Misogyny: “Dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women”

I’ve gone back and forth about whether or not to blog about the recent Waking Life scandal.  Not only is it a very sensitive topic, it has also been just about beaten to death in our small-ish town of Asheville, NC.

That being said, the fact that I can’t stop thinking about it, and that I have now processed it with clients, colleagues and friends who were also having a strong reaction, leads me to think it’s definitely something I should be sorting out on paper.  Or, on computer, to be exact.

First off, for those of you who haven’t heard (or who aren’t from around here, although it has reached national news), two owners of a very popular local coffee shop called Waking Life were recently publicly outed for having an ongoing misogynistic podcast, website and twitter feed.   I won’t go into details about what they wrote and talked about; you can read about that in any of the number of news articles about them (or here, for direct quotes).  But let’s just say they weren’t very nice to women.  And by not very nice, I mean they were cruel, racist, extremely sexist, and at times, seemingly promoting rape.   

Asheville’s reaction was swift and damning.  Within days of constant protesting and pressure, primarily from the power that is social media, Waking Life closed for good, and is up for sale.  There is now talk of turning the site into something redemptive.  Two local women business owners are proposing creating a combined coffee/cake shop and community center, with 5% of proceeds going towards local organizations that support women.   Needless to say, I’ve been proud of our community’s quick and organized response.

But now that the “scandal” is over, or at least, coming down from a boil to a low simmer, I feel like we would be missing a bigger opportunity if we don’t widen this to a larger discussion.  Yes, these men are undeniably misogynistic.  But they as individuals are simply part of a much broader and pervasive societal problem that often goes unaddressed.  No, I’m not taking blame away from them and what they’ve done.  I’m merely stating that they are products of something much bigger than them.  For example, the owners belong(ed) to something called the “TheRedPill” on Reddit, an online support community with the tagline of “Discussion of sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men.”  From what I could tell at brief glance (which was admittedly very brief because I was so disgusted), that community has over a hundred thousand subscribers, all supporting each other in what they call “the game”, aka, how to “play” women (or “plates”, as they call them).  And, of course, that’s just one such public display.  These ideas are something that men (and women) enact, think about, and perpetuate on a daily basis as part of a society that promotes patriarchy and misogynistic ideals. 

“Ok”, you say.  “So what?  It’s not like this is new.”  True.  But what I am trying to figure out, with this post, is why this particular event was so triggering for me, and for several of my friends, colleagues, and clients. 

Part of it, of course, is that I am a woman.  I was born a woman, and I identify as one today.  My entire life, despite the best efforts of my lovely feminist parents, I’ve been exposed to and slowly indoctrinated by that societal message- that women are less than, that we should be submissive to men, that we exist to please men.  That we should act and think a certain way, in order to do that.  And that, when we are survivors of violence or sexual assault, as many of us are, that message we have heard our entire life whispers to us that we did something to deserve it, or could have prevented it. 

Another big part of it is that I am a mother, in particular, to a son.  I think constantly about how to raise him to be both a feminist and an anti-racist.  To help him understand that, in occupying a space of white male privilege, he has the absolute duty to combat racism and misogyny.  And I think about how to raise him that way without overwhelming or shaming him.  At times, that seems an enormous task.  (For more on this, see my follow up blog in a few weeks!)

Someone I know recently said it best when she said that, as women, we are constantly scanning our environment, either consciously or unconsciously, to determine if there is danger from men.   It is a very real sap of our energy that men, especially cisgender straight white men, don’t have to experience.  If you are a woman of color, LGB, or transgender, that danger is even more real and very present.

So when something like this happens, where two trusted individuals in our community not only thought these misogynistic, hateful thoughts, but also acted on them, even using their business as a source for their “game”, it throws that tenuous sense of safety all out of wack.  That they were so egotistical and sure enough of their place in society that they thought they could publicly discuss this hate without having any backlash speaks volumes about what our society has been reinforcing for them.  My sadness for the women they talked about, as if they were pieces of garbage, is visceral.

So where do we go from here? 

I think the healing must come from many different sources, and it must be sustainable.  The idea to put something redemptive in the place of this now soiled business is a great start.  The ongoing dialogues, such as the recent one held at UNC Asheville, are another positive move in the right direction, and I only hope that they continue, and that they are inclusive of men, the LGBTQ community, and people of color.  There are also some great organizations, like My Daddy Taught Me That, that work with young men to actively trying to combat those negative messages.

For those who are dealing with their own internal reactions to this event, or who have been survivors of misogyny, or gender based physical or sexual violence, I hope that they can reach out to supportive services.   Events like this recent one can trigger and open up old wounds. The therapists at Porch Light Counseling are well trained in this arena, as are wonderful organizations like Helpmate and Our Voice.   

I’ve been proud of my small community in the organizing and discussion that has sprung up from such a negative experience.  I am hopeful that we can continue that movement in a positive direction, so that we can all feel safe when we walk into our local coffee shop.  And just enjoy the damn coffee.  

For my next blog, the brilliant Elizabeth Gillette suggested I take this post a step further and discuss ways I and other parents I know are trying to raise our kiddos to be social justice crusaders.  So stay tuned!