Feminists are harpies, buzzkills and man-haters.
Those old stereotypes about gender equality die hard, no matter how fashionable it is to proclaim your feminism these days (Hi Emma Watson and Beyoncé).
Even White House adviser Kellyanne Conway can’t help herself from indulging in those tropes, recently tossing that tasty red meat to a conservative audience by describing classic feminism as “very anti-male.”
But can you blame a girl, or anyone really, for seeing the patriarchy as alive and well? After all, with Donald Trump overseeing the least diverse cabinet in decades while championing policies that could harm countless women, not to mention the fact that women make up only 19.4% of congress, it’s a little odd to suggest we live in a post-sexist society.
Beyond politics, there’s also the bitter truth of what some men actually think about women, revelations that often become public by accident.
Consider the scandal that has erupted over an invite-only Facebook page used in part by Marine Corps service members and veterans to post images of clothed and nude female Marines.
The comments, according to the New York Times, were lewd and sometimes sexually violent. Random dudes thought it was appropriate to suggest raping women who, by the way, didn’t even know their picture had been taken and posted.
The page was dedicated to humor and military news, and apparently provided support to people experiencing mental health problems, but among its 30,000 members, only a handful seemed to try to stop the routine degradation of women serving dutifully in the Marine Corps. (Officials condemned that behavior and the Naval Criminal Investigation Service opened an investigation into its activity.)
The rest of the page’s members, it appears, just looked the other way. They probably shrugged their shoulders and said to themselves, “It’s just locker room talk.” If that defense worked for the president of the United States, it’ll probably work for a bunch of patriotic Marines.
Which is precisely the problem we face in trying to achieve gender equality. People can pay lip service to the idea, not do much to change their own behavior and either feel great about themselves or think accusations of sexism are basically the equivalent of unintelligible shrieking from Debbie Downer man-haters. SNL’s recent terrific take on progressive men trying to pick up a feminist in a bar — and then calling her a bitch when she rejects their sexual advances — is a perfect example of how saying you’re an ally doesn’t really mean are one.
Men can also surround themselves with powerful women (ahem, Kellyanne Conway and Ivanka Trump, ahem), swear they’re the least sexist person you’ve ever met, and also privately brag about pussy-grabbing, or other horrors.
Digital technology arguably makes it easier for men to privately engage in misogyny now that it’s less acceptable to say certain things out loud. (Bonus points in the gas-lighting department if what you do say aloud makes it sound as though you fully support gender equality.)
When Susan J. Fowler Rigetti, a former engineer at Uber recently wrote about being sexually harassed, she described how her manager actually sent her chat messages detailing his desire to find a new sexual partner. Maybe he thought she wouldn’t dare share the messages with human resources (she did). Or maybe he just didn’t like hearing himself say something so pathetic. A different manager, according to Fowler Rigetti’s account, wanted to take credit for having a woman on his team, but treated her terribly.
Another former Uber employee, writing about her experience anonymously, alleged that male staff members used private chats to compose sexual fantasy stories about female colleagues and supervisors. “[T]hey performed all sorts of demeaning acts on the women,” she wrote.
It’s possible these men would have previously stood around the watercooler making jokes instead of exchanging chat messages. Or perhaps the act of broadcasting their intentions in a digital medium — where so much human emotion is fake and fun — made them feel less guilty about their deeds.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter. The point is that plenty of women see these betrayals and lose faith that they can trust men. They see someone like Conway defend Trump in the wake of his pussy-grabbing comments and know they can’t trust some women. When they learn that their peers, colleagues and even family members say abhorrent things about women in private, they know that true equality will remain out of their reach until those men come to terms with their own sexism and misogyny.
And those stakes are even higher for women who are scorned not just for their gender or gender identity, but for having a disability, or being overweight, or being a person of color, an immigrant or Muslim, and so on. There are no limits to a misogynist’s imagination when it comes to shaming a woman for every part of her identity he or she finds objectionable.
So forget about the so-called man-haters. Focus instead on the men who can’t find the strength within themselves to stop and ask why it makes them feel good to degrade a woman. Or why they want to believe in equality for their daughters’ sake but can’t stand up to a crowd of awful men.
We can’t wait forever for them to wake up and join the fight.