So there’s this word that’s been bothering me quite a bit recently when it comes to posts on or about a lot of recent events. It’s “reverse.” As in, “reverse sexism,” “reverse racism,” “reverse persecution.”
It bothers me because there is no such thing. Sexism is the discrimination against someone because of gender – which gender is irrelevant. Racism is discrimination based on race – which race is irrelevant. Persecution is persecution – you can’t “reverse” it and have it still be persecution.
And yes, I understand what people mean when they use the phrase, but that’s half the problem. “Reverse” is used by people of a privileged class when they feel as though that privilege is being taken away from them. It never (or rarely) occurs to them that what they’re feeling is the product of the “original” -ism act; it’s still sexism if a man isn’t allowed to wear a short skirt or show off his pecs at work, even though that’s “targeted” against a man rather than a woman. It’s all part of the same horrible sexism package that says that women are X thing and men are Y thing and everyone ought to conform to that standard.
It’s the same story when we look at race or religion or sexual orientation or anything else that humans have come up with to discriminate against one another. It’s all bad news for everybody. And sure, there are people who are more privileged within those -ism constructs – I’m certainly not denying that – but even privilege is harmful, to both those with it and those without it.
Also, if someone pulls out the biological determinism argument one more time, I’m going to start throwing things. Biological determinism is – pardon my proverbial French – utter shite. Sure, people with XY chromosomes and penises can’t physically become pregnant, but aside from basic physiological functions, there’s nothing about biology that dictates superiority or a preference for work in the STEM fields.
Case in point – computer work used to be considered “women’s work” because it was thought of as secretarial. Programmers were women because it was coded (har har) female. Well, that shifted, and now we think of it as coded male, but neither the core concept of programming nor our basic biological building blocks have changed. Farming – coded female in some societies, male in others. Makeup was coded male in Europe for a long time, and so were high heels. Shopping was something men did in much of medieval Europe because women weren’t to leave the house. Music, drama, art, all coded male. Teaching, until the nineteenth century, coded male.
You get my point. We code behaviors, clothing, and expectations based on social influences – influences which shift based on innumerable factors, very few of which are biological. Yes, it is a truth that you don’t find many women in STEM, or construction, or gaming. But instead of saying that “women just don’t like” those things, or that “women aren’t programmed for” them, let’s think about why it is that women aren’t engaging in those institutions.
Could it be that these fields, because coded masculine, are hostile environments, even though the individuals in them might be welcoming? Women don’t go into STEM because they’re told from a young age that they should be wives and mothers, teachers or nurses, something nurturing, someone emotional, not someone rational who gives up her weekends to a lab or an office. Boys are taught to be competitive, to be driven, to fight for dominance. This social training predisposes us from a young age to gravitate toward (and away from) certain things, to automatically dismiss entire career paths at the age of nine or ten or twenty as something that isn’t “for us.”
And to a certain extent, that’s true. It isn’t “for us” because we grew up with that belief. We developed into teenagers and adults who had already made choices based on preferences evolved in highly gendered and -ism-ed childhoods. Some of us defied those -isms and took on careers and hobbies that weren’t coded to our race or gender or religion. Some of us didn’t. And all of those choices are legitimate. But it doesn’t change the fact that we’re pigeonholing our own children by not questioning those social constructs.
And, worse, we’re watching those constructs kill people. Charlie Hebdo. Mike Brown. Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Leelah Alcorn. Guantanamo. Matthew Shepard. Abu Grabe. Rafael Ramos. Wenjian Liu. We watch institutionalized -isms kill people and then justify them as “the way things are.” Biological determinism. Or, as I like to call it, excuses and bullsh*t.