The Shame of it All (or, Making Sense of Misogyny)

"That was his response," she said.

"Wow, he didn't hear you at all..." she whispered in shock.


As a woman, there is no shortage of microaggressions we are exposed to on a fairly regular basis. Story after story can be told by women who find this behavior towards them seemingly expected. The #metoo movement made this clear for all of us, though the more egregious stories obviously stick out in our minds from what was shared around this movement. And rightfully so. Those stories are easy to cling to because it is easier to have rage around incidents that we notice as unacceptable and have not participated in ourselves (eg: aggressive sexual assault).

But misogyny is trickier. Its microaggressions are the ones that cause me, personally, the heaviest burden. Like a pinprick, they sting, but I can move on from them fairly quickly. What I've been realizing lately is that these small, insidious pinpricks of words and actions that demean me as a woman end up creating a tattoo of shame over time.

It seems that Kate Manne's article, "The Logic of Misogyny" really gets at the heart of this issue:

Because of women’s service position, their subordination often has a masked quality about it: it is supposed to look amicable and seamless, rather than coerced. Service with a smile, not a grimace, is the watchword.

This is the moment we have all experienced of a man telling us to smile, or worse, to reassess our attitude. This is the man that is made uncomfortable because we dress in heels and jewelry and exude unapologetic status and power in a situation where he believes he should be made to feel comfortable (not just the workplace, but also places like the grocery store, the coffee shop, or the airport). This is the moment we are talked down to or scolded because we aren't meeting the male expectation. Or worse, making him uncomfortable.

Manne explains all of this further:

Misogyny is what happens when women break ranks or roles and disrupt the patriarchal order: they tend to be perceived as uppity, unruly, out of line, or insubordinate. Misogyny is not an undifferentiated hatred of women—which, in light of women’s social roles, would make little sense on men’s part. Why would a man disparage the women looking up at him admiringly, or bite the hands that soothe and serve him? Misogyny isn’t simply hateful; it imposes social costs on noncompliant women, who are liable to be labeled witches, bitches, sluts, and “feminazis,” among other things.  

Recently, I had an unfortunate experience with what I can only describe as public shaming. Or, a misogynistic wildfire, if you will. A publicly posted personal account of a man's feelings around the fact that, because of what I viewed as incompatibility in communication styles, I decided that I no longer wanted to continue seeing him. This was a public retelling of our interactions strewn across a public space for all to see. And judge.

Again, I have to go back to Kate Manne's article. I cannot stress enough how much this relates to my specific situation:

From the inside, such bullying doesn’t feel like it looks, evidently. It doesn’t feel like unleashing one’s inner Trump in mixed company. Rather it feels as though one is simply standing up for oneself, or for morality, or for the downtrodden—like a moral crusade, not a witch-hunt. And it often feels as if one’s hatred has nothing to do with gender... In social and moral reality, such behavior is indefensible. But indefensibility is not the same thing as unintelligibility. It is not difficult to see why misogynistic aggression might coexist with progressive commitments. Many white men, including those who espouse egalitarian and progressive values—even those who pride themselves on being good feminists—have recently experienced a loss of power and status relative to nonwhites and white women. Some are in denial. And some are angry. Some are lashing out in grief cloaked in outrage.

What followed was a thread of vilifying responses. Publicly. In a space where I did not have a voice or a face. There was judgment. And shaming. And gaslighting. And while this person did not specifically say these things about me, he encouraged these notions through emoji affirmation (lots of hearts and praise hands). Men and women, alike, emotional catcalling to an invisible figure (me) based on my noncompliance in allowing unacceptable communication from this man. He later thanked these people publicly for supporting him. In truth, he was thanking them for this:

But women may also be prone to police other women’s bodies and behavior, elevating themselves in the terms of patriarchal values or signaling their loyalty to patriarchal figures (Manne).

Like the catcalling we all know and hate, this emotional catcalling shouted words describing me as overreacting, insensitive, and not communicating well (just to name a few). Unlike being called to by strangers who assert some opinion about my looks, what they would like to do to me, or demanding something from me, this struck me on a much more psychological level. This was catcalling about my character. But, the advances were equally unwanted, equally shaming, and left me afraid to respond in fear of inciting anger and thus more damage.

In the end, it is hard to come to any peace with this. But honestly, I think it is not only acceptable, but my right, to to speak out against this behavior.

I wrote and rewrote this blog post with a lot of fear about publishing it. I have to give a lot of credit to Kate Manne and her work and words around misogyny. Listening to a podcast she was on I heard her discuss the fact that, in our current world, men own misogyny. While women are the receivers of it, it is men who hold the power to push it down on the women around them. Ultimately, I felt like I needed to own this experience. Speak out. It was not without a lot of fear, and shame, and careful consideration.

But I own this experience. And I won't apologize for writing about it.