Women can be misogynists, too.

In the wake of the shooting in Isla Vista, a conversation entered the mainstream media about the idea of male entitlement and the associated societal structures that breed this sort of mentality. Rape culture. Ingrained misogyny. Got me thinking, where else do I observe the abuse of dominance? It’s not just in the minds of the “friend-zoned” or out-and-out woman-haters. It’s in all of us. It’s everywhere. And women contribute, too.

In particular, it occurred to me that there is a fundamental conflict between what women say and what we do. For example, there are scores of books and movies dedicated to the average American woman’s notion of romance. You could call it “girl porn”, as seen in the film Don Jon: Men like to watch people getting it on, but women? Women like romantic comedies, romantic dramas, harlequin romance novels, Disney-style fairytales. (Parenthetically, it should be noted that OF COURSE there are females that enjoy pornography. But I’m going to wager a guess that most women go for the “romance porn” stuff.)

In these books and films we see male characters who are often disrespectful of a woman’s right to her own body, tending to act forcefully, or even aggressively, to assert their male right to female attention. These characters are written as Alpha-males, dominant over their women and their environment — they know what they want, they feel entitled to it, they are persistent, and they get it. Alternately, we have the “wounded soul” male — a person whose whole life experience has been so fraught that we can hardly blame him for being so flawed. We read Twilight (crazy obsessive stalker) and 50 Shades of Grey (emotionally unstable man-child who is borderline abusive, but has a heart of gold) and we swoon over these damaged male characters who treat their women poorly and possessively. Somehow, the lonely, needing quality gives these fictional men the right to exhibit aggressively toxic masculinity, particularly in their pursuit of the female protagonist. The stalking, the jealous rage, the single-minded focus of the male’s attention on the female — our culture has conditioned us to believe that these stunts are romantic. And we just eat that shit up. Men see that, see the hypocrisy in it, and come to the conclusion that all women a.) don’t really know what they want, b.) are sending mixed messages/being manipulative, and c.) that this crap:

This is what women want.
This is what women want.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read them all. I like them. They’re my guilty little pleasure. Some romance novels are actually very well-written and well-balanced, depicting not an over-hyped ideal, but a realistic struggle that we can all relate to. In a genre largely written for women by women, there is a tremendous opportunity to extol the virtues of sexual equality. But even when it comes to less delicately written erotica, I enjoy getting lost in the romance, the intrigue — mentally substituting the weak female protagonist for myself (because that’s exactly what these books are for), and embarking on a whirlwind romantic flight of fancy.

But then I stop. I put the book down. And I think about how I would never, ever, EVER accept that kind of treatment from my partner in real life. I think it’s time to own up to the truth: that, unfortunately, my partaking of this form of media is complicit acceptance ingrained misogyny. And that it is a bit hypocritical.

Women can, and sometimes do, send mixed messages. But it isn’t because we’re emotionally manipulative or cunning. We’re taught that clear, explicit messages of arousal or consent are unromantic. That being assertive is slutty. That you have to wait for the man to make the move. A woman that propositions a man is a slut, but women who are selective or discerning when selecting a sexual partner are prudish and condescending. Those words in bold? I don’t want to be any of those things, but it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” proposition. I know a lot of women who feel the same way.

I think it’s time that we all start taking responsibility for the ways in which our culture has altered our consciousness on sexual norms. For women, that means coming to grips with the fact that we are literally buying into patriarchy — not just by spending money on “romance porn”, but also spending billions of dollars every year on attempts to embody a standard of beauty that is unrealistic and psychologically, economically, and politically damaging.

Truthfully, I like getting dolled-up. I do my hair and make-up like a 1950’s pin-up model, not to attract male attention, but because it makes me feel good about myself and gives me confidence. But lest I forget that I am a product of my culture and my environment, I have to ask myself, how much of what I like is because I really like it and how much is because I’ve been conditioned to like it?

Girls grow up in a world where we are taught that our primary (if not our only) commodity is our beauty. While it’s not necessarily taboo to be an intelligent, articulate, or independent girl, it’s not so often praised either. I, for one, clearly remember feeling the need at eight years old to suck in my tummy when passing boys in the supermarket, but I didn’t begin pride myself on my smarts until I was in my 20’s. And that wasn’t because I was raised by misogynists (I wasn’t) or because I grew up in an environment that devalued educational accomplishments (I didn’t). It’s because even at that young age, I understood that my worth as a human being was inextricably bound to my appearance, so I had better make it good.

Women and men alike need to come together in the spirit of finding balance and establishing equality — first by confronting our previously unacknowledged hypocrisies and universally accepted “truths”, and then by making a commitment to change them. In the last few weeks I’ve heard a lot of people say “feminist” like it’s a dirty word, I think because there is a common misconception that being a feminist means “a women who hates men“. To assume such a thing is to miss the point entirely, and ultimately, to doom the fight by misdirecting the conversation (once again) towards hate and extremism. It’s about equality — and if that’s what we want, ladies and gents, then we all need to come to terms with the ways in which we directly or inadvertently add to the imbalance.

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9 thoughts on “Women can be misogynists, too.”

  1. A lot of LGBT and other alt-sexuality groups use the word slut to mean someone who likes secsex and is proud of this fact. I am a slut, and that’s not a shameful thing. That someone would say that liking sex is in any way abnormal is ridiculous, especially in this day and age. Fight on!

    1. That’s interesting — I didn’t know that “slut” was a term that people in the community are trying to reclaim. It makes sense, though. Similar to the call for women to reclaim and destigmatize the word “cunt”, alà The Vagina Monologues.

  2. My husband and I have been making our way through Star Trek TNG, and got to an episode early in season 3 where Deanna Troi has an intense encounter with a “negotiator” from another planet. It was plainly meant to romantic and passionate, but my husband and I both barely made it through the episode because of the “negotiator”‘s extreme aggression in pursuit of Troi. It made me wonder whether women were meant to watch that episode and sigh, wanting a romance as whirlwind and intense as the one depicted, and, in reality, how many women watch that show and cringe as my husband and I did. And if women ARE cringing, then why are writers still writing romances based on the principals you outlined above?

    1. Frankly, I think the truth of the matter is that not very many women (or men, for that matter) actually DO cringe. To be honest, even though I’ve always thought of myself as a feminist, it wasn’t until recently that I really started to see all of the sexual microaggressions that are hidden in every aspect of our culture. The first time I read 50 Shades of Grey, for instance, I thought it was sexy and cute. Nothing threw up a red flag for me. Then I started to hear about other women wishing for their boyfriends or husband’s to act like the man in that book. And I thought about all the young girls who read Twilight and want their own “Edward”. And that’s when my eyes started to open.

      It really is a matter of conditioning. Little girls start out with Disney princesses and the myriad of unhealthy relationships modeled therein, and then graduate to other increasingly distorted representations of male-female relations. And why do writers keep writing it? Because we keep buying it. It’s all about the bottom line.

  3. I always think it’s funny when women don’t know why they get “dolled up”. Not necessary to attract men… but rather *because* it attracts men.

    This feature is what makes them feel good about themselves (even if they don’t look deep enough to know why), or gives them confidence.

    Women’s power has been most reliably expressed in physical appearance. You want doors opened (literally or figuratively), you want to avoid that parking ticket? Name your benefit. You feel better because you are projecting what society has deemed an effective and potent approach to life. You’re looked up to by your peers, and noticed by men… Irrespective of your goals the the day.

    Why do people dress up as soldiers in public, that have in fact never served? Stolen valor feels good… if the lie is undetected… They will feel good about themselves, and confident.

    But dressing up as a soldier when you’re not is a lie… But a woman dressing up as a “doll” isn’t… Well, except for all of the aids that push her body and color in various ways to simulate something that really isn’t… But apart from that, it’s not a lie, and feels good for the same reasons.

    The question to ask might be… Would you dress up if you knew for certain that not a single soul would see you?

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