Once a month maybe I come across a line like this in my reading:
And my first question is always: Wait, am I a man? I ask it sincerely, because it’s never clear. Notice the tone: “of course, sex and love.” It goes (almost!) without saying to some people that what men want from women is sex and love. So, not desiring either of these things from women, that must oust me from the category. So thanks, New Yorker, for the homophobia.
Perhaps I should calm down and start reading “men” always as shorthand for “straight men”, the way “man” used to be shorthand for “men and women”—that is, as a relic of unenlightened heteros who still[*] think the words “men” and “women” connect to stable, known entities.
But (a) it sucks that I have to accept such erasure, and (b) doing so lets me off the hook as another man.
Because I am a man. I have benefited—not without exceptions—as a member of the patriarchy, and just because my relationships with women don’t involve the pursuit of their affections, that doesn’t mean I don’t have relationships with women. And how I, as a gay man—how all we gay men—interrelate to women deserves smart and close scrutiny if we’re committed to upending the patriarchy.
So there’s a big logical problem in that above passage: misogyny can’t be understood as the mindset that enforces the goals of winning admiration, love, and sex from women. If you root misogyny in straight men’s desires for/from women, you will fail to understand misogyny the same way that, if your anti-porn arguments don’t apply to gay-male porn, you’ve failed to understand porn.
I know there’s plenty out there about gay male misogyny. It doesn’t take a Judith Butler to notice drag’s sometime myopia about what a woman is. And diva worship maps plainly enough onto the patriarchy’s virgin-whore complex that I probably don’t need to get into it. But I suppose I should try, as ill-equipped as I feel this morning. It’s been a long time since I’ve read through these ideas.
If straight misogyny stems, as above, from women not meeting straight men’s unmet sexual expectations, gay misogyny might stem from women’s being able to win the attentions of (straight) men more readily than gays can. Which is to say that both forms of misogyny see women, if you’ll forgive the term, as cock-blockers. More complexly, misogyny understands that for male sexual desire to find its (always deserving) target or full expression, women have to be engaged or negotiated, and misogyny finds that step tedious or even unjust.
“Mommy is in charge of whether I can play with that toy, and that’s so unfair,” says every misogynist.
One difference I can see: for gay men looking for sexual satisfaction, only sometimes do women need to enter the picture. If you chase after trade, Brother Gay, you are going to find yourself competing with unwitting women, and when trade prefers sex with women over sex with men, when trade deigns to have sex with gay men only when no women are available, then you, Brother Gay, are going to feel like second fiddle, no matter how better you might think you are at giving head.
And misogyny, if you fall victim to it, will make you blame women for your feeling of demotion, not the very men who have done the demoting. That is, your attraction to those in power will confuse your understanding of power. (This is an idea I’ll come back to.)
But as nice as that idea seems, it also seems to imply that once gays can get welcomed into gay spaces (bars, bathhouses, certain just-for-us apps), the misogyny should go away, and that eradicating misogyny simply requires Brother Gay to come out and start chasing after requited sex objects. And yet behold:
Here’s an alphafag who I’d bed good money has rarely left a gay space in 20 years, who never feels in competition with women for the other alphafags he chases after, and yet if we count those asterisks we all know what word they stand in for.
So misogynists don’t necessarily desire women, nor do they necessarily feel in competition with them. What, then, is going on?
One possibility is phalluslessness. Possibly, it goes back to Freud. When gay men who get all the sex they want continue to hate women, what is it about Woman that disgusts them so much? My guess with the alphafag above is that women are “dumb” if (I’d assume he thinks it’s when) they’re attracted to him despite his homosexuality, which is to say that women fail in sexual competition, and this makes them lesser.
Why they can’t compete is that they don’t have a dick. Or that they have tits. So either it’s the absence of the phallus that makes a woman disgusting, or its the presence of the breast—and now we’re solidly in Freudian Mommy-Issues Territory. Many find it to be a nice place. Soothing and straightforward, but I’m never satisfied there, if only because the one thing, other than articles which presume all men want women, that makes me question whether I count as “male” is the Oedipus Complex.
I’m going to try to step into Object Relations Theory territory, despite my shaky grasp of it, and in doing so, I’m going to try to capture the misogyny I have seen in myself, because I think it might help me get toward this “universal” theory that may or may not exist.
First, the theory, after Winnicott. Every infant is born pure Subject—the ‘I’ that we all imagine as the protagonist of the world—to the point that even other people and other objects are assumed to be part of the Subject (the Breast being perhaps unfairly considered an object here, in that it is a thing offered to be manipulated for personal reward). The infant cries, the Breast appears, the Subject understands that it controls the object. Then, in time, the Subject learns that objects are external to the self. Here’s how Winnicott puts it:
[A]fter “subject relates to object” comes “subject destroys object” (as it becomes external); and then may come “object survives destruction by the subject.” But there may or may not be survival. A new feature thus arrives in the theory of object-relating. The subject says to the object: “I destroyed you” and the object is there to receive the communication. From now on the subject says: “Hullo object!” “I destroyed you.” “I love you.” “You have value for me because of your survival of my destruction of you.” “While I am loving you I am all the time destroying you in (unconscious) fantasy.” Here fantasy begins for the individual. The subject can now use the object that has survived.
One of the things that can make sex scary and confusing (and that has me thinking so much about it lately) is how good sex requires an upending of this central theory of subjecthood, in that, in sex, we become simultaneously subject and object. We, a sexual subject, objectify our partner so as to get pleasure from them, while simultaneously letting our partner, another sexual subject, objectify us for the same aims.
Outside of the bedroom (or the bathhouse, or the back alley), who gets granted subjecthood and how, who deserves subjecthood and why—these are questions at the heart of sexism and racism. Sexism is the belief that women are not equal to men, and are not deserving of the same things men have given themselves. Misogyny might be the belief that women aren’t even subjects. It seems to involve a blindness to any woman’s point of view.
Now, my misogyny. Something I’ve noticed in myself, in my least proud moments, is that I tend to have my male students’ names memorized before my female students’, and I can tell two brown-haired male students apart more easily than I can two brown-haired female students, and I remember the male friends my friends introduce me to more than I do their female friends. This may be something more innocuous than misogyny we might call legibility: I have spent my life gazing into the eyes and faces of men out of both horniness and a desire for recognition. I’m, thus, “better read” at men. But while we might get somewhere with the notion that there are “male faces” and “female faces”, that’s an idea that doesn’t sit right with me. That is: I can’t see it leading us somewhere more informed about gender and biology.
Instead, I want to sit with this lifetime of gazing at men. My lifetime. I’m speaking here about some way my brain might be wired, not how the Gay Brain (if such a thing exists) is wired. When I see a man I see a possible (sex) object. Is it this simple? Is it that I don’t see women as sex objects, and therefore cannot reaffirm my subjecthood through unconscious destruction of that object? A misogyny of neglect or disregard—you can do nothing for me, so I will not invest in you.
Perhaps that’s all this is, though mine feels more pointed in terms of the solipsism of the subject. A sex object’s perhaps secondary task is to reflect the subject’s subjectivity back to them. One example: I have A Type, when it comes to men, to the point that most of my friends and my partner know The Type and are able to immediately pick out of a lineup the man I’m attracted to. Having A Type is both a problem (one for another blog post) and a pleasure. It feels good to be a subject with a point of view regarding objects. The exercising of sexual desire, even in fantasy, keeps a subject in touch with their subjecthood.
So for straight men, a lifetime of gazing at women and not finding that gaze returned seems to lie at the root of str8 misogyny. For gays, or for me, perhaps it’s that a lifetime of not gazing at women ousts women from what I’ve understood through habit as the interpersonal.
I once had it, this idea, but I’ve lost it and can’t find my way back to it. Writing the above both feels bad and also forms the battlefield on which I might combat my misogyny. Because two things misogyny has a very hard time accepting are (a) women are subjects and (b) the task of objects isn’t to affirm your subjecthood. Adulthood means finding affirmation of your own subjecthood within.
Misogyny fails to see that women have their own sexual desires, and their own means of going after them, which because of biology bring a different set of priorities than men’s means do. This, finally, may be true of both str8 and gay misogyny—both see that difference in priorities and investments as a difference in power and ability, and it roots that power differential in biology instead of where all power comes from: those in power.
So let me try a rewrite of the above New Yorker passage, to see if it helps bring this very long and ultimately fruitless post to a close:
Men have blinded themselves from seeing certain things about women—agency, equality, subjecthood, interiority, and, of course, autonomous sexual desire. Misogyny is the mind-set that calls that blindness “wisdom”; it’s the collective delusion that sustains the patriarchy.
- Well, in 2017. I’m a bit behind on my New Yorkers.↵