Warning: pedantry ahead. Let’s distinguish between misogyny, misandry, and sexism. Misogyny is hatred and disdain for women in general. Misandry, hatred and disdain for men in general, is probably the most underused word in political debate. Although a lifelong feminist, I have always loathed knee-jerk male-bashing and defended men against stereotyping all my life. Wikipedia has a decent definition of sexism: “Sexism is commonly considered to be discrimination and/or hatred of people based on their sex rather than their individual merits.”
I struggle greatly with my own misogyny. I was much more comfortable being the only girl in my political science classes at Fordham than attending an all girls Catholic College in my freshman year. I credit my 5 younger brothers and 5 young uncles. My four daughters might have contributed to the misogyny too:) Working in the women-dominated fields of librarianship and social work has been a terribly bad fit for me with dire economic consequences.
I am far more confident that men will like me than women will like me. I don’t do tact. If I see a group of 5 men at a party, I know they need me:) All my shrinks have been men. I have done my best therapy work with male clients. One client told me I must have been a gay male in a previous lifetime since I understood him so well:) The real explanation was that manic depressive closets resemble gay closets.
Misogyny and misandry are equally sexist. Women can be just as guilty of sexism as men. When people complain that Obama isn’t tough enough, or nasty enough, they are being sexist. The glorification of the macho man is sexist. The idea that little boys can’t cry or wear pink or play with dolls is sexist. The denial that fathers are just as loving, nurturing parents as women is sexist. Questioning the masculinity of a man who stays home and cares for his children is sexist. Expectations that daughters are better qualified to care for aging parents are sexist.
Sexism underpins our whole glorification of war and violence. It cannot possibly be defeated in one generation. All of human history is not changed quite so quickly. Taking care of my one year old grandson, I am conscious that preschool boys possibly suffer more from sexism than little girls. When a girl shows interest in traditionally masculine activities, it is often seen as upward mobility. When a boy shows interest in girlie things, people start wondering if he is gay. Older men in the elevator are already fretting about Michael’s curls.
All of us are crippled by such attitudes. Preschools and elementary schools are a better match for most girls. Boys too often wind up on medication so they can conform to classroom rules and expectations. The idea that boys can’t be babysitters or men can’t be daycare, kindergarten, and grade school teachers is disgustingly sexist. Home health agencies seem to find it unimaginable that a client might want a guy to care for their aging mother. The idea that any man is a potential rapist or sexual predator is hideously sexist.
Having a grandson has been a profound journey, evoking memories of my brothers as young children. I was 11 when my 4th brother was born, 13 when my 5th brother was born. In pictures, I look old enough to be their teenage mom. I recall their tears, their tenderness, their vulnerabilities. My parents were relatively enlightened, but only one of my brothers could cry when we were all together for a week while my mother died at home. And when my brothers heard him crying, they assumed he was me.