Misogyny: The Big, Pink Elephant

Growing up I always knew that being black might cause problems for me. But it was only after I was an adult that I realized how many problems being a woman would cause.

Luckily, I’ve never been physically abused, nor have I been targeted by a mass-murdering virgin with an ax to grind, but hatred for women — in its various iterations and degrees — is pervasive around the world.

So when a man — whether he’s deranged or not — feels that it’s perfectly in order for him to kill women, who he views as inferior beings who rejected him but to whom he is nonetheless entitled — it’s baffling to me how anyone could argue that misogyny and its effect on our culture is not an issue.

It’s part of the reason why this international shaming campaign to bring those poor Nigerian schoolgirls home probably won’t work. If misogyny is bad in the U.S., well, let’s just say as crazy as things can get in the good ole U.S. of A, I’m glad I’m a woman here rather than in many other places in the world. But I digress.

The online furor that has developed around Santa Barbara gunman Elliot Rodger and misogyny — and I speak specifically about the Twitter hashtags #YesAllWomen and #notallmen — is both telling and scary. There is much confusion around Rodger as people struggle to explain and process the situation.

On one hand, this confusion means the tragedy, this unnecessary loss of his six victims’ lives, has been shadowed by an avalanche of misdirection and defensive posturing. On the other hand, women are again being put in the position of evildoer because we dare to speak out about the abuse and mistreatment so many of us suffer on a daily basis.

No, not all men commit atrocities against women. But the threat of male-perpetrated violence — as feminist author Soraya Chemaly said in many of her discussions about Rodger — is there all the time, even among nice, normal, everyday guys.

Men are no more entitled to sex and female attention than I am entitled to denounce every racist I meet as a blue-eyed devil — or whatever descriptors are appropriate — but that’s what many men think. That entitled idea informs their behavior, and that needs to change.

The creator of #YesAllWomen actually had to lock her Twitter account because of all the threats and abuse that poured in, in an attempt to stifle and discredit her. I say, stop belittling and trivializing female discourse. Don’t shift the conversation because it’s uncomfortable. Women have the right to talk about their safety and their bodies. It’s not always about pointing the finger. It’s about educating ourselves, and others, and feeling and living better. We deserve that.

I listened to a talk between Chemaly, writer David Futrelle and professor Robert Heasley on NPR’s “On Point,” and Chemaly talked about our institutionalized expectations for girls to have more self-control, to self-regulate — and the mismatched idea that boys don’t have to do the same because of the “Boys will be boys” mantra usually trotted out in the face of male shenanigans.

In the broadcast she said women adapt to avoid violence, and most men aren’t dealing with the same crap women do and thinking that it’s normal. We can’t travel the same way. There are financial and time implications to ensuring our safety. We have to go out of our way in public to avoid harassment. We’re shamed and gas lighted by the men in our lives, our families, even other women, all of whom have been indoctrinated to believe that women are inferior, that our bodies and our feelings are not our own, but are the property of whatever man is gracious enough to take them on, in whatever capacity he deems fit.

Misogyny is not unlike racism in that no one wants to talk about it. No one wants to acknowledge that it’s happening. But it is. Rodger was living proof.

The whole thing is like this big fat elephant blocking the aisle in a store. But the elephant has one pink toenail. Instead of focusing on how to remove this animal that is preventing people from shopping and going about their business, some store patron pounces on the pink toenail, and that becomes the story. Come on.

In the broadcast Heasley said that like racism, misogyny is a system. It’s a widespread, pervasive, many tentacled beast that touches every aspect of society and societal interaction. But the bottom line is women are not responsible for controlling men’s behavior.

We have to teach our boys — and girls so they will raise their sons differently — a new way to view masculinity so that femininity is not on a perpetually lower step — a step with a dismal view of a bleak landscape where men can continue to disrespect and hurt women with impunity and society turns its collective head away.