Melissa McEwan has the guts to write things I’ve thought more times than I can tell you, but never put into words (before now, or without help). Her whole piece at Comment is Free is important and well worth the fifteen minutes it will take you to read it in its entirety. The parts I found most relevant, the parts I found myself nodding the most affirmatively to, follow.
If I played by misogynists’ rules, specifically the one that dictates it only takes one woman doing one mean or duplicitous or disrespectful or unlawful or otherwise bad thing to justify hatred of all women, I would have plenty of justification for hating men, if I were inclined to do that sort of thing.
My mistrust is not, as one might expect, primarily a result of the violent acts done on my body, nor the vicious humiliations done to my dignity. It is, instead, born of the multitude of mundane betrayals that mark my every relationship with a man: the casual rape joke, the use of a female slur, the careless demonising of the feminine in everyday conversation, the accusations of overreaction, the eye rolling and exasperated sighs in response to polite requests to please not use misogynist epithets in my presence or to please use non-gendered language (“humankind”).
But I don’t hate men, because I play by different rules. In fact, there are men in this world whom I love quite a lot.
There are also individual men in this world I would say I probably hate, or something close – men who I hold in unfathomable contempt. But it is not because they are men.
No, I don’t hate men.
It would, however, be fair to say that I don’t easily trust them.
Trust isn’t so much my issue, personally, because I am ridiculously trusting of anyone –male or female– who doesn’t act like like a complete creep from the get-go.
As for mundane betrayals, I personally wouldn’t go as far as to say they mark “my every relationship with a man.” Actually, “every” would be way too far. But many? Perhaps even most? Yes, that would be pretty accurate. And, like McEwan, I am not talking about men I hate, but rather ones I respect, like, and even love.
There are the insidious assumptions guiding our interactions – the supposition that I will regard being exceptionalised as a compliment (“you’re not like those other women”), and the presumption that I am an ally against certain kinds of women.
This is one of the inherent dangers of having, as my wise little sister succinctly put it when we discussed McEwan’s piece this afternoon, “honorary dude status.” Not only do others often perceive me as an exception, but I perceive myself as an exception. And I go to extraordinary lengths to cultivate this exceptional identity –in my own head and among my peers.
My field is one dominated by men and traditionally masculine ideals. My language is one often infused with militarism (think: “refugee protection surge roster”), and my writing style is often confrontational. My interests are wonkish, disquieting, “ballsy,” cerebral –all things that, in our society and age, we don’t equate with “feminine” or “female.”
Since I moved to this city, I rarely do anything but work, study, and argue with people online. These things constitute most of my existence at the moment. And so, I am counted among the boys –at least most of the time. In some ways, this is positive. For one, it allows me to participate equally, to “pass” if you will.
But being an “honorary dude” has definite drawbacks. If I exhibit any traits that are overtly feminine, I get immediately kicked out of the club, if only for a few minutes, for the duration of a staff meeting, for lunch. If I speak up against a sexist comment, or attempt to get members of the group to consider the subject of our discussion from anything other than an implicitly male perspective, I become an object of ridicule, my ideas the inspiration for eye rolls and sighs and knowing glances between the bro’s.
Again, I am not talking about raving misogynist assholes. I am talking about guys who read Jezebel, and guys who care deeply about, say, women war victims.
I am exhorted to join in the cruel revelry, and when I refuse, suddenly the target is on my back. And so it goes.
There are the jokes about women, about wives, about mothers, about raising daughters, about female bosses. They are told in my presence by men who are meant to care about me, just to get a rise out of me, as though I am meant to find funny a reminder of my second-class status.
I am meant to ignore that this is a bullying tactic, that the men telling these jokes derive their amusement specifically from knowing they upset me, piss me off, hurt me.
Occasionally, I call them on their comments. But I usually backtrack soon after. “It’s OK,” I tell them, “I wasn’t being serious. Well, not that serious. You know what I mean. You know me. I’m not one of those women.” Finally, just to make sure they get the point, I drop a quick and derogatory comment about those vapid, hysterical girls my age I’m definitely not like.
And the vicious cycle continues, because I’m an active, knowing collaborator. I don’t admit this with pride, merely self-awareness.
There are the occasions that men – intellectual men, clever men, engaged men – insist on playing devil’s advocate, desirous of a debate on some aspect of feminist theory or reproductive rights or some other subject generally filed under the heading Women’s Issues. These intellectual, clever, engaged men want to endlessly probe my argument for weaknesses, wrestle over details, argue just for fun. And they wonder, these intellectual, clever, engaged men, why my voice keeps rising and why my face is flushed and why, after an hour of fighting my corner, hot tears burn the corners of my eyes.
Why do you have to take this stuff so personally? ask the intellectual, clever, and engaged men, who have never considered that the content of the abstract exercise that’s so much fun for them is the stuff of my life.
“Stop being so self-involved,” you say. “Stop being so sensitive.”
And I ask myself, would you consider it self-involved or overly sensitive of a person of color to object to the nonchalant, everyday racism of her or his friends and colleagues? No, you probably wouldn’t.
There are the stereotypes – oh, the abundant stereotypes – about women, not me, of course, but other women, those women with their bad driving and their relentless shopping habits and their PMS and their disgusting vanity and their inability to stop talking and their disinterest in Important Things…
And I am expected to nod in agreement, and I am nudged and admonished to agree. I am expected to say these things are not true of me, but are true of women (am I seceding from the union?). I am expected to put my stamp of token approval on the stereotypes. Yes, it’s true. Between you and me, it’s all true.
That’s what is wanted from me. Abdication of my principles and pride, in service to a patriarchal system that will only use my collusion to further subjugate me. This is a thing that is asked of me by men who purport to care for me.
Often. So very fucking often.
And there is the denial about engaging in misogyny, even when it’s evident, even when it’s pointed out gently, softly, indulgently, carefully, with goodwill and the presumption that it was not intentional. There is the firm, fixed, unyielding denial – because it is better and easier to imply that I’m stupid or crazy or hysterical, that I have imagined being insulted by someone about whom I care (just for the fun of it!), than it is to just admit a bloody mistake and say, simply: I’m sorry.
When called on one of my many flaws –be it my religious prejudices, my casual racism, my hypocritical classism, my propensity for belligerent intellectual laziness, or even my own sexism– I will own up and apologize.
Why can’t you do the same? That’s all I ask.