I’ve become more interested and supportive of women’s issues in recent years, and in that process I have learned a bit about why misogyny affects so many. I’ve made remarks in the past that I regret today because I don’t feel I learned enough empathy in my youth. That’s not intended to push-off my actions as anyone else’s responsibility of course.
My pursuit of better understanding of how other people perceive things was mostly a career-driven effort at first. Being into game and UI design forces you to think about how other people see and interact with their environment. Working on my empathy was a tangent to that goal, but later became the prime directive when I felt how much personal growth I could accomplish with it.
And that’s when I realized how wrong I’ve been before about women, and the similarities and differences that come packaged with us the moment we’re assigned a gender/orientation by default in society.
Living in a Sex Negative Culture
We stigmatize sex. You know, the evolutionary quality that made us the top of the food chain. One of the primary pillars of why humans do whatever they do. That thing that everyone expects us to do the moment we’re of some age that we use fuzzy math to determine.
Among the people we judge negatively because of how they prefer to have sex:
- Women who have too much sex
- Women who don’t have enough
- Men who don’t have enough
- Women that have sex with too many different people
- Men that don’t have sex with many different people
- People that have sex before marriage
- People that don’t have sex before marriage (though I agree this is a bad idea)
- People that prefer to have sex with the same gender (homosexual)
- People that prefer to have sex with more than one person at a time
- People that don’t like/want to have sex at all (asexual)
- People that think about sex too much (‘sex addicts’)
- People that want to have sex without bearing children
- People that have non-conventional (i.e. interesting) tastes and fetishes
- People in non-traditional romantic relationships (polyamory, open relationships, companionate marriages)
- People that have sex for money
- Virgins. Yes, the default state that we are all born as, is negatively stigmatized
And why? Why does it even matter to anyone else what 1,2, 3, or 20 people do (or don’t do) in a room together without hurting anyone? I’m asking ‘why’ rhetorically of course, since we all know our country was at least partially founded by puritans. The real question I intend to ask is ‘Why are we still doing this?‘.
Giving negative stigma and judgment to people for doing things they enjoy with other consenting adult partners is pointless. There is no real harm being done, except for the harm suffered by those stigmatized.
The Importance of Empathy
When all of your motives revolve around you, it’s hard to understand that leering at an attractive woman on the bus is harmful. It’s hard to understand why giving a stranger a compliment on the street could result in that stranger feeling violated or uncomfortable. A lack of empathy makes it hard to see the privilege that straight people, white people and men have. It makes it easy for those people to take being ignored or frowned at as a personal rejection. It takes things like this to get that point across:
I learned about how women are treated on public streets whenever they’re alone a few years ago from my wife. At the time, she was living in Hoboken, NJ and commuting into New York City to work. I was living and working in Maryland and we were visiting each other on weekends.
She told me about how she would get compliments on the street, and that it was nice at first. When she was a fresh ‘New Yorker’ she received the comments as well-intentioned and novel. She was excited about her new job and new city, which put her in a good mood and the attention wasn’t entirely unwanted at that point.
It became a problem when it didn’t stop; when she couldn’t walk down a public street anywhere in the city without being reminded that men around her wanted to fuck her. As time went by, the comments would get creepier and more predatory. The mannerisms the men would use while they ‘complimented’ her would sometimes feel aggressive. The men would make bolder approaches, sometimes in confined spaces — like on the train — where she had nowhere to go to get away from them.
Imagine you’re late for work and are really stressed out about 3-4 things. Now, while you’re rushing from the train/bus/etc. to your office, multiple people are trying to stop you along the way with inane BS they know you have no interest in. Like those people spraying you with perfume and shouting at you to come look at their crappy cart in the mall.
Now imagine it’s weirdly sexual and rapey.
Now imagine that happening to you every time you go anywhere public.
My wife, to me that day (paraphrased)
This blew my mind when my wife-to-be finally got it through my head. Within days of this realization I went from a guy that resented women that called themselves feminists, to being a feminist myself. My eyes opened to the perspective of more than 50% of the population, and I felt like a small man. A pathetic man that previously felt he was on moral high ground when he defended his gender from the ‘pussification of men’ in the past.
And I thank your deity of choice for that too. If the #yesAllWomen hashtag was a thing when I was 22 years old, I’d likely be one of the awful men in the #notAllMen camp. I’d be on the wrong side of this very public and heated issue. I’d have a much less realistic view of what it’s like to be female in a big U.S. city. I value that improved insight greatly now, and I know I still have more to learn about it.
Disclaimer: Of course even at my peak misogyny, threatening anyone (online or not), like several #gamergate people have done, has always been unacceptable to me.
Using Femininity as an Insult
Our society insults men by accusing them of being feminine. Ask any man that grew up in public school what the worst insults hurled at us were and you’ll hear things like ‘faggot’ or ‘pussy’ for the most part.
Being feminine is [falsely] equated with being weak, ruled by emotions over logic, and dependent on others. Being gay or transgender or anything other than cis is somehow deserving of hatred. That makes our culture look a lot like ‘we hate almost everyone’ since the only acceptable amount of femininity a non-female can show is 0%.
Even when someone uses the ‘end-all-be-all curse out’ of “fuck you” they are implying that the worst thing they can wish upon another person is that they be penetrated. This idea persists even though close to half of the people on the planet (of all genders) like to be penetrated in some way. It persists despite the fact that the other near-half WANT those other people to want to be penetrated.
We insult women by accusing them of not being the exact way men think a woman should be. We call them slutty when they have sex the same way men want to. We call them prudes if they aren’t slutty enough. We call them ‘bitches’ or ‘bossy’ when they take charge or show initiative. All while trying to limit the rights they have to decide what happens to their own bodies.
Our society wants women to be uneducated, less wealthy, and otherwise dependent on men. When a woman makes a major achievement, they are either patted on the head in a condescending way or accused of using their sexuality as leverage. Sometimes, we manage to send both of those messages at the same time.
Are men that insecure and petty? Do we fear that if women make as much or more than we do, they’ll no longer need/want us? Do we not feel powerful or masculine enough unless we can dominate and oppress someone else? It sure seems like it based on the way our culture is set up.
Misogyny Hurts Everyone
It’s obvious that misogyny hurts women. Men without much empathy are — at a minimum — apathetic about the unfair ways our culture treats women. But the way we treat non-males still greatly affects males. After all, cis males are a minority in the big picture.
When a woman can’t walk down a public street in broad daylight without fearing for her personal safety, she’s highly unlikely to want to talk to you for the first time. Even if you’re ‘one of the nice guys’ she has no choice but to lump you in with all the other creeps if you don’t show the good judgment of complimenting someone is an environment-appropriate way. The streets we all use to get anywhere are not a singles event or a flirty nightclub where those comments might be welcome.
When a woman doesn’t have the legal right to decide for herself if/when/how she wants to get pregnant or have children, she is much less likely to feel secure having sex with a man. The same goes for disputes that arise if one person in the relationship wants children while the other doesn’t. Feeling like your bodily integrity is threatened or out of your control makes it very hard to be open-minded and receptive to new relationships. It makes it difficult to be happy or comfortable at all.
When we disparage people based on who they love and the semantics of their sex lives, we drive them toward depression. We drive them toward denial. Closeted gay men that marry women because of their fear of coming out or even admitting to themselves that they prefer men end up hurting those well-intentioned women that married them, and any children they may have from that marriage. Sexually repressed people can turn into sex offenders or rapists.
When we prevent people from learning about sex in the real world, we’re sabotaging their future. Couples that wait until they get married to live together and have sex have an extremely high risk of dissatisfaction in their marriages. People that don’t learn about birth control properly risk unwanted pregnancies when they’re young can completely derail the future they intended for themselves.
I want women to feel as safe and free as I do. I want them to have access to healthcare they need, including birth control and abortions. I want people of all orientations and genders in the rainbow/matrix to have the same rights and opportunities. I want this because it is just and righteous, but I also want it for selfish reasons… Because for my wife, nothing kills the mood worse than getting sexually harassed on her way home from work.
And because I know that assholes will always exist, I don’t expect street harassment to stop. I at least would like to see equal representation by reducing the number of men that harass and increasing the number of men that get harassed. So ladies, get out there and get creepy.
I suppose the goal of this article is to encourage its readers to appreciate and nurture empathy in themselves and in others. It’s one of many things that children in the U.S. desperately need, but aren’t getting in school. When someone is empathetic, they generally learn it from their families and close friends. It’s taught to us as a matter of “Imagine how he/she feels when you do that” and the golden rule (“Do unto others…”). But these important ideas get buried beneath things like “What was your score on the last standardized test?”.
Misogyny is a terrible thing, and we should continue to work on getting rid of it. But I feel that encouraging empathy from an early age and throughout adulthood will have longer-lasting benefits. It would also do the world the favor of reducing the number of short-sighted investment bankers gaming the economy, racist ultra-conservative Ayn Rand fanboys, and un-repentant slum lords sucking the life out of the poor.
Empathy is critical to anyone’s growth as a social human being. It will help in your career, your love life, and in learning more about yourself as you age. You shouldn’t need to have female, gay, minority, non-cisgender friends or family in your life to come to an epiphany about treating them as normal human beings. That is what we should teach from day zero.
Our society puts us all in a position where what we want and the reasons we punish others are practically the same things. I think most of us want a few basic things at minimum:
- To be safe and comfortable in our own bodies.
- To be free to make our own decisions about our bodies and who we share them with.
- To have fulfilling and exciting relationships (romantic or not).
Let’s spend more time pursuing our own happiness, and less time trying to lessen the happiness of others to feel superior.