Here’s a brilliant comic on so-called “reverse sexism” (which is not an actual concept) by artist Matt Lubchansky. It satirises the knee-jerk response of privileged, usually White heterosexual men, who attempt to derail serious conversations about feminism and gender inequality. Rather than acknowledging that problems of power and privilege create various benefits for men as a group in a way that do not exist for women as a whole, the “Not all men” line has a circular logic. If not all men contribute to inequality, then inequality must not really exist. Conversely, if not all men are sexist, then some women are sexist therefore reverse-sexism exists. Much like reverse-racism, this concept is a misnomer: groups which lack the balance of power cannot, by definition, oppress powerful groups.
Feminism shows that institutions are set up to give men greater life chances. This means that men as a group gave greater opportunities to their concerns heard, to be represented in major social spheres, and to succeed. There are hierarchies of power within all genders, with some privileged members receiving more direct benefits, such as White heterosexual men in comparison to gay men of colour. Power is relative but it rests with social groups, not individuals. So the fact that I don’t discriminate does not invalidate the argument that I still gain protections from institutional discrimination.
On Time Magazine, Jess Zimmerman argues that the “Not all Men” argument represents an opportunity for consciousness shift over time. Perhaps, she muses, if men can go from “Sexism is a fake idea invented by feminists” to “Not all men are sexist,” then they might eventually make the jump to progressive change. They might come to see that, “if I want to be anti-sexist I have to be actively working against that socialisation.” I disagree. Sociological research shows that at masculinities that refuse to acknowledge sexism only impede progress.
Values need to fundamentally shift, so that individuals recognise that patriarchy benefits men even if they don’t actively perpetuate violence and oppression of women. See the work of Raewyn Connell as a start, who shows that men who actively speak out against sexism have made this shift. Her case study of men in the green movement embody this change. Passively defending the right not not be called sexist is not a path to enlightenment.