November 8, 2019

Action Letters, Feminism

036 On Misogyny

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Wall mural on brick building

“Keeping people in a constant state of lack, in perpetual desire, strengthens the marketplace economy.”

Bell Hooks


I had this cool idea for a podcast: “Yo, that’s misogyny!”

Inspired by the evergreen, “Yo, is this racist?”, each week I and my cohost, Margaret Cho, would dissect that week’s latest assault on people who identify as women and non-binary folks. Listeners could call in and ask us if a certain situation is an experience of misogyny. It’d be a hoot.

I came up with this idea while working on a project last month. I was blessed to talk to people who identify as women and non-binary folks about feminism, misogyny, and what their people need most now. I am grateful for the learning I gathered from these community conversations.

I started the project by listening to Ezra Klein’s mammoth interview with Kate Manne about her book Downgirl. Kate completely flipped my understanding of patriarchy and misogyny on its head. I had always grown up thinking about misogyny as a personal prejudice against women; as hatred towards women that was about an individual’s twisted logic. I thought it was really just about hateful people. I didn’t think I knew many people like that. What I failed to see was that misogyny is really a system of behaviors, expectations, policies, practices, and beliefs that maintains the power of cis-masculine-men (aka patriarchy) that all of us can and usually do participate in. (As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie put it: we’ll give you a cookie if you put yourself down.)

You’ve probably seen those t-shirts “Crush the Patriarchy”. While they are fun, I think they miss the point. You can’t understand patriarchy without talking about misogyny. Misogyny is the lived experience of self-hatred and degradation of the feminine that traps us in the patriarchy We can’t dismantle the patriarchy without actually getting up close and personal with misogyny – which is quite uncomfortable.

Often when I talk with people about misogyny, they dismiss it as something outdated or rare: “Isn’t that about curmudgeons who just don’t like women? Aren’t they few and far between?”. Well, that’s what the patriarchy would like us to believe. Just like racism and homophobia, it is embedded in all of our daily activities – and it is killing us.

Misogyny is everywhere in my life and in my own thoughts. Even when I try to bring intention to seeing misogyny, I keep reverting to not seeing it. The systems of patriarchy and misogyny would have me believe that despite my gender identity, I could have access to patriarchal power if I juuuuusssttt figure out how to make myself a little more masculine, a little more acceptable, a little more “powerful”.  If I just break through that glass ceiling! 

So many of us are chasing the dream of patriarchy in our lives today. If I just get a little more aggressive, if I just fluff off something as “too touchy feely”, or if I just hang with the jokes that actually undermine my power, THEN they will let me into the club. Here’s the thing – I’m not getting into the club. So now what?

Awareness – Change always starts with bringing awareness. I have to see and name misogyny everywhere – particularly within myself. When I’m sitting with a bunch of people who identify as working moms and we feel exhausted – we need to know it’s not just because we have soooo much to do. It’s a system of misogyny (social and economic) that undermines our ability to exist. This includes becoming aware of anti-trans misogyny and anti-non-binary misogyny. Part of becoming aware of misogyny, is becoming aware of the need to end the gender binary. That doesn’t destroy my category of woman. It expands the rich community of people I can choose to build power with. (THANK YOU to every person who has helped me learn that).
Analysis – As I become more aware of the world as it is around me, I have to reacquaint myself with feminism and the world as it could be. True feminism, not impostors. Thanks to Leslie for reminding me of bell hooks’ definition of feminism as: the movement to end sexist oppression. Racism and Sexism are the same project of domination and oppression – and I cannot see how I undo one without undoing the other.
Action – I need to practice intersectional feminism in my daily life. How? Reading bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics is a great place to start. Have other texts/resources you’d like to share? Send them our way.

“If women want a feminist revolution—ours is a world that is crying out for feminist revolution—then we must assume responsibility for drawing women together in political solidarity. That means we must assume responsibility for eliminating all the forces that divide women.”
― bell hooks, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism

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