Sexism and misogyny are alive and well in America.
The only people who seem surprised by this are men. I’ve lost count of how many male television pundits are shocked – shocked! – at the nastiness the election is eliciting towards women. Women are frequent targets of unwanted sexual attention, vulgarity and threats? Who knew?
Women, that’s who knew. Every woman I’ve asked can recount personal experiences with men who stepped over the line. Every. Single. One.
So when men say they don’t believe it, or they didn’t know, I wonder why they haven’t listened to the mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, co-workers and friends in their lives.
Did the issue have to be elevated to the national stage to get their attention?
I’m not just talking about institutional sexism such as pay disparity and inequalities in opportunities and advancement. What women know – and what men can’t – is the wearying effect of deep, pervasive cultural misogyny that shakes our self worth.
That sort of disdain and hatred for women teaches that to be female is to be less than. Valued less than men. Listened to less than men. To be female in that view is a punishment, a demotion from being fully human.
Why do coaches berate male players as “ladies” or “girls”? Why do jails in Arizona and Texas humiliate male prisoners by forcing them to wear pink underwear and jumpsuits? Why are women blamed when they are raped and vilified when they call out men on their bad behavior? Why are transgender women the most frequent targets of violence?
Look at what happens when women try to interrupt male hegemony – not just in politics.
When Anita Sarkeesian tried to initiate meaningful discussions about female tropes in video games, she received so many credible death threats from male gamers that she had to cancel public appearances. Likewise, Chelsea Cain, Marvel Comics’ Mockingbird author, was trolled viciously on social media by men who resented the idea of a feminist super hero.
I refuse to believe that the majority of men are indifferent or clueless. Or if they were, I hope they won’t be from now on.
More than that, I believe that good men are ready to listen with an open mind and empathetic ear – listen without trying to steer or hijack the conversation, listen with the goal of learning how to be authentic allies with and for women.
They have to. Women can’t go to the sexists and misogynists and plead our case. Those types of men don’t listen to women.
Sexists and misogynists can hear and be convinced only by other men. They try to shut women down, labeling us shrill when we speak up, dismissing or diminishing our concerns as “hurt feelings,” or trying to “mansplain” the truth to us because they must be right. Right?
If the ugliness is going to stop, it is going to stop because you good men make it stop. You are going to have to remember that your mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, co-workers and friends need you to step up and speak out the next time you hear a casual sexist joke or see someone violating a woman’s personal space uninvited. You have to recognize that women experience the world differently than men do – fearful of misogynistic men emboldened by tacit or overt approval. When you hold those men accountable for their bad behavior, you have the power to make America a place where women feel not only safe but valued.
Kay McSpadden teaches high school English in York, S.C. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.