Quiet Misogynies

After last weekend’s shootings in Santa Barbara, California and the subsequent revelations concerning the perpetrator’s motives as expressed in this incredibly disturbing manifesto, I’ve spent a great deal of time reading the #YesAllWomen Twitter feed and trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with large swaths of my gender.  In the midst of all of this, Corinne struck up a conversation:

 

VampireNomad: I need your rational friendly male ear for a brief rant, if I may.

You know what I hate?  The preachy male short hair critics.  Well, okay, preachy male anything - mansplainers in general.  But specifically frustration has been ramping up inside me over the short hair thing.  I regularly surf short hair sites because I like to see what trends are in and what stuff to talk to my stylist about.  I love my short hair.  I have not considered growing it out since I cut it.  I never expected to fall so in love, I had hair halfway down my back when I chopped it, but now I can't imagine going back.  I just feel very me, you know?  But every single site that posts a celebrity short hair review or photos of cute pixie cuts or whatever has this absolute flood of comments from men saying "no straight male wants a woman with short hair" and "you all look like boys and no straight male finds that attractive" and "all men like long hair" and similar random edicts and it's so entirely frustrating.  

Because first of all, who cares?  It's just hair.  But more importantly, this constantly reinforced societal narrative that insists that everything a woman does or should do must be because of or for a man is such bullshit.  I don't cut my hair or grow my hair for a man.  I really can’t give a toss what men think.  If you find it attractive, good for you.  If you don't, good for you.  And I am not going to change who I am because "men don't like it".  

It's the heart of the issue that I find so distressing.  The very idea that they are right to critique a woman's appearance based solely on the fact that they are male.  The very idea that because it's a woman and they're a man, the woman must obviously want to appeal to them, so everything must appeal to them.  The complete lack of understanding that women not only want to do things for themselves without attracting/wanting/needing/having a man being a priority or imperative but the fact that such a notion is actually a woman's right.  To do what she feels best for herself without consideration of gender normative attractiveness and 'attracting a mate'.  

This entire narrative is wholly frustrating to me.  "You'll never find a man with short hair" is so problematic and so entirely insulting.  Who are you to speak for all men?  I believe plenty of men don't care what a woman's hair is like or if she even has any.  But more importantly, who are you to dictate to me what I should be prioritizing in my life?  Who are you to deem me unattractive and to also decide that everything in my life is necessarily geared towards man-attracting?  It's insulting, demeaning, and this goes hand-in-hand for the weight debate too.  Who are you to assume that I, as a woman, only have value in comparison to the men I encounter and their limited opinions of me?  

 

CmdrAJD: Rant away!

There's not much that I can say in response that you didn't already cover.  

Every single person is judged by their appearance, so every decision we make about our wardrobe, hair, and accessories will be taken into account by the people we encounter. That's just reality.  If I go out wearing one of my Star Trek or Doctor Who shirts, I’m going to get pegged as a sci-fi geek.  I know that, and that’s why I wear them. 

Women, however, have to deal with this extra layer of (as you rightly put it) bullshit that the decisions they make about their appearance should all take "how much will a man like this?" into consideration as the key criteria.  That's ridiculous and condescending (Actually, I want to call it a lot stronger things than that.  The manifesto of that nutjob in Santa Barbara has me pretty rattled, and I don't have any patience with these sorts of attitudes right now.).    

Beyond that, though, does a person, male or female, really want to have to present themselves as someone they're not for the sake of attracting a mate?  That's going to backfire eventually.  You love your short hair, your tattoos, and your style.  They're part of who you are.   I imagine you'd want any man you date to know and love you because of who you are.  But you've made your choices about your personal appearance for you because it's personal!  

In any case, these guys who seem to think that every woman should dress, style their hair, and so on for his benefit need to get over themselves.  

 

VN: I think you make several salient points.  I agree that as people we are constantly judged by our outward appearance; for better or worse that's part of the human experience.  And there is nothing inherently wrong with having preferences about people's outward appearances nor in tailoring your own outward appearance to feel strong/sexy/unique/attractive/comfortable/whatever.  The wrongness comes in assuming that said outward appearance is all there is to know about a person or, conversely, all there is that matters about yourself.

It's not the fact that people have opinions about short hair that I find problematic, as you know.  It's the fact that these vocal men are assuming that the narrative in which "long hair is appealing to straight men" is the only thing that matters in my world.  I think all people feel a pressure, certainly, to conform or appeal, but what I'm talking specifically about is the pressure placed particularly on women to consider their appeal to men as tantamount to their purpose in life.  That somehow being sexy/appealing/attractive to men and satisfying men in that way is a driving force in our life.  Beyond the essential fact that we are more than our outward appearances, we are also more than the patriarchal narrative allows.  We are unique people each in our own right, and we may or may not find the narrative of mate/marriage/children our defining purpose.  If finding a partner is of tantamount importance to a person, that's entirely fair.  But what isn't fair is assuming that person is willing to do anything a man dictates to be considered attractive.  A woman's worth isn't in her attractiveness to men.  And the other side of that coin is that the mate/marriage/children narrative may not be the driving force for a woman at all and her value and worth are both still very much intact without those forces shaping her.  

As I said, it's the underlying assumptions and basic misogyny towards women that bother me most.  Manifested in a rather trivial debate about hair length, the deeper place such a debate comes from is indicative of the societal leaning as a whole, and it's what I rail against and it's what we as collective women want to stop happening.  We are more than the sum of the parts men find attractive.  We are equal people.  We want to be seen and treated as such.

I appreciate so much the men who can understand this instinctively, the men who appreciate women as they are, as people, as friends, as partners, as equals.  I'm very thankful for your friendship in that regard.  And in a larger perspective, it's men like you who will assist women in their fight to not be seen as lesser attractive-by-rigid-standards counterparts.  

 

AD: First off, thank you.  As I've gotten older, I've come to realize just how screwed up a seemingly-massive portion of the world is when it comes to women.  I'm heterosexual.  That, by definition, means that I'm sexually attracted to women.  I don't, however, remember seeing anything in that definition that implied that women are anything less than people.  But, as I said previously, the manifesto out of that guy in Santa Barbara and the subsequent #yessallwomen Twitter stream has made me re-examine how I deal with people.  I don't think that I engage in any of the casual misogyny that the women in those tweets have experienced, but the world will only change when men (and I mean all men) take a step back and really look at their behavior from another perspective.  It saddens me that any woman I first meet will wonder if I'm a threat.  It scares me that statistically my daughter is likely to experience some kind of unwanted sexual advance.  And it angers me to no end that women I know and care about have suffered these violations.

And while it's not an assault, these expectations that a woman should look at certain way because a man likes it and says so is part of the same overall issue, as you said.  We tell women that they have to keep their hair long, shave their legs (And I know I'm guilty on this one.  I like how it feels to touch a woman's shaved leg), wear makeup, show off their figures (Or don't show off their figures.  We're both prurient and prudish.), get married, don't work, have kids, and any woman who doesn't want to fall into those approved lines is harangued (sometimes even by other women) into complying.  You've certainly heard variations on the idea that you're somehow selfish or less of a woman because you've decided that motherhood isn't for you.  There's nothing similar in our society telling men that they have to father children.  We seem to have enough trouble convincing some of them of the importance of sticking around once they've conceived a kid.

It's just plain scary and depressing to look around and see how much of the world (people, governments, and religions alike) are absolutely determined to treat women as some kind of other to be controlled and owned rather than as fellow and equal human beings

That's a long way to go to say that I completely agree with you, but then, you already knew that. 

 

VN:  As a woman - and I don't know if you've ever encountered this or not but it's rampant and I'd be interested to hear a male take - I loathe being told to "smile" or "you're beautiful when you smile" or any variation of those back-handed asinine "compliments" intended solely to make the man feel like the giver of grace and the woman feel relegated to performing beauty monkey for the man's ego once again.  Because, buddy, if I am not smiling on the bus it is because I am not looking at you / interested in engaging with you / reading / listening to music /thinking /living... essentially it is because my resting face is none of your business.  I do not exist in the world merely to beautify your surroundings at all times, and I resent you telling me, essentially, that I am a) a hideous unsightly hag when I am not smiling, and b) to smile on your command.  I will smile when I am delighted by something and not because you have deemed it time to smile.  Regardless of your personal take on my beauty.  

And I guarantee your daughter has already encountered some version of the "smile" "you're so pretty when you smile" "why the frown, pretty girl" condescension.  And it sucks that we ingrain into girls at such young ages that we must always be pleasant and agreeable and appealing even if we do not feel like it.  We are constantly suppressed into being a form of accessory or decoration, acting on the whims of men.  

As to your mention in our last exchange about how you hate knowing that women you know have been molested, it happens so often.  The Twitter hashtag was liberating because women could all shout to the skies their collective overwhelming frustrations because we don't tell all our stories individually enough any more - there are just too many.  And so frequently do they happen.  We all have these stories, all of us, and we shouldn't.  I don't want your daughter to have these stories.  We need to act now and we need to start with the little things we think are so innocuous that aren't - because the "smile, you're pretty when you smile" and "men like long hair" are all indicative of the suppression of a woman's right to own her own self and to have agency over her own power and person.  And that is the true crime - the little lingering misogynies we train girls to endure and ignore so that when the larger ones come we feel powerless to say no.

 

AD: I haven't witnessed the male telling a female to smile in real life, fortunately.  I've seen it in movies and on TV enough, though, and it always struck me as shorthand for "sit there and look pretty."  Although, I like your phrasing of "performing beauty monkey" far better.  If someone isn't smiling, you don't just tell them to smile.  Maybe you ask them if something is wrong if they appear upset and you're the caring sort.  Or maybe you just leave them the hell alone because it's none of your damn business.  What you don't do is tell them to plaster on a fake smile because you find it more aesthetically pleasing. 

A lot of this comes down to two basic ideas: You are not entitled to anyone else, and no one else owes you anything.  That's true of everything from sex to a smile to anything else you can think of.  

 

VN: Felicia Day's take on #YesAllWomen:

100% true, every word.  Particularly this part:

So anyway, there are amazing comments around that hashtag, and you should check it out. But the one that got me the most was a recurring comment by a lot of women about how “it’s easier to tell a guy that you have a boyfriend so they’ll leave you alone. Because they respect a guy they’ve never met more than you.”

I routinely wore a fake engagement ring while riding Greyhound around your fair country and had a fictional fiance picking me up at every next stop because most men will stop harassing you if there's another dude waiting for/attached to you but none of the ones inclined to harass you in the first place will stop if you simply say "no, not interested".  

 

AD:  I can understand a guy making initial contact.  You can’t meet women if you don’t go talk to them.  However, once she says she’s not interested, that should be the end of it.  Does a guy honestly think that continued cajoling is going to help?  Is his ego so oversized that he just can’t imagine that a woman wouldn’t want him?  I honestly don’t get it.

What struck me even more about Day’s comments was what she said about men just walking away as soon as they learn she has a boyfriend as though her worth to them is solely related to her sexual availability.  Do these guys just not see a woman as worth speaking to unless they have a shot at getting into her pants?  If that’s the case, are they actually having a conversation with a woman or just going through the motions, like they really are playing a game, until they can “close the deal”? 

 

VN:  This is such a vital subject, Alan.  For every person.  But for women to have a voice and be heard and understood is paramount.  For this to be seen as real and an insidious problem.

 

While this was the end of our exchange, this conversation will never and should never end.  The best thing that can happen is for it to continue and get other voices added into the mix.  We have to keep talking and keep talking about these issues.  If they are hidden, if they are allowed to continue on as “just the way the world is,” nothing will ever change.

 

- Alan Decker and Corinne Simpson

@CmdrAJD and @VampireNomad on Twitter