I am aware of the increase in conversation recently about the mysogyny in our culture. This has buzzed recently, because of last week’s murders. I didn’t plan to weigh in on this one, because those that know me could predict my take… but a strange confluence of events beckons words from me.
I have paid little attention to the rise of the popular #YesAllWomen hashtag. I don’t tweet. I don’t have an account. I am, however thrilled that there is increased conversation (at least for now) about experiences that are alarmingly common in women’s lives, combined with the dismissiveness of many, but certainly not all men (we’ll call them “non-feminists”). A feminist is simply someone who espouses the following beliefs/activities:
In the last 48 hours, three women in India have made international news because their deaths were related to ideology that calls a woman’s body and sexuality property, and that considers women less-important beings (than straight men, presumably).
I read this article that made me sad, and reminded me how pervasive these experiences are for, #YesAllWomen.
I was promptly faced with a challenging client who complained of being perpetually maltreated, and frequently asked to leave the facility. This client was male, somewhat intimidating. He postured, peacock like, puffing up at any perceived provocation. He went on to tell me that in the past, he has been prone to conflict with any other males he comes across, “because they all look at me like I have a big ol’ coochie right there (pointing where you might imagine).”
“That was entirely inappropriate,” I said. “You are aware that I’m a woman, right?”
“Yeah, but I don’t mean no disrespect, but they always be looking at me like I got a pussy or something.”
Both times, this man utters his selected vaginal nickname with disgust… like the word is bitter leaving his throat. Clearly, the worst, most disgusting and offensive thing that could happen to someone would be to have a vagina.
I then spent the next several hours trying to tune out his rants in our lobby, including his retelling of his version/interpretation of the above interaction and who I am as a clinician/human being to every other (male) client that entered the building. This is the choice I had to make: Does this client need access to our services more than I need to not be on the receiving end of his verbal vomit/intimidating behavior? But the worst part is, THAT IS A CHOICE I HAD TO MAKE!
Admittedly, this man’s apparent disgust for vaginas is, perhaps, the least of his problems. But I have to admit he got to me. It got to me — probably due to my feminist filter being primed and ready. The whole huge systemic ugh-ness of it got to me. This is not about mental illness. This is about misogyny, masculinity, and violence. This is what we do to men when we draw a hard line between male and female, rigidly dividing what we consider appropriate for either gender – when we conceptualize gender as a firm dichotomy. This is the cost of requiring boys to meet certain behavioral and ideological criteria to be considered a “man,” rather than simply, “Do you identify yourself as male in gender, and have you reached a stage of maturity?” Because that is what makes a man, to me. But what do I know? I’m just a woman.
This is the cost of teaching boys that violence is a prerequisite to becoming a man, or that being kind, soft-spoken, sensitive or (gasp!) feminist makes one less of a man (ergo less important?). This is what it costs when we rank manliness on a hierarchical scale… creating and reinforcing a culture in which men have to compete, and are ever-striving to find their place in some pecking order (violence). This is what happens when we tell boys to “be a man….” This is what happens when we don’t allow a young boy who is gifted in physical movement and grace to dance, because “dancing is for girls.”
If the above client believed women were equally as valuable as men in this world, all the sudden the threat of being perceived as more or less manly is null and void… BECAUSE BOTH MEN AND WOMEN ARE WORTHY OF DIGNITY AND RESPECT! But no. His hostile reaction to the idea that someone might think him less “manly” (read: dominant, powerful, aggressive) belies the belief that to be a woman is to be less-than-desirable.
I’m going to stop here, because I am aware I lose readers if my posts are too long. (We seriously need to consider the evolutionary damage we are doing to our attention-spans!). But for additional interesting readings/videos, here are links to a few of my favorite recent reads on the subject:
From BelleJar: Virginity, Violence, and Masculinity
From Laci Green: More than a Madman
As always, I want this to be a conversation, so your comments are always welcome below!