Musings on Life for the Queerly Inclined

Posts tagged ‘misogyny’

He Didn’t Just Objectify Me, Did He? – Gay Men and Misogyny

Heads up, everyone: this is an angry post and it’s a hurt post.  If you aren’t up for dealing with that right now, this is your chance to exit.  That being said, I wanna address an issue that is incredibly important to discuss, yet gets written off as no big deal: misogyny in the queer community, specifically on the part of gay men.  I’ve been thinking and talking about this a lot recently and have gotten mixed responses.  Mostly, the gay guys I’ve talked to are totally unaware of this problem and don’t see how their own behavior fits these patterns.  Ugh.  Women…eh, reactions range from “OMG I KNOW I HAVE SO MANY STORIES JUST LIKE THAT” to “Are you kidding me?  There’s no way it could be that bad.  They’re gay–it’s not like that.”

Oh but it is like that.

[TW: body policing, casual misogyny, and sexual harassment/unwanted touching]

Groping and commenting on others’ bodies (unsolicited, without consent) is a huge problem, regardless of whether you claim to be sexually attracted to that type of body or not.  This happens especially in the case of gay men feeling entitled to women’s bodies.  In a society in which gay men are stereotyped as feminine, they’re both damned for that (“good men are masculine”) and celebrated as experts on femininity.  Since women are supposed to be feminine (cuz we all gotta be gender-conforming, amiright??), gay men are presented as having authority over how women should dress, act, modify our bodies, etc.  Think of the gay bff or fashionista stereotypes.*

What does this mean?

Body policing.  Comments that are not only unwanted, but are potentially incredibly harmful to our body images, self esteem, and mental health.  Touches that, if initiated by straight men, would immediately be identified as sexual harassment.  A lot of misogyny.

Not Sure I’m Following You…

I’m not gonna go into a whole spiel about how and why this happens, trying to convince you that it’s a problem.  If you’re confused or not familiar with this subject, I suggest you check out two articles:

  • Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies” by Yolo Akili – posted last November on The Good Men Project.  I was so excited to find this.  He explains the problem well and I’m always relieved to find folks in privileged positions doing a good job educating our own.  Writing as a queer man of color, he also touches upon the added oppressive dynamic of white men feeling entitled in any way to the bodies of women of color.
  • “Why Do Gay Men Keep Touching My Boobs: The Autostraddle Mini-Roundtable” – Autostraddle writers pick up where Akili left off.  This actually turned into an incredibly interesting (and, it seemed, healing) conversation on Autostraddle.

I’m so glad to see other people discussing the problem of gay men’s sexism prominently and to find shared experiences with other queer women (see: Autostraddle’s comment section, which is mostly devoid of derailing BS posts).  Honestly, it’s something I face a lot, and I’m not always around people who get what I’m talking about.

So…What are you talking about?

  • “You need more makeup.  Here, let me do it.”  DID I ASK YOU TO GRAB MY FACE?  FUCK NO.

  • “Why are you wearing makeup?  You don’t need that.”  Umm HELLO NOT DOING IT FOR YOUR APPROVAL.  I wear makeup for myself, regardless of when you think it’s appropriate.
  • So many anti-vulva/vagina comments.  Vaginas don’t have to be your thing, but disparaging remarks are not needed.  Bodies with vaginas aren’t inherently disgusting, thank you very much, nor are we desperate for your approval.

    Gabby from Autostraddle
    : “The comments are always quintessentially linked to what my/our vaginas might smell or look like. (Sidenote- if you don’t eat it, devour it, lick it off your fingertips, then don’t even for a second make a comment on that shit. Maybe if you did then you’d have the right to say something.  Maybe then you’d describe it as tasting like fresh cantaloupe or smelling like every good secret reason you’ve been late to class this week…)”
  • “I’m totally gay, but it is kinda nice to put your penis in one [a vagina].”  Wow, thanks for reducing bodies with vaginas to just vaginas…or, as they’ll now be known: NPRs (nice penis receptacles).  Note: being told this as a queer cis woman was exceedingly awkward, among other things, because he said it as though I should be grateful that someone was–in the same sentence–telling me he was totally not attracted to me, but that my body was good for something anyway.  Great.
  • Frequent comments against queer women, especially lesbian women. “I used to be beautiful, but now I look like a lesbian!”  Note: gay men seem shocked when I call these remarks out; I’m not really sure why.  Is it because they’re reading me as straight and are surprised that I care about queer women?  Is it because they think women–femme women particularly?–are passive and won’t cross them?  Are they totally oblivious to everything?

  • At a former job, a supervisor and a coworker–both gay men–speculated loudly about what my pubic hair looks like and whether or not I trim it.  They were standing right in front of me.  They laughed.  I didn’t say anything because I was so taken aback that I didn’t have a clue what to say.  Just be cool, otherwise they’ll think I’m super uptight.  Remember, they’re gay men so they don’t really mean it in a sexual way so it’s totally fine, right???  

  • All of the comments about my boobs.  All of the comments.  I have very large breasts and gay men (among others) tell me this frequently–in varying amounts of detail–as though I didn’t know.  Thankfully, there’s usually no attempted touching, perhaps because I give off a “touch me and I’ll break your fingers” vibe.
  • Calling me babe.  At work.  The first time they meet me.  When I’ve made it clear I don’t respond to that word.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m definitely into affectionate nicknames.  But unless we have a rapport in which we’ve established that that’s okay, just stick to my name.  For the record: babe is never okay for me.

  • A (queer guy) ex would play with my boobs in this really negatively objectifying way, like they were toys that weren’t actually connected to my body, like I didn’t have so many feelings connected to them (emotionally as well as physically).  I never found a way to tell him how much this bothered me, cuz ya know I was obviously being irrational, right?  He couldn’t be objectifying me, I mean we’re both queer and he was my intimate partner and HOLY SHIT SO MUCH BULLSHIT.
  • Calling people bitches all the time.  As a term of endearment.  As a put-down.  Just stop, okay?  Just because you’re gay doesn’t make it magically okay for you to refer to your friends/your coworkers/your cats as “all my bitchez.”  Did you miss the chapter about that actually being (potentially) really offensive, reductive, and hurtful?  See also: don’t fucking try to reclaim slurs that aren’t yours to reclaim!

What to do?

Regardless of your sexual orientation and gender identity, check yourself!  Where do you fit in these examples?  Have you experienced or witnessed any of them?  Do you perpetrate them?  Gay men: as individuals, many of you are marvelous and dear to me.  But as a group, do not assume you and I will be best friends, simply because we’re both feminine or because you’re gay.  As you might imagine (after reading all this), I’m pretty fucking wary of you.  That doesn’t mean I will bite your heads off immediately; it means I will be guarded around you until you demonstrate that you have your shit together and are aware of yourself and the space you take up.  Check yourselves and check your friends.  Deal?

* Obviously not all gay men are feminine or into fashion.  Yes, those are stereotypes and yes, stereotypes are confining and need to be broken down.  That’s another (related) conversation.  If you post comments about being a gay man who’s not obsessed with fashion, you might be completely truthful, but you’re not being helpful.  You’re derailing the conversation.  You don’t suddenly become not oppressive just because you break stereotypes.

** I clearly wrote this from my perspective as a femme queer woman.  I can’t speak for masculine-of-center women and non-binary folks, but my perception is that there’s a different sort of bullshit that goes down there, more in the vein of “why would you be a woman (or a person ever perceived to be a woman) and be masculine?  You’re wasting your femininity (cuz women are inherently feminine, right??).”  Ughhh so many problems.  I have all of the love for butches, masc-of-center, and gender non-conforming folks.  Y’all are beautiful, handsome, and endlessly snazzy.  Here is my adorable face, just for you:

“I totally support femmes–they’re so hot”: Terrible Opening Line

Dear universe and would-be allies:


Source: the lovely femmesandfamily, whose blog I recommend you check out.

Femmephobia, a topic that is more often than not on my mind in some form, was brought up anew in a conversation with a friend a couple nights ago.  We talked about wanting to wear overtly feminine clothes some of the time and more masculine ones at other times. Should be easy, right?  But it’s not.

Getting Dressed: A How-To Guide for Femmes and Anyone Who Dips into Femininity Occasionally

  1. Find fly outfit (trying on five is normal–we can’t always get it right the first time)
  2. Put it on
  3. Contemplate accessories (flower? pocket watch? jewelry? picket sign? rock?)**
  4. Worry about people hassling you and/or making asshole comments about your appearance
  5. Tell yourself that you’re over-thinking things and that no one is going to give you a hard time about how you look
  6. Go out into the world, looking fly and feeling good
  7. Someone will invariably make an asshole comment about how you’re presenting yourself

I (and so many other friends I’ve spoken with) have noticed a trend in sectors of the queer community: the idealizing of the thin, white, androgynous hipster look.  If this is your look and you wanna rock it, that’s great for you.  But when the attention paid to people who embody this look far eclipses the focus on all other gender presentations, there’s a big problem.

What’s going on here?

  • Patriarchal society prizes men and masculinity.  Looking through all sorts of intersecting oppressions, the ideal person (according to US society) is a white, cisgender, able, upwardly-mobile, masculine man.
  • In this patriarchal society, women are required to be feminine and then punished for doing so.  Femininity is seen as compulsory (you must look/behave “like a lady”) and also weak and deserving of ridicule (“girly” stuff is routinely dismissed as useless, superfluous, a joke).
  • We internalize misogyny; everyone is taught that femininity is not strong or powerful.
  • Results: men are socialized to be masculine and hate on femininity (“Why do women spend so much time on their hair/makeup?  What a waste of time!” and “A feminine man–shock, horror!  I must distance myself from him!”).  Women who don’t wanna fit into the socialized femininity are told that they can have an out by also hating on it (“I don’t get along with women–they’re so vain and catty.  All my friends are guys.”).  Everyone gets cool points for hating on femininity.  Wow, how fucked up is that?

What about queer communities?

  • Stereotypes: queer women are masculine, queer men are feminine.  That totally describes everyone, right??  Ha no.
  • Result: anyone who doesn’t fit this description is usually unseen/ignored.  People who do fit it are stereotyped as the big dyke or the gay bff.

The Really Nasty Part that Started this Whole Post:

Rejecting femininity is seen as a cool and radical thing to do.  Femme-ness is consequently labeled conformist and unimportant.  According to this logic, femmes are eye candy, but we don’t really have anything interesting to say.  In case there was any doubt about this, let me clarify: just because I wear makeup and heels does not mean I’m brainless, unaware of my actions, and unwittingly conforming to patriarchal expectations.  I have not failed to deconstruct my internalized whatever-the-fuck.  I am not waiting for you, oh great masculine-of-center queer person to save me by showing me the error of my ways.

If you describe yourself as a radical queer activist, but all you have to say about femmes is that we look hot, while simultaneously ignoring our contributions to discussions in favor of listening to masculine-of-center folks (who may well be saying the same damn things we said ten minutes ago), do not be surprised by the wall of skepticism that I will build between us.

If femmes/sometimes-feminine folks are talking about how it’s an achievement to wear what we want without worrying about it, do not look at us with blank stares, as though we’ve said the most obvious thing in the world.  Do not roll your eyes when we affirm for one another that it is in fact okay to say “fuck you” to people’s expectations and present our genders differently every day.  If you do, chances are you’re one of the people who makes us uncomfortable and fuels our preemptive worries to begin with.  Do not be step #7 when we get dressed.

**Note on the accessories list: “Why did you include a rock?”  I know people who carry rocks in their purses.  This is not an issue of advocating violence; it is an issue of protecting oneself when you know that you’re at risk of being attacked as you walk down the street.

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