David Benatar – The Second Sexism

the second sexismI’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.


and :

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 :



It also provoked the BBC to ask – ‘Just who are the men’s rights activists?’, as well as a terrible piece from the New Statesman.

12 thoughts on “David Benatar – The Second Sexism”

  1. I’m going to read it.

    Roy Baumeister distances himself from MRAs too (whom he lumps together with feminists under the label “gender warriors”), but I agree with nearly everything he writes in his book.

    Some people don’t like to be involved in controversies, I can understand that they want to keep what seems to be a neutral position. This neutrality, as you wrote, is useful to promote men’s rights.

  2. Nico, yes I agree entirely – the neutrality he has painstakingly maintained throughout would be the key to conveying the FACTS he presents as they are, free from any opinionated bias on any part from him.
    Therefore any bitter, misandrist femi-Nazi reading the book could not easily dismiss it as a biased load of ‘misogynist influenced lies’, as they usually state when counter-attacking most other MRA research…

  3. It is truee that Benatar’s detached style, which he employs in all his writing and most of his presentation, appear to give credible evidence of his impartiality and fairness. Hence, context, as a critic levied against his thesis that he fails to consider politics& economics, is where the facts lead to a semblance of truth. Had one (as I was) been present at his book discussion on the 21st May 2012, there was indeed a very distinct attitude of misogyny emanating from Benatar, to the shock and disdain of many attendees. I, for a long time have been an ardent admirer of his philosophical thought and acumen for logical debate, both as a writer and speaker. However, after hearing and seeing his presentation about his book and the manner in which he referred to women and later responded to females posing questions, not only left me disappointed in him, I was actually disgusted by the disrespect he displayed and the disdain he showed to the people who were there to engage with him. He did not adequately defend his stance when very solid, logical challenges were put before him. Instead of disarming skepticism with philosophical reasoning, he merely became verbally aggressive and lost the audience of the audience, and our respect.

  4. Good post. I certainly am one of those hot heads, and we need diplomats as well.. but it will be a miracle if women can be convinced of misandry through arguments.
    I ran into this favourable plug for the book, although I find the point “to convince people about fighting misandry, one has to convince them its good for women as well” quite disgusting.

    He does not argue that men have a worse time than women; that feminism has gone too far; that men are now the oppressed sex; or that sexism against women does not exist. On the contrary, he repeatedly details the many forms of injustice faced by women across the world, and applauds efforts to address them

    I wonder what injustices women face in the western world nowadays. Do you remember what he writes in the book?

  5. Thanks for the compliment Astrokid.

    I can’t recall him mentioning many forms of injustice faced by women in the western world – in fact he makes clear that he thinks it is absurd to suggest (as feminists still do) that women in the western world are oppressed. He does refer to historical oppression of women and to the oppresion of women today in certain parts of the world – for example, lack of access to education. When he does this it’s usually to highlight how these injustices are no longer faced by women in the west, and that the balance has now shifted the other way in favour of women.

    I agree that having to convince women it’s good for them to grant us basic human rights is disgusting, but I guess it’s a fact of life – at least for the audience he is writing for (a largely academic audience completely brainwashed by the feminist narrative).

    That New Statesman writer (Ally Fogg) regularly writes pro-male articles for the Guardian. For example : http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jul/18/male-sexuality-desire

    Talk about fighting behind enemy lines!

  6. I was there too, and strongly disagree with missopinionated’s version of events, above. He was dismissive of various stupid questions because of their content, not because of who asked them. Confirmation bias shouldn’t be used as character assassination.

  7. In western societies, sexism directed at women has almost disappeared, but unfair discrimination against men is not only unrecognised, but unattended to. Women will never be free until their menfolk are also free from sexism. Ordinary men who attempt to right this situation are well advised to leave the job to the acsdemics who are better able to deal with the sufferings of Job than they are.
    What should be examined is whether the endless exposure of victimhood is a Good Thing, when Oprahesque, it promises to deliver you from your oppression.
    As a corrective, feminism was useful. As a continued call to ideological arms, it is an embarrassment. Freeing men of the second sexism would strip them of their last remaining strength-their forbearance, and they are already dispirited enough.

  8. Here’s an excerpt that makes me want to read the above book: “After her victim [the bridegroom] has been hauled home (or rather, after her victim has hauled her off to his home where she shall eat him), many a woman tends to abandon her pursuit of glamour. When the hunt is over, one must pack up and put away one’s hunting gear, until it becomes neces­sary to hunt again. Such a woman ignores her looks, becomes unkempt, gets splendidly fat, turns discourteous, till her bewildered husband wonders if there is any living connection between the demure beauty he wedded and this raggedy harridan he must bear as the cross of his life.”

  9. Jack:
    I haven’t read it before, but something about the title sounds familiar. It’s not widely advertised, of course, but there are a number of books ‘banned’ (or more precisely, ‘unofficially blacklisted’) in the US.

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