A Pro-feminist's

Defining misogyny
How to Respond to Criticism
More on older men and younger women
Porn, HIV, Freedom, Responsibility

Porn, HIV, Freedom, Responsibility

The adult entertainment industry in Los Angeles (the porn capital of the world, thank you) has been hard hit by news that two of its stars have recently tested positive for HIV. Some companies have shut down production entirely, others are continuing business as usual, some are shifting to a "safer-sex" format.

Some folks might respond to this story with schadenfreude, or at the least, with a certain lack of compassion for the people involved. "What else should they have expected?", a reasonable person might ask of those who perform in porn; "they are reaping the consequences of their actions",others might -- with some justification -- say.

The one woman known to be infected with HIV is an 18 year-old porn actress (who has only worked in the business three months) named Lara Roxx. She contracted HIV through unprotected anal sex with two men during the shooting of one particular film in March. What she was doing was perfectly legal, as it was in the workplace and she was over 18. No one -- least of all the producers of the film -- showed the slightest regard for this young woman who is still, for all psychological and spiritual purposes, very much in adolescence. (For obvious reasons, I'm not going to link to any porn sites -- all my information about her has been gleaned from mainstream, non-x-rated media.) Brian Flemming, who apparently works close to the industry, put it best in his blog:

Lara Roxx had zero protection by government agencies. There was no cop on that set. No fire marshal. No doctor. Nobody had a license. And nobody broke the law by paying a teenager to accept the uncovered penises of two men into her anus.

Roxx showed poor judgment, yes. She isn't blameless. But there are plenty of neophyte stunt performers in L.A. who would also be delighted to show some poor judgment and get themselves hurt or killed on a Hollywood movie set--but the government regulates those sets. I've auditioned plenty of eager young actors who would no doubt be willing to do their own dangerous stunts if it meant getting a good role and getting paid--but the LAPD, the LAFD and the Screen Actors Guild would all have something to say about that.

The 18-year-olds flooding into the porn industry have just about nobody. The porn companies label them "independent contractors," so the performers don't even have the workplace safety protections that fry cooks at Burger King do.

Lara Roxx, who is too young to legally drink in a bar, has HIV not just because she participated in a dangerous sex act. She also has HIV because there was nobody to stop the producers from dangling money and other inducements in front of this young woman to get her to take that risk.

It's important for porn to be legal. The government has no business outlawing sex or sexual fantasy. But this principle is not so sacred that we need to allow an industry to exploit and endanger its workers. There's no fundamental right to express HIV. There's no right to pay someone to play Russian roulette for your entertainment.

But we Californians have decided that the sex industry is the one industry that is allowed to lure young women and men and use them as it pleases. No politician speaks for these workers. No union imposes conditions on their employers.

The mainstream film industry, while making billions from distributing porn on the QT, doesn't have any use for the dirty people who actually make it.

The porn industry has become increasingly mainstream, so much so that on the same day that the HIV story broke in LA, the New York Times did an "at home" feature in its House and Garden section on porn star Jenna Jameson's 6700 square foot palace in Arizona. But this increasingly accepting attitude towards pornography is still another example of how our society is abandoning its responsibility to care for and protect all of its citizens.

I know firsthand how destructive porn can be. I cannot say I have not enjoyed looking at it; I can also say with confidence that exposure to it has invariably left me feeling ashamed, alienated, and sad. That may not be a universal experience, but it is certainly a very common response! Like in so many other areas (abortion, plastic surgery) we frame the debate about pornography in terms of choices. Women should have the choice to work in porn. Men should have the choice to work in porn. Women and men should have the choice to consume porn as well. As long as everyone (performer, producer, marketer, consumer) is over 18, where is the harm?

The harm is in my soul when I view it. The harm is in Lara Roxx's body right now. Lara Roxx no doubt has another name, which we in the public don't know. Porn stars, almost without exception, change their names when they work in the industry. "Lara Roxx" is not a person in the male porn consumer's mind, she's an object for fantasy and objectification. But beneath Lara's violated and brutalized flesh is a young girl who has what I imagine is a far humbler name (a Nicole, a Jennifer, a Maria, an Elizabeth perhaps). I don't know her, but I'm pretty damned confident that in 1996, when she was TEN, the little girl who would become Lara Roxx (HIV-infected porn actress) did not dream of becoming famous and wealthy for having anal sex with two men on camera. Her hopes for herself were, I suspect, simpler, warmer, and filled with infinitely more longing and promise.

The fact that Lara is 18 and consented to the making of this film means no crime was committed under California law. I'm not interested in ranting about the law. I'm grieving because Lara's story reminds me of how much damage porn does to so very many lives. Lara's very life is now in jeopardy. You can say she has some culpability, and I agree, she does. But the only reason the money is so good for young women in porn is because men are willing to pay quite a bit to see girls like Lara naked and exposed and penetrated. I confess that in the past I have been guilty of that very sin. My dollars have fed an industry of death, and I grieve that. And I know that I too -- and countless other men -- have been damaged. When men like me lust after girls like she who is called Lara Roxx (she's 18, I'll be damned if I'll call her a grown woman), we scar our spirits and tarnish our relationships with all the other women in our lives as a consequence. I have worked hard to make certain that when I see teenage girls and young women (and I work with them daily), I see them as people worthy of my respect, friendship, and -- yes -- my protection.

I know there are women who work in the porn industry (the aforementioned Jameson chief among them) who are proud of what they do, who refuse to see themselves as exploited, who have reaped large financial rewards. While I accept their experience as valid, I am convinced that they are rare and over-hyped exceptions. I am convinced that the reality of the porn industry -- for performers of both genders -- is pyschically, physically, emotionally and morally far bleaker than its few superstars will ever admit.

As a man, I am called to do the hard but essential work of looking beneath the hyper-sexualized surface image that young women so often adopt in our society today. I owe it to myself, to the woman with whom I share my bed and my life, and to these young women themselves. The fact that many young girls and women choose to make themselves objects of desire does not lessen for one second my obligation to look past that veneer and see them as my younger sisters whom I need to honor, love, and care for. The girl who is called Lara is sick today. I imagine that tonight she's scared beyond words, filled with regret and fear. I'm praying for her, and I ask God for forgiveness because I know that in some small way, my money has in the past helped to fuel the industry that has done this to her.

Porn kills many things: innocence, hope, trust, health, bodies, spirits. I know it is hip today to proclaim it harmless, but the unfashionable fact is that this is an industry built on distorted fantasy, loneliness, and despair. And we on the left need to stop hiding behind the First Amendment issues and articulate this untrendy but vital truth.

How to Respond to Criticism

I've been thinking lately about something one of my readers, a "Mr. Bad" said to me that's been in my head for a day or two:

"You... have a very inaccurate, uninformed and distorted view of healthy, normal masculinity. You instead are much more attuned to feminist and homosexual (i.e., gay and lesbian) issues than most people. There's nothing wrong with that - in fact it's necessary and informative - but the fact remains that IMO you've shown yourself to be clueless on the topic of normal, healthy masculinity."

Rather than respond in anger, I've been thinking about the ways in which this might be true. Am I, I wonder, really out of tune with "mainstream masculinity", whatever that is? From an academic standpoint, I've read a great deal of the still small canon of work on men's studies. I'm familiar with everyone from Michael Kimmel to Warren Farrell to Robert Bly to Shepherd Bliss to Bill McCartney to R.W. Connell. From an activist standpoint, I've trained with groups like Men Can Stop Rape. From a volunteer standpoint, I've helped lead men's retreats at places like All Saints Church and Fuller Seminary. And Lord knows, I've participated in enough group therapy (I was in two long-term men's groups in my late teens and early twenties)!

But what does that teach me about "normal guys"? The academic in me wants to pretend that normalcy itself is an artificial construct. But part of me is reacting to Mr. Bad with the realization that my own life experiences are radically different than those of the majority of American men. Of course, anyone who does any academic work at all in gender studies is participating in a classically "feminine" activity, in that we presume that "normal" American men have no interest in the thoughtful analysis -- and subsequent challenging -- of traditional relationships among the sexes. Thus studying and teaching the subject become proof that I am not an authentic man, and thus excellent grounds for dismissing my conclusions.

It's true, I wasn't raised with "All-American" guy concerns. My father, whom I love with all my heart and with whom I have a very close relationship, was born in Austria and raised in England. (He knows the rules of cricket, not baseball.) He taught me to kick a round ball, not throw one; he taught me to appreciate the life of the mind and classical music. My father and I didn't go to baseball games or learn how to barbecue together. We did go to Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and Jean Renoir retrospectives. (Despite his influence, however, I did develop some stereotypical American interests, chief among them an interest in college football that has only grown more passionate in the two decades since I first entered university.)

I have lots of male friends today. How normal are they? Most of my male friends are straight and married; a few are gay and a few are single. Most, but not all, are college educated white guys between 30-55. Half have children. About half are serious Christians, but others are agnostics, Unitarians, and students of Kabbalah. Most are liberal Democrats, but a few are solid Republicans. But there's one thing every one of my close male friends has in common: we are all, to a man, quite concerned with the appearance and performance of our bodies.

Mr. Bad commented, with a grain of what I acknowledge is truth: "Almost every day you post something about yourself, often times shallow and/or silly, and usually relating to your body with a healthy dose of your feelings thrown in. For this reader, you come across on this blog as having a very strong "mirror, mirror on the wall..." princess approach to your life. So, considering that your professinal focus has been on women and homosexuals, I humbly suggest that perhaps that's the basis for the model you're projecting as the "typical" male you keep trying to offer up. And because of this, you're missing the mark vis-a-vis typical men by miles and miles."

Yes, I have my shallow and silly qualities. But I'm convinced that Mr. Bad is wrong when he implies that an intense concern with one's own appearance is not "typically male." Every one of my male friends works out. Many are marathoners and ultrarunners and triathletes. In that sense, we are a self-selecting group. We are perhaps a shade more neurotic about our bodies than your average Joes. (On Saturday, my two running buddies and I discussed the details of the cleanse I've been on for quite some time, as well as having a heartfelt discussion of the nagging problem of "lower-back fat deposits.") But Mr. Bad is wrong when he implies that most American men are utterly unconcerned with their appearance.

Here I don't have to rely on anecdotal evidence. See here. See here. Note the proliferation of men's fitness magazines which focus not on health but on appearance. I don't think these magazines are raking in fortunes off a few unusual narcissists! Rather, the evidence is overwhelming that American men are rapidly becoming as concerned with body image as women have been. The fact that they are not yet as vocal about it --- outside of the fitness community -- does not mean that the anxiety isn't growing to the point of being omnipresent! (See books like The Adonis Complex, the very subtitle of which makes clear the nature of the problem: The Secret Crisis of Male Body Obsession.)

Yes, I'm very concerned with my body's appearance and athletic performance. Yes, I'm vain. Yes, I do something straight men aren't supposed to do, which is talk about these concerns in a very public way. But the research (and abundant anecdotal evidence) suggest that my friends and I are far from alone. In blue-state cities it may be easier for men to discuss these anxieties and obsessions openly, but the evidence suggests that they are becoming universal. In that sense, men who are open about their "body image issues" are fully and completely "normal" -- perhaps just more candid than some of their more truculent and inarticulate counterparts.

All in all, I think it's counterproductive, even dangerous, to question the masculine credentials of those who do gender work. Given the rigid rules of American sexual culture, it's all but certain than any man who does speak critically about male behavior will have his manhood questioned. Indeed, it's a standard debating tactic, usually employed by those who oppose progressive agendas, to suggest that feminists and their allies are "out of touch", "elitists", who don't "get it" or who aren't "real women" or "real men." One of the hallmarks of the pro-feminist men's movement has been a resistance to this false dyad of "real men" and "girly men" (which, after all, is more or less what Mr. Bad's language implies). The authentic men's movement sees masculinity as a continuum, not a fixed point.

Mr. Bad questions my masculine credentials; some (not all) of my erstwhile allies are so irked by my writings on marriage that they may be questioning my feminism. It's one thing to dismiss our opponents' arguments as poorly reasoned, another to engage in ad hominem attacks. At the same time, my own choice to bring in my own personal experience -- a strategy and a technique I learned from feminism -- makes these attacks all but inevitable, if disappointing.

More on older men and younger women

I got a very interesting e-mail last week from a young woman whom I'll call "Kate" (not her real name):

I am 17 years old...and I googled "Older Men, Younger Women" because I am attracted to older men and I feel alone in my peer group (despite my many good friends and wonderful family). I was thankful to find your post. So many things you touched on are things that I feel. But I also felt abnormal and ridiculous for having the feelings I do. Although I am young, I suppose am one of those girls you described, "...those who appear outwardly fully adult may still be in need of our care and protection." I am in every way mature. I feel more comfortable with adults than I do with my own peers thus the need for more attention from the more mature male. Having said that, I want you to know, I am a good girl. I know right from wrong...and these attractions I have for older men always stay platonic----mostly because I'm attracted to the men who are safe. But sometimes it pains me because I feel like I'm building such awesome relationships that when I become legal, or more eligible to date older men, they won't see me like that. At that point, I get upset and I feel so rejected before anything even began. This usually happens in the school atmosphere because there are many male teachers. So many of them seem wonderful because of the teenage boy scum I go to school with. You touched on that too--the obvious attraction girls have because the older male is (hopefully) well spoken and has a wealth of knowledge and experience...verses the teenage male who is not any of those things.

I hope this e-mail makes sense...it's so late and I am confused by my feelings. My mother knows how I feel about older men--and she said she expected it because I am so mature mentally, emotionally and yes...physically. I want to be seen and appreciated by men...and for the most part I am--and I have been for a long time. It is getting to the point, however, when I want things to progress and they just can't. Then I don't know how to behave and I just want to crawl out of the hole they call high school and just exist in this world without my age tattooed on my forehead.

Anyway, as much as your post made me feel slightly exposed, it was comforting because you seem to know the inner-working of the young female mind. So, thank you for that. And if you could extend some advice or something, I would appreciate it. I apologize if this is scatter brained...again, it's late, and I'm a bit nervous e-mailing someone and pouring out all these intimate details---but I wouldn't have done it if I thought couldn't help me sort things out a bit.

I asked Kate if I could respond via a post, and I'm afraid I haven't heard back from her. Given that her e-mail contains nothing that could identify her, I'm going to assume it's okay to respond publicly.

I just checked on Google, and this post is the #8 ranked site for the query "older men, younger women." Who knew?

Kate's e-mail really challenged me. In that January post, I laid out what I believe is a fairly compelling argument for older men to avoid romantic and sexual relationships with much younger women. I was fairly clear that I wasn't worried about women in their thirties dating men in their fifties; I was more concerned about young women in their late teens and early twenties dating men eight or more years older than themselves.

But yet, where does that caution leave the Kates of the world? If I can take Kate at her word, she's an unusually mature teenager. She's still got plenty of growing up to do, as even the most sophisticated of youth do, but she's probably right when she says that she's significantly ahead of many of her peers. Obviously, she's still a minor, and she recognizes that she's not yet "legal". But next year, when she's 18? What then? If all older men scrupulously avoid dating young women Kate's age, whom is Kate supposed to date who meets her intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and yes, physical needs? I don't think all teenage boys are "scum", mind you. (My men's rights advocate critics might suspect that I harbor that conviction). But I'm aware that many young women, like Kate, mature at a much faster rate than their male peers. It's going to be difficult for her to find a real equal among young men her age, and I'd be giving her unrealistic advice if I told her that there were large numbers of mature, sensible, emotionally grounded and wise 18 year-old men running around. That doesn't mean that such fellas don't exist, just that they aren't plentiful!

I think there's a colossal difference between an 18 year-old woman dating, say, a 30-something man she met at church or through friends and dating a 30-something teacher. Leaving aside the question of professional ethics (something that the teacher ought never leave aside), a relationship that begins with an obvious asymmetry in terms of direct power is, I think, almost always a profoundly unhealthy experience for both parties involved. But if Kate (once she's 18) wants to date an older man who has no direct responsibility for her academic development or emotional well-being, what then? Does an age gap of ten, twelve, even twenty years or more inherently constitute an unhealthily asymmetrical relationship in terms of power? Frankly, I think it depends entirely on the two people involved, simply because I know too well just how different 18 year-olds (and some 35 year-olds, for that matter) are from each other. A hard and fast rule, as it were, simply won't suffice.

Here's a section of what I wrote in January:

If I were to flirt back, or if I were to date a student, I am convinced I would send a devastating message about what older men "really" want.

Young women need older men in their lives who will respect and care about them, who aren't their fathers or brothers but who aren't prospective lovers, either. They need to know that they bring more to the table than their sexuality. They need to be seen as complete human beings.

Paradoxically, seeing young women as complete human beings means that in actions, words, and yes, even in thought, older men cannot see them as objects of sexual desire. That doesn't mean that we (older guys) shouldn't acknowledge that younger women are sexual creatures. But we must (and the burden is on us alone here, fellas) love them with radical unselfishness,and that requires that we ourselves always refrain from sexualizing them.

I still stand by that. But I wrote those words not just as a man in his late thirties, but as a teacher and a youth worker. I see teenagers and young adults through the eyes of my profession and my avocation. I've known for years that I was called to work with young people, and as a result, I value my role as a mentor and (sometimes) a "father figure". In my work as a professor and church group leader, it's absolutely vital that I never, ever, sexualize the young women with whom I work. It's essential that I keep firm boundaries in place, the kind that allow young people to trust me.

But in my customary enthusiasm, I took a code of ethics that applies to me personally (and one I had to grow into) and offered it up as a standard for all "older men." Obviously, most men my age don't do the work I do. Most men in their thirties and forties don't spend both their days (and often, their nights and weekends) with teenagers and young adults to whom they aren't related. And I'm not sure it's reasonable to ask all men to refrain from exploring romantic relationships with women who are significantly younger. And Kate's letter reminds me that it's even more unreasonable to ask all young women (provided they are legally adults) only to date men who are no more than five years older than themselves.

I've seen many, many disastrous relationships between young women and much older men. But to be honest, I've also seen a few such relationships that were marvelous, sparkling, honest, mutually rewarding, and long-lasting. I think such relationships are uncommon, often because so many of the older men who do date much younger women are struggling with their own issues, issues that an older woman would challenge them to confront but a younger girl might not recognize. And of course, more than a few young women do have unresolved issues with their fathers that they seek to play out in a relationship with an older man.

But these are generalities that do not apply in every instance, as Kate (and others) have reminded me in the months since my post on the subject. So, to conclude this long post, here's the best advice I can give to Kate:

I understand that it's not easy to be where you are, caught between adolescence and adulthood. 17 is rarely easy for the bright, the gifted, the mature, the one who isn't thrilled by all that high school society has to offer! It's natural and normal to want to be seen and appreciated by men, and to be appreciated for all that you have to give. Please know that your teachers, if they love their profession and genuinely care about you, ought not only not act on any feelings they may develop for you, they ought not even make you aware of them. That's not about infantilizing you, it's about honoring the very special trust that ought to exist between a teaching professional who loves teens and the students who rely upon him.

But Kate, I do think it's possible that in the years to come, you will find older men to date who aren't in a position of responsibilty towards you. Honestly, you're right: all things considered, men who are a decade or more your senior will likely be able to offer you things that your male peers cannot. You're not wrong to want those things, and I don't think that all older men will be "bad" for wanting to give them to you. Yes, I've seen a few -- a very few but a few -- healthy, loving, supportive relationships between young women just about your age and men substantially older. Such relationships are rare, but not unheard of.

Kate, I don't know you. But I can tell you I've known a few young women who've said things very similar to what you've said. And I know that in the end, what many of them really wanted from older men was not a sexual or romantic relationship, but validation and recognition and attention. In our highly sexualized culture, however, they couldn't believe that a man would really love them and care for them unconditionally unless they could offer him something sexual or romantic in return. They shortchanged themselves, and sadly, they found older men who reinforced the notion that their sexuality was the most valuable thing they had to offer. I don't know if that's what's going on with you.

Adults always tell teens to be patient, and teens get tired of hearing it. But if I can give you a piece of advice, it is to be patient just a while longer. Let whatever boundaries you have in place that have served you well stay in place just a little bit longer. Keep those boundaries in place especially with the men who have a sworn (even sacred) responsibility to care for you as your teachers and mentors. There's nothing wrong with wanting. But there's much to be gained by waiting, just a little longer, before "taking the next step" with anyone, especially someone considerably older than yourself. Once you become a legal adult, and (perhaps) are in college, you will begin to meet many different men who will be unlike those you knew in high school. You might even find someone closer to your age who does share your interests and your passions. Stranger things have happened.

I wish I had a magic bullet to make this growing up process easier for you. I know it's frustrating and confusing as hell. But it's my hope that the older men in your life today will continue to be loving, wise guides through that process, and at your age, that's all that they ought to be.

Please take care.


Until I was in my 30s, I had very few close male friends. I was raised surrounded by women, and as I went into adolescence and early adulthood, I tried to make certain that women were always around me. It wasn't just romantic or sexual relationships that I was seeking; it was emotional support. Through high school, college, and graduate school, I prided myself on the large number of women who were close to me, with whom I had mutually supportive, generally non-physical relationships. Of course, the real truth was that I was absolutely terrified of intimacy with men. Men were colleagues and rivals, but never friends. I made all sorts of excuses as to why I didn't have more male friends; the most frequent one was that "most American men are sexist pigs, and I can't relate to that." (That was a lie on several levels!)

Oddly, it was my work teaching women's studies that forced me to work on my relationships with men. About 1998, it finally hit home to me that much of my academic interest in women's studies was rooted in my own fear and dislike of my fellow men. I liked being in classrooms (as a student or as a professor) where I was often literally the only man in the room -- I felt safe. As I did the work of questioning why I felt so safe when men weren't around, I realized to my shock that the judgment of women did not carry as much weight in my life as the judgment of men. In nearly all-female environments, I was at least temporarily free from the fear of being evaluated -- and found wanting -- by other males. It was a hard realization to come to at 31! The great mytho-poetic men's studies guru, Robert Bly, describes the type of guy I was:

In the seventies, I began to see all over the country a phenomenon that we might call the "soft male"... perhaps half the young males are what I'd call soft. They're lovely, valuable people -- I like them -- they're not interested in harming the earth or starting wars. There's a gentle attitude toward life in their whole being and style of living.

But many of these men are not happy. You quickly notice the lack of energy in them. They are life-preserving, but not exactly life-giving. Ironically, you often see these men with strong women who positively radiate energy.... the journey many American men have taken into softness, or receptivity, or "development of the feminine side" has been an immensely valuable journey, but more travel lies ahead.

That travel leads to learning to live not merely as a male, but as a man. Many writers in the field of men's studies talk about the concept of "homosociality". It's a simple principle: in American culture, young men are raised to value the approval of other males far more than the approval of women. Any young woman whose boyfriend acts completely differently when he is alone with her (as opposed to when he is with his buddies) recognizes this phenomenon instantly. As a shy, unathletic, narcissistic child, I had had a pretty unhappy and rough time in elementary and junior high school -- mostly from my male peers. I realized, with that sudden mixture of shame and relief that accompanies such a realization, that as a consequence of these early miserable experiences, I had spent two decades avoiding intimacy with other men.

In the past six years, my relationships with men have been transformed. Not surprisingly, I have discovered that running has played a very helpful part in that transformation. Though our informal running group does have women within it, we are primarily a male bunch. I find that men build trust and intimacy when they aren't looking directly at each other. When we run through the mountains, up and down fire roads and single-track trails, we run single-file. (We get excellent views of one another's backsides, but that is not generally considered a source of excitement.) Running single file, sweating together, we can talk and talk and talk while still having an activity that legitimates the conversation. (Even after years of workshops and consciousness raising sessions, it is still tough to meet a male friend just "to talk"!) I have brought countless problems into the San Gabriel Mountains with my friends; two, three, or four hours of hard physical (and emotional) work later, my burden has been eased.

I've become convinced that only other men can make men grow. Relationships with women can provide us with healthy challenges. They can inspire us to want to change, but they can't show us how to do it. Our wives, mothers, girlfriends and other women can only share with us what kind of man they would like us to be -- they cannot "role model" that for us. As Robert Bly puts it (and I know he raises some feminist hackles): Women can change the embryo to a boy, but only men can change the boy into a man.

I've made it a point in my life to surround myself today with three kinds of men: older men (my father chief among them, but others as well) to whom I can look for advice and inspiration; men my own age (whose experiences are similar to mine); younger men (teens and early twenties), for whom I can serve -- with luck and by grace -- as a role model. It's a good week if I spend time with all three groups of men.

We are a culture with precious few non-violent yet deeply masculine role models. Our schizophrenic popular culture oscillates between idealizing the endlessly conflicted, feminized men who struggle to grow up (I always think of Ross, on "Friends") and absurd caricatures of aggression (think of Vin Diesel in most of his films). I don't have the secret to living a balanced life as a man, but I am convinced of this: living life surrounded by other men, men who offer encouragement, accountability, and male energy, is an essential part of that healthy life.

Defining misogyny

In a comment on a post, Jeff JP (who remains convinced that I am sonehow filled with self-loathing) does manage to ask a good question that deserves a thoughtful response. I wrote:

It wasn't until I started to do men's work with other pro-feminist men that I began to feel sufficiently empowered to start calling guys on their (sometimes) unintentional miosgyny.

Jeff JP replied:

Thanks for proving that "misogyny" is one of those words--just like "patriarchy"--that feminists have abused and misused so extensively that it's nearly devoid of meaning. I just checked several current dictionaries of Standard English, and they define "misogyny" as "hatred of women." Please explain how "hatred" can be unintentional.

On reflection, I should have used the word "unthinking" instead of "unintentional"; a small distinction that seems to capture my point a bit better.

I'd suggest that the parallel to "misogyny" is "bigotry." When it comes to racial issues, are there not many different types of bigots? Not every bigot wanders around in a white sheet, aware of and proud of their race hatreds. Some bigots deny that they are bigots: "Oh, some of my best friends are black, but in general..." Hatred is a powerful word, and it would be too simplistic to believe that it always manifests itself in violent, obvious ways.

To hate someone, feminists suggest, is to see them as less than fully human. Hatred is far more than an emotion of intense, conscious dislike. Hatred is the absence of compassion, the absence of imagination, the absence of a recognition of a common humanity. Rape is a profound expression of hatred, because it is misogyny expressed in brutal physical terms. But just as misogyny has defining actions (rape and assault), it also has defining language. The language of misogyny can range from vicious verbal abuse that reduces a woman to an object (c*nt, the primary example in American English) to blanket statements about women's abilities (women can't drive as well as men.)

Much of the misogyny of the men's rights movement is directed towards feminists. Just as racists in the Old South divided blacks into "good negroes" and "uppity troublemakers", so misogynists create a dichotomy of "good women" (submissive, eager to please, able to "take a joke", uncritical of bad male behavior) and "feminazis" (women who demand accountability from men and who ask to be taken seriously as human beings.) To say one likes individual women, therefore, is no defense against the charge of misogyny. Plenty of racists like individual members of other ethnic groups. To be hostile to the movement that seeks to liberate women is enough, in my book, to merit the charge of misogyny.

Misogyny is also institutionalized in our society. Perhaps it is my Christian faith informing my feminism, but I am convinced that pornography is the representative art form of a woman-hating culture. In porn, women exist to fulfill men's desires -- they have no real agency of their own. To see anyone as existing only to serve you and to fulfill you is, feminists have argued, a practical form of hatred. Relatively few men who use porn are conscious of hating women. But regular use of porn inevitably desensitizes the viewer to the humanity and dignity of all of the women with whom he interacts. It defies all we know about human psychology to say that a fellow can go from masturbating to images on his TV or computer screen into interactions with real women without objectifiying them.

Let's be clear here. Most folks, if they are really honest about it, go through periods of their lives where they experience (with varying degrees of intensity) authentic dislike for the other sex. Many will go through periods where they also dislike their own. ( Self-loathing among young women is famous -- if I had a dollar for every young woman I've worked with who's said "All my good friends are guys" or "Girls are too competitive, I don't like them" I'd have enough money to pay for a sweet honeymoon!) Most of us take our own personal negative experiences and, at least for a while, allow them to make us fundamentally suspicious of (and perhaps openly hostile to) the other sex. This is one form of genuine misogyny -- or, yes, misandry.

We are eager to evade personal responsibility. An anti-Semite can comfort herself by saying, "Oh, I don't hate Jews -- Hitler hated Jews. I just think that they have too much influence in our culture." A racist can say: "Oh, I don't agree with the Klan. But if my daughter brought home a black man, well, I'd be pretty unhappy about that." Surely we'd all agree that these are examples of bigotry? Similarly, a man can say "I don't hate women. I love women. But I think that feminists are out to control and manipulate us."

That's misogyny too, Jeff.

Source: The assorted musings of Hugo Schwyzer: a progressive, consistent-life ethic Anabaptist/Episcopalian Democrat (but with a sense of humor), a community college history and gender studies professor, an avid marathoner, aspiring ultra-runner, die-hard political junkie, and proud father of a small chinchilla.

©2010, Hugo Schwyzer

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Women really must have equal pay for equal work, equilaity in work at home, and reproductive choices. Men must press for these things also. They must cease to see them as "women's issues" and learn that they are everyone's issues. - essential to survival on planet Earth. - Erica Jong

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The assorted musings of Hugo Schwyzer: a progressive, consistent-life ethic Anabaptist/Episcopalian Democrat (but with a sense of humor), a community college history and gender studies professor, an avid marathoner, aspiring ultra-runner, die-hard political junkie, and proud father of a small chinchilla. hugoboy.typepad.com

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