“2nd Sexism” Punishes Men

Alexandra Reinecke, Editor-in-Chief

Scholar David Benatar writes that sexism practiced against men is so unrecognized “that the mere mention of it will appear laughable to some.” But with the reality that men are 165% likelier to be convicted of a crime than women (University of Michigan) and that men claim up to 97% of casualties in national actions like the Iraq War (National Center for Biotechnology Information), “2nd sexism” is far from a laughing matter.

Noor Sanauddin said true sexism must be “systematic and structural,” a standard many, like feminist theorist Marilyn Frye, who said sexism turns not on “the particular act” but on its attendant “system and framework”, argue 2nd sexism fails to meet. But especially in the case of male-on-male sexism that supports hypermasculinity, or so-called ‘toxic masculinity’, this discriminatory framework is undoubtedly present. Its structure exists in our legal system, in our universities, and in nearly every space from the home to the sports field.

According to a study by University of Michigan professor Sonja Starr, men receive criminal sentences that are on average 63% more severe than those doled out to their female equivalents. According to Cracked, this same bias against male behavior can be seen mirrored in popular culture in movies like 10 Things I Hate About You or Frozen, where “a woman punching a man in the face is something audiences cheer over,” in contrast to the cinematic reality that men who assault women are bad guys “cruising for a brutal death” by the movie’s end.

The 2nd sexism elsewhere inequitable becomes fatally inequitable on the battlefield. Throughout history, men have been expected to and have served to protect everything from their country’s physical to ideological territory. The practice of masculine ideals like courage and violence in such a context is not merely expected but demanded. Dodgers are ridiculed; deserters, shot.

“We don’t call the one million men who were killed or maimed in one battle in World War I a holocaust, we call it ‘serving the country,'” writes activist Warren Farrell of this reality. “A million men going to their deaths because they were males,” he elaborates, “[is] called the draft.”

One of the all-time most powerful scenes I’ve read is a bit from “On the Rainy River,” in Tim O’Brien’s collection of Vietnam War stories The Things They Carried. The story captures the shame O’Brien, then a Macalester graduate with a full grad-school ride to Harvard, felt: “I was too good for this war. Too smart, too compassionate, too everything . . . I was a liberal, for Christ sake.” He considers escaping the draft through temporary relocation to Canada.

“My conscience told me to run, but some irrational and powerful force was resisting, like a weight pushing me toward the war. What it came down to, stupidly, was a sense of shame. Hot, stupid shame,” recounts O’Brien of his young stint at the border. “All those eyes on me—the town, the whole universe—and I couldn’t risk the embarrassment. It was as if there were an audience to my life, that swirl of faces along the river, and in my head I could hear people screaming at me. Traitor! they yelled. Turncoat! P-ssy! I felt myself blush. I couldn’t tolerate it.”

His conclusion?

“I would go to the war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to.”

Throughout history women have been treated as property, but men died for their property –that of home or nation– on the battlefield, a fact Farrell controversially suggests to mean that men have in many cultures been considered inferior to their female peers. Others have made the same point through the example of journalistic disaster updates, which allot female deaths a separate, subsequent tally, perhaps deeming male death –and therefore male life– fundamentally less valuable than its feminine equivalent.

“We make jokes about it in school. ‘We’re going to war with Russia.’ ‘We’re going to war with North Korea.’ The girls don’t feel any pressure. The guys are the ones who in 2 years have to sign up for conscription,” said Lyon of the burden from which the fairer sex is exempt. “We’re the ones who are at the top of the list being shipped overseas.”

“I do believe that women should [also] be obligated to sign up,” said another Campolindo senior I will call Garrett, of this martial gender inequity. “Americans deserve equal rights . . .  [but also] equal responsibility.”

“I don’t see any lack of masculinity in dodging a war. It’s a statistical possibility. You’re gonna get some people who don’t want to go,” said Lyon, of O’Brien’s predicament. “[But] with dodging the draft it’s also the law. The law is you don’t get to have emotions.”

The same law applies to male civilian life, where, while far from the severity of O’Brien’s experience of shame at the Canadian border, males like Lyon routinely find emotion at odds with social expectation.

“With crying, I get the little voice in my head that’s like ‘don’t you cry.’ I can only cry when I’m alone. I’m not permitted to cry… The only time I consider it to be acceptable to cry is if I’m driving home. You know. I’m on my own. No one’s gonna look in my car and see me,” said Lyon. 

“It’s, I guess, a very cathartic thing to do. Cry. Crying was always the go-to response as a kid. It’s a natural thing. If we get hurt, we cry. That’s the response that’s built into our brains,” said Lyon. “Now, if we get our emotions hurt, we’re not allowed to cry.”

“I’ve only cried in front of my parents twice in my life. You don’t cry in front of your parents. That’s the one thing I would never, ever, ever in a million years consider acceptable. If I break down in front of my parents. And they see that, I don’t know, I’m weak. God forbid,” said Lyon. “If your dad sees you cry, that’s the ultimate way to get your dad to be like, ‘my son is not a man.'”

“We have [to create] a scab over our rejected areas,” explained Farrell of the societal pressure for men to suppress emotion. “Men saying ‘I need protection, I need help, please help me,’ is not natural.”

Lyon interprets this as a social instruction: “Don’t feel. That’s unattractive.”

A Seattle high school senior said society gave him the same directions. “No (negative) emotions, and ESPECIALLY don’t share them. After the age of 12, you aren’t allowed to cry. No bawling. No longer than 5 minutes. Bottle it up. Don’t be weak,” he said, adding that exceptions to the no-tears policy include laughter and death of a close family member.

“Extreme stress is debatable [as grounds for tears],” he concluded, conceding that a male who “really needs to [can] cry once a year in private.”

“I was a little uncomfortable the first time my boyfriend cried in front of me (something I’ve never admitted) because he’s such a stereotypical manly guy that I thought it was very weird that he actually cries a lot and is very sensitive. It’s now one of the things that I love about him, but it took me a while to get used to,” said Taylor of her football-player boyfriend, adding that she sees society’s stereotypes about male emotion responsible for her initial discomfort.

“Tears flow more readily for me than for others . . . [but] if I’m in the company of someone, I fight those tears back,” explained a Portland high school senior. “Since my earliest childhood to present day, when my father, who came of age in the Soviet Union, hears that I’ve begun to cry, he glares in disappointment, declaring, ‘Men don’t cry.’”

“We’re used to charismatic, aggressive, dominant male protagonists which might make for cool movies but contribute to a sort of unattainable expectation for men to never show emotion,” said yet another Campolindo senior girl.

“It’s like, if you hug another guy, that’s not okay. . . . I’ll say, I’ve seen that in the hallways. Girls hug each other. And the first thought is always like… ‘Is that real?’ That’s the most incredible thing to me,” said Lyon. “People nonchalantly hugging each other.”

“I have often thought about how girls who are close friends are often physically intimate (hugging, lying in each other’s laps, cuddling, etc.) but guys can’t be because it’s ‘gay,'” said Zheng.

“That’d be nice [to have],” said Lyon. “Even if it’s just high fives or handshakes. Even this one classmate who always says ‘hi’ to me. High fives me. I barely know him. It’s just like ‘wow.’ That’s the nicest thing. It shocks me.”

“[We’re] supposed to be super nonchalant and uncaring about everything, and showing any emotional interest or attachment to an issue or anything else is seen as lame. It’s kind of frustrating . . .  because nobody is really cynical and unfeeling and to pretend as though that’s the norm is basically just pretentious,” said a Campolindo senior boy.

“I think my friends and I are pretty open with each other but in general guys can’t talk about “real” stuff with their friends,” he said, adding that he finds it unfortunate that “there should be a double standard in which men can’t express any emotion at all.”

“You can have emotional intimacy with 1 best friend,” agreed another Campolindo boy. “Otherwise, you bottle that crap up.”

“Guys who are emotionally intimate with their friends are just less open about it because they’re afraid of what other guys might say or guys are afraid to be intimate with each other because they’re afraid of how their friends might respond while girls feel totally comfortable,” explained Taylor, adding that girls never face “societal pressure telling them that it’s not okay.”

The emotional suppression most men experience can become psychologically harmful to some, like one boy who “honestly forgot how to express any negative or ‘girly’ emotion in a healthy way.”

“When you think emotions are a weakness,” said Zheng, “you can’t truly live.”

The 2nd sexism also extends into the world of sports, where many men, like Lyon, feel pressure to compete even despite a fundamental disinterest in athletic pursuits. “I didn’t want to do a sport. I did a sport anyway. . . I did a year of soccer. Then I did a year of track. Then my swim team career was, I got in a pool once and said I don’t want to do this anymore. I’ve never wanted to do sports,” said Lyon.

“I guess I felt pressured… This voice in my head. If you want to make friends. If you want to not be an outcast. . . And that all came from nothing. But what it really came from was that I felt like my dad would never respect me if I didn’t do a sport,” Lyon explained. “He never even told me to do a sport. That expectation is just so pervasive, I think, in our culture, that I made that assumption myself.”

“I’m not a big fan of sports, but I still know how to play because I’m a guy,” one Campolindo boy agreed of society’s pressure on male athleticism.

Another boy highlighted a social hierarchy in which “guys who do sports are put above guys who don’t.” Oftentimes men feel that athleticism is a key facet of manliness, that to fail to participate in or to simply fail at sports is to give away some piece of their masculinity in the eyes of both superiors as well as female and male peers.

Farrell highlighted the danger of such expectation by asking readers to consider its reality were the involved genders reversed: “What if we sent little girls out on the football field [to] . . . get concussions, spinal cord injuries, broken noses, kneecap injuries that will last for life, and [told them] that if they get the pigskin a hundred yards down the field the boys will love them more?”

The 2nd sexism that celebrates hypermasculine athleticism also enshrines the toxic stereotype of male appearance against which many teenagers struggle. “Be good at sports, good with tools, have muscles, be 6’0 or above,” said Kieran, of such expectations.

Taylor said that men are held to an unspoken standard “just as unrealistic [as that men place on women]” in which success is to “be tall and muscular and have good skin.”

Taylor went as far as to suggest male stereotypes may be a larger social ail than are the Barbie waists and Victoria’s Secret breasts to blame for female beauty standards. “There’s a lot more propaganda empowering women to be who they want than there is for men. Men are labeled as the enemy but men feel just as much social pressure and there are fewer advocates willing to speak up for those who don’t conform,” she explained.

“People have a hard time accepting that there are people out there different from them. Having a group is comfortable to people,” said Lyon. “As people are becoming freer about expression, I think that’s why we have all this new gender stuff. People want to draw lines. Make teams. They’re not willing to just expand the old team. To make masculinity more open.”

“I don’t think it’s okay to be like I’m a boy but you have to meet certain requirements to be a boy. You shouldn’t have to check certain boxes. Why do you have to meet certain standards to be a man? Like why can I not be considered a male when I’m maybe in the white-blue area on the spectrum of like masculinity and have to be something else?” asked Lyon. “That person’s a man. I’m a man. Why can’t we all just be men?”

“People are born onto a team [by gender]. And people see it as though you’re playing against another team. But it’s like, for what?” concluded Lyon. “Everyone should just be respected as a person.”