Tag Archives: misogyny

People, Not Property

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Something horrible happened a little while ago in a place with the deceptively idyllic-sounding name of Isla Vista.  In the aftermath and the weeks since we’ve tried to process it, to assign a specific and preventable cause to the motivations of the perpetrator in the hopes to avert a similar future occurrence, and solutions vary, predictably, according to the broad swath of the ideological spectrum.  If we are each to weigh in, as the current state of our discourse seems to demand, what can I say that’s different?  What can I contribute to actually make things better, instead of just bouncing around the echo chamber – scoring accolades from admirers and suffering barbs (or worse) from the other side – before the storm dies down and we return to talking about box office grosses?  It seems that at times we’ve become a civilization whose talents are geared largely towards commenting rather than fostering true progress, and I struggle with this in the composition of this entry.  Truly, my words won’t bring the victims back.  They are but shouting into the wind and the rain for the briefest of moments.  But I’m going to shout anyway.

Reading the tweets shared under the #YesAllWomen hashtag was heartbreaking, and sobering.  The shiny, bauble-bedecked veneer of First World existence blinds one to the deeply ugly undercurrents of our nature, the river of misogyny that touches each aspect of interaction between the genders.  This idea that men have been sold – yes, sold, because so much of what is wrong with how we behave can be traced back to the concept of one person convincing another to buy something they don’t need – that women are a commodity men have a divine right to possess, instead of independent human spirits meriting respect and the freedom to determine their own futures, is stomach-churning when laid bare, but laced so insidiously into our culture that we are happily swallowing the lie several times a day without even realizing it.  The woman is always positioned as a prize at the end of the quest, something to win.  Any time a man is tasked with self-improvement, be it in the form of career, health, spiritual fulfillment or putting on a superhero costume and going out to fight crime, the implicit reward is getting laid, and any other end is mere frivolity.  It’s all meaningless, the zeitgeist conspires to tell him, unless you’ve got that “perfect ten” hanging off your arm at the gala premiere.  Elliot Rodger certainly thought so, and his self-perceived inability to live up to this ridiculous standard led him to lash out and take six innocent lives with him.

It’s deplorable that as a result, women should be forced to be ever vigilant, but as the #YesAllWomen tweets prove, it’s an attitude born of a shared experience, and one to which men cannot really relate.  In this metaphor, men are the customers, not the goods, and we can’t understand what it’s like to be thought of as property to be acquired until we are ourselves put up for sale.  When I’m out for my morning run, and I see a woman further up the sidewalk on her morning run heading towards me, my first thought is not going to be, this is a potential assailant, maybe I should cross the street.  It’s never been suggested that I should tone down how I dress or do my hair differently lest I not be taken seriously by my work colleagues, or receive unwanted advances from strangers.  I’ve never had someone try to grope at my crotch on a crowded streetcar, I’ve never been screamed at because I refused to give a woman my phone number, and I’ve never had to worry about leaving my drink alone at the bar lest someone slip roofies into it and I wake up bleeding on a filthy bathroom floor.  And these are just a very small sampling of some of the stories that were shared online.  There are thousands more, and to our shame, an equal number of sarcastic, sneering responses fired back.  As was pointed out elsewhere, these types were seemingly angrier that the stream of stories was gumming up their precious home feeds than at the fact that these things were actually happening to women everywhere.  When you can’t refute the argument with logic or reason, just tell the woman to shut up, and go back to watching the game.

Words may sometimes be lost on the wind in the storm, but often they’re the only thing we have.  In and of itself, a hashtag isn’t going to change the world, but the camaraderie those shared stories can engender – pun intended – is a step toward creating the empathy we need to help make the storm stop.  To help fathers teach their sons that women are not property to be coveted and acquired like the mindless deluge of merchandise that flashes across our Internet browsers, assuring us that the void in our souls can be filled with the simplicity of a single click and a valid credit card number.  Respecting women unconditionally; judging them by their principles, their accomplishments and the many facets of their personalities, instead of how they look in a bikini and how willing they are to jump into bed with you; casting forever aside the juvenile notion that a woman owes you a single thing by mere virtue of your passing interest in her; recognizing that fundamentally, misogyny comes from a place of deep dissatisfaction with the shortcomings of oneself as a man, and that those shortcomings can only ever be remedied by one person – the man in question – that is how things begin to improve.

None of us are property.  None of us are each other’s property.  And the human soul is not something to be traded on the free market; its value is far greater than that.

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Shut up and Write

womanwriting

As is obvious to anyone looking at the picture at the top right of this page, I’m lodged solidly in the average white male, 18-49 demographic.  Homer Simpson would say, “everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my ideas are.”  More to the point, my average white maleness (let’s add heterosexuality to the mix as well, why not) endows me with a certain level of immunity to criticism.  I invite you to take a look at the post published by Emmie Mears in which she talks about the inevitable onslaught of Internet misogyny that is the bane of any woman who dares to express an opinion on anything with the slightest hint of controversy, and how it has stifled her voice in the past.  It’s been telling, too, that as Toronto Star reporter Robyn Doolittle’s star has risen with the release of her Rob Ford book Crazy Town and the slew of media appearances that have followed, so has a tremendous backlash from men, not to mention threats against her life.  Doolittle herself points to a Huffington Post blogger (no relation) who all but accused her of being an opportunistic Barbie doll, and then whined in a follow-up that she was overreacting because but… I said you were pretty!!!  As women’s voices have spread far and wide, so too it seems has the proclivity of certain men to want to tell them to get back into the kitchen if they know what’s good for them.

As f@#$ing insane as that sounds.

It would be easy, perhaps, to dismiss a large portion of these latter types as cretinous, small-membered rubes who can barely spell the dirty words they’re lashing out with, but what is equally troubling is when ostensibly intelligent people wield more polished knives in service of the same end.  The tactics by which female writers are attacked resemble those used by attorneys to discredit witnesses, or by politicians to sabotage opponents – looking for the slightest perceived crack into which can be wedged a huge bootful of doubt.  “You once stole an apple from your neighbor’s tree and then lied about it, so if you were lying then, how are we to assume you’re not lying about seeing Mr. Smith murder his brother?”   Attacking not the message, but the messenger.  Gender is usually the wedge of choice, as if words and opinions generated by a brain attached to a vagina are automatically of lesser worth, to be questioned to the last crossed T and dotted I – no matter how factual, no matter how incontrovertible.

The fans of Rob Ford, angered by the inconvenient truths Robyn Doolittle has exposed about their hero, have gone to typical lengths to cast aspersions on her motivations for pursuing the story, and slammed her for posing for the photo in the Flare article linked above as well, because how dare she have the temerity to be good at her job and attractive at the same time.  (Do actresses get dinged with the same charge when they appear in hundreds of these spreads every year?  Or do they get an exemption because looking good is part of their career, and that the rest of us peons are expected to be homely?)  In the end, it matters not, because were Doolittle of more average appearance, you’d get the same men saying she was tearing down Ford to compensate for her dissatisfaction about her looks and her inability to land a man.

There is a deliberate intent here, one of distraction – for Ford Nation, making Doolittle the story shifts the question away from why it’s considered acceptable to them or to anyone for the Mayor of Toronto to be an unrepentant crack smoker.  Just as a decade ago, publicly shaming the Dixie Chicks for their comments about George W. Bush got everyone’s mind off the thousands of people dying in the war he started in a blaze of testosterone, swagger and unresolved daddy issues.  Apparently, a decade later, Robyn Doolittle’s legs are more horrifying to the public than the thought of a crackhead controlling a $9 billion city budget and rendering Toronto a laughing stock to the world – you know, things that can cause actual damage to real people’s lives, the same real people Ford claims to be workin’ hard for.  It is hard to see the same attitude taking root if Doolittle’s first name was Robert.  They’d still be after “him,” of course, but probably for being once photographed having a beer with a Communist or something equally trivial, but pointedly non-sexual.  (Unless “he” was gay, of course; then all bets would be off.)

I’ve had the mildest taste of harsh online criticism for things I have written that have rubbed certain people the wrong way (the most, oddly enough, for this post about air travel.)  Even in the lowest doses, it can be incredibly dispiriting.  At times I have refrained from submitting certain pieces to HuffPost because I wasn’t certain I wanted to put up with a predictably irate repsonse.  I went almost six months without submitting anything last year for the headache of it all.  But never have even the nastiest comments to me come within a parsec of the visceral, flesh-tearing, bile-spitting hatred endured by female writers.  I’ve never been insulted for my appearance, or had some sick bastard suggest that I should be sexually violated for my opinions.  Which begs the question, why don’t I and my male contemporaries see that kind of blowback when we speak out?  Why is it somehow open season on all aspects of a woman’s being, including her sexual identity, when she pens a robust challenge to the status quo, but men’s looks and personal lives are off limits?  Why is a male writer a bold thinker and a female writer a feminazi pain the ass?

In one of the most eye-opening sections of Emmie’s post, she talks about needing to have a strategy ready to deal with the anger she might encounter in response to her works, and rightfully resenting that.  It certainly is not something I or any other white male 18-49 heterosexual writer has to contemplate.  We are free, it seems, to publish whatever we want, largely without fear of being attacked on such a level.  No one is going to “mansplain” us, declare that we just need a really good f@#k, call us ugly and unworthy of love, tell us we’re being silly and hysterical and fascist feminists and that we’d be better off producing babies than attempting to string words together.  No one’s going to suggest that we must be using our bodies to sleep our way to fame and success.  No one’s going to tell us to “shut up and write” columns on hair products and nail polish, you know, the stuff we’re the real experts on, and leave the serious business to the grown-ups.

No one is going to threaten to track us down at home and rape us.

It behooves male scribes to acknowledge the reality of writing life on the other side of the gender aisle, that women have a tougher job of making themselves heard and believed, and feeling free to even try.  We need to remember the women who choose not to speak up about issues where their opinions are sorely needed, because they’re afraid of violent reprisals from addle-minded douchebags.  Thousands of voices are missing from the conversation or are being silenced through the ugliest of reactions from anonymous cowards.  We should be commending courageous women like Robyn Doolittle and Emmie Mears and all their contemporaries who won’t let themselves be intimidated.  We should remember that it is entirely permissible to disagree with them and that we don’t ever have to make it personal – just as we wouldn’t with some other guy whose opinions made us seethe.  Finally, we should be using our privileged positions as “untouchable” males to call out and shame the behavior of those who are contributing to the fear.

There’s a saying I heard on The West Wing, though it may have been borrowed from somewhere else, that “if they’re shooting at you, you must be doing something right.”  That is probably where a lot of the hate comes from – the conscious or unconscious belief that female writers are indeed hitting too close to home with their observations about a patriarchal world.  I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the ultimate objective of writing – the pursuit of truth – is better served by more women, not fewer, getting it right and refusing to shut up about it.

Regardless of how many fragile male egos get bruised in the process.

UPDATE:  Emmie responds and includes some links to terrific posts on the same subject, including Chuck Wendig’s.

Sorry, you’re out of the club

Wendy Davis.
Wendy Davis.

The United States heads into today’s Fourth of July celebrations consumed by anger at its women, as one state legislature after another attempts to enact laws that remove a woman’s right to manage her own body.  Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis of Texas recently became a national figure when she staged a twelve-hour filibuster to kill SB5, a bill that would have shuttered the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics, an event that exposed some truly ugly anti-female leanings from her right-wing colleagues (and a swift decision by chromosome-challenged Governor Rick Perry to schedule a special session to pass the bill anyway in a manner that won’t be able to be filibustered).  Ohio’s budget bill recently signed into law by Governor John Kasich contains language that redefines the concept of when pregnancy begins.  And it appears that North Carolina has also followed suit by slipping anti-abortion wording into an unrelated bill.  Medical decisions that should belong only to women and their doctors are being shoved down throats (or, to put it more bluntly and accurately, up vaginas) by old Bible-waving men whose medical expertise is limited to having seen every episode of Trapper John, M.D.  It’s abhorrent and nauseating to imagine the damage that will be done by these draconian measures, and the mind simply reels at the idea of a country where a vagina must be strictly regulated but doing the same to a lethal firearm represents an infringement on freedom.

The U.S. is not alone, but merely the latest world player to climb aboard the bad ship Misogyny.  We look aghast across the ocean at nations where women are forced to veil themselves head to toe and walk ten paces behind their husbands, and cannot even ride bicycles, let alone drive cars.  It is the most bizarre of pendulum swings that as women become more independent, successful and (gasp!) powerful, the old guard reacts by trying to legislate them back into submission.  By suggesting that women aren’t intelligent enough to manage their own bodies, and that it falls to Big Strong He-Man to pat her on the head and tell her boys know better while ushering her back to the kitchen to make him a sandwich and fetch him a beer.  Oh, and to have unlimited sex with him whenever and only exactly how he wants it.

That kind of backward attitude can only come, it seems to me, from a place of pure fear, fear of the mystical and irresistibly compelling unknown that is the lady parts.  What continues to elude me though is why all these men are so afraid.  What do they think is going to happen?  Truly?  Perhaps it’s the terror of the eternally insecure, the paranoiac who forever walks in worry of being exposed as a complete fraud, a construct of paper with no purpose to his existence.  An excellent depiction of this fear can be found in Ksenia Anske’s upcoming novel Siren Suicides, where the heroine must deal with an abusive father who insists that women are made only to “haul water.”  Papa frequently belts his daughter across the face to “remind her” and keep her controlled.  As the story unfolds, we discover that the seed of this hatred of women lies in his betrayal by one woman in particular.  It is not a stretch to imagine that much of the world’s misogyny originates in a man’s frustration with one specific woman from his past – projecting her perceived “sins” onto her entire gender.  “You’re all a bunch of feminists,” Marc Lepine railed infamously as he perpetrated the Montreal Massacre.  You’re all.  Woman is all women.  The so-called failings of one are the failings of the collective.  They must be controlled, regulated, kept down, lest… well, that’s the question, isn’t it, and that’s where you’ll find the fear.

I’m sorry, but I don’t get it, and as the politicians say, let me be abundantly clear.  I’m goddamned tired of it.  Because as men, we can do so much better, and yet we’re letting the standard be lowered daily by mouth-breathing troglodytes who can’t handle the funny feels that spring up (pun intended) in their groins when a woman walks by.  Who resent the notion that anyone could have power over their manly manliness and who try to prove it by essentially wrapping vaginas in red tape (or shoving ultrasound wands inside them, as the case may be with some of these recent laws).  Is this really what men want to be known for when the history of the 21st Century is written?

The aforementioned Neanderthal types need to take a hard long look in the mirror and ask themselves if this is what they signed up for.  If they want to perpetuate the cycle of hatred for another generation.  I have little optimism at this point that they will do so, however – the proverbial road-to-Damascus conversion is just that, the stuff of proverbs.  So it is incumbent on the rest of us – and I’m speaking to my fellow men here, the ones who shift silently and uncomfortably in their seats when their best friend’s douchebag cousin makes a crude remark about the waitress instead of telling him to shut his filthy mouth and get the hell out.  We need to be louder, and announce that not only do the Rick Perrys and John Kasichs of the world not speak for us, but that we’re kicking them out of the club, effective immediately – do not pass Go, do not collect $200.  That’s it.  Their “man card” is revoked.  They will no longer be welcome in gatherings of real men, nor will they earn a single one of our votes come election time.  We won’t drink with them, we won’t talk sports with them.  We’ll cross the street to avoid them.  We’ll shun them without pity.  They will be condemned to peer longingly in the window from the cold street at those of us who know that a woman’s place is wherever she wants to be.

A man who demeans a woman or women in any way does not deserve the honor of being called a man.  He’s an amateur, a lightweight, an utter joke of a waste of otherwise usable DNA overcompensating for what nature saw fit – justifiably so – to deny him.  It’s time the rest of us men started treating him accordingly.  Like how he treats women.  Hopefully he’ll learn something and change his ways.  Until then, forget it pal, you’re outta here.