I overheard a female classmate discussing a story about a University of Toronto student who filed a claim with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal accusing his Women and Gender Studies professor of discriminating against him.
According to rawstory.com, Wongene Daniel Kim claimed that he was incredibly shy, particularly around women, and that he felt highly uncomfortable attending a class in which he was the only male. Kim told his teacher he wanted to stay in the class and submit his work online and asked her to waive the 15 percent of his grade related to participation.
Surprising nobody, she refused. That’s all well and good. As a teacher, she has the right to evaluate her students according to whatever criteria she — and the university for which she works — sees fit. Let’s be honest: The student could have taken a different class.
What shocks me is the rhetoric surrounding the issue. It goes something like this:
“Reverse-sexism is not a thing,” say the respondents. “Guys don’t get discriminated against because of their gender. This is just another man expecting the world to bow to his demands. Boys are such idiots.”
These people are right about one thing: reverse-sexism is not a thing. Sexism is, and it’s a two-way street.
READ THE COUNTERPOINT HERE
First, I need to be clear: I’m not supporting Kim. As I said before, he could have taken another class.
I’m also not saying that women are not discriminated against; one need only look at the wage gap between men and women and the systemic discrimination against women in employment opportunities to know that gender bias against women is still a massive issue.
What I’m saying is this: Men can be discriminated against.
It’s important to define some terms here. The Oxford English Dictionary defines sexism as “prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.” Right there you might leap from your seat, spilling your Starbucks in triumph.
“Ha!” you might say, “sexism is typically against women!”
That’s true, and I’m not arguing against that. But remember the meaning of the word typically: “characteristic of a particular person or thing.” Discrimination against women is characteristic of sexism. I don’t think anyone would deny that. But that doesn’t mean that only women are discriminated against.
We should also define discrimination, again from the OED: “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age or sex.”
As an example of discrimination, let’s consider the phrase “Boys are such idiots.” I think it’s safe to say this phrase is meant as “All boys are such idiots”.
Now, if it’s true that sexism is discrimination based on gender and discrimination is unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age or sex, then a pejorative statement about all members of a class such as “all boys are such idiots” falls under the definition of sexism.
However, it’s not just a semantic argument. Let’s look at a real-world example.
Two years ago I was searching for jobs on Mill Avenue. I walked into the now-defunct Devil’s Den and asked the bartender if they were hiring. She told me yes, but they only hired women. I was denied even applying for a job based upon my gender. Denying someone an opportunity based upon their gender is discrimination. If we follow the same reasoning we used concerning “all boys are idiots,” we can easily arrive at the same conclusion: sexism.
Throughout my time working in the service industry I’ve found this sort of discrimination to be very common. A woman with little to no experience can get a job tending bar far easier than an experienced man, and it’s not uncommon to see restaurants with entirely female serving staffs.
Ironically, one rarely sees a restaurant with an entirely female serving staff that is owned and operated by a woman. Men run these restaurants, and they run them in this fashion because other men will buy more product and tip higher if they are being served by an attractive female. But this doesn’t disprove the idea that men can be discriminated against. All it proves is that sexism does not exclusively occur between opposing genders.
There are many problems with our country’s gender culture. The average woman makes far less than the average man, and those in positions of power throughout our country are overwhelmingly male, white and Protestant. But these facts do not entirely disqualify all males from discrimination. Sexism is itself a disease, and anybody (male or female) who makes pejorative claims about the opposite sex is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @sirshackofford