What about discrimination against men?

Is it discrimination against men when a women organize a women’s only event? In this I explore this idea and show it as the cover for misogyny that it is.

Everyday Sexism
Image by Amayita via Flickr

In my recent encounter with sexism, one argument was often put forth by the males of Reddit. It went something like this:

If it is discrimination to setup male-only poker tournaments, then it follows that it must be discrimination to setup female-only poker tournaments. Therefore the guy did nothing wrong to use anti-discriminatory laws in order to take part. And if you would root for a female taking part into a male-only tournament and winning, so we are justified in rooting for a the guy in this case.

This is actually an argument that makes sense, unlike the rest of the misogynistic strawmen, and thus deserves a more detailed counter.

The short answer is no, it’s not discrimination when women do it. You’re not justified in rooting for a male crashing the women’s tournament. No, this is not a double standard. Why? Because of privilege and existing domination.

You see, we do not live in a gender equal society and many many sports and hobbies are male-dominated without particular logical reason (ie unlike some physical sports where the male physical build gives a distinct advantage) but rather as a historical continuity. This changes the environment and thus the ethical considerations we have, with which to decide if the label of discrimination can be assigned. You see we cannot judge as if the environment was already equal and so act as if we’re simply trying to maintain this equality. The environment is not equal and men are the privileged party in this case.

How are they privileged? In this particular case by dominating all such events (ex: poker tournaments). Why is this privilege? Because of a few things. First, a man playing in such an event, is not automatically assumed to represent the whole of his gender. If he wins or loses, he’s a good or bad player respectively, while women are treated as if they represent every other woman. Second, they don’t get to feel like an external no matter the event. There will always be a majority of males which act and speak in manners comfortable to other males. This by default makes it an uncomfortable environment for women, instantly putting them on their guard and accentuating their alienation. Finally, and this follows partly from the previous point, there will be a natural hostility of males, who now have to conform more with mixed-gender social standards, and thus will feel bitter that they cannot be as relaxed as they were. I believe it will manifest as a subconscious attempt to turn attending women off the sport.

So these are all effects that any woman entering a male-dominated hobby will face, something I’ve seen personally from my RPG/Tabletop gaming groups to the IT sector where I work. Even when there are people who wish to have more girls involved, their eagerness can inflame the problem rather than help (think of the awkward sweaty gaming geek trying to be nice to a shy girl joining the group, while leering at her boobs half the time.)

So all of these constitute the privileged position of males in a sector and thus an inequality that will remain until sexism is abolished. In this situation, someone who strives for equality, cannot simply act as if equality already exists. This is simply living in a dreamland and giving your silent consent to sexism at best, or actually acting like an unwitting apologist to misogyny at worst. Rather, someone who strives for equality roots for the weakest party until such time as equality has been achieved.

And this is the ethical aspect that determines that a women-only event in a male-dominated hobby is not discrimination.

You see women do not host such events in order to avoid losing to their “natural superiors” as sexists like to imply, they do it as a reaction to the fact that it’s impossible to avoid the male privilege in all such events. It’s impossible to avoid the subconscious hostility, patronization or over-eagerness that exists in male-dominated events and thus a specific event needs to be organized for fans of the hobby in question in order to play in a more relaxed environment. To call this setup discrimination is wilful ignorance which serves as an excuse for asshole-ish acts against it.

So to put it plainly, when there is a male-dominated hobby or job, any attempt to restrict entrance to females can rightly be called discrimination as the reasoning behind it is simply to maintain “purity.” On the other hand, when in the same male-dominated hobby or job, an attempt by the few females that exist to organize a female-only event cannot by any strain of imagination be seen as an attempt to restrict males, since they already dominate. Rather it is an event of solidarity which serves to avoid the very real effects of the male domination.

The same reasoning just as well applies to other marginal groups in different settings. Blacks setting up black-only events in a society dominated by whites and crypto-racist sentiments is also an understandable reaction. And not only that but when the roles have been reversed, when say you have a women-dominated hobby/job, in that case any attempt to restrict entrance to men can rightly be seen as discrimination against males.

In closing, things are not simply black and white on the issue of discrimination. It is the whole of the environment around any such act which provides the ethical considerations we need to in order to decide on the issue. Those ignoring them and simply looking at one such decision in isolation in order to jump on the high horse are simply using intellectual dishonesty in order to hide their sexism.

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