I once shared an office with a liberal progressive colleague who often spewed the most vile and hateful comments against women. At one point he recoiled at the mention of the word vagina as if it was something much worse than the filth he excreted in the toilet. I found myself unable to let his open disgust go unnoticed. I asked him what he had against a vagina. He answered that he found it utterly repulsive. I responded that while he is by no means forced to love, like or adore it, he must indeed never forget that it is through a vagina that he came into this world one way or another and while no one expected him to have intimate relations with it, his hatred for it was frankly misplaced and unjustified. At that point I felt it to be my moral duty to defend the vagina and women by refusing to let his vitriolic comments go unchecked. We later struck up somewhat of a reluctant friendship based on our mutual adoration of the city of New York until one night I found myself at his invitation in the trendiest district of New York at the time (The Meatpacker District) among the most stylish, pumped up muscled gay men in the city. I was squashed between the push and pull of all types of male alter egos as they gyrated towards each other with lurid smiles. My friend by then was nowhere to be found and I struggled to push through waves of thick testosterone to find some space to breathe. It was most probably one of the most humiliating experiences of my life and this not because men were having fun with each other in the most hedonistic way imaginable or that I, a woman was caught in the middle of it. It was humiliating because this is where I began to understand where my initial discomfort with most men and homosexual men in particular came from. It came unexpectedly: – I realized that despite my best efforts I didn’t trust men. Because not only did they say one thing to you and do another they treated women as they treated each other, as commodities: pieces of ‘meat”, lollipops to be sucked hard and discarded once the sugar ran low or the high came down. For me relationships with men were transient interactions which only lasted until something or someone new and better came along. The only sense of loyalty men seemed to exhibit was to themselves and paradoxically to each other. These memories and beliefs long-buried in my subconscious were brought to the surface of my mind as I perused journalist Jack Hollands’ book “A brief history of Misogyny; The Worlds’ Oldest Prejudice “. A difficult read by all accounts but thorough in its detailed account of the history of misogyny and its most atrocious violent actions performed against women from Plato to Hitler.
Kinder, Kuche, Kirche…
While reading, Misogyny, I needed to take breaks often, to walk off the rage, to breath in, to acknowledge that we have come a long way as a society from the days when women would be killed at birth or with multiple sticks stuck into their vaginas, their legs splayed open for display or hung to dry while blood drained off their bleeding bodies after their throats had been stuffed with hot molten tar just because they were born women. Indeed many centuries had passed since cape women slaves’ breasts were torn off their bodies with red-hot iron pincers after which they were burnt at the stake or sewn in a sack and dropped from a ship at sea as punishment. I had to acknowledge and be grateful that I do in many respects live in a far more tolerant world. But that word, tolerant/te, left a very bad taste in my mouth. Why should we speak of women as beings to be “tolerated”? As if they didn’t belong? A world in which many women still experience or indeed (tolerate) violence at the hands of their own husbands, partners, lovers and brothers who profess to care so much. As I waded through the books’ heavy content, which left me uneasy, uncomfortable and brought me face to face with one of my biggest fears – men. I could not help but wonder why it is that men can on the one hand adore and worship women so extravagantly while squeezing the very life out of them with the other?
This experience with my colleague was prominent in my mind because it subtly highlighted what I had suspected for a long time but could not quite define. The latent misogyny present among the (often) platonic relationships between most men ( both heterosexual and Queer) and most women ( both heterosexual and Queer). But the misogyny (the hatred of women) in some homosexual males encapsulated the dichotomy of relationships between men and women in general. I have observed since childhood while living with an out-gay-effeminate man, how it is possible for men to one day profess their undying love and admiration for women, to talk endlessly of how they adored everything female, how they loved playing dress up with women and doing all the cute girly things and then utter the harshest and fiercest criticism of women and of the very same things they professed to adore and love about them just moments later. Yet this paradoxical relationship or this hate is not often easily detectable. It is not overt or as in your face as one would expect. It is imbued and laced ever so lightly on benign sugary comments and faux-compliments such as “girl if I were you, I’d rock that body” as if providence had performed a huge injustice by giving women a form which they clearly didn’t deserve. These men would go out of their way to out-cook, out-clean, out-dress, out-walk, out-speak women, to prove to themselves and the world that they as men were more woman that any woman can be. As if it was a woman’s fault that men were born that way. Though I will be the first to admit that it is indeed not all homosexual or queer men who behave(d) this way, from my experience an overwhelming majority of them did. As an individual I felt myself often pulled into a competition I didn’t want to compete in. I had nothing to prove. I was already a woman regardless of what I wore, looked like, walked like, behaved like and this despite my personal preferences i.e. whether I like it or not. No amount of dressing up or down could make me anymore or any less of the woman I already am. I am a woman whether I cook, give birth, wear a dress or a mans’ suit. But these attitudes which are by no means universal, troubled me. Why couldn’t men be, me or gay or whatever else they wished or chose to be without the need to “stick” it to women?
“Emancipating women from women emancipation”
I have also been at and experienced the opposite end of the spectrum, being among women misogynist’ (myself included) who emulated (envied) men or displayed what Freud and de Beauvoir call – penile envy. These women craved and desired all things masculine, “manly” and sometimes displayed far more damaging attitudes and behavior towards women than men did. They had the inverse ability to make patriarchy seem more desirable and innocent in comparison. Needless to say their outward displays of male strength and bravado did not protect them against misogyny from all men, queer and otherwise, even though overall the latter were a little more sympathetic. It became clear to me that being born a woman had far worse implications in society than being born male. So in my effort to rid myself of my own self-hate and to understand the origins of misogynistic attitudes in general I asked myself this question:
What in actual fact is wrong with being a woman?
While still in New York, a conversation with a cab driver shed some light to my question as he drove me to LaGaurdia airport a few weeks later. “I’m not gay you see?” he said as if his heteronormativity was stenciled on his forehead. “But sometimes, yani sometimes I like to have sex with men, I mean especially these young boys” he said checking to see my reaction.” I mean don’t get me wrong” He continued as if breathing for the first time ” I’m married, I have a wife and children at home, I am not a homosexual by any stretch of the imagination. I love my family but sometimes I like to have sex with boys” He said talking as if having sex with men on his night shifts was like treating himself to a cone of ice-cream in winter. He paused and I silently listened to the car’s engine hum and purr as his hairy arms confidently turned the steering wheel. I looked out the car window at the blurring city landscape and sensed that he wanted me to ask him why even though I had nothing more to say. So I asked. “Why do you do it then, when you are married and you love your wife and you’re not gay as you say? ”
” Because, you see yani, you know why?” he asked raising one eyebrow. “No” I responded unsure of what his answer would be. ” Because men are clean, they smell good, different from women and they are tight”
So that’s it. The truth could not have been more obvious even if it wanted to. The one thing that men cannot do – Menstruate. Could it be that it is the blood that is the source of all this hatred? Women bleed, every month we shed the uterine lining through our vagina whether we like it or not. Men have emulated women from head to toe – there is nothing a woman can do that a man can’t do better, except of course the ability to reproduce. Men have succeeded to transform themselves into superwomen as Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce Jenner) has so beautifully illustrated. Yet not one of them is yet to be endowed with a period every month. This then is the enigma, the holy grail of human existence, whose sacrificial imagery permeates most religions of the world from the Virgin Mary to Mohammed. This blood, is something both deeply desired, feared and loathed. To be a woman. To bleed, makes all the difference.