I’ve finished reading David Benatar’s ‘The Second Sexism‘. This is a book by a respected philosophy professor at the University of Cape Town, and applies the tools of analytical philosophy to the question of whether males are facing unfair discrimination in society – a second sexism, one that is not taken seriously or even ignored (the title is an adaptation of Simone de Beauvoir’s iconic ‘The Second Sex’).
My overall verdict of the book is that it is an excellent and essential read. In fact, not only an essential read for all men’s rights supporters, but one that should be re-read and studied. The detached and logical manner in which the thesis is laid out, defended, and the feminist objections systematically refuted, should serve as a model, as well as unambiguously laying to rest the claim that only hot heads and bitter psychotics (yours truly) believe that men are being disadvantaged against.
It should be noted, and this is something that will understandably rile many, that David Benatar seems to not only be at pains to distance himself from the online men’s rights movement, but also to question both its existence and even need.
However, leaving that aside, and the possible reasons for that stance on the part of the author, this is still a must read work that states the case for men’s rights in a manner that has never been done before, and which ought to be celebrated by every supporter of men’s rights.
A brief description of the format and content of the book. As I noted above, this is an academic work of philosophy (it’s an extension of a paper that the author had given previously), yet for the most part it is highly readable. Those not familiar with analytic philosophy may find the first chapter a little hard to digest – an exhaustive analysis of the meaning of ‘sexism’ is conducted. But most of the book is a pleasure to read (if that’s the right word), especially the second chapter in which Benatar outlines various ways in which men have been disadvantaged as a result of unfair discrimination made by society against them (I quoted a piece of this in my article on the First World War White Feather campaign).
The main areas in which men are discriminated against and which the author discusses are Conscription and Combat, Violence, Corporal Punishment, Sexual Assault, Circumcision, Education, Family and Other Relationships, Bodily Privacy, Life Expectancy, Imprisonment and Capital Punishment.
After devoting a chapter discussing each in turn, Benatar examines the underlying beliefs about males in society that lead to an acceptance (or even ignorance) of such obvious discrimination (chapter 3), then demonstrates for each example of discrimination that such attitudes do not supply any justification (chapter 4), followed by a rigorous and brilliant debunking of feminist objections (chapter 5). In chapter 6 of the book, the author analyses the concept of affirmative action (Benatar is something of an academic specialist on that topic) and whether it has a role to play in either justifying the discrimination against men, or in rectifying that discrimination. In the final chapter, the author draws his conclusions and suggests some ways in which the second sexism can be brought to attention and reduced, if not ever entirely ended.
The reason for the lengthy discussion as to the precise definition of ‘sexism’ in the first chapter becomes clear as the book progresses – the only remotely credible argument that feminists have against taking discrimination against men seriously depends on a particular and implausible account of sexism (‘structural’ or ‘systematic’ sexism) which makes unfair discrimination against men by definition impossible (and Benatar debunks this entirely, using in part his earlier analysis).
The author is aware of and points out the distinction between subtle and explicit sexism. For example (my example), statutory rape laws can be explicitly discriminatory against males in that female offenders are punished less harshly , or they can be examples(as well) of subtle discrimination – the laws themselves target males and male sexuality rather than females and female sexuality (r/mensrights take note).
The book is a magnificent read and should be considered an important and possibly breakthrough contribution to the debate. I don’t want to dwell on the distance that Benatar seems intent on creating between himself and the men’s rights movement, but it’s hard to see any one approach being sufficient in itself to bring the problem of sexism against men into the spotlight. The author actually states in his conclusion that he sees a need for ‘men’s groups’ in only a very limited fashion (he says the same thing about the need for women’s groups), and claims that such groups inevitably lead to hyperbole and extremism. I suspect that this might be something of a tactical move on his part.
The issue of men’s rights needs the academic detachment and rigour of the ‘The Second Sexism’, but it also needs the hot heads, little hot heads like the author of this blog, and the far more important hot heads such as Angry Harry and Paul Elam. To realise this one only needs witness the absurdly lazy and even mocking way in which feminists are already dismissing the arguments presented in the book.
For example :
Benatar also seeks to use the discrepancy between the treatment of gay men and lesbians as evidence for discrimination against men. He says there are many jurisdictions in the world that criminalise male sexual acts but not lesbian sexual acts. He also contends that there are more acts of “gay-bashing” perpetrated against gay males than lesbians. While this latter statistic may hold, in both cases the reason for the alleged preferential treatment meted out to lesbians is surely also because they are simply less visible, not necessarily more accepted.
The Torah, for instance, prohibits man-on-man sexual relations without a comparable proscription against lesbian sex – not because women were allowed to have sex with women, but probably because it takes for granted that men are the principle actors during sex.
Benatar’s argument also seems frustratingly divorced from economic and political realities in some ways. In an interview with the Observer, he said: “It’s true that in the developed world the majority of economic and political roles are occupied by males. But if you look at the bottom – for example, the prison population, the homeless population, or the number of people dropping out of school – that is overwhelmingly male. You tend to find more men at the very top but also at the very bottom.”
For a start, that very fact surely suggests a social and economic mobility unavailable to women in the same way. Secondly, if Benatar is saying that the fact that some men are better off than some women is not enough evidence to prove that women have it worse, then the opposite has to hold too – the fact that some men have it really, really bad, by that logic, doesn’t prove a wider disadvantage either.
The Second Sexism has also been featured in the British (left-wing) press :