Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The War Between the Sexes

Since I watched Venus Boys a few weeks ago, the words of one of the interviewees has been fermenting in my mind: "There really is a war between the sexes." Ze (not sure how the interviewee identifies gender-wise) was talking about the priveleges ze was noticing since being able to pass as a man, I think including being privy to anti-woman comments that ze wouldn't have heard in earlier days when being viewed as a woman.

I have started taking to heart the anti-woman comments I've heard lately...I guess I have always thought of "misogyny" as a mistrust of women, a condescion to women, or simple but often humor-ridden discrimination. I don't think I wanted to believe that I was up against an actual "hatred" of women.

One example of these comments was a joke that a guy friend of mine made. We were at dinner with friends and a woman who was there, whom we had both just met, made a comment that pissed him off--a joke about his paisanos being bigheaded and irritated. He got onto her about it, and later he told me..."You know what I was thinking...I didn't say it, but I was thinking 'You know what's wrong with her? She must not be getting f*&%^d right," and explained, "Her boyfriend must not be doing her if she were with a [insert his nationality]...maybe she wouldn't be so bitchy"
I was pretty sure he didn't see anything wrong with getting even by making a joke about her sexuality. Not her nationality, or her sense of humor, but her sexuality...which had absolutely nothing to do with any of our conversation at dinner that night. I was also pretty sure he was just softening the joke for me by adding on humor about the sexual prowess of his countrymen. What his joke showed me was that slights to a woman based on her sexuality were fair game, and that it was natural that he should go there because after all, women are mostly sex objects who might happen to have other interests and roles in life like student, mother, etc.

Maybe I'm leaping to assumptions there, but the joke reeked of hatred for women. Because it implied that since she wasn't "getting -- right," the only thing that would straighten her out was a good --. The joke was repulsive because it carried the threat of rape to put her back in her place, to show her she better not make a joke that offended him like that again.

What is most frustrating about the incident, is that I'm not sure I could even begin to have this conversation with my friend, or whether it would be worth it. If he has been socialized to view women this way, over years and years and years, how many conversations will I have to have to make a dent on his brain? And will he even be able to let down his guard long enough to actually look introspectively on his views of women and how they might be harmful...especially if all the men he comes into contact with hold the same views.

It has opened my eyes to the threat and real hatred that actually lies behind many rape jokes and other male-entitlement behaviors...It is disturbing to think that so many men can function in a world where they commodify women as sex objects and view them with a truly destructive level of disrespect. It was also a wakeup call to me to the fact that women, myself included, internalize this commodification and don't do much to fight the way we are treated on the individual level...sometimes it seems like way too much effort to speak up when I am so clearly in enemy territory.

So what is my level of responsibility to other women, and men, who may very well fall victim to my woman-hating friends some day? After all, acquaintance rape and other forms of physical and emotional abuse are pretty common occurences, and our friends and loved ones are perpetrators. Should we as feminists be holding each to a higher standard...quit letting each other slide on the "it's not your fault--it's internalized oppression" card. I let myself slide with this card a lot and let it explain my not-so-heroic behavior while on dates, while walking down the street, or going about any random daily business where I interact with men...while out at the club, and in the bedroom. It's a hard question for me when I feel like speaking up and fighting back comes with high social costs, and I don't have a lot of contact with fellow feminists who don't make me feel judged by simply dismissing my asshole friends or partners by saying "He's an asshole...why do you have anything to do with him?"

So I guess that's why Theories of Masculinity is awesome, since it provides literature and a space to seriously examine the hows and whys of misogeny...also a shout out and thank you to Men Against Rape for taking on this sort of work!


Heather said...

Dominique, this is why I love you.

But seriously, these types of comments make me incredibly uncomfortable. It's difficult to explain rape culture to people who make these types of jokes -- and honestly, I've heard them from both men and women -- because rape culture is prevalent, and people don't find these types of statements problematic IN the least. Like you, I often wonder if it's worth it to talk to my friends about some of these things: am I going to change their minds? Make them think about things differently? Stop perpetuating these types of attitudes? Will I lose them as a friend? Will they see me as just another "uptight feminist" who can't take a joke? But more and more, I'm standing up to them. I don't know if I am making people think about things, but I think people need to be called on this type of commentary because it's incredibly damaging.

dominique.a said...

shucks thanks for your comment heather! i love you too! good to know you are speaking up...we should compare notes!