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To defeat sexism, men need to take a stand against other men

by Olga Garnova

I am a woman, but I am not a feminist. In fact, I dislike feminists.

Do not get me wrong, I am all for equal opportunities. But I am not expecting equal outcomes — at least not until the time men can bear children.

However, neither gender is superior to the other. We are different. And these differences must be respected.

In Japan the pressure to conform to traditional gender roles is very high. Sexism is the norm here. I have encountered everything from being ignored and interrupted in the middle of a sentence to hearing things such as “A ramen shop is no place for a woman” and cliches like “Women talk too much!” — from both Japanese and foreign men. My experiences are not unique; any woman in Japan can surely recall having been in a similar situation.

To be fair, sexism works both ways. Saying “A man ought to provide for his family” is as sexist as saying “A woman ought to stay at home and take care of her children and husband.” But women are subject to overt sexism much more often than men.

Sexist remarks and jokes against women degrade them, but they also serve additional purposes: to deepen the bonds between men and establish and defend their positions in male hierarchies.

In their social lives, men are constantly engaged in power games. They need to assert and reassert their masculinity, and sexism or discrimination against others is one way to achieve this. And in public, especially when other men are present, these behaviors become exacerbated — in front of an audience, the pressure to be a “real man” is higher. But the same pressure can be used to silence those few men who are openly sexist.

Recently I was at the center of two public displays of sexism. I was a target both times, and in one of these situations a man explicitly told me he was “bitching” about me because I was a woman, and that he would not say anything about guys because they are guys.

In the other case — an official meeting — a man interrupted me a number of times when I was answering his questions, ignored my comments and refused to listen to my motion at all. He never admitted that his behavior was related to my being female. However, his attitude toward the other members of our group, all male, was strikingly different.

I took a stand both times, but both men dismissed my complaints and accused me of being too sensitive and, on top of that, bitchy.

For those few men with highly sexist attitudes, women’s words do not matter much. As Janet Holmes, the author of “Women Talk Too Much,” says, men expect women “to provide a silent, decorative background in many social contexts.” When we talk, especially challenging their behavior and attitudes, those men perceive us as making too much of a fuss and too much noise.

Fortunately, the majority of men do not hold such overtly hostile sexist attitudes and do not support such attitudes openly. But most of the time they do not object to them either. And this is the real problem: By staying silent, they tacitly support the sexist behavior and help the sexist guy establish his authority. Anything said in private does not really matter as long as the original sexist comments are made in public. An audience is needed to play the power game.

This certainly holds true for the cases I was involved in. In both of the aforementioned incidents, the sexist behavior did not win the offender much support from his male peers. And both times, one of these peers decided to act — but with different outcomes.

In the first case the offender was talked to in private, but this had no effect at all. Afterwards, my defender claimed, “It’s not possible to change him. He will still be sexist.” At our next encounter, the sexist guy, true to form, was rude and dismissive. The only thing I could do to prevent further attacks was to avoid all contact with him.

In the second case my supporter confronted the sexist remarks and behavior in public, right after he noticed them. And it had an almost magical effect: The other members of the group backed him up and the sexism stopped. I had my happy ending.

In cases involving those few highly sexist men, just one other man’s voice has more power than the voices of hundreds of victims and any number of public awareness campaigns. And I want men to know that.

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