Let’s distinguish among 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. What reception would a man get if he accused women of being misandrists? Although a lifelong feminist, I have always loathed knee-jerk male-bashing and defended men against stereotyping. 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.” Both men and women can be sexists; both men and women can be the victim of sexism.
I struggle greatly with my own misogyny. I was much more comfortable being the only woman in my political science classes at Fordham than attending all-women Catholic Nazareth College of Rochester in my freshman year. I convinced my parents to let me transfer after the dean told me they didn’t have a debate club, “because the nature of women makes it inappropriate to debate with men.” At Nazareth, I felt like a stranger in a strange land. My friends and I stayed up all night having a heated political debate (1963); all the girls on the floor were furious at us for gossiping at them all night.
I credit my 5 younger brothers and 5 young uncles for my comfort with men. 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:) I don’t do shoes, don’t want to talk about fashion, diet, and makup. I am not fighting gray hair or wrinkles. I doubt I could be friends with a woman who had been botoxed. Women’s fashion magazines appal me.Yet I still have a passionate sex life with my dreamy English husband.
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.
Spending time with my 21-month-old grandson Michael, I have recaptured many memories of my youngest brothers, 11 and 13 years younger, as little boys. I remember their tenderness, sensitivity, gentleness. Yet even when we were all keeping watch at my mother’s deathbed at home for a week, only one of my brothers cried openly. His four brothers in another room assumed it was me.
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 toddler 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.
Even I hesitated to buy Michael the pink doll stroller, even though it was the only one I could find. I could say his dad struggling between his guy reaction and his feminism. About 12 kids, mostly boys, borrowed it in the playground the first day. Michael was busy playing with another pink stroller. In his favorite playground, the rule is if you bring something and let everyone play with it, their toys are public property. This is only if the real owner doesn’t protest. Most are so happy to be enjoying everyone else’s more desirable toys that sharing isn’t a problem.
All of us are crippled by such sexist 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 every man is a potential rapist or sexual predator is hideously sexist. Admtittedly Michael will probably be a much better babysitter than my brother 18 months younger. who led his charges out on the roof the only time my parents trusted him to babysit:)
My daughter and her husband don’t want 21-month-old Michael to watch television until he is two. The only two exceptions are the wordless video of The Red Balloon and an absolutely wonderful Tales of Peter Rabbit by England’s Royal Ballet. I urge you to get the Peter Rabbit Ballet for every young child you know. The costumes and marks are magnificent, and all the animals are dancing classical ballet. Watching Jeremiah Puddleduck’s duet with the Fox is an experience everyone should have once in their lives. Michael watched the whole 90-minute DVD sitting on my lap. Seven times he said “I like it.” When it was finished, he said “again. ” He loves trying to imitate the dancing animals, and asks for them unsuccessfully at least once a day.