Mirror Misogyny: A Surprising Source…

Most of my life I’ve worked with men, in offices, in the Pentagon, in science, in senior corporate positions, and as a flight attendant. I’ve been a belly dancer as a weekend hobby, entertaining men in restaurants. I love men and have always gotten along well with them.

Mostly. But more about that later.

In my first job, we “guys” would kid around, tell racist and sexist jokes, basically being utterly insensitive and moronic, just for a laugh. There were other kinds of jokes too, like “Hey, I can tell by the way you hold that Coke bottle that you know what you’ve got a hold of.” Yeah, right. Haha. And move on. These days guys could get sued for talk like that, but back then it was just part of office life and we women gave back as good as we got. We dealt with it and were not particularly offended.

That was when I was in my 20’s, 30’s and early 40’s. Then Tailhook happened. Remember that? The Tailhook scandal was a series of incidents where more than 100 U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aviation officers were alleged to have sexually assaulted 83 women and 7 men, or otherwise engaged in “improper and indecent” conduct in Las Vegas.

This one incident changed the world forever regarding the rules for interactions between men and women. Break the rule and get sued! Don’t break the rule and get sued anyway if she gets pissed at you. No longer was it fun for me to walk the halls of the Pentagon. “Attention on deck! Woman aboard!”

It’s all so unfair, right?

Let me get back to the “mostly” getting along with men. I have come to the realization that “getting along” was an illusion. I think. Not to oversimplify nor dump all guys into one bin because I do have many male friends with whom I still kid around, with maybe a touch of flirtation, a wee nip of innuendo here and there, just having a laugh. Just like the old days…

With a PhD in hard science and holding senior positions in government and business, I always expected to be treated as an equal to everyone in the room, including generals and CEOs and senators. I expected to be heard in meetings, to sit at the head of the table, to not be asked to fetch coffee or take notes, and I ignored such invitations if they came. Never an issue. But behind the scenes it was quite different, unknown to me until years after the fact, when I was told by male friends on multiple occasions about the back door talk about “that fucking bitch” or “she thinks she has a big dick” or, you know, the “C” word.

And all the while I believed I was “one of them.” But this isn’t the problem. I’ve actually lived with all this quite happily, for the most part, for a five-decade career. Not bad, right?

Wrong. Here’s the real problem. Mirror misogyny. I made up this term to explain what I now believe I have done to myself most of my life.

Mirror misogyny. Misogyny is defined as dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women. I define mirror misogyny as a woman’s deep-seated, even unconscious, expectation that she will be disliked, disrespected, or treated as second-class, less capable, less intelligent than a man. Further, if she is brainy or well-educated, she knows she might be a threat to men and will unconsciously dumb herself down when dealing with them. Not to do so could intimidate them, and they might hate or resent her.

Today, I had to call the HVAC manufacturer for the unit in my studio that seemed to be acting up, although it was still working and still heating the space. A deep-voiced older man answered the phone. He sounded to me like a rough-shaven, pot-bellied, brawny (yet avuncular) guy who had spent decades in the field working on broken heat pumps in the hottest and coldest and nastiest weather situations imaginable. He knows air conditioners. I know physics. I soften my voice, tone down the slight trace of southern accent that I’ve still not managed to shake off, and put on my most intelligent tone as I begin to explain what was going wrong. In doing so, as if a heavy veil were lifting, I suddenly awoke to the fact that I was expecting him to verbally pat me on the shoulder and “There, there, little lady, this is way above your pretty little head.” Assuming his misogyny was about to erupt all over me, I braced myself and mansplained to him how well I understand how condensers and compressors work. The poor guy had done nothing wrong. I was the one being an ass because I was expecting him to be an ass. He was a lovely man, pleasant, patient, who gave me the information I needed, professionally and warmly. I felt ashamed of myself, and he certainly had no idea whatsoever of the tornado shredding my cerebral synapses.

Bottom line? Having realized that my assumptions and behaviors could affect those of the men I deal with, I now wonder whether, had I not assumed they would think me a lesser human, they would not have thought so either.

What do you think?

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