ignorant.
Paternity leave in the UK is hugely unequal and sexist in this regard. Fathers in the UK are entitled to take just two weeks’ paternity leave, whilst mothers are granted up to one year of maternity leave. This ‘unequal sharing of caring’ marginalises the role of fathers and denies them the opportunity to take an equal share in the role of parenting. It is a piece of legislation which further perpetuates the stereotype of man as breadwinner and woman as the carer. Perhaps the terms ‘maternity leave’ and ‘paternity leave’ should be scrapped altogether in favour of the gender-neutral ‘parental leave’. The mother and father could then flexibly share ‘parental leave’, depending on their circumstances, and there wouldn’t be a legislative assumption about the woman having to take on the entire task of raising a child.
Men’s health issues are also undermined and over-shadowed by women’s health issues. Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death for men in the UK, with over 40,000 new cases diagnosed each year. This is around the same number of women who get breast cancer every year (48,000), yet breast cancer awareness, advertising and campaigning seem to receive far more attention than the equivalent for prostate cancer. Breast cancer research receives far more funding than prostate cancer research as well.
The Samaritans’ Suicide Statistics Report (2013) shows that men are on average 3-5 times more likely to commit suicide than women. Suicide is, in fact, the biggest killer of young men in the UK. The reasons why the suicide rate is higher for men than for women is partly due to cultural stereotypes, I think. First of all, there is a lot of pressure on men to be financially successful, providers and breadwinners, so that when a man faces unemployment, this may affect him much more deeply than it may affect a woman. However, I think a stronger factor is men not speaking up about the emotional turmoil, stress, anxieties and depression they may be experiencing. This again could be influenced by male stereotypes. Many men may not want to seek out help for their mental health problems because they associate the mental health problem, and the desire to seek help from others, as a sign of weakness and failure as a ‘man’.
Another men’s issue which is not seriously challenged is male circumcision. The Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 makes it a criminal offence in the UK to excise or mutilate any part of a girl’s genitals or to assist in any such procedure. A loophole existed in this Act which meant that girls in the UK could be taken abroad to a country where female genital mutilation (FGM) is not illegal and so could be performed. The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 attempts to close this loophole by making it a criminal offence for a UK national or permanent resident to have this procedure done on a girl overseas. (For more background and details about these Acts.)
Yet why is there not a similar law protecting male infants from genital mutilation? Admittedly, male circumcision is far more common in the Jewish and Muslim tradition than female circumcision is, but this does not justify this kind of gender discrimination. Male circumcision is still genital mutilation and I’m sure it can cause as much pain and for a male as for a female. Admittedly, the removal of the clitoris would reduce the ability to experience sexual pleasure more in a female than would the removal of a male’s foreskin. But I still think that, unless the procedure is medically necessary, mutilating the genitals of a newborn infant, regardless of their gender, should be viewed as an ugly and abhorrent practice. The child’s rights and its interest not to be harmed should not disappear as soon as gender enters into the equation. FGM can be far more gruesome and disgusting than its male counterpart, so I can understand why there is a heightened sensitivity to the issue. Nevertheless, I don’t think the law should discriminate – it should be illegal to mutilate the body of any non-consenting minor for non-medical reasons.
This article was not meant in any way to devalue the feminist movement and the campaign for women’s full equality in every area in which it is missing. I also understand that women face far more discrimination than men do. Nevertheless, I thought that it was important to highlight sexism against men and bring men’s issues to the surface in order to show how full human equality is still a long way off in the UK. The under-representation of women in certain professions receives a lot of attention, but what doesn’t receive enough attention are questions such as the feminisation of education, which may contribute to girls substantially outperforming boys in school, as well as a university gender gap. I hope that these cases of discrimination against men also coincide with the philosophy of most forms of feminism: that gender is an irrelevant and arbitrary distinction to be made between people.