My boyfriend (who, for the purposes of this blog, I call the Daviraptor) sent me a cell-phone snapshot of our cat as a comfort. He captioned it, “I heard the Internets are being mean – have a kitty”.
He wasn’t wrong. I was feeling pretty upset and frustrated by the way the Internet was behaving.
See, it started on Godless Spellchecker’s Twitter page. Until this point, I’ve mostly enjoyed him on Twitter, but this debacle has caused me to see his modus operandi in a very different light and ultimately remove him from my feed. It started innocently enough, though, with him complaining in a blog post about something journalist Quinn Norton said: that men are trained to hate women.
Now I admit, that’s a generalization, in that it’s hard to make statements about ALL members of any group. But it’s not too far off from the truth, because we live in a society that promotes a belief in the superiority of men and the irrelevance of women as anything but sex objects or domestic servants. It’s why female politicians get as much coverage for their hairstyles as their policies. It’s why a girl is said to cause her own rape if she wears a short skirt or drinks too much. It’s why calling a woman ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ is too often where people go to invalidate what she has to say. It’s why female actors in mainstream porn are required to have a certain body type . . . but not to look like they’re enjoying the sex. It’s why women, but seldom men, get asked in job interviews about their child care plans. It’s why some parents still discourage their boys from playing with toys they find in the local shop’s “pink ghetto”. It’s why men insult each other with accusations of effeminacy. And so many more points.
I think ‘hate’ is a pretty strong word, though, particularly when what I mostly see is just a plain old lack of awareness about the messages in our culture and what they mean. So I said what I thought:
Almost instantly, my feed was flooded.
The comments mostly revolved around the same common themes. There were calls for “evidence” and “studies” and “data”, mostly from Godless Spellchecker but from others as well. But there were also others saying, “That’s really hurtful to me/my husband/my brother/ my male friends/my dad/the guy who tunes up my car. I know men don’t treat women that way because look at the men I know.”
To my detractors, I would like to say this:
- There’s a double standard at work here. If women’s experiences of misogyny in the world don’t count as evidence, neither do your experiences of knowing nice guys. Pick one standard and stick to it, but don’t change the rules for one side of the debate.
- I’m not talking about individual guys sitting in their dens plotting ways to express contempt for women, though those exist. I’m talking about the broad general tone of our culture, which saturates the experiences of men and women from their earliest learning, mostly below the level of consciousness.
- I know lots of nice guys too. But even the nicest guys will pick up nasty messages from our culture about the place and value of women, and some of those messages just fester unless the man in question (or woman, for that matter, because we can certainly be misogynist too!) actively roots them out or disputes them.
- Misogyny in culture is a part of everyday life, and there’s no one fact or study that proves it. It’s a seamlessly woven garment that covers our entire society. I have spent a decade or more unpicking the things I’ve taken for granted to come to this conclusion about our misogynist culture, and some of my growing knowledge has come through rather unpleasant experiences with entitled asshole men. If you’re not at a point in life where you get it, there’s no way I can link to any one study that will make you suddenly see the light.
Of course, I didn’t say that, not at the time. I couldn’t. I was feeling overwhelmed by the number of people responding, often angrily, often with straw-man arguments and accusations. I was called ‘misandrist’. I was called ‘hysterical’. I overwhelm easily in heated discussions, and that makes it harder for me to express my point well.
Plus, what do you say? If I cited the experiences of women, it was dismissed as anecdote. But how many anecdotes does it take to make up data? How many friends’ stories of being used and abused, how many books about the subject, how many individual data points about stereotyping and reducing and abusing and dismissing women? How much does it take to ‘count’? And how do you cite those reams of information in 140 characters or less????
I retreated. I told Godless Spellchecker I was no longer interested in the debate, was not capable of being ‘objective’ as he demanded. I blocked a lot of people, including one asshat who argued that I “need more cock”. (I passed the tip on to Daviraptor. He says he’ll try.) I didn’t block Godless Spellchecker, but I won’t follow him anymore either. I’ve lost what respect I had for him after this incident. I’ve lost respect for a large swath of the atheist movement, to be honest.
I went to the library and checked out some books I may or may not have time to read, got dinner at Popeye’s, drank cola, bought groceries, and hung out with my cat and foster-rabbit to decompress. And I felt better.
Meanwhile, discussion of the question has carried on without me. Checking back today to see what had become of the debate, I was surprised to find that Godless Spellchecker is still having the same conversation, and still insisting that it’s about failure to provide evidence and anybody bringing up misogyny is getting off-topic . . . even though misogyny is the very thing we’re called to provide evidence of. The conversation itself – the silencing of voices that explain and describe women’s experiences of male entitlement, contempt, and woman-hate – could stand as an example of misogyny, one point of evidence in a forest so vast, whole libraries could be written on this topic alone. But the way the discussion is being reframed, the types of evidence allowed to stand, ensures that there’s no defense available to anybody who sees misogyny in the world.
This post is getting pretty long and I still have far more to say, so stay tuned for a companion piece on five lessons I learned from the experience I just described.