Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

XY Marks the Blind Spot

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

XY Marks the Blind Spot

Article excerpt

Gender is a battlefield, but the casualties aren't always who you'd expect, Simon Blackburn says.

The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys

By David Benatar

John Wiley & Sons

304pp, Pounds 55.00 and Pounds 17.99

ISBN 9780470674468 and 674512 Published 13 April 2012

If Milton is to be believed, the war between the sexes started immediately after the Fall, with Adam berating Eve for first eating the apple, and Eve petulantly replying that Adam would have done the same had he met the persuasive serpent, and in any case, why didn't he stop her from wandering off on her own? But perhaps God started the trouble by creating Adam for contemplation and strength, and Eve for "softness and sweet attractive grace", not to mention a nice line in submissive charm. In the West we should have got beyond all that, but there is still plenty to fight about. Who wins the fight depends on the terms of the contest: men win if it is fought over the control of wealth and access to prestigious positions in banks and boardrooms, whereas for 50 years or so women have been able to claim victory in the war of words. Oppression, prejudice, discrimination, sexism, violence and institutional injustice are supposed to be perpetrated by men against women, who thereby gain the status of martyrs and victims, deserving redress and restitution. Women are the complainants, men the not very successful defendants. More succinctly, women whinge and men cringe.

David Benatar's book is a brave or even foolhardy attempt to redress the balance a little. Men, too, have plenty to complain about. Men are conscripted to fight in wars more than women. With the exception of sexual assault, and with spousal violence a surprising draw, men are more often victims of violence than women, whether through casual crime or politically inspired purges and genocides. More and more severe corporal punishment is inflicted on boys than on girls. In marital break-ups, women are more likely to gain custody of children than men. In many contexts it is harder for men to maintain bodily privacy than women. Men have to wait their turn to jump in the lifeboats, too.

Benatar knows that such examples are likely to meet snorts of disbelief or derision, but he is careful to back up his claims with empirical data, and as a philosopher he is especially careful both about the interpretation of evidence and the use of terms such as "discrimination". …

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