Ending Sexism Together: Confusion 3

The Myth of Reverse Sexism

Sexism targets females.

Sexism, like any institutional oppression, is a linear power dynamic from the non-target group, the group with institutional power (males), against the target group (females). In other words, it can’t go in multiple or reverse directions.

Females can, and do, mistreat, dislike, not prefer, act prejudice against, discriminate against, and have biases against males.

None of this makes females sexist.

We are in no way suggesting that these behaviors are not painful nor hurtful to males. We are in no way suggesting that these behaviors are okay or even defensible in the face of sexism.

Yet, unlike, prejudice, discrimination, and bias — which can go in any direction, including from target group to non-target group — the same cannot be said about oppression, because oppression is about institutional power.

In our work to end institutionalized racism and all other oppressions, it is essential to understand sexism: what it is and what it isn’t, how it operates, and its purpose.

Clearing Up Confusions about Sexism

During our August 2022 Healing Together Gathering: Ending Sexism, we asked participants to put a checkmark next to the scenarios they believed were examples of sexism. Although each scenario was heavily marked, only the scenarios highlighted in purple are sexism as we define it.

“A female boss fires a male employee because she doesn’t like him.”

In this example, the female boss acts from a place of prejudice and discrimination, both protected in our legal system as harmful acts, but neither are institutional oppression. The female boss does not get her power to fire the male employee from her identity as female. From an oppression lens, she gets her power through classism, not sexism.

“A female says, ‘All men are dogs.’”

This is another example of prejudice and bias against males. But, again, because sexism only targets females, it is not an example of sexism.

“Two females gossip about another female.”

Sexism is the targeting of females by males. Internalized sexism is the dynamic that shows up between members of the same group – in this case females. While also harmful and hurtful, internalized oppression is not supported by the same institutional power that makes an act oppressive.

In addition to this blog series, check out these opportunities to learn more about our Ending Sexism work: