So much of our experience of the world is gendered. Us men have mostly been able to ignore that throughout human history. Most men probably still do ignore it. (I am able to ignore it most of the time.)
Gender is natural, most of us receive either male or female sex organs. And those of us who get something in between usually get some kind of internal belief about our gender identity. (We know this because attempts to assign gender through socialization have been disastrous.)
So it should be no surprise that, for most of Christian/Western history anyway, most of us believed that there was nothing unfair about gender, it was just the order of things.
But here’s the thing: gender, like so much else in life, is accidental.
I didn’t do anything to deserve being a man. And you didn’t do anything to deserve your gender.
Gender is an accident. Just like birth. And that’s a problem.
It’s a problem because so much of our society, even in 2020, is based on traditional gender norms. And those norms are based on hundreds or thousands of years of practices based upon…accidents of birth.
It’s all the worse because a ton of people (men and women) don’t believe there’s a problem. Either they deny there’s a problem because they think there’s a natural order to things on account of millennia of accidents of birth or they believe that enough has already been done to fix these problems.
I get a ton of unseen advantages from being male. And for much of my life I wasn’t even aware of that. (And I’m still not aware of many of them. An entire article could be written by a woman on the advantages I have over most women that I don’t even know I have.)
And I did nothing to deserve these advantages.
Sure, my gender is an accident of birth and so are these advantages.
But, aside from my height, my strength, and my male pattern baldness, most of these advantages are not actually biological. In fact, they are socially constructed, by accident over centuries.
And that’s what’s unfair about it: a woman born in 2020 still has to deal with a legacy of decaying but still present patriarchal structures and systems which tell her and try to enforce the supposed “fact” that she is not as good as a man.
And this is true despite over a century of effort to reform. As well as an ever-growing body of evidence that says most “natural” gender differences are in fact made up.
A great example of how these differences still exist is in leadership roles: whether in public or private, women remain horribly underrepresented in leadership despite being a majority of the population in many countries.
Women make up approximately 50.4% of the Canadian population.
And yet there are only 98 women Members of Parliament, or 29% – an all time record, by the way.
Far worse, less than 4% of TSX-listed companies had a woman CEO (as of summer 2019).
I don’t need to know anything else about those numbers to know there’s a massive fairness problem.
But it does both ways: for example, men are now severely underrepresented in higher education.
I grew up listening to British blues rock. And, if there is one common theme in the blues, it’s that women are no good. I don’t know exactly what percentage of blues songs (most of which are by men) are about women being no good, but it’s a lot. I don’t know how much of this I internalized, thanks to my mother, but I must have internalized some of it. Imagine growing up in a world where a significant chunk of the music you listened to was all about how you’re awful and need to die.
But the best (read: worst) example of systemic sexism remains how female rape victims are treated by society. If men were raped at the frequency at which women are raped accused rapists would be treated like accused murderers, likely worse. Instead, for most of human history, male rape of women has been anywhere from barely criminal to completely socially acceptable. (There are class and racial dynamics here too, of course.)
(A friend who helped edit was very concerned about the above paragraph because he believes that male rape is highly unreported – likely true – and that this somehow undermines my point. The point that women victims of this crime have historically been treated as if the crime didn’t happen because they are women. I have a very hard time imagining that male rape occurs at the frequency of female rape, or even 1/5th the frequency. Until I see some kind of data to suggest otherwise I’m not sure agree. But if male rape is really far more widespread and unreported because men don’t want to be seen as weak or treated like female rape victims are, then maybe this actually reinforces the point.)
The long and the short of it is, my life is way easier because one of my father’s sperm was carrying a Y chromosome, rather than an X chromosome. That doesn’t seem fair.
And yet, that’s the reality of it. Ever since the development of agriculture (at least) men have had more power than women in most societies. And a century plus of women advocating to change that hasn’t leveled the playing field.
We in the West like to pretend people have “equality of opportunity” in open, democratic societies. But, if you’re a woman, that “equality of opportunity” is only among women and in traditionally female-centric industries, if it can even be said to actually exist.
And that’s undeserved and unfair. After all, gender is just an accident of birth.
Full disclosure: I am a biological man. And I am a man who has never doubted for a second that he is a man. I do not know what it is like to be a woman. Nor do I know what it is like to feel like I was born into the wrong body.