Friday, May 04, 2012

From Whence Misogyny?

I've been thinking, as I do, about gender hatred a great deal recently, and specifically about the different nature of misogyny and misandry. They are startlingly different. Two great examples of misandry that stick in memory are Cosmopolitan magazine and the Kieu-Becker case from late 2011.

The Kieu-Becker case elicited a response on the penis-chopping incident on the television show The Talk, which NPR hilariously described as "an angry man's vision of what groups of women friends are like." They laughed and generally mocked the incident of a man, who has been proven to be guilty of nothing more than fooling around with other women, who had his penis violently removed and thrown into a garbage disposal. They laughed and giggled and seemed to find it a jolly old time.

An example that sticks in my mind is Cosmopolitan. My mother read the magazine for years, meaning that it was frequently, along with BMW Club Magazine, National Geographic, and Consumer Reports, my primary reading material in the house.

Cosmo has a very defined and twisted perspective on what makes a male, and it is predicated almost entirely on sex. Men are sex-crazed animals that only need placating, after which you can finally be left alone to your painting and novel writing, or whatever other weird things Cosmo seems to think that their readers do. This sentiment is found in every issue, going back decades.

Understandably, issues from the 50's, 60's, and 70's were very much rooted in the society of post-war America, where looking pretty and satisfying the man were the only concerns of women. But we've been living in the Feminist era for a while, now, and Cosmo, instead of evolving, has instead doubled down on its antiquated sexual philosophy. Their perspective on women has changed, but men remain unchanged from the 1950's. In fact, men are even worse. They want sex. They want it wild. They want it constantly. And that's it.

These two examples are only nationally salient instances of misandry, though. There are many smaller examples littered throughout society. For example, male elementary school teachers frequently have tales of administrators and female teachers all but accusing them of being perverted child molesters. Men receiving harassment and stares if they are near a playground or park.

The takeway, though, is the nature of the misandry; it is almost entirely about sex. Men are animals. It's all that they want. Other elements come into play, but these aren't really misandristic and more just generally sexist. Beliefs that all men are controlling, or all men like sports. These are gender-normative constructs that don't come anywhere close to describing all men.

But that basically goes without saying. Gender-normative concepts fail to describe the majority of society, much less just men. That's why I'm interested in specifically misogyny and misandry. They are very different. All one has to do to see the difference is peruse Men's Rights message boards online and then read similar message boards aimed at women. The language difference is bone-jarring. There's no need to completely detail the many subtle differences, all you have to know is that only one of these communities calls for the raping of those with whom they disagree. I'll give you two guesses as to which one.

And that is the difference. Misogyny is problematic because of its violent nature. Misandry is not violent. It is judgmental, certainly, but a belief in the disgusting sexuality of men does not cause widespread violence like the Kieu-Becker case. Likewise, those aforementioned misandristic message boards are filled with women complaining about men, but the vitriol never turns to violent hatred demanding that men be raped or beaten. Why?

I don't think that it's entirely the framing, context, or the social lens through which we read and interpret events. I think that it's the wellspring of the emotions. For men, sex is difficult to come by. All you have to do is look at the Pick Up Artist community. They are generally unattractive men who are desperately trying to get laid. This causes literal frustration.

Psychological frustration is the physiological agitation one feels when being blocked or prevented from something desired. Many men look out over the population and see multitudes of women with whom they would like to have sex, but cannot. This causes anger. Thus, frustration.

For most women, finding sex is easier. Not easy, certainly, just easier. Their problem is finding someone with whom they want to have sex. So women look out over a social landscape and see few that are acceptable. This results in judgment and sadness, but not frustration. For example, if I want food, but there is only haggis in the room, I am sad. And probably hungry. But if I want food, there is apple pie on a table but someone keeps pushing me away from it, I'm going to get angry. Misogyny is caused by frustration, misandry, by sadness.

Ironically, the very environment that has been built to cater to these men is likely angering them even further. Our media world is filled to overflowing with hyper-sexualized portrayals of women. Half-naked female forms can be found on highway billboards and on bus stops. Magazines for anything even remotely male-focused are filled with attractive, seductive women. The world has turned women into beings of pure sex and made them impossibly attractive.

This only infuriates the sexless men even more. They do not have interaction with real women, so their conception of women is defined entirely by this twisted media landscape. They see women everywhere as throwing in their face the sex that the women will not give. Women become a unified entity of a cruel temptress, mocking men. And when you are a perpetually frustrated man, this is the lens through which you will see the world.

Perhaps even worse is the flip-side of the behavioral coin. Men become frustrated because they can't get the desired sex with super-attractive women, and thus become openly hostile to women who are unattractive because they feel that these are the only women with whom they can get sex. Their frustration lashes out at the related subject of their desires. They feel that other men, be they rich, handsome, or whatnot, are the ones having sex with the attractive women seen in media, and thus the only ones left for these ordinary men are ugly women.

I think that much of this is because of the male focus on sex. It is hard for them to get it, thus, they focus on it. I think that there is a long, complex history that has built our society in such a way as to make sex hard for men to get, even though it doesn't need to be that way. Men and women want the same things! Truly, I feel confident that the vast majority of the differences between the genders are the result of social programming. Ditch the programming, ditch the problem.

The very same sexism that imprisons women to this very day is producing a group of men who feel rejected by the sexist system that was ostensibly created for them. The differences between misogyny and misandry stand as a testament to our need for freedom from sexism in all forms. It hurts us all, and we must grow past it. Men are not animals. We want a lot more than sex. But when society fails to teach us what true happiness is, we fall back on, and thus interpret the world through the lens of, primal drives. We need to teach our boys that sex is only the beginning.

A recent study showed that teenage boys are talking about romance, love, and relationships more than at any other point in history. I can happily say that the cultural shift is happening now. One can only hope that, as being emotional is more acceptable for men, and being sexual is more acceptable for women, this wall of dislike between the genders will fall. Maybe, someday in the future, men will take to message boards to complain that all women ever want is sex. Now wouldn't that be something?


Anonymous said...

In one instance you mention that men are not animals …but shortly after you describe how they fall back on their primal drives. This doesn't make sense as you leave much out here. You also make the statement that men and women want the same things …considering this comes after a long sentence on men's sexual desires I have to assume you're relating it to the idea that women also want sex. Implying that men and women both want sex however, doesn't make sense either as it's a drastic oversimplification of a complex arrangement between the sexes.

If you're looking for something simple to explain the apparent violence vs nonviolence between misogyny and misandry then you might want to consider that men are physically stronger than women (generally) and that men (as per their primal drives) see 'sex' as something different than women …again, speaking in generalizations. Here though, you can see why a physically superior male will naturally turn to violence to satisfy his needs - he's just stronger so he can forcibly get it. If things were the other way around, then the physically empowered woman with the primal sex drive would be in a position to physically assault the male.

Violence is physical - and you can't take the physical out of the equation when discussing issues of sex between men and woman. Granted society has a large part to play in modelling of the sexes, I think it still boils down to simple issues of physicality.

Aaron Martin-Colby said...

I don't understand your problem. Saying that men are not animals, but then saying that they have primal drives which gain precedence in certain circumstances is not contradictory.

I don't mean just sex, I mean all things. Men and women are, psychologically, very similar, even with all of the social baggage that currently weighs them all down.

I don't imply it, women and men DO both want sex. This is basic psychology and biology. There is no complex arrangement between the sexes because the sexes are not monolithic groups. There can be complex arrangements between people and society can create, imperfectly, semi-independent groups that we define by gender, not sex.

Your point about physical differences is problematic. First, violence levels among men and women vary wildly between cultures. This indicates a strongly cultural element to expressions of physical strength and anger.

Second, this does not answer the differences between misogyny and misandry as represented in online forums, where physical strength does not enter into it. We should be seeing behavior liberated from the body, and here, misogyny is more violent, angry, aggressive, and generally just nasty than misandry.

Also, I never said that men's primal drives causes them to see sex as something "different." Society has programmed the genders to behave different vis-a-vis sex, and until those elements have been stripped away, no reasonable statements about "natural" drives between men and women can be made.

Violence is not just physical. Anyone who has ever worked in the psychology and social work world, as I have, can attest to the existence of non-physical violence.

That is why I mentioned the online forums. It removes the physical aspects of the violence and reveals, as best as possible, the logical and linguistic wellspring from which the behavior flows.

The important point to take away is that I don't think that there is some fundamental difference, and if there is one, it is fleetingly small. I think that the vast majority of the behavioral problems are social.