Masculinity and Misogyny

“I’m not misogynist, I love women.” As soon as the words came out of my mouth I regretted saying them. I was trying to convince Donna that there was nothing inherently misogynist or sexist about being either butch or transgender. That being masculine did not mean hating or objectifying women. Or did it?

This is not about ogling women on the street or tallying sexual conquests. It is about the insidious microaggressions in everyday life that I am guilty of. I am impatient. I get annoyed. I do not like to consider the possibility that I might be wrong about anything. Including being misogynist.

Growing up I rejected girl’s clothing, girl’s toys, girl’s gestures, and girl’s hobbies. I considered dressing up and flirting superficial and frivolous. I despised anything frilly. I learned to value speed over accuracy, actions over words, linear over circular, plans over spontaneity. I learned to value masculine over feminine; butch over femme. I chose to reject what I considered the feminine in myself.

I know I rush Donna. I try not to. She likes to take her time. She is an artist and enjoys looking at things. Not just art. She looks intently, for a longer time than I do. When we go to a flea market or a museum, I bring a book, just in case.

We are on vacation, on our way to a museum. Donna stops to look at the display in a bakery window, asks me to slow down and amble because she is walking in sandals, points to a woman in an interesting hat, and wants to go into a shop that has embroidered blouses. I am looking at my watch. We are not trying to make a curtain, the museum is not about to close, there is no reason to hurry. Donna can feel me shepherding her along, nudging her forward. Even if I do not say anything, we both know what I am thinking. It is not nice. It is not respectful. It contains every female stereotype I can dredge up.

It is my own discomfort and anxiety with femininity. I am uncomfortable shopping for women’s clothing, even if it is for Donna. I find an unobtrusive place to sit, and open my book. Half and hour later she emerges, wearing a turquoise top with pink embroidered flowers. It is stunning on her. She knows it. She buys it and puts it in my backpack.

is-butch-chivarly-deadI carry packages. I look at maps. I open jars. I open doors. If there is an uneven sidewalk, I tell Donna to watch her step. I am Sir Galahad, I want to protect Donna and maintain control. It isn’t necessary. She is not a damsel in distress. I’m not sure if I do it to be nice, or because I think Donna expects it, or because it represents some form of possession. A way of keeping Donna dependent on me. A way of diminishing her strength. A way of showing my superiority.

We’ve been together for a long time. We have our patterns and our habits. I don’t want to clip Donna’s wings, or be patronizing. I would prefer my chivalry to be generous rather than restrictive. I am not sure it is possible. I am not sure that I can honor Donna’s femininity until I can accept my own.

Note: I started thinking about these issues at the Butch Voices 2013 conference. I attended a workshop on Butch Misogyny and another workshop on Everyday Oppression, where we discussed microagresssions.  I still think it is possible to be butch and/or transmasculine and not be a misogynist, but I don’t think it is easy.

28 thoughts on “Masculinity and Misogyny

  1. RonaFraser

    Interesting… hmm… Well, I think there is a difference between hating the feminine in yourself and hating the feminine in general… or is there? I was thinking “I hate the indecision in me, but I don’t… well, ya, it annoys me in others too.” Perhaps hating the feminine in yourself is reflected in others — not sure I’m saying that right — but that it irritates you in others mainly because it irritates you in you. Actually, come to think of it, I am a bit like that too. I mean, I am a girl and happy enough with it – I even like wearing skirts… but I am not very “girly”. I preferred Lego to Barbies, I prefer hardware stores to clothing stores, I’d rather help you build your house than decorate it… but I love that sorta “masculine” part of me. Umm… ok, I love it more than the feminine… because I am just not GOOD at feminine (not dainty, not pretty, not elegant…). Sometimes I think I was a man in my previous life… though 2 people have told me I was a nun… which makes sense too.

    ANYWAYS… (sinus infection… hard to focus!)… I have a question. It seems like you live in fear of anyone thinking you are a girl. Am I reading that right? And when I say “anyone”, I include you, Maybe if you could figure out why that is, you could let it go, and therefore have more patience for Donna (and yourself!). Is it that you are continually rebelling against what you think your mom would be thinking if she saw you? (I only suggest this as I seem to be continually rebelling against what my dad would think — argh.) It would be nice if we could just be at peace with ourselves… and just be.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I think that it is hard for me to appreciate some of Donna’s qualities because I have rejected them in myself. Not just stuff around clothes, but around showing emotion, showing vulnerability, taking time to really talk and have conversations.

      I don’t think I live in fear of anyone thinking i am a girl – I live with the feeling that I am not really one – I have the body, but I’ve always felt like a boy – or wanted to be a boy. I was a tomboy for as long as possible, and never really went through a regular girlhood – and then came out as gay/butch when I was 17. So I’ve always been fairly masculine, with the boy part somewhat suppressed, and the girl part downplayed/rejected.

      I’m not sure of the difference between rejecting femininity and embracing masculinity, or what is left when you reject femininity. It is a binary world and difficult to be androgynous (easy to look it, harder to act it). Most people try to pigeonhole me into acting/presenting female, since that is their expectation, and people are still not sure what to make of someone who is really gender non-conforming. What i was thinking about in writing the post was really how this all affects my relationship to Donna, and how is she oppressed by my masculinity/butchness.

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      1. RonaFraser

        You’ve got me thinking even more about gender, and I’m reminded of something I saw recently concerning how we put down women in some things we say, such as “you throw like a girl”. Why do we say that? There are tons of girls who have a great throwing arm. Another example is inferring a guy is female when he shows emotion or is vulnerable. There are guys who can’t throw and girls who are tough… We have identified certain human characteristics as being more masculine or feminine, and I know a lot of it is due to the human body (men=generally stronger, women=generally more in touch with their feelings)… but I am wondering now if this is all stereotyping, and that our image of masculine and feminine is just a bunch of rules and labels we’ve created to help us feel more comfortable in our identity. [I think by talking, so all of this is just ideas… I don’t know what I really think, and my sinuses are still fighting my brain for dominion over my head… I just feel like some great concept is just out of reach of my brain…] Just to be clear, I am not criticizing anything you said – I am just wondering if we all do ourselves a disservice by comparing ourselves to the ideal woman/man. Like, instead of thinking I am not very feminine, perhaps it would be better for me to think simply “I do not like shopping and makeup — I would rather install some shelves” instead of saying “I tend to like masculine things instead of girly things.” I don’t know, but thanks for making me think!

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      2. Jamie Ray Post author

        Exactly. And it becomes misogyny when you lump everything you don’t value under “womanly” or when you devalue things that are “traditionally womanly” just because they fall into that pile.

        One example, I would rather look at a map when I am lost and Donna would rather stop and ask for directions – this is rather stereotypical – I of course think that a map is more accurate and scientific and therefore better (and I am shy). This works in my favor as long as I can figure out where I already am on the map….

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I am glad you liked the post; it was hard for me to step back and look at my actions from Donna’s point of view. But I think it is the sum of the little things that makes a relationship work or fall apart.

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  2. janitorqueer

    I read your post before leaving for work today, and knew I wanted to say something, but wasn’t sure how to articulate it yet. So I thought on it quite a bit at work; thanks for the food for thought!

    Some of what I wanted to say was already touched on by RonaFraser – about how rejecting feminine qualities in oneself is not the same thing at all as being impatient with those same qualities in other people. It sounds like it could definitely be linked, like you talk about; it seems like it could be about other things besides gender roles / stereotypes though. For example:

    A lot of the qualities you mention getting impatient with, I don’t necessarily associate with femininity, but more with being relaxed, living in the moment, noticing our surroundings. They’re things I’ve been working on lately: trying not to feel like I need to rush, taking some pressure off situations, not being ruled by my anxieties. These ideas (in my mind at least) fall outside the gender binary.

    I really like what you said about microaggressions – I wasn’t previously familiar with that term, and I like it! I certainly am guilty of committing microaggressions. But, again, I don’t quite see it as linked to gender roles, and see it more about a need to control certain things, which is more about anxiety than it is about femininity or masculinity.

    I think it’s easy to be butch / transmasculine and to not be misogynistic! Do you think that anxiety (other than anxiety with femininity) plays a role in all this?

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thank you for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully. As you noted, I definitely manage my anxiety by controlling as much around me as possible. Using control to manage anxiety is not gender based. However, I do think that when I get anxious, I act it out in ways that are unfair to Donna and that she experiences as “stereotypical male behavior.” And as oppressive.

      Assuming that I am right and not questioning whether I am correct or not is one of them. Not wanting to re-open a discussion or reconsider a decision because I’ve “been there done that”.
      Not wantint to talk about how Donna feels after I’ve tried to short-circuit a change in plans. Wanting to do things fast, being able to make decisions quickly, not being so into “process”, and being always on time, even when it doesn’t matter.

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  3. Mere Dreamer

    Hmm. I love how honest you are here. My response became a bit long, yet all of it is a joy to uncover because of your words. Thank you.

    One thing that has helped me to be okay with who I am not … (both in that others think I ought to be while I do not wish to be, and that I wish I were while being unable to live that way) is to see these traits in others as a gift to humanity.

    We are, none of us, everything. I do not need to have every positive quality, because where I am not … someone else is. And that’s good. It’s why community is so beneficial, and why I need relationship.

    Also, most positive qualities ARE opposite to another in some way, and these pairs cannot be “balanced” in one person without becoming less in quality. Knowing this has freed me to be extremely myself while celebrating the beauty of the differences I encounter in others.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thank you, and nicely put. The struggle is that with butch/femme, male/female, masculine/feminine there is going to be some negotiation and conflict, and how to go through that without being oppressive and without devaluing the other person.

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      1. Mere Dreamer

        I think the internal processing you reflect in this post is likely one of the best ways to deal with the conflicts. Differences do spark against each other … they make aware … contrast. Of course you will respond, and the mood of the moment (which shifts with the weather, illness, and hunger) will play into the quality of that response.

        You notice and think … and relate with love through the results. It is a skill, like any other. I hope you see that this awareness marks you as already living well along the way to an internal solution. Even from afar off I can see you’re already experimenting your way forward into a healthy pattern of response that will work for you and your relationships.

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  4. Lesboi

    Like many of the folks who have replied here, this post really got me thinking hard about my own hang ups. Am I misogynistic? I think so, sometimes. And I think that, as several people have pointed out, that what I find annoying about females is stuff that I find annoying about myself. Sometimes it is simply a preference though, I think. I don’t like to shop much. My partner loves to shop. Is that because I’m a more masculine person and she’s a more feminine person? Maybe. But I agree that assigning masculine and feminine to activities like shopping is unhelpful. I like the idea of just saying “I don’t enjoy shopping as much as my partner does” without adding “because people who like to shop tend to be feminine”. Personally, I have been on a quest for most of my life to de-gender or ungender most activities. I have always hated being told that I couldn’t do something because I was female and, likewise, I find it completely upsetting to hear boys told that they shouldn’t like something or do something because it’s a “girl thing”. Also I agree that some of this could be traced back to anxiety. What I find most helpful is changing my mindset around doing things that I don’t enjoy so much. Instead of going shopping with my lady and rushing her along I set my mind that I am going to give myself to her for the day (or any specific period of time) and she can dictate the pace and direction that we take. I approach the activity from a place of giving and love rather than just getting through it and most of the time I have surprised myself at how much I’ve enjoyed the time with her.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Right, the difference between being generous and being restrictive (in my post with chivalry) but the same in terms of sharing time for an activity you may not be really interested in doing (like shopping). I’d like to be able to stop being annoyed and impatient (rather than just try to suppress it only to have it flare up in anger).

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  5. Clare Flourish

    People think of me as particularly feminine.

    I’m not sure if I do it to be nice, or because I think Donna expects it, or because it represents some form of possession. A way of keeping Donna dependent on me. A way of diminishing her strength. A way of showing my superiority.

    I respect these possibilities as political positions, and-
    You are entitled to be irked and irritated, and want to spend less time shopping for Donna’s clothes
    If a man opens a door for me, I tend to think he is doing it for generous rather than political-sexist motives
    There may be micro-aggressions. We don’t fit each other perfectly.

    Have you tried men’s groups? There are horrible “Manosphere” pick-up artist psychotic or paranoid “Blue Pill” types, and there are others. I don’t agree with all he says, but I liked Duncan http://ourmasculineheart.wordpress.com/ when I met him.

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  6. Pingback: Gender-Bender Award – Masculinity and Misogyny | Tiffany's Non-Blog

  7. tiffany267

    Congratulations! Thanks to nominations from other bloggers, I’m awarding you for December’s edition of my Gender-Bender Award!
    http://tiffany267.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/gender-bender-award-masculinity-and-misogyny

    Please feel free to wear my Gender-Bender Award graphic on your blog as a token of my appreciation for your gender-bending!

    Thanks for all you do to disrupt the gender binary – please do one more thing by visiting my blog and nominating another WordPress post for next month!

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  8. freedomfromyself

    I can relate to this and I think it is something that doesn’t often get talked about. The gender police would sometimes give me a pass growing up because I was good at sports; however, the general language I heard associated with traditionally feminine traits caused me to start rejecting them in myself. I didn’t realize the extent of the damage this caused until my mid 20’s when I started questioning why it was that I didn’t allow myself to wear dresses or talk about vulnerabilities openly, etc. It’s been interesting allowing myself more freedom to just be the last few years.

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  9. dontaskformyname

    I like the self-reflection in this post. I imagine the main reason it’s tricky to be masculine and not misogynist is mainly that the world is always subtly (or not) telling people that masculinity is correct or default and feminity is an often annoying decorative second. It’s sort of a cultural positive reinforcement. Or so that’s my very off-the-cuff theory. I think self awareness goes a long way. As to chivalry, I’d very much like to drive a stake through the heart of the personified version of the practice and rid the world of it once and for all (ok, that’s a bit dramatic, but I’m not a fan).

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