I am a Misogynist. (or, The Lengths I Will Go To In Order To Protect You From My Bad Behavior)
I have a confession to make. I am the reason we need to keep harping on about gendered insults. I am the reason we need to keep reminding people not to use words like “Honey,” or “Dearie” (unless, of course, someone posts under the pseudonym Honey or Dearie- which would be awkward). I’m the reason we need to keep reminding people that women are more than just a pretty face- that we should be attentive to measurements of them that can’t be expressed in either Metric or Imperial quantities.
I am a misogynist.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to be quoted on Man boobz any time soon. I’m not going to start droning on about how feminists have fucked up our entire society, or how all women are soiled by an overblown sense of entitlement, or why they can’t just shut up and make a damn sandwich for me. Those are things we traditionally think of as being misogyny. We all agree (well…fine, most of us agree) that these attitudes are not welcome in our society at large.
So why do I think I’m a misogynist?
I am generally ignorant of what it feels like to be a woman in my society. I sometimes blind to the ways I treat women different from men. Sometimes there are things that make the women in my life angry or uncomfortable that I just cannot relate to. I’ve called a woman a “bitch”, or used “bitchy” as a way to describe behavior that I would not necessarily have felt was “bitchy” of a guy. I can be less hard on a woman and her ideas than I would if they came from a man. I could go on confessing for hours, but I think you see the pattern.
I’m just not that good at consistently treating women with the respect that they deserve- the respect that I sometimes give all to easily to people who are men.
The fact that I notice these things gives me the tools to change my attitudes. Yet they are attitudes that are engrained in our language and culture- attitudes that inform our socialization. These attitudes take time and effort to overcome. They are part of my psyche, and minds are slow to discard even the most worthless of heuristics. I need to be reminded when preconceptions betray me.
I am a reluctant misogynist, and I’m trying to be a better man.
I am a homophobe.
I pass unfair judgements based on something as simple as who someone loves. I make jokes that perpetuate ridiculous stereotypes. I overcompensate at times.
I am transphobic.
Hell, I don’t even really know anyone who isn’t cisgendered. Virtually everything I know about what it means to be transgendered comes from a single blogger (H/T Natalie). I’m unbelievably ignorant.
I’m a racist.
I cannot really share the experiences of what it is like to be Black, Asian, Hispanic, East Indian, etc. I live in a town where I turn my head when I see a visible minority, because they are so obviously from “away”. I say certain things, at times, that cannot help but “other” my fellow man.
So when I hear people throw around these words at people like me, and my compatriots get entirely bent out of shape about how unfair it is to point out the ways they could improve- I get concerned that we aren’t really being internally skeptical. A misogynist is not just some guy harping on about Feminazis- he’s also the guy who thinks that harassment policies are a priori designed to prevent them from expressing sexuality in healthy and constructive ways. A homophobe is not just some guy who thinks that gays are morally depraved, he’s also the guy that tells us that he knows how they feel because he was bullied in school. A transphobic person isn’t just the person who assumes that they are all depraved, confused perverts- but also the person who refuses to acknowledge their preference in pronouns.
Fighting these attitudes means accepting responsibility for the ways we perpetuate bad behaviors. Racist jokes perpetuate attitudes that allow for systematic and overt racism- even when we think we are just being “funny”. The intent to harm or marginalize may not be there- but the repetition and perpetuation of lazy heuristics does the dirty work. We need to be conscious of those times when we let shorthand give an unintended narrative. One turn of phrase might take us 1000 words to set right.
I like being called a racist (well, not really- or at all, honestly. I appreciate the opportunity for self-correction). I like knowing that others are looking out for those times when I’m being lazy. I value being reproved when I’m approaching things from the wrong vantage point. Don’t get me wrong, I can be defensive. I can be skeptical of the degree to which I’m culpable. Those are human reactions.
We can’t stop calling out misogyny just because it is sub-contextual or unintended. We can’t stop calling out homophobia, transphobia and racism because it is harmless ignorant privilege and not crafted hateful attacks. We need to consciously decide to point out not just Man boobz level misogyny, but those innocent-enough moments when we parrot the ideas that are the mortar of institutionalized mistreatment of our fellow human beings.
If you won’t call me a misogynist- a racist, homophobe, transphobe- whatever, then we have a problem. We have a problem because you evidently don’t understand what those concepts mean. They mean that I am someone who needs to pay attention- I need to check my privilege. They are descriptive words for people who are not just blinded- but also shortsighted- by regressive patterns of thought.
So now that I’ve come clean about my faults, here is what I intend to do about it: I’m going to listen when you tell me I’m being insensitive. I’m going to gladly support you when you try to make common sense codes of conduct institutional- so that I’m reminded of what ought to be self evident. I’m going to use my skepticism as a tool of understanding as opposed to one for dismissing.
I’m going to go to great lengths to protect you from my bad ideas- and I hope you’ll do the same.