Though Donald Trump, first and foremost, ran on a promise white supremacy — just ask the 53 percent of white women who helped put him in office — there was also plenty of sexism and woman-hating in the mix. Apparently, what nearly 60 million people in this country want in a leader is a loud-and-proud racist and alleged serial sexual assaulter who brags about grabbing women by their genitalia, is totes cool with having his daughter referred to as a “piece of ass,” calls women awful names if he doesn’t want to bang them, and insults female political opponents by making cracks about their looks and figures. Um, can we start ignoring man babies and men’s rights activists whining about feminism now? After the Trump’s win, I can only hope their fragile egos are on the mend.
So let’s talk about misogyny. If we’re going to dive into the semantics of things — and why not, while we’re here — you might argue that sexists view women as unequal to men, while misogynists actually hate women. Sexism is also the term applied to the systemic oppression of women, and it’s inarguably connected to misogyny. In theory, the two exist on a continuum of discrimination and oppression. But it’s hard to stick to this kind of hard and fast thinking when the two concepts are so interconnected it’s hard to pinpoint where one crosses into the other.
You cannot grow up in a system so thoroughly ingrained with sexism—like so many other isms in our culture—without taking a bit in. That’s true for women, too. (See also: the election.) So, let’s look at how misogyny skews our thoughts.
Here’s nine examples of misogynist thinking.
1. Believing acceptable sexual behaviors for men and women differ.
Freud put a name to the Madonna-whore complex, a projection of mommy issues that separates women into “bad girls” who put out and “good girls” who don’t. Racialized misogyny—on vivid display in porn titles and categories—complicates things even further, interpreting women’s sexual behavior based on racist gender stereotypes. Overall, this kind of thinking makes women into one-dimensional objects: virtuous virgins worthy of being maritally possessed, or sluts deserving of sexual degradation. It estimates women’s worthiness and value, especially in respect to men, against their sexuality, on a scale that deducts points for enjoying sex too much. It denies the complexity of women, reducing half of the world to two impossibly simplistic archetypes. And it attempts to slut-shame women out of enjoying a basic human pleasure.
This double standard hurts men, too. According to this philosophy, manliness is linked to the number of women a man has sex with, as if men aren’t inherently men without notches in their belts. It fuels rape culture, making women into conquests devoid of wholeness.
In reality, there are no sluts, whores, good girls, or bad girls. Women are women, and no amount of slut-shaming or outdated sexual double standards can impact their intrinsic human worth.
2. Thinking feminism is anti-men.
The old adage, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression,” is particularly apt where this argument goes. As long as women have spoken out against gender inequality, some have accused them of hating men, and of participating in a movement that seeks male destruction. Men’s rights activists (who’ve taken to calling themselves meninists and masculinists) complain that misandry—hatred of men—is feminism’s most sacred tenet. That’s a gross misunderstanding of what feminism is. Feminism isn’t anti-men; it’s anti-inequality. (Not all feminisms are equal or the same, by the way. I’m talking about feminism that is genuinely dedicated to lifting up all women.) Women are paid less than men, are disproportionately victimized by sexual violence, and even experience negative health consequences as a result of institutional sexism. Feminism seeks to right the millions of wrongs that keep women from having control over their lives and bodies. And we desperately need feminism, because patriarchy, as with all power structures, concedes nothing willingly.
3. Believing feminism oppresses men.
This argument shows more than just a misunderstanding of feminism, it reveals a complete lack of understanding of oppression. For starters, the formula for oppression is fairly straightforward: prejudice plus power. In our hierarchical, patriarchal society, men—above all, white men—occupy the highest rungs on the ladder of every social and political institution, from the family to the executive branch. Even if it were true (it isn’t) that feminazis are running around preaching hate toward men, that still wouldn’t translate into the collective social, economic and legislative power to oppress men. (Also, for the record, there is no such thing as reverse racism.) Yes, there have been strides in gender equality, and it’s true that there are women here and there in high positions, but those powerful women are few and far between, not to mention that capitalist successes are a piss-poor measure of equality. Neither feminism nor women possess the power to keep men down. If women were nearly as powerful as this idea suggests, at the very least, the Equal Rights Amendment would be law, tampons would be untaxed and probably free, and there would be mandatory paid maternity leave.
4. Thinking women made up this whole rape culture thing.
One out of every six women in America will be sexually assaulted or abused in her lifetime. Most will never tell authorities: RAINN estimates that two-thirds of rapes in the U.S. go unreported. Fears of not being believed, a justice system that rarely punishes rapists but puts accusers on trial, a culture that blames victims for drinking alcohol or certain clothing choices—all of these factors and many others dissuade women from reporting sexual abuse. Lying about rape is rare. Very. (Studies that suggest otherwise have pretty much been found to be unreliable.) But rape culture is all around, from catcalling on the street to articles that feature glowing write-ups about rapists caught in the act to a President-elect who likes to brag about grabbing women by the genitals. If you’re a man who thinks the very idea of rape culture is some trumped-up nonsense or some vague conspiracy on the part of women to garner sympathy, ask a woman you know about just one time she was subjected to unwanted touching, jokes, harassment, or sexual attention. Just one instance. Most women, unfortunately, have many more, going back to when they were girls.
5. Feeling the need to help women understand things.
Mansplaining is that thing where men helpfully explain things to women who don’t need them to be explained; it especially includes those times women know more about the subject than the man condescending to them. (Q: Where do mansplainers get their water? A: From a well, actually.) Like when a man who went to space camp one time tried to correct astronaut Jessica Meir’s science on Twitter, or when author Jessica Solnit had a man lecture her about a must-read book it turned out she’d written, or when Matt Damon interrupted and talked over “Dear White People” producer Effie Brown in a conversation about diversity (and threw a little whitesplaining in for good measure).
Solnit summed it up in a now-legendary 2008 column on the topic:
Men explain things to me, and to other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men. Every woman knows what I mean. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.
These are facts underwritten by research studies: women are interrupted more than men; men take up 75 percent of the discussion in business meetings; men and boys are more vocal in classroom settings, while women and girls are dissuaded from speaking up; and—because the mansplaining never ends—patients interrupt female doctors more than male doctors.
If you feel the need to explain something to a woman, make sure she isn’t an expert on that thing first. Also, be sure you have an invitation to explain it. Don’t talk at length about things you don’t actually understand. And lastly, don’t attempt to mansplain away feelings. That’s never a good look.
6. Thinking bragging about sexual assault is just ‘locker-room’ talk.
It’s been said endlessly by now, but let’s be clear: if you are bragging about kissing women without their permission and grabbing women by the vagina, you are boasting about serially sexually assaulting women. Dismissing talk of this kind as anything less than advocating criminal sexual behavior denies women’s humanity, legal standing and the right to control their own bodies. Treating women like sex objects who can be touched whenever and wherever you decide isn’t boys being boys, it’s sexual predators being predatory. Locker-room talk may be off-color or crude, but when it veers into describing past or future attempts to sexually violate women, that’s rape culture showing itself, and contributes to its perpetuation. The reason this campaign season and Trump’s actual election to the presidency has triggered millions of sexual assault survivors is because they’ve recognized graphic descriptions of sexual abuse for what they are. To minimize this kind of gross and illegal behavior is to say that you’re a-okay with sexual abuse, pure and simple.
7. Believing men need to tell women what to do with their bodies.
Women aren’t just vessels for delivering babies, they’re human beings with constitutionally protected agency over their own bodies. Aside from from the fact that the anti-choice movement relies on misinformation in its mission, there remains the fact that abortion is a legal right. I know of no group of women that thinks itself so well acquainted with male anatomy as to dictate the rules on the grooming of, say, testicles. Yet male politicians can’t seem to stop advising women about what they should do with their bodies and genitalia. Men don’t need to weigh in on reproductive rights except to support them, and leave the related decision-making up to individual women.
8. Thinking women are irrational/crazy/nutty/too emotional.
Female hysteria was considered a real illness afflicting women for hundreds of years, one that could land a woman in an asylum or lead to a forced hysterectomy. Mother Jones notes that the list of symptoms included “fainting, anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, nervousness and ‘a tendency to cause trouble for others’” as well as “erotic fantasy and excessive vaginal lubrication.” Here lie the roots of a perpetually modern problem of women being deemed crazy or otherwise disturbed for perfectly human behaviors. There’s an element of gaslighting in this enduring belief that women don’t have control over their emotions; that they’re crazy and out of control and therefore can’t be trusted with things like nuclear codes.
The reality is, while men’s and women’s brains do differ, gender stereotypes do little to account for how those differences manifest. A study released last year found that rationality in decision-making was pretty much the same in men and women; in fact, a separate study found men are more emotional than women, but less likely to admit to those emotions. Cordelia Fine, a University of Melbourne psychologist and author of Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences, told Vice’s Motherboard that “non-human animal research has shown us that biological sex interacts in complex ways with many different factors (hormones, stress, maternal care, and so on) to influence brain development.”
“A critically important point is that a sex difference in the brain doesn’t necessarily imply a sex difference in behaviour,” Fine adds.
Harris O’Malley, writing at the Washington Post, nails exactly what’s wrong with labeling women “crazy,” a word he dubs the “all-purpose argument ender.”
As soon as the “crazy” card is in play, women are put on the defensive. It derails the discussion from what she’s saying to how she’s saying it. We insist that someone can’t be emotional and rational at the same time, so she has to prove that she’s not being irrational. Anything she says to the contrary can just be used as evidence against her…Not only does it stigmatize people who have legitimate mental health issues, but it tells women that they don’t understand their own emotions, that their very real concerns and issues are secondary to men’s comfort. And it absolves men from having to take responsibility for how we make others feel.
What’s more, the idea that men aren’t emotional—or that emotions are anathema to masculinity—is incredibly damaging. When men aren’t allowed to express their emotions, they inevitably turn inward, leading to behaviors from substance abuse to suicide that affect and harm men in far greater numbers than women.
9. Believing that women benefit from and enjoy sexism when it takes the form of chivalry.
Not every behavior resulting from sexism is harmful on its face. When women complain about what is called chivalry (e.g., holding the door for a woman because she’s a woman, or telling a woman how nice she looks, perhaps as she performs surgery) it’s often labeled a result of political correctness run amok. But in a lengthy and insightful piece in Scientific American, Melanie Tannenbaum explains that benevolent sexism, often expressed in what appears to be flattering terms and actions, regards women as the kinder, softer, sweeter—and weaker—sex in need of protection and admiration. It can benefit women by acting as a bulwark against sexist violence. But ultimately, benevolent sexism not only treats women as unequal to men, it turns them into stereotypical fragile wisps who would possibly fall apart without the strength of men to keep them safe. Subjugation by another name remains the same.
America’s troubled history with benevolent sexism has mostly served to protect white women’s perceived fragility and preciousness in ways that have come at a tremendous cost to others. In a Washington Post piece, sociologist Lisa Wade points out how benevolent sexism was used to justify the lynchings of black men, based on the protection of white female sexuality. Last year, in the moments before Dylann Roof shot nine African-American churchgoers, six of them black women, he told his victims, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
Tannenbaum also points to research by Peter Glick and Susan Fiske, who first identified benevolent sexism, showing those who hold benevolent sexist beliefs also harbor hostile sexist beliefs.
“In countries where the men were more likely to endorse benevolent sexism, even when controlling for hostile sexism, men also lived longer, were more educated, had higher literacy rates, made significantly more money, and actively participated in the political and economic spheres more than their female counterparts.”
The warm, fuzzy feelings surrounding benevolent sexism come at a cost,” Tennenbaum writes, “and that cost is often actual, objective gender equality.”
IMAGE: Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to issue its first major abortion ruling since 2007 against a backdrop of unremitting divisions among Americans on the issue and a decades-long decline in the rate at which women terminate pregnancies in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque