Several years ago, I volunteered to work on a micro-budget feature film for my friend at the time, a white male recent college grad; let’s call him George. He couldn’t afford to pay me properly, so instead he provided a stipend that barely covered the cost of living for a month. I agreed, partly because he was my friend, but mostly because I needed the money. About a week into production, I was setting up for a scene in the living room and as we were getting closer to picture’s up, George grew increasingly impatient. So instead of helping me, he threw a plastic bag at me in front of everyone and ordered me to “pick up the fucking trash.”
I didn’t think much of George’s abuse. I think I even silently nodded and picked up the trash bag that lay at my feet. It wasn’t until someone else spelled it out for me later; that George was acting unnecessarily hostile toward women, and women only. He treated the men on set as his equals and the women as subsidiaries.
“Don’t you get it?” they said, “George is a misogynistic asshole.”
A light bulb went off. George is misogynistic. How did I not see this myself?
This was not the first time I had experienced degradation by a male counterpart. After all, I am a woman. I’ve been whistled at on the street, groped in public, critiqued on my appearance over my performance. I’ve unwillingly been living in a patriarchal society from the moment I came out of my mother’s womb over two decades ago. I am also not afraid of speaking up when I’m offended. I once called out a notable jazz musician — whom I worked for right out of college — after he accused me of “acting like a little girl.” I suggested that he put an adult on the phone so that we could have a mature conversation. So I know what a misogynist looks like, and I know how to counterattack when they pounce.
But George is gay. And I didn’t know gay men could be misogynists too.
Gay men — like the rest of us — are products of a patriarchal social structure, which feminist theorists believe is the root cause of female oppression in cultures throughout the world. This part isn’t news. However, perhaps gay misogynists can be more dangerous to identify because of how easily they infiltrate the cracks of even the burliest of lesbian feminists, like me. We unknowingly excuse gay men of their misogynistic tendencies, especially when it comes to verbiage ("bitch," "girl," etc.). And the more we are unaware, the longer we allow misogyny to exist among those whom we’ve long thought to be our brothers in arms.
In a controversial interview with The Guardian, RuPaul revealed that had he known that one of the contestants — Peppermint — was trans, he probably would not have admitted her into the competition.
“Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it, because at its core it’s a social statement and a big f-you to male-dominated culture,” he says. What alarms me about this argument is that a gay man, who ostensibly believes in rejecting masculine tropes, thrives on parodying femininity. Some feminists go as far as to draw similarities to blackface: “When men dress in drag and supposedly imitate women, it is most often very sexist in a remarkably similar way to whites imitating racial minorities.” I will be honest in admitting that I am not familiar with the ins and outs of drag culture, but it does spur the question: Why is it considered entertaining when a man mocks a woman or how he understands womanhood?
This a universal human condition, the idea that in order to climb to new heights, we must step on others. Prejudice and discrimination exist even within marginalized communities, and the more we resist accepting that truth, the greater our energy is wasted on working against each other. I don’t hold all of the answers to this dilemma, but I do know that the first step begins with awareness; to call out misogyny when we see it. And if there is anything motivating us to reach for better ways and truer answers, it should be the political climate.
A man who has bragged about molesting women is now the president of our country. There is no better time than now to cultivate a truly unified resistance. Imagine a world where cis white gay men can refute toxic masculinity and honor powerful femininity simultaneously. This begins with acceptance; accept that your “oppression card” does not excuse you from these difficult conversations. Accept that you may not be the feminist you try to convince others — as well as yourself — you are. Instead, make space for lessons to be learned and solutions to be discovered to strengthen any and all marginalized communities together.
MONICA RODMAN is a video producer for The Advocate.