The EU ruled in December that gender discrimination is illegal. Sounds great, right? Well, there’s a catch: this ruling in particular only concerns car insurance rates. Men previously paid significantly more than women because of the higher statistical probability that they’ll turn their car into a fireball of havoc and destruction. Obviously, a gender-based system does have flaws, but attempts to brand this ruling as a step towards gender equality are based on a misunderstanding. What this reveals is that the definition of equality is still highly disputed, especially when it comes down to prioritizing who needs it most and in what ways.
The comments section on this article on The Guardian reveals gross misconceptions of what sexism is. A man who calls himself ‘Joe90Pilgrim’ says:
“It seems much more tolerated when sexism is aimed at men and now hopefully we can have an end to that.”
“I do like this ruling since whether people like it or not it IS sexist to have a broad statement like all of one gender is better than the other at anything.”
Let’s get this straight: determining prices by gender is not fair. That is true. But in this case, it is not sexism.
Any –ism, be it sexism or racism, is a combination of prejudice and power. This isn’t the definition you’ll find in the dictionaries written by white men, but it’s how people who are women and/or belong to oppressed racial groups generally choose to define it. And it makes sense. The systematic oppression that constitutes the racism and sexism that women, men of color, and especially women of color face could not exist in a world that doesn’t give power to white people and to men. This means it is impossible in almost every modern society for white people to experience racism or for men to truly experience sexism.
It’s possible for someone to do something or think something that is prejudiced against men or white people, but that doesn’t constitute racism or sexism because that white person or that man still holds the cards.
Sexism is not a single act in a vacuum.For women, sexism affects every aspect of our lives: from the way commercials influence our feelings of self worth to the normalization of the sexual trauma many of us experience and the way that we are often disregarded and condescended to in the workplace. When men lament the perceived discrimination they face, what they forget is that to be a woman is to have those same problems on a much grander and completely inescapable scale. Even with insurance rates as they were, the overall economic advantage was still decisively held by men.
To be fair, the patriarchy isn’t always good for men – some men are pressured to fit into a stereotypical masculine box that they aren’t comfortable in. And the fight against sexism is one that men and women can both benefit from. But it’s important to recognize that the gender gap in car insurance isn’t one created solely by stereotypes (like: men are aggressive so they will cause more accidents). It is also supported by statistical data. Equality is most important in areas where men and women bring equal abilities to the table. For example, men and women who do the same job equally well should be paid equally. I won’t argue that different insurance rates for each gender is the best way to calculate charges, but the fact that men truly do cost the company more money means that this isn’t the same struggle. To compare, no well-regarded feminist argues that women who are genuinely bad at their jobs be paid the same salary as a man who happens to excel.
It’s also odd to focus on eliminating the relatively few places where women seem to have some sort of advantage, while larger problems in the other direction remain. For example, there may come a time in the distant future where affirmative action is no longer needed because we’ve magically wiped away all traces of oppression. But to suggest that that should happen now when people are still suffering from modern and historical racism is absurd. To decrease the aspects of the gender gap that hurt men while women still earn so much less is not a step in the direction of equality. Rather, it just widens the gap between the economic standing of men and women. When we gain the ability to walk the streets without fear of rape and the right to be equally respected and paid for our accomplishments, then we can talk about abolishing “ladies drink free” nights.
Written by Sara Wofford