Shrimp burgers, wine, and bottom boys. Those three subjects dominated a recent dinner with one of my favorite gay couples. While enjoying fish sandwiches and one too many bottles of vino, we broached the topic of how many gay men seemingly look down on bottoms.
Is it because the “bottom” is putting himself in the feminine role? Most likely, we agreed. Femmes and bottoms are often perceived as “less than” masculine individuals in the same way women are often perceived as submissive and inferior to men.
Misogyny is defined as “a dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.” Does the gay community hate women? Of course not. But does it absorb society’s misogynistic attitudes? Absolutely. How could it not?
Before we even know our own sexuality or even what gender means, we are taught gender roles.
When a man is born, society teaches him that he is strong, the provider and a problem solver. He is gifted toys that allow him to build, break, and fight. He has permission to build a great company, break an unjust system, and fight for something he believes in.
Girls, on the other hand, get toys that teach them to be caretakers. They get dolls that come with a stroller. They get Easy-Bake ovens. And when they go to Sunday school, they learn Adam was the first human and Eve is a mere extension of his rib.
These little boys and girls grow up. Despite realizing they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual, decades of ingrained beliefs remain. Misogyny is reinforced and multiplied from multiple angles on a daily basis.
Before you say “not me,” consider if it is. Have you ever told a woman she needs makeup? Have you ever brutally eviscerated a woman’s outfit while completely ignoring the man who looks like he hasn’t updated his wardrobe in 15 years? Have you ever slut-shamed the more flamboyant gay friend in your group?
I had a friend in college — a gay man — who would always squeeze my breasts. He never asked permission. I brushed it off because I knew he was gay and didn’t think of me sexually. My girlfriend would get upset, and I never realized why. But now I do. He felt entitled to touch my body. His sense of ownership was wrapped in a blanket of misogyny. It's something other women have told me they too experience from gay men.
In response to this op-ed, some people might say: “Gay men worship women. We love Cher, Beyonce, and Lady Gaga.” That’s not quite worship — it’s fetishization. Women are still put in a tiny box and expected to be fabulous and edgy. Ask many gay or bi men about Hillary Clinton, and they won’t be as laudatory. Even our nation's preeminent LGBT equality organization, the Human Rights Campaign, has been accused of perpetuating sexism.
Many lesbians have told me they’ve experienced the worst misogyny from gay men. Example A is a recent YouTube video showing gay men touching women’s vaginas for the first time. While some find it funny, I cringe. I question if the filmmakers’ motive was to create something insightful, or whether it’s just an attempt at a viral video using crude and asinine humor.
The reactions from some of the men in the video are offensive. One man says, “I feel like I’m going to smell tuna.” This reminds me of a slang term gays often use to refer to feminine men and femme women — “fish,” perhaps a reference to the way a woman’s vagina supposedly smells. Gay men have called me fish, seemingly as a compliment, more times than I can count — though I don’t smell like one (I’m more of a J’adore gal), but because the lingo exists, it’s ascribed to anyone, male or female, who is femme. It's also a slang term used by some in the trans community to refer to cisgender (nontrans) women.
According to The Independent, the filmmakers actually intended for the video to help mitigate misogyny within the gay community. But misogyny has little to do with body parts. Rather, it’s about socialization, which is why women can often be misogynistic, as well.
I’ve heard some butch women say they want their femme girlfriends doing all the cooking and cleaning. I’ve heard femme women call other ladies sluts for donning Rihanna-like outfits. I’ve heard women say they’d rather work for a man because they think men make better leaders.
The problem really isn’t gay men or lesbians — the issue is this male-dominated society we live in. How do we fix this?
For starters, think about what you say or do. Don’t slut-shame, even in jest. Stop using “bottom boy” as an insult. Stop cringing at the thought of a woman’s vagina — especially considering you came from one. Instead of telling someone to “man up,” say what you mean: “Get tough. Stop complaining. Find a solution.”
Homophobia is rooted in misogyny. You want equality. Let’s start with ending hatred and fear of women in our own community.
Femi Redwood is a New York–based journalist. Follow her on Twitter @femiredwood.