November 13, 2016
on misogyny, internalized and otherwise
Misogyny, as I define it, is more than simple sexism. It's a dismissive contempt for all things that code feminine, including affection, love, tenderness, sincerity, child welfare, peace, compromise, empathy, nature, and vulnerability, just to name a few.
What do I mean by "code?" A basic understanding of deconstruction is a key to applying my weird little definition. It's actually pretty simple. We tend to categorize things as binaries -- pairs of opposites -- in our attempts to make sense of the world. Day/Night, Sun/Moon, Father/Mother. God/Goddess. You can go on. There's also Good/Bad. And there's Masculine/Feminine. And that's not about what sex or gender you are. All humans of all sexes and genders experience and express some masculinity and some femininity.
Concepts that "code" feminine are ones that fall on the same side of our conceptual binary divide as "feminine" or "woman." For example, let's take Hard/Soft and Masculine/Feminine. Hard is equated with Masculine, and Soft with Feminine.
Why am I explaining this? Well, two reasons:
1. We women know what misogyny looks like. We've been deeply conditioned to fight our discomfort when it's present, and we get ridiculed when we bring it up. Usually we're dismissed as incorrect, liars, or overreacting to a fleeting bit of nonsense. But misogyny, internalized and otherwise, just lost Hillary Clinton this election. So I'm done not mentioning it.
2. I'm not signing up for any left movements based in patriarchy and misogyny. Misogyny devalues everything in life actually worth pursuing or living for. It deprives us of access to love and peace, dismissing such concerns as "unserious." The idea that we need to be cold, unsentimental, insensitive, rote, regimented, and violent to oppose Trumpism is false. That's only the best way forward when you accept misogyny as a given, as many political movements do.
In college, I joined an international socialist party. I signed up because of my well-intentioned, empathetic young heart. But before long, going to meetings made me feel sick to my stomach.
I remember one particularly nauseating meeting. The topic was how we as socialists should approach feminism. Several women in the room talked about how great it was that they joined international socialism so they could quit getting therapy for their rape and child abuse histories and finally do something "REAL." That was one of many early signs to me that the movement was fucked up. But, because I was being taught to ignore my sensitivity and intuition by that patriarchal and misogynist ideology, I kept quiet and soldiered on. (For less than 2 years. I was done with that shit before I turned 20.)
Switching gears, let's look at today: Alt-right patriarch Steve Bannon just got tapped to be Trump's chief strategist. You can read all about Bannon's work, but this story about his history of domestic violence tells you what you really need to know about him. He dehumanizes the women closest to him. It's not that he should be disqualified from his Trump team post because women need to be protected like children (though of course children need to be protected, and he clearly harms children). It's that he has a powerful contempt for women that is an indicator of his deep contempt for all that is feminine. Because women are so fundamentally objectified in our culture, a man's treatment of women serves as a barometer for his relationship to the feminine. Bannon is clearly a misogynist, no matter how you define it.
Whatever political or group identity we hold in this country, we minimize its misogynist tendencies at our peril. Misogyny can happen on the left or the right, in any religion or cultural or political organization, in any profession or industry. But once misogyny takes hold, all infected institutions are headed in the exact same direction: dehumanization and misery. And not just for the women involved. For everyone.
As we look at Trumpism, the Alt-Right ascendence, and Hillary's loss, misogyny and internalized misogyny are bigger players than most are willing to say. I didn't talk enough about this when I saw the blatant misogyny influencing the lead up to the election. I'm talking about it now.
Some might argue that I'm not being class-conscious enough, but I do not find economic arguments sufficient at this time. Well-off whites who support Trump -- and there are millions -- confound that argument. They're agitated by perception and identity more than material circumstances. In this new century, comfortable people everywhere are angry. They're angry about inequality, sure. But that's not the only thing, or even necessarily the main thing, that's going on. Bannon himself is one of those (many) cases where simple class analysis breaks down. He doesn't want more money. He wants control, power, dominance. He's disconnected from other humans and alienated from the feminine aspects of the human experience. So he's miserable, angry, and dangerous.
The identity breakdown is certainly also about race, and I'm indebted to those who will offer us crucial racial analyses. Here's one such piece. For my part, I'm here to offer a perspective based in gender. My argument is only one and must be combined with many other arguments.
I am not 100% sure of the way forward, but after ignoring so much misogyny in the lead up to this election, I vowed after Tuesday not to let it slide anymore. I've been holding my tongue on it for years, partly because it's the unspoken code of my industry never to speak of how virulently misogynist stand-up culture is. But a lot of people are genuinely shocked at the outcome of this election. It's as if they aren't aware of the toxic waters we all swim in. I was shocked myself. I pushed my knowledge down because reality is so unfair and it goes so deep. I didn't want it to be real.
But the fact is, I have a keen perception of misogyny, so I'm speaking out. And I'm not going to stand by while movements that evolve out of this crisis poison themselves with misogyny.
And, as an artist, I aspire to help liberate men and women and everyone from the prison of misogyny. Misogyny is fundamentally dehumanizing. Misogyny robs us of most of what life is truly and deeply worth living for. Misogyny enables us to destroy our planet and beat our children. Those are the stakes.
We've got to be vibrant, creative, open, respectful, and optimistic. We've got to listen to people of color and LGBTQ+ people and women and men and believe them/us. We've got to pool our resources and play to our strengths.
At this unprecedented time, creative solutions, not dogmatic ones, are required.