Thursday, May 16, 2013

What is Sexism? What is Racism?

Sexism is, roughly, prejudice or discrimination based on sex.

Sexism is not "prejudice + power."

Similarly, racism is, roughly, prejudice or discrimination based on race; it is not "prejudice + power."

Lefter-than-liberal feminists have tried for years to change the definition of 'sexism' simply by insisting that their non-standard definition (prejudice + power) is correct. But it isn't. Every sensible person with an even passing familiarity with English, and who is not in the grip of a bad theory, knows what 'sexism' means. The term has an established use in the language. Dictionaries do sometimes go wrong, but in this case, you can look it up in the OED...

And exactly parallel points can be made about 'racism'.

Now, there is nothing preventing those on the lefter-than-liberal left from inventing new terms (an activity that they seem to relish) for these very different concepts:

Prejudice by a member of a more powerful group against a member of a less powerful group on the basis of sex


Prejudice by a member of a more powerful group against a member of a less powerful group on the basis of race.

Now, these aren't very interesting concepts from the perspective of traditional liberalism, which holds that, morally speaking and ignoring a few details, prejudice is prejudice. It's always morally bad. But, interesting or not, the farther left is free to make up new terms. But they will have to make up new ones; 'sexism' and 'racism' already have establshed meanings that are more general than the prejudice + power conceptions.

Of course prejudice by more-powerful people against less-powerful people can sometimes do more actual harm than prejudice by less-powerful people against more-powerful ones--but that's a different point entirely. At best it might indicate that it would be handy to have terms for the other concepts; but it can't do anything to change the established definitions. Racism by an average white person against an average non-white person in the U.S. might very well do more damage on average than racism by an average non-white person against an average white person. And sexism by an average male against an average female might very well do more harm on average than sexism by an average female against an average male. And the amount of harm done can be morally relevant. But racism is racism and sexism is sexism. Add a certain kind of power differential to the mix, and things can go from bad to worse...but racism and sexism don't go away absent a power differential.

The lefter line here is that prejudice in the absence of a power differential is just prejudice, but it isn't sexism or racism. Granted, the words could have been used that way, but they aren't. It simply isn't what they mean. The terms that we have with their established defnitions are perfectly handy, and it would be foolish to try to change their usage, since we'd then just have to immediately invent new terms to mean what the old terms already meant. If 'sexism' did mean prejudice based on sex, plus power, then we'd need to invent a new term that meant simply prejudice based on sex. It would obviously be foolish to both change the meaning of an old terms and invent a new term when we could skip the first step and just invent new terms (for prejudice + power). But, since we already have a term for sexism (it's 'sexism') and for racism (it's 'racism'), and since there doesn't seem to be any pressing need for terms that express the much less interesting and important concepts prejudice based on sex + power and prejudice based on race + power, there's no reason to change the linguistic status quo.

Now, one might ask why it is that elements of the lefter left have pushed so hard to revise the meanings of these terms. It's actually an interesting question, and I have a theory...  But I'll leave that for a different time and post.


Blogger Grung_e_Gene said...

Institutional Sexism? Classical Sexism? Paleo-Sexism?

4:38 PM  
Blogger theAqCon said...

it's no wonder women don't go into STEM, where the real power lies. They are to busy with this fackin gibberish.

3:21 AM  

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