There’s a lot of misogyny in the world masquerading as woke. This hatred of women is so deeply ingrained that a lot of the people who hold these ideas think they are actually evolved, socially-conscious individuals who are not in the least bit sexist. While they may not be doing the most obvious harm, it’s still harmful. Not just to feminism but to society at large.
The Big Secret
It’s the secret that is so secret, in fact, that they often don’t realize it is there at all. I see traces of it everywhere. It’s not hard to see, if you’re looking. And it’s hard not to look if you’re at all conscious of social justice and issues of equality. It comes out in the microaggressions that have been normalized to the point that most people just accept it as a matter of course. They don’t see that these words or actions are rooted in hatred, often because they are protected by privilege or have internalized the treatment to the degree that it’s no longer remarkable.
I’ll give you an example that should wave red flags and ring warning bells when it comes to dating. I was in a relationship once with a man who had something negative to say about every single female protagonist in every movie and television show and book. There was a theme: women wanted to attract as many men as possible to toy with them. Women were all about attention and promiscuity, gold-digging and finding the most alpha of the alpha males. It was the undercurrent of every single thing he ever said about women, and so it shouldn’t have surprised me that every single step I took toward personal power or healthy self-esteem was greeted with hostility or fear.
Sometimes, we only take in what a man (or woman) has to say about us, but we overlook how they talk about other women.
First of all, let’s get one thing straight: slut, like prude, is just a social construct. Both words are designed to shame women for their sexuality and the choices they make in relation to that sexuality. These things don’t exist and aren’t valid measures of anything but misogyny.
But it’s not just about men and women who refer to other women as sluts or prudes. That’s just the tippy top of this particular sexist, misogynist iceberg. It’s holding certain deeply held beliefs about the appropriateness or inappropriateness of how a woman dresses. It’s policing women’s weight or attractiveness, even if the dialogue is only internal or something you would say privately among friends. It’s having a pretty fixed opinion on whether or not women should wear makeup and how much.
Oh, but it goes so much deeper, and we don’t usually have to dig far below the surface to find the rest. It’s befriending a woman hoping for a sexual relationship and then using words like “friend zone” when they don’t get what they want. It’s policing the sexuality of women but not holding men to the same standard. It’s having an unequal distribution of both physical and emotional labor in the household with childcare, cooking, and cleaning being assigned as the primary province of women.
It keeps going.
It’s thinking that certain jobs or tasks are better suited to men than women for one reason or another. It’s having this fixed idea that women are more emotional creatures, subject to mood swings, and thinking that men are somehow exempt from this malady. It’s putting women’s conflict down to “drama” and listening to a man’s uninformed opinion over a woman’s expertise. It’s seeing powerful women as being unlikeable and being unable to envision a woman in any and all positions of power.
It’s thinking that it’s acceptable to dictate the choices of a woman’s body for any reason. It’s having strongly held opinions about single mothers but not holding the fathers equally responsible for the raising, financial provision, and guidance of the children.
It’s thinking that some types of sexual harassment and molestation weren’t insidious and should have been taken as a joke or as a flirtation rather than as an assault. It’s victim blaming for any form of sexual harassment or assault, for any reason. It’s questioning why victims didn’t come forward or not believing them simply because we don’t want to.
Let’s put it in the relevant context of U.S. news.
It’s questioning the competence of Nancy Pelosi as the leader of the House. It’s questioning the likeability of Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris in a run for President. It’s listening to R. Kelly, although rumor has long held that he is a pedophile, and many victims and witnesses have come forward to corroborate these stories recently. It’s supporting Drake who fondled an underage girl at a concert. It’s listening to Chris Brown after the public assault allegations against Rihanna. It’s being able to rationalize supporting the art of any person who has been accused of violence against women for any reason.
This isn’t just the secret misogyny of men, hidden in plain sight. It’s women, too, with their internalized misogyny and sexism. We can’t possibly have true gender equality as long as we’re allowed sexism to go unchecked, even in our inner dialogue.
Gender equality is good for everyone.
True gender equality looks like eliminating rape culture, double standards, and gendered ideas of toys, careers, and behavior. It’s allowing men to have feelings without casting aspersions on their character, and it’s allowing women to show strength or hold power without being instantly disliked for it. It’s women supporting other women, and men being able to promote and support the best candidate for any position of power without gender playing into it.
Being woke is trendy right now, but so much of what I see is what I’ll call surface-woke. It’s being woke just enough to hashtag #metoo and pay lip service to the idea of supporting women’s rights while still holding deeply damaging ideas about women’s appearance, sexuality, behavior, and competence. Surface-woke is trying to score brownie points off being an evolved human while doing the same old things in the same old way as they always have without questioning if it’s rooted in misogyny and sexism.
Being truly woke means addressing internalized misogyny, rape culture, and double standards. True woke means being inclusive and intersectional because we understand that there is no true gender equality when we don’t take into account the broader issues involving race, sexual orientation, and other demographic factors that impact our life experiences. It’s addressing privilege and eradicating any deeply held beliefs we might have that are harmful to true equality. It’s listening to others when they introduce a perspective we hadn’t considered before, and it’s being willing to evolve to a level of consciousness that strives to do no harm to others.
It’s not about being politically correct.
It’s about being socially conscious. It’s about striving to promote justice and equality. And it’s about calling a spade a spade. Because there are an awful lot of surface-woke people walking around, mixing in the movement for social justice. We need them. We really do. But we need them to wake all the way up now. We need them to join us and not just add superficially to the bodies standing with us.
Our secret sexism wields the kind of hammer that crushes dreams rather than smashing the patriarchy. But eradicating misogyny lets the light in and shares it, elevating and illuminating all of us.
We can’t have true equality and secret misogyny sharing the same space.
It’s time to do the work and wake ourselves all the way up now. Glass ceilings are shattering, and our children are watching. Will we hand them the same badly broken world we were given? Or will we patch it up and give them a better one?
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