Misogyny: It’s a nasty topic. A yucky subject I’ve tried for four years to write about…but it just wouldn’t gel. But it’s taken me even longer, four decades to be exact, to recognize misogyny in general and how it affected my life in particular.
For the purposes of this article, I’m going to define misogyny narrowly, based on how I experienced it. To me, misogyny is using a woman’s gender against her. To use her sex to define her as foolish and in need of being controlled and to foment her fear of being raped to control her, limit her, scare her, influence her, denigrate her, spy on her, keep her dependent, etc. That’s what I experienced.
Anyone can be a misogynist. Heck! Some women are misogynists. Just because you’re a narcissist does not mean you’re automatically a misogynist. And just because you’re a misogynist, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a narcissist. But in my personal experience, the two went hand-in-hand.
Here’s a classic example.
Before each election, he would always give me voter guides. But one year, that wasn’t enough. He followed it up by interrogating me on how I intended to vote, I assume, to make sure I would be voting correction…just like him.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Many weekends during my twenties followed the same pattern. Either Saturday or Sunday afternoon would find me in the basement of my parents’ house, hand-scrubbing the stains out of my Dad’s workshirts before running them through the washing machine. Sure, I wasn’t happy about it but I never thought beyond my “shameful” angst to the larger issue.
- Why was it my responsibility to wash his shirts?
- Why didn’t he use the laundry service provided by his place of business?
- Why didn’t he do his own wash instead of automatically assuming the females in the household would do his wash on the weekend?
- Why didn’t his wife, a full-time homemaker, wash her own husband’s shirts?
- Why did his wife save up his wash all week for me to do when I was already working full-time, paying rent to her, running all of her errands, doing all of her grocery shopping?
I worked full-time. He worked full-time. So far, we were equal. Yet, as a female, it was still often my responsibility to hand-scrub his shirts. While I was scrubbing, Dad was often just sitting on his ass, “patiently waiting” for me to finish so I could rejoin him in a jam session he’d probably cajoled me into, despite my very vocal exhaustion.
If that isn’t misogyny, I don’t know what is. But it was my normal. Part of the work I did for the privilege of living in a place I didn’t want to live, but wasn’t “allowed” to leave. But back then, I thought nothing of it beyond, “Why isn’t Mom doing his laundry during the week?” followed by shame for my less-than-positive thoughts about my mother.
But misogyny isn’t just limited to assuming housework will be completed according to traditional gender roles. Since going No Contact with my family, I’ve been happy to choose traditional roles in my personal life but it’s not foisted upon me. It’s my choice.
How many times did I hear loud criticism of his female coworkers who returned from maternity leave with gasp! horrors! short hair. Oh, many times.
It wasn’t until I was nineteen and wanted to cut my own long, stringy, Laura Ingalls Wilder hair that the issue came to a head. His Flying Monkey fought me tooth-and-nail with a furor that was shocking.
Having been taught from baby on to ask before doing anything regarding my own body, I didn’t realize that I didn’t need their permission to cut my hair. Luckily, it was one of the few times I wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.
My new “do” was met with stony silence by my father even though the layering was really cute and allowed my natural waves to bounce and curl. Meanwhile he fawned over his wife’s short, homemade, pageboy haircuts.
None of it made any sense until I discovered that his ex-wife always had short hair. That clue helped to understand his attitude but only lately have I’ve realized just how misogynistic it is to control how a woman wears her own hair. To usurp her choice of hair length and hair style just as the Amish do to their (often depressed, sometimes suicidal) women who are not allowed to cut their hair…or even part it on the side. I guess Dad missed all those Sundays when he would brush and brush and brush my long hair.
It wasn’t just his female coworkers’ hair that came under his criticism. It was other things too, like when they had to leave to care for a sick child (as he also did sometimes). Or his innocent surprise at the flashes of irritation (well deserved) that came his way when his female coworkers were “wearing their glasses,” if you catch my drift.
Sycophant that I was, I took all this misogynistic criticism to heart. As I wrote in Chronic, Constant False Guilt…
I was taking notes on the day I overheard some misogynist claim
that women can’t possibly provide “equal work” for “equal pay”
during their monthly period…
and how they cheat the company by using their sick time for cramps.
You may be sure that at my job (they never called it a “career”), I never called in sick no matter how horrific my cramps were. In fact, during that time of the month, I took even fewer breaks than usual (if that’s even possible) and worked harder than ever lest I be one of “those women” he savaged so viciously.
But I still didn’t recognize the misogyny.
The first time it began to occur to me that there was an uneven standard applied to males vs females was in my early twenties. A young man I was almost-but-not-quite dating talked about his love of tango dancing. Dad laughed loudly and said it was how this guy…um, handled not having a girlfriend, basically. But a year later when I started ballroom dancing, it was another story. I was interrogated, shamed, accused of “paying for sex.”
That double standard reared its ugly head again when Dad made remarks indicating that he didn’t believe any man could keep himself to himself….while simultaneously making it clear that he expected me as a woman to be as pure as the driven snow. Double standard much!?!
It reminded me of that cringeworthy father/daughter sex ed talk when he distinctly said that if a woman got distracted during sex perhaps by an urgent phone call, she “had better” get back into the mood to finish the encounter for her partner. His words; definitely not mine.
It wasn’t until I married…and Michael loudly expressed his dislike for my fawning, my self-denial, my self-denigration and saying “yes” when I wasn’t really in the mood…that I realized just how misogynistic my narcissist really was. It’s Michael who made me realize how a woman should be treated: with kindness, respect and perfect autonomy. A bird locked in a coop, will want to fly. Because I know I have perfect freedom, I choose to stay because I want to do it.
Usually, Mom followed, taught and reinforced Dad’s beliefs. When he told her it was provocative to lean over, she dutifully stopped leaning over when outside the house and did all her gardening and weeding in the squatting position…and suffers from painful knees to this day. The only feminism she ever showed was saying, “What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.” It wasn’t much but I took it to heart. To me it means that the same moral code applies for all human beings, regardless of gender. The same freedoms are given by God to all human beings, regardless of gender. Equal pay for equal work. And so forth and so on.
Nothing infuriates me more than when I see women, young and old, often in cults, being kept isolated and fearful of this big, beautiful world we’ve been given. Women who feel that they aren’t equal to everyone else by virtue of being born female and thus “rape-able.” Women who live in fear, in isolation, in dependency on someone else. Women who are letting life and experiences pass them by, just as I did, because they’re being controlled and taught to be fearful, to be dependent and to ask permission for everything.
I got lucky in some ways. I hired an instructor, got my driver’s license and was encouraged to get a job….with rigid limits of course: no traveling, no flying for work, no driving highways, no freeways, a limited driving radius, no going downtown, call/text frequently, be home by dusk and never have a boyfriend. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
Despite all the limitations, or perhaps because of my narcissists’ dependency on me, I learned how to be independent anyways. Rabidly independent actually! This has stood me in good stead. I can change a tire or paint a room, wield an ax or unclog a drain, plant a garden, pluck a chicken, bake bread and do the taxes. I’m a little too stubborn, a little too opinionated but I’m not afraid to hire an attorney and fight like crazy for my little family. I’m not afraid to have muck or mud or chicken blood on my hands. I can support myself financially. I can live alone and be happy…but I’d rather not. In my opinion, all women should know how to be independent and have the courage to know they can pull it off, successfully and happily, whether they’re single, divorced or widowed.
Misogyny is one of the worst things one person can do to another. It takes your own gender and wields it as a weapon against you. Abuse doesn’t get much lower than that.