Misongyny and the Male Gaze

By , July 7, 2009 8:33 pm

We were all around the barbecue on the back porch, talking about high school and reminiscing about who were had been friends with, who we’d seen recently, and who we hadn’t.

“Do you remember John Stevens?”

“Oh, yeah, I had English with him. Do you remember Sara Mentro? I just saw her at the grocery store the other day.”

“We had a lunch period together! I haven’t seen Sara in years. What about Jen Silverman?”

“The one with the great tits, right?”

Wait, what?

For a trans woman, I have sort of an unusual relationship to my high school and its many social groups: I’m living with two friends from high school, still close with many of my other friends from high school, work part-time at the theatre I took classes from in high school, and live in the same metro area as my high school. I’ve never been able to (or attempted to) cut myself off from my high school social group, because they’ve all been great and supportive.

That said, I can 100% understand why someone would, and how not wanting anything to do with people from high school post-transition could be really important if high school was an unpleasant experience. Fortunately, that’s not where I am, but it does sometimes mean I end up hanging out with friends of friends from high school, who I would just as soon not see.

Take AS, who was bringing up Jen’s amazing tits. I’m not a huge fan of his, I don’t know what our mutual friend sees in him, and I wish he didn’t make himself a presence at parties or social functions held by my group of friends. I think crosses the line into creepy territory, and what I would say is misogynistic territory, by always objectifying women, and being unable to get past that, ever.

I brought this up with our mutual friend, saying I thought AS was shady and, if he had a high opinion of women, sure didn’t express it often. My friend hemmed and hawwed, saying, “Well, it was mostly men – you were the only girl there – and noticing a breasts is often how men see women …”

Now, as someone who is attracted primarily to women – and particularly as someone who was hormonally male for 22 years – I can completely sympathize and empathize with having breasts be the first thing you notice about a woman. I can understand, in my gut, the difficulty of tearing your eyes away to look at someone’s face. I can even understand having a woman’s (ahem) ‘physical features’ be the first thing you see and the last thing you remember about her. In particular, as someone who is not in a relationship, I can understand being single and really seeing only that.

But the larger issue for me was what AS saying “The one with great tits?” implied about how he thought about me: a pair of tits (if I’m lucky and he doesn’t qualify my classification as ‘girl’) or a pair of tits with a dick (if I’m not so lucky).

AS annoyed me before I transitioned, and that kind of language and objectification of women likewise bothered me pre-transition. But I’m definitely learning more and more how saying something about other women affects me in a way it didn’t when I wasn’t socializing or presenting as a woman. (Likewise for comments about trans people.)

I don’t think this is an impossible-to-communicate concept – that, in spite of what may be the best of intentions, talking about any member of a group in an essentialist way (women, trans people, Jews, blondes, whatever) can be offensive and hurtful to a member of that group even if it’s not directly addressed at them – and maybe one of these days I should bring it up with AS. At leas then he’d know I think he’s obnoxious.

But I also don’t want to be “that girl.” You know, the one who is over-sensitive, takes offense at everything, and can’t shut up about feminism and the evils of misogyny. I particularly don’t want to be “that trans girl,” or especially “that trans girl who suddenly decided to become a feminist.” I keep thinking of girls I’ve known who become more vocally identified as feminists and adamant about calling out perceived sexism/misogyny, and how there’s usually a response (even in my extremely liberal group of friends) to the extent that they’re not as fun as they used to be. And, on occasion, I’ve even found myself agreeing with this.

Ultimately, I think that’s a cop-out argument. If I believe in something, and if someone is saying something that’s (intentional or not) hurtful, I should say something.

That doesn’t mean I have to like it..

5 Responses to “Misongyny and the Male Gaze”

  1. Rachel_in_WY says:

    You can always try to mitigate the “being that girl” or “being the buzzkill” feature of it by replying in a sarcastic/witty/semi-joking manner and then quickly moving on. I often revert to the “yeah, women/gays/Jews/blacks/trans people/disabled people/fat people/whatever are so dumb/worthless/whatever!” in a super sarcastic tone, which points out that this was in fact the point of their comment or joke and also makes everyone else see it, but not in a pick-a-fight kind of way. And then there’s the “rape is so funny!” response to rape jokes. That makes everyone squirm, but turns the collective disapproval away from you and toward the person who made the joke. In this case you could say “yeah, tits are GREAT! It’s too bad they only come attached to actual humans” or something along those lines. The other advantage of this kind of response is that you can’t be accused of being a humorless feminist because you can now use their disingenuous response: “I was only joking!”

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