Misogyny, masculinity, and violence

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:

: the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities
: organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests (From Merriam-Webster‘s online dictionary)

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!



This is your brain on… Anxiety?!?

One of my favorite “getting-to-know-you” questions to ask is, “How would you describe the way you imagine your brain works?” For years, I have described mine as follows:

Imagine CNN…

…Constantly running dialogue, layered over background music, and under the visuals of a talking head or news-reel related to some major event (or non-event). Also present is a possibly related still image, identifying information for the talking head, possibly a crew of people working at other computer screens and mixers visible in the background, a scrolling line of text relating other unrelated headlines and concerns, another scroll revealing stocks and market conditions, and one additional scroll for good measure that has live weather updates, school closures, or some such other important information. There, you have my brain as I see it… but with less news, and more memories, to-do-lists, grocery lists, and relational concerns. Some days, it’s like the news hub channel that shows mini-shots of four major news networks all simultaneously on one large screen. I have rarely critiqued this experience of my brain, often thinking others must experience similar, or the same things.

I’ve never thought I had ADD or ADHD, except for that time shortly after I became a big sister and got concerned that there was a deficit of attention being paid to me. But that was years ago. I’m over it. And I don’t struggle to attend to all of these things at any given time. Unless I’m sleep deprived. Then all bets are off.

This week my therapist asked me, “Is this level of anxiety pretty constant for you?” shortly after I provided a similar description of my mental process. The suggestion that my every-day experience was one full of anxiety took me aback. I am not an anxious person. Or am I? No, I’m not. I am not prone to worry. I do not feel overwhelmed or alarmed that there are lots of aspects of life that I am just not in control of. In fact, anxious people often annoy me. As a therapist myself, I know I am not supposed to think that, or be annoyed by a common malady that my clients may face… but it’s true. But wait. Perhaps my clients’ anxiety is triggering for me a countertransference response precisely because I am prone to anxiety. That kind of thing often happens for therapists. Perhaps holding openly my own possible experience of anxiety could help me become a better therapist for my anxious clients. Perhaps I will learn that while many others may have similar internal experiences, some may find it disturbing or bothersome. Especially if they are from a family culture that moves somewhat more slowly or casually through life. Then they’re the odd-(wo)man-out.

Hmm… I am still unsure whether I would call my daily experience an anxious one. If I am anxious, I fall decidedly into the “minor concern” end of the anxiety continuum.

I recently had a conversation with another women, who identified a belief that men and women are different in that women just multitask more both internally and externally. I found this conversation to be engaging and enlightening… even helpful for the purpose of talking with my decidedly-less-multitasking-partner about said differences. But internally, I struggle with the generalizations and assumptions the claim makes. Is this really a gender-issue? I don’t know.

Why do I share this? I am not sure. I felt compelled to… so I did it. But as I write, I am aware of an e-mail I sent some time ago to a friend who struggles courageously and exhaustingly with her own anxiety. At the time, I had concerns about the role anxiety played in her and her family’s life. It’s funny(?) how our judgments so often come back to us. Today, S, if you are reading this. Please forgive my criticism and my judgement. You are a courageous, lovely, and strong woman. You love well, and deserve to be loved and held better than I could offer you at the time.

I’d be happy to engage any of you, my readers, on any of the questions covered here.

With love,

– me –