I know that I said I was going to take suggestions for future blog topics, and I am, but we have once again come up against one of those news cycles that prevents me from thinking or screaming about anything other than the dumpster fire that is our country. That happens a lot these days. Many, many people have written about the violent and dishonest man trying to get onto the Supreme Court, and many of them have made better points than I ever could, so I won’t write about him. I also don’t want to write about traumas that I have not experienced or borrow emotions I have not personally embodied.
But I can write about the first time I understood misogyny, because it’s a memory that I’ve been thinking about a lot over this past week. It is, in fact, a very specific memory from when I was around 15. It’s not a traumatic memory. It didn’t even make me particularly sad at the time, though it does now. The fact that I can pinpoint this light bulb moment is probably somewhat unusual. I feel like systems of oppression typically reveal themselves over time. On the other hand, it took a while for me to even grasp the whole idea of “systems of oppression,” which I think happens a lot with white people like me. As a consequence, at 15, I still thought of prejudice as a personal failing.
Sexism, of course, was something that I knew. I’d been a girl child among boys who said girls were gross. I’d heard stereotypically feminine interests derided as overemotional, shallow, or weak. Plenty of men were sexist, and I obviously thought they were wrong. But though I knew the word misogyny, I couldn’t come up with anyone in my life who hated women. I knew such men existed, because I knew sexual assault existed, but I didn’t think I knew anyone who would fit that bit. Who was angry enough to hate women? Who didn’t have a woman in his life that he loved? To me, misogynists were violent outliers, and sexists were just ignorant men who could, ultimately, be proven wrong.
In fact, I thought I could prove the sexists wrong. Sexists thought boys were smarter than girls? Check my report cards, bro. Sexists thought boys were stronger than girls? …Well, I couldn’t prove that one wrong, but other girls with actual hand-eye coordination and/or muscle mass could. Sexists thought boys were deeper, more logical thinkers than girls? Watch me debate you into the ground. With my stubbornness and my intellect and my ambition, I was a walking, talking refutation to sexists everywhere, and if they just saw me, they would realize the error of their foolish ways.
Then, in high school health class, that cesspit of gender relations, I sat in the back of the class learning about ovulation. The teacher explained how the ova were pushed down cilia in the Fallopian tubes, which she described as “tiny hairs.” Next to me, a boy whispered to his friend, “Ew. They can’t even shave it.”
Oh. Oh. Misogyny.
In that moment, I realized that I’d been looking at it all wrong. Misogyny didn’t require men and boys to hate every specific woman or girl. It didn’t require the nonstop anger that I had previously thought was necessary for true hatred. Anger, of course, is present in misogyny, but so is disgust.
Now, of course, this boy was probably mostly trying to be a little edgelord. I don’t think he actually thought that women should be able to shave their internal organs. But there was genuine revulsion in his voice. Never mind the fact that he wouldn’t exist without those cilia. They weren’t pleasing to his sensibilities, so they had to be derided. Any part of me that wasn’t for him was subject to his contempt.
And there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about that.
I could get good grades and write good stories and make good arguments. I could, and did, and still do make my appearance conform to certain standards of beauty that men have set along the way. But I could not shave my fucking Fallopian tubes, and so I could not prove this boy wrong.
Now, before I go any further, I would just like to note that a woman does not need to be in possession of Fallopian tubes or any other characteristic associated with XX chromosomes (up to and including the chromosomes themselves) for a misogynist to find her disgusting. My point is just that on that day in high school health class, I realized that I was up against something bigger than personal ignorance. I realized that the problem of misogyny was not entirely about the concept of female inferiority. It was about the simple fact of female existence.
As I said, I didn’t feel sad or even personally offended when this boy made his absurd comment. After all, he’d just made it clear that it wasn’t personal, because it wasn’t about me as a person. I did feel disgusted by his disgust, and while I’d like to say that I delivered a gloriously scathing rebuttal, all I actually did was give him an extremely dirty look. In a way, this boy helped me. He made me see that if I wanted attitudes like his to die out, I had to think outside of myself. He started to show me the system.
Now, though, I am sad, because his attitude has not died out. Female existence, down to the microscopic level, still disgusts the men in power. Any part of a woman’s life that doesn’t please them, that isn’t for them, is inconvenient at best and revolting at worst. She is to be thrown out like all disgusting, abject things.
There are ways to fight this. Voting is one. For the love of all things holy, vote for people who don’t throw us out. Education is another. I shouldn’t have been 15 before I knew that sexism and misogyny are not just personal failings. (Though, to be clear, they are also that. Like, if you are a man who enacts misogyny, you are a product of a system, sure, but you also suck as an individual.) There sure as hell shouldn’t be grown-ass men holding up female friends and relatives as human shields as though a not-actively-despised woman’s presence in a man’s life equals the absence of misogyny. We have to know what we’re up against, both from others and within ourselves.
So I will fight. But I will also be sad, because it’s all so personal, and because it’s not personal at all. I can scream all I want to, but I haven’t shaved my cilia, so who will even listen?