A pithy comment piece by Richard Godwin in this week’s Wednesday London Evening Standard, ‘Forget about sexism – we’re all victims now‘ draws its inspiration from Professor David Benatar’s new book ‘The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys’, which looks as though it might be worth a read. In it, according to Richard Godwin, Professor Benatar explains that women are not the only ones to suffer from sexism in our society. Stereotypes – prejudices – about men are as embedded as those about women, and this has resulted, he claims, in discrimination in, for example, child custody cases, or in the media, where men are routinely depicted as “idiots”.
Godwin, while agreeing with this – and there is most certainly truth in it – takes it further and highlights what he sees as the real issue underlying these claims of sexism and discrimination, namely the fact that we live in a society where anyone, at the slightest provocation, can claim to be “uniquely wronged”. This leads to a litigious culture, and a selfish indignation on the part of the individual, for whom it is inconceivable that he or she might be incorrect in an assumption of innocence. As a result, “…it is victimhood, rather than sexism, that is the definitive modern disease”.
He is right in many respects, of course, although we shouldn’t entirely overlook the need for us to unearth gender-based prejudices – both male and female – and do something about changing how people perceive and react to one another. Richard Godwin is, however, effectively asking us to grow up, to stop blaming others and to get on with – quite simply – doing the right thing. “I am troubled”, he writes, “by the assumption that men are emotionally illiterate and lazy. But to challenge it we need to teach boys to be positive about their identity. We shouldn’t fret about ‘the trouble with boys’, creating a narrative of failure, and we certainly shouldn’t encourage a victim mentality. That not only trivialises genuine victims of prejudice – it is quite literally self-defeating.” Straightforward, clear, and excellent advice – and it goes for girls too. We need not to project the negative on to boys – or girls – but instead we must focus on the positive, on encouraging our children to develop a strong sense of self-worth, and a healthy regard and respect for others.
Just think what would happen if we did.