Monday, May 20, 2013
Accidental Sexists, Latent Misogynists
This is going to be very unscientific. But you know what? That's what essays are. Unscientific "tries" (from the French essai) at getting across an idea, or at finding the answer to some question. I will try my best. I have been thinking about this since I have had some life-altering, feminism-rallying experiences with men who think they are the shit, and that women should be the recipients of their shit.
Accidental Sexists and Latent Misogynists, as I'll call them, are two different things.
The first, as indicated by the accidental nature of the sexisms committed, is a forgivable dude (not trying to give anyone shit) who is trying to be nice and ends up being condescending instead. He usually knows it immediately, or sometimes after you point it out and he stammers awkwardly, and then he tries to fix it (clumsily). This dude (and sometimes dudette) is not a social plague or anything of the sort. He is just a manifestation of how the modern man is coming to terms with feminism, and sometimes he is even an indicator of how men are valiantly stepping up to the feminist front lines next to their woman peers. He just doesn't know what to say when he gets there.
Accidental Sexist, we forgive you. We even thank you. You may accidentally tell us something like "I have respect for ALL women!" and then we'll cringe imperceptibly, but we know deep down, even if you're sometimes confused, that if the Women's Studies department was doling out "This is what a feminist looks like" stickers, you'd slap one on your flat chest.
The Latent Misogynist, on the other hand, is a fucking menace. He disguises himself (consciously or not) as what he thinks a mildly feminist man looks like. Or rather, how he thinks a mildly feminist man sounds (because he wouldn't be caught dead wearing that sticker). This is a predatory beast who gains unmerited rapport with women every day, and who most easily tricks his unsuspecting women friends (and girlfriends) of all ages into thinking he's on their side. What's the trick? He spouts things that sound, on the surface, like the woman-positive rhetoric we've all been waiting to hear. But underneath those crafty lines is the almost inaudible low rumble of testosterone, murmuring all the while:
"You need me to say these things to make them true. I create the world with my words. I say things, and then they are so. You can't do that, but I can."
You can have your feminism. But know that it is sanctioned by HIM.
That is very sinister, yes. That is the extreme version. There is another low rumble, less sinister, but very hard to put into words. It sounds like this: rumblerumblerumblegrumblegrowlrumble. Let's see, the best I can describe this is like so:
"I like women. I want to have sex with them.
I happen to like women with brains though. And that makes me a special kinda guy. Since I don't just care about tits, that means I respect women right?
In fact, if they're smart and funny, I don't really mind if they're not that good looking. That makes me a real stand-up guy, huh?
Women should like me a lot for having this very modern and woman-supportive philosophy. This means I'll get to have sex with even more women! Shit I hadn't thought of that!
I'd better keep this up, even if I sometimes don't really believe the bit about it being okay if she's not that good-looking.
I understand women. I respect all of them. I never want to hurt a woman."
NOTE: Before I explicate these manly lines, let me add a disclaimer. There has been a lot of ugly anti-feminist rhetoric on the internets these days, and I don't just mean from men. I mean from feminists themselves! Some of them defend men against any accusation of sexism no matter how blatant (and some men defend themselves by lashing out) whenever some HuffPo gal, etc, writes a new "Sexism still exists!" piece in the columns. Well, before you go calling me a sexist, I will flatly deny it. The Latent Misogynist I describe here is not intended to represent all men, most men, or even a lot of men. It is a very particular kind of guy, who probably comes from all walks of life.
Furthermore, in my 32 years I have had some very ugly experiences with some prime specimens of Latent Misogynists. My own experience is something I can essai about (denying women traction in arguments because they tend to write from experience is yet another ugly internet trend). These guys exist, and they are shitty shitbags, just as women who hate men are shitty too. Anyway it is only THEM, the Latent Misogynists, who I am talking about when I reduce their mental activity to that of a grapefruit. Not all men. Not at all. Many men are awesome, and many, many more are average respectable folk. Same goes for women. There you go.
I am sick of the comments on articles about sexism, the ones where sexist men and their woman-apologists say things like "I am totally offended by this. YOU are what's wrong with feminism," when the authors of said articles have made it excruciatingly clear that they are speaking about a minority of despicable men. Well, sirs and madams, if you are offended by me or anyone else kicking THIS guy (the Latent Misogynist) in the crotch, then you must identify with him pretty closely, ergo... you are also deserving of a good crotch-kicking.
Manly thoughts explication time! There are three things lurking in the Latent Misogynist's thought bubble:
Sex on a man's terms
How to pass as a woman-appreciative kind of guy (consciously feigning it or not)
Things that men were raised to believe and that they might have heard said respectfully to their mothers 30 years ago, so they actually believe these things are still good things to say to women.
NO! A thousand times no.
The Latent Misogynist thinks of his outwardly "considerate" expressions of desire towards women as doing them a favor. The line about a woman's smarts increasing his ugliness-tolerance is right out of a former friend's dumb filthy mouth. Oh you're not so cute. Well you're smart, so I'll help you out! You can still get with all o'this, baby!
Okay, I'll stick to what this guy really said and not just my imaginings of what happens in the heads of idiots: Tina Fey was this guy's example of a smart funny girl he likes a lot but who is "actually kinda dumpy." Can you believe that shit? Tina Fey is good looking. Hotter than he who called her dumpy, that's for sure.
One more Tina Fey thingy -- people often tell me I look like her, especially in my glasses. So this guy who was trying to work his idiot magic on me did so by telling me a woman who I look like is "actually kinda dumpy." Awesome!
As for the bit of not caring about tits and therefore being respectable, well that quickly falls apart when the misogynist supplies another body part to take the place of the tits. Now, it would not be misogynistic at all, or even sexist, to say "I am a brains guy" or "I'm a humor guy." Every person has particular things they like in the personalities of others, both friends and potential mates. But when the guy's claimed preference is "Brains and humor even if you're not hot," then the implication is... he'd really rather you were quite smokingly hot because, oh wait, he's really an ass guy. But does he still get points for not being a tits guy? No? Shit!
In short, in order to praise woman, one of the first tactics the Latent Misogynist's toolbox is objectification. First objectify, and then praise the object. Much easier than actually understanding another human being, right? So while claiming to "love women," he can only start with his most basic urges.
LIVING WITH WOMEN
Let's move away from the base desires to the general appreciation of women (shudder), which he claims to have in abundance. The Latent Misogynist talks as if he has taken a Gen Ed course in Women Appreciation, taught by a man. (They could call it WOAP 101.) When you see "appreciation" in a course title, it is a course for non-majors. So in an appreciation course you never learn the real essence of a thing. You learn some surfacey language with which to talk about it and analyze it and maybe identify different types of it. You can, after the course, hopefully pretend to have good taste in that thing at the next party you attend ("I like brains blah blah blah"). Or you can just learn to live with it. (My best friend once took an art appreciation course and the textbook was titled Living with Art. As if it's a disease or a nuisance! Perhaps Living with Women will be next in the Living with... series.)
The Latent Misogynist listens to the vocabulary of women-friendly folk and picks up some phrases, tests them out on easy marks, and the ones that work become staples in his less than abundant copia of "I love women" rhetoric. His remarks on women's progress rarely congeal out of the abstract "It's great when a woman does X," "Now THERE'S a woman" sort of comments.
He does not take a course in actual feminism, self-taught or not. That's too much of a commitment. The Latent Misogynist can pretend appreciation among average women. But if he tried to pretend feminism, he would never pass.
IT WORKED ON MAMA!
Some things the LM says are things that sounded really great fifty years ago. But he is the worst kind of benevolent sexist.*
*I hesitated to use that term here -- the Accidental Sexist described at the beginning of this post is closer to the definition of benevolent sexist. But when the sexism really is accidental and well meaning, I can't get that angry. I do forgive the Accidental Sexist, even though I know it holds women back that benevolent sexism of any kind slips by quite often. But the intent is what I get hung up on.
The Latent Misogynist has no good intent when he says things like "I hate to hurt a woman."
Do I need to parse that one? Ugh...
To leave you with some science (however soft), here is a perfect definition of benevolent sexism from Glick and Fiske's 1996 paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:
"We define benevolent sexism as a set of interrelated attitudes toward women that are sexist in terms of viewing women stereotypically and in restricted roles but that are subjectively positive in feeling tone (for the perceiver) and also tend to elicit behaviors typically categorized as prosocial (e.g., helping) or intimacy-seeking (e.g., self-disclosure)."
"We do not consider benevolent sexism a good thing, for despite the positive feelings it may indicate for the perceiver, its underpinnings lie in traditional stereotyping and masculine dominance (e.g., the man as the provider and woman as his dependent), and its consequences are often damaging. Benevolent sexism is not necessarily experienced as benevolent by the recipient."
These excerpts were cited in this Scientific American blog post on sexism, which now boasts examples of the hideous article comments I've been alluding to.
Now to go back to my distinction between Accidental Sexists and Latent Misogynists, I believe that some benevolent sexism is expressed in a non-threatening and well-meaning way. But it is the Latent Misogynist who USES benevolent sexism for "intimacy-seeking," restricting a woman, and making her dependent.
Unlike "benevolent" slip-ups, microaggressions (subtle communications meant to put women and minorities in their place) are never perpetrated on accident. Look at these two sub-types of microaggressions (from Wiki):
Microinvalidation: Characterized by communications that exclude, negate, or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of a person. [This is like every "WHERE'S YOUR DATA YOU CAN'T WRITE FROM EXPERIENCE BECAUSE YOU DON'T HAVE ANY!" comment on sexism articles by young women.]
Microrape: Characterized by predatory non-physical prurient communications with the intent to penetrate the victim's emotional security on the basis of heteronormative impositions. [PUKE! This is like every word that comes out of the Latent Misogynist's (or latent homophobe's) mouth within the vicinity of his target or prey. Predatory is the key term there, I think.]
MORE TO COME
I have been collecting articles on sexism. Well, actually I've been collecting the comments. Sexism in all its forms (hostile or benevolent, intentional or not) is worse today than I ever remember it, in the streets, in the workplace, in relationships, and online. I can't get my students riled about sexism, while rape culture flourishes at colleges and on Facebook pages. I know this is a sociological and cultural issue, but the way we absorb the sexism all around us also makes it a psychological issue. A personality issue. And that's what's been boiling in my brain lately. Maybe an Accidental Sexist who is so close to being feminists could rethink some things and join the cause. And maybe a Latent Misogynist or two can wake up from their delusions and go see a fucking shrink. (I'm convinced that the level of utterly confused and damaging sexism I've described here is part and parcel of neurosis.) So I had to get this out, and hopefully I will soon pull together an article on this burgeoning collection of sexist internet comments.