The Grand Asymmetry: Misogyny In the 2016 Election
I was born with feminist software preinstalled in my brain. No one taught it to me, no one instilled it, no feminist agenda corrupted my vulnerable female brain. I opened my eyes in this world a fully activated ball-busting feminist and got the word for it later.
My mom tells me how I was practically a Terminator when it came to spotting inequalities, zero’ing in and demanding they be explained or corrected. My Disney picture books are full of pencil markings, editing in “or she” and “or her” to amend every use of the universal “he” or “his”.
I remember an intense need to see the world as a mathematically symmetrical place. As a Canadian child I’d been handed the idea that all people are entitled to equal rights, and long before it was a moral impulse, it was an obsessive-compulsive need to ensure the world reflected that ideal. I was not some angelic child who even empathized with others very deeply; the world felt unsteady if it was socially unbalanced.
Jagged inequalities in language or social structures rattled around in my brain and it felt difficult to even process them as real. The first time I heard about misogyny, I remember not being able to fully process it as a real fact. On an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, women were being murdured and one character said it was due to “hatred of women”.
“Hatred of women?” I thought to myself. “That makes no sense. How could you hate someone because they’re a woman? How could you hate all women? I thought men liked women… they’re always trying to go on dates with them in movies. How can you hate someone you like?”
My brain has struggled to process senseless things before, like the arbitrary cruelties of someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder or parental abuse driven by a hatred I couldn’t understand. I’ve had insomnia for years and the primary cause is that I lie awake at night trying to make senseless things fit into an analytical model that reflects the natural symmetry I still believed the world must have.
Until last night, watching the red numbers stack up on top of themselves like ladybugs piling up in drifts on the beach, I’m not sure I ever fully believed deep down that misogyny was a true part of reality. Even having experienced it personally in a systemic pattern, living in fear of it, letting it chip away at me over the years, reading countless stories of it, the automaton child inside me was still alive, blinking in disbelief that such a grand asymmetry could really exist. The hatred in my father’s eyes as he waved a knife at me for saying I wanted to do my own homework without his help. The violence in a man’s voice when I told him to get his hands off me in a bar. The murderous rage as men follow me down a subway platform… it’s like the software in my brain kept rejecting it as a deviation from the natural SENSE that must indeed govern this world.
I think I must have regarded misogyny as an act of insanity… random aberrations in the natural justice that must drive the evolved human brain. I’m looking at that naïveté now as I would a bird that cracked its neck hitting a window: something innocent that died through no natural flaw, but as a result of a human artifice. I’m holding this bird in my hand dazzled by the simple grace that stood no chance of survival in a habitat spotted with unnatural constructions.
Misogyny is not natural. It is a series of beliefs, entitlements, resentful desires, illogical rationalizations, comfortable conclusions, ragged hungers, and terrified insecurity that thrive off of a constructed “other”. It does not fit anywhere into a structure of sense and order. It’s a craggy growth that’s coated centuries of civilization because of the intoxicating relief it offers fearful, fragile minds that bond with one another through contempt. And what else do you expect of little boys but to be that fearful and fragile in cultures that shame them for feeling anything deemed too ‘feminine’?
A small boy who’s called a ‘girl’ or a ‘cocksucker’ for struggling at sports, or having an allergy, or thinking a cat is cute, is NOT mentally independent enough to resist this unnatural relief. It’s like giving him a drug that explains to him why he’s only allowed to participate in less than half of a full human experience. And then when he sees girls allowed to get away with the ‘weaknesses’ he’s punished for, he’ll resent them, himself, and even other boys who struggle to perform this unnatural idea of what maleness entails. This pressure has remove anything “male” from masculinity and turned it into an anxiety disorder.
When he’s a teenager seeing girls being pulled out of class for their collarbones showing, he’ll assume girls deserve to be punished for their bodies. He’ll hear rape discussed as if it’s a natural disaster that girls need to be virtuous enough to avoid. He’ll learn that women’s bodies are defined by their sexuality and do not belong to them, that they exist to be seen and enjoyed men and therefore can be policed. He’ll think it’s okay to shame women for having a sexuality because his teachers, principals, and parents have already done that.
And when he’s grown, maybe he’ll see women as “beautiful creatures” to be protected or used according to how their bodies make him feel. Or maybe he’ll see them as “stupid sluts” who should be dispensing sexual contact since their bodies only exist for men anyways. He’ll see their free agency and free choice as hubristic selfishness, not only because he’s been taught to see them as objects but also because he’s been under unnatural pressure to perform masculinity since he was old enough for Little League.
And when an overqualified woman who’s dedicated her life to public service with years of political experience runs for President of the United States against a grossly unqualified buffoon who ran just to gratify a pathological need to win contests… he will be so brainwashed by these asymmetrical, senseless attitudes that he won’t even register his resentment of Hillary Clinton as “misogyny”. He’ll say it’s because Donald Trump seemed more honest, and he’ll believe that because the attitudes have wrapped around his brain like black mould since he was too young to question their illogical premises.
This grand asymmetry takes different forms in many communities, spreading like a virus that adapts to unique surroundings. Homophobia, internalized homophobia, internalized misogyny, femme-shaming, bottom-shaming, sissy-shaming… it’s all the “same old thing in brand new drag,” as David Bowie put it.
Last night I sat quietly while I watched the numbers pile up. And that bird died slowly, finally, as I saw the attitude I’d regarded as insanity sweep across America like a red plague. It was more than just misogyny; it was every unexamined attitude towards the other, racism in particular. Donald Trump rationalized the mob mentality these fearful people already had, exciting their basest, most illogical instincts.
People said Hillary didn’t excite people. You ought to be fucking SUSPICIOUS if someone is exciting you so easily; that’s manipulation. She was an Apollonian candidate that appealed to our senses of logic, justice, calm-minded fairness and respect. Those things don’t inflame the senses like hatred, fear, and paranoia. Dictators coast into power on these fevers, using ignorance to enflame simmering primitive passions into enraged wildfires.
I’ve been numb today because my brain has been restructuring itself. In the last few years I’ve started learning how to let go of senseless acts of cruelty and abuse. There’s only so much that analysis can wring out of them, which we document in books. Beyond that, the inhumane treatment of fellow human beings is driven by an echoing madness.
Every time I’ve thought of it today, thought of this maniac actually being President, I’ve burst out laughing. The well of horror has overflowed and my brain can only process it as absurdity. I think this must be why women would go “hysterical” in the past. The senseless world defies logic or justice, and then one day you just can’t stop laughing. I feel like if I don’t laugh, I’ll scream.
All my life I’ve heard that women are illogical, untrustworthy, materialistic and too emotional. And it has always baffled me given how often I’ve seen men’s faces twisted with rage and hatred, spewing crazy nonsense to rationalize their internal narrative. We can all be illogical and untrustworthy; those are gender-neutral qualities.
But last night I saw a woman with Apollonian composure lose to a man driven by Dionysian fevers. We just saw how important logic and reason ACTUALLY are to people who would rather not examine their misogyny and racism.
I sat next to a friend I’ve known for over ten years last night. A cis, white man. The female MC at the bar said into the microphone that clearly people still hated a woman more than they hate a racist. He dismissed her with disgust, saying “Shut up.” A woman near me was near a breakdown, singing “It’s the end of the world as we know it” as she cried. He also sneered her off as a drunk. I held my hand out to her, expressionless. She looked at my hand warily, maybe confused because of how unemotional I looked. Her face was red with crying and I was blank as stone. It took her a few seconds of inspecting me before she took my hand and we hugged each other.
I realized I was making myself numb so that this friend wouldn’t turn his contempt on me. I think he was anxious about the result and maybe was processing it by acting like he didn’t care. But he said “I’m excited” and “I’m not going to let this break me” as if it wasn’t about the lives, safety, and dignity of millions of people just south of our border. And I thought to myself “How relaxing, to be a white man. You can just be float on the surface of other’s anxiety without it applying personally to yourself.”
He poked me and said “You’re not going to cry are you? Whatever happens, be classy.”
I replied “Don’t ever say that word to me again.”
Even my blankness was offensive to him. It reminded of when I was a teenager and my father would come into my room to rage at me. After a while, I started going emotionless as a predator-prey response. I would go as still and quiet as a squirrel does to avoid detection. I would stare at him blankly while he insulted and intimidated me and think how even if he beat me, I wouldn’t react. It doesn’t work for humans, though. He would get even angrier when he couldn’t frighten me into crying or cowering.
Maybe my friend thought he was trying to cheer me up. I could tell he was dealing with his own anxiety by trying to control / dictate how everyone else ought to feel about it. But I spent over half my life under the power of someone who tried to control my emotions or make me responsible for his. I’m bulletproof to such things at this point, and I soon got up to leave.
I lay in bed later, unable to make myself cry. I’d seen women crying in the bar, holding one another. I wished I’d had someone I could cry with, instead of a man demanding my emotions conform to his. Someone who had spent her life living this insult day-to-day. Who then had to watch it confirmed publicly through numbers that we are truly seen as inferior because of our sex. The nightmare that we’ve only just begun sharing with each other through Reddit and social media reared up as tall as a tidal wave for everyone to see.
I sat alone in my apartment an hour later, still numb from the bar. I watched the CNN livestream and wondered if this was just the most lucid nightmare I’d ever had. I have nightmares all the time about my father finding the home I’ve made for myself and kicking in the door to finally kill me; those felt about as real as this did. I pulled a blanket over my head and spoke to my drag self in the dark.
“Heresy,” I said, “How do I bear it? It’s too senseless. It’s too absurd. How is this real?”
She took my hand in the dark. Heresy has watched monstrous spectacles, seen kings beheaded, felt the heat from innocent women burned as witches. She is a diver in my well of horror and nothing shocks her. Not even this. And squeezing my hand, I let her speak with my mouth so I could listen.
“History is a not a path that progresses sequentially stone to stone. It’s a wheel. The weight of the high point draws up the low. We saw it with Weimar Berlin; the joy, freedom, and communion was counterbalanced by the resulting backlash of fear and hate. The cruelty of the wheel is that we think we’re safest when we’re highest, only to have our very joy provoke the hatred that will pull us down again.
“So remember the joy. Remember the communion and clarity that has been fought for in the last few decades. Remember its apex, not its fall. The untarnished memory of our greatest freedom, our greatest reason, will help us find our way back up around this wheel.”
The problem with having preinstalled feminist software is that my brain feels confounded and scrambled by inequality and injustice. That’s why I need Heresy’s voice to get me through times like this where I feel like I could break from trying to fit reality into a framework that makes sense. Heresy doesn’t need to make sense of senseless things. She watches them like a bird of prey, outside their power. And with her help, I’m going to find a way to live in a senseless reality without going mad.