Previous part here.
Fourth-wave feminism mainly differs from its predecessors in its perception of patriarchy. The third wave believes that patriarchy was created for men, by men. Under that model, men in power formulated and enforced a system of gender roles onto women, for male benefit. This model is problematic. Not only is it historically false, but it allows third wave feminists to write off male suffering as a “backfiring” of their own oppressive system. When more and more harm from “backfiring” is discovered every day, it becomes obvious that this is not the case. This was not a system designed for men, and nor was it designed by them. It is natural, and it hurts us all.
That’s the fourth wave model.
Under this account, sexism is mostly just the gender binary expressed, typically through enforcing stereotypes and gender roles.
I will concede that there has typically been more in the male gender role, for evolutionary reasons. As social animals, we have evolved our stereotypes and gender roles. They helped us split up roles in the group easily, and so we functioned more effectively as a unit. This led to a higher rate of survival for groups with these roles, and so they were passed on.
That’s why we inherited the roles that we have from similar apes, like chimpanzees (they have pretty much the same patriarchal system as we do). That’s why most social animals, from lions to bees, are sexually dimorphic. The males and female have not only evolved different bodies, but different roles to go with them. All animals which reproduce sexually (rather than asexually with themselves) must be at least partially social, and that is why these animals all have a rudimentary binary between male and female.
The more social the animals get, the more detailed the roles: and we’re the epitome. It’s popular to think of these gender roles as something created by men, but if you think like a biologist you can see that they have been around for millennia. They were beneficial to survival, and so both men and women passed them on.
I’m not, of course, arguing that they are a good idea now. We don’t have the same struggle to survive nowadays, having separated ourselves from other animals, and so we can afford to ignore what is evolutionarily good. We aren’t Social Darwinists, and we even provide charity to those who would naturally be selected against.
We need to leave our gender roles: nobody is disputing that. I just think that it’s wrong to blame it all on men, and think that women are the only victims, because when you look at the bigger picture that is simply not true. Male chimpanzees are the only ones who are allowed to fight, female chimpanzees are the only ones who are allowed to raise children.
Both developed roles for efficiency: it wouldn’t be at all beneficial if the females didn’t have important things to do as well, and in fact they have arguably the most important role for the survival of the unit (males seem like they have more, but they’ve been given all of the odd jobs so that the females can get on with producing their successors).
The evolved social split follows the physical one. You have a group of mammals, and want to give them roles to make them more efficient. For them to reproduce sexually, one of them need to carry the embryo. So you develop half of them (group A) to have a womb and whatnot. One of them is going to have to care for the newborn infant, because it will be a useless little thing. Who should do that?
Well, group A are the ones who will definitely be there at the birth, whilst the others (group B) could have left or been killed. So let’s develop group A to have mammary glands and be able to feed it. The group also needs protecting from other groups and different species. Who can do that?
Well, group A can’t do it if they are pregnant or looking after infants, so group B will have to. Let’s make group B bigger and stronger. Who should lead? Well, group B are the big and strong ones, and they also have more time on their hands because they don’t have infants to care for. You see how they can come about? Before you know it, you have called the strong ones men and the child-carrying ones women, and you have assigned some gender roles.
That’s where the patriarchy comes from, and it’s very logical when you’re an animal. If it wasn’t logical then it wouldn’t have survived this far. Strong gender roles could even potentially be a root cause of our species’s success: our ability to understand the patriarchy may have only come about because the patriarchy helped us evolve it!
Anyway, I digress. Men have more stuff in their gender role because women are busy with the most important part (from an evolutionary perspective, where passing on genes to the next generation is goal #1). Is this a privilege? Sometimes.
You can look back at history and think: men were able to go to work, women weren’t. Men were able to go to war, women weren’t. So male privilege definitely exists; but is this too simplistic a view? We often look at ‘being able to’ as a privilege, and ignore ‘being able not to’.
Men weren’t allowed to work, they were expected to. Thousands of men and boys died because they had to slave away in factories or down mines, shaving years off of their lives, whilst women got to stay home and enjoy an equal share of the income for none of the price.
Men weren’t allowed to fight, they were expected to. Millions of men and boys died because they were sent out to be slaughtered, whilst women got to stay home and enjoy an equal share of the protection for none of the price. So female privilege, the privilege not to do the many things in the male role, also existed. Looking at the deaths and the injuries across history, there is a very good case for saying that men suffered from their gender roles every bit as much as women did.
That, of course, is without even starting on the converse gender role. Men weren’t allowed to enter the female role, just as women weren’t allowed to enter the male one, and so there is more privilege to be found there. Father’s rights come under this heading, an area in which men are legally discriminated against to this day. The same goes for displays of femininity, which could be heavily punished. Again, though, we can’t forget the other side.
Women were expected to stay in the female role, whereas men didn’t have those expectations. As above, this male privilege to not do is just as much a privilege as the female privilege to do. Overall, the two generally balance out. There is a list of modern-day female privileges above, if you still aren’t convinced. I will also again stress the important of an open mind when considering your own privilege and the suffering of others: just because you don’t notice it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there!
With these past examples you could argue that women had it slightly worse, just as there is an argument that men had it slightly worse, but I find both rather futile. Firstly, there is no objective measure of ‘suffering’, so they can’t really be compared. How does the suffering of being forced to go and die because you are perceived as strong compare to the suffering of being forced to stay at home because you are perceived as weak?
Both sides have a good case, and it’s really not helpful. Playing Oppression Olympics gets us nowhere. If we can both agree that we are significantly oppressed by the same system, and that this system is neither of our’s fault, then it couldn’t matter less who is oppressed slightly more. We have agreed that the system is the problem, and so we should be joining together to understand it better and destroy it - not fighting amongst ourselves.
You’re right: once you’ve realised that one side exists, it’s dense to not realise the other. Misandry and misogyny work together as one system of oppression, and men and women are going to have to work together to fight it. We can’t understand it using the experiences of only one group, and that’s only going to lead to us erasing and villainising the other: something which the science shows is unjustified. We need to look for ‘the other side’ everywhere.
Women who did better than men at school do worse than they in the workplace? Misogyny spotted: we don’t want women to work because that’s in the male gender role. Everyone understands that, because first- and second- wave feminism have pointed it out to us. But not many people see the other side.
Misandry spotted: the converse is also true - these men do better in work, but did worse in school, so perhaps the female-dominated education system is harder on boys?
Misandry spotted: if women still aren’t allowed to work, men are still expected to be the main earner, which is an unfair burden on them. Almost every instance of misogyny will have an instance of misandry on its other side, and vice versa. It’s tempted just to take a one-sided view, and act like we are the only victims of a double-standard, but I very rarely find that to be true.
Sexism ’against men’ doesn’t really exist, but neither does sexism ’against women’: there is just ‘sexism’. It all negatively affects both men and women and non-binaries sooner or later, and so dividing people into groups of victims and villains is absolutely pointless - not to mention quite offensive.