By Izzy Labbe '20
Content warnings: mention of sexual assault, eating disorders, Trump
I got a text from my mom today—well, actually a screenshot of a series of texts she had exchanged with my father about the definition of the word “misogyny” and its pertinence in the Ted Bundy case. He was confused about the definition of misogyny, writing, “I’m just trying to figure out what the heck that word means… I’m confused because it seems to mean everything from rudeness to murder, depending on who is using it.” Ignoring the fact that I may be unique in having the occasional family feud regarding serial killers and gender, I feel like this is a situation many people from my circumstance have to come to terms with eventually: having a middle-aged white father who means well but fumbles through the varying consequences of privilege. And, like others before me, I am faced with the same plight: how do you make someone who raised you and did his best to instill proper social norms and cultural literacy in you understand that he is actually the one who doesn’t understand how it all works? How do you get a nearly 50-year-old man who comes from a time in which parents used corporal punishment and made their kids trudge to school through the snow “uphill both ways” to understand why trigger warnings are helpful, or why safe spaces are beneficial to mental health and physical well-being?
The truth is, I can’t make him understand the vast array of privilege that he holds and the kaleidoscope of circumstances that are different from our own. This is, of course, because I hold my own privileges—as a white person, a straight person, a thin person, an able-bodied person, a person who’s never been seriously limited by financial restraints, and the many other circumstances that determine how I get to experience the world. However, there is one way in which I am not privileged, and that’s in my gender. And wasn’t that the point? That my father wanted so desperately to understand how misogyny worked, what it meant. That, at least, I can try to make clear for him.
What I want my father to know about misogyny is that I experience it, and my mother experiences it, and all the women in his life and beyond experience it, every day for our entire lives. From the moment we are wrapped in a pink blanket shortly after birth, we become subject to gender roles that teach us our place in society—as someone’s wife or mother or daughter, instead of our own person; as a domestic slave; or as a woman who experiences harassment, limitations, and unequal pay in the workforce. We are brainwashed into the goal of attaining impossible standards of beauty that evade us our entire lives, degrading our self-esteem, and driving us to wear makeup, to get plastic surgery, and to develop eating disorders. When we hit a certain age we are cast aside as unfuckable, and therefore virtually worthless; the women who do not conform to the sexual norms set up by our society are fetishized, demonized, or just cast off as unimportant.
We are sexualized from birth. We are told that when boys are mean to us it’s because they like us, setting us up for a lifetime of normalizing abusive behavior. We grow up in a rape culture in which we are told that we run the risk of being sexually assaulted if we dress a certain way, that it’s our fault when we are abused because of how much we had to drink or what we decided to wear; a culture in which a rapist gets less prison time than a woman who kills her abuser. The women we see on television are stereotyped as pretty but brainless or smart but sexless; representation is completely skewed towards thin white women, leaving out most women of color and fat women, not to mention LGBTQ+ women.
We are called shrewd or shrill when we speak out; we are called bitches when we express our opinions. Online we are attacked by trolls who tell us that rape jokes are hilarious and that if we don’t find them funny it’s our problem. And, of course, we live in a society in which the most experienced female public servant in history lost a presidential election to a man who has never held political office, who blatantly lies and manipulates, and who has bragged about sexually assaulting women. But it’s not all men.
I guess that’s why I’m writing this—because of the results of the Presidential election. When Hillary lost the thing that hurt the most for me was trying to conceive of how we would tell children about this, what sorts of precedents this sets for them. That a man who is everything we teach our children not to be can ascend to the highest political office in the United States. The 2016 election has, to some extent, revealed a new facet of misogyny for my generation. In another way, though, it perhaps just reaffirmed the patriarchal system that the women’s liberation movement has been trying to dismantle for centuries. And I have a very hard time listening to my father tell me that things will be fine when I know that things will not be fine for people like me and every other group that does not hold the same privileges he does.
I love my father so much that it brings tears to my eyes when I think of a time when he won’t be in my life. At times, though, I find myself on an opposite shore, desperately sifting the sands of experience through my fingers and trying to find a way to make him understand the many multifaceted identities that are at a disadvantage, while knowing that he is across the vast sea, looking at it all as just a pile of sand. I may not ever be able to get him to understand how society is structured to systematically oppress marginalized groups, and how that is not only his problem but everyone’s problem. At least, I hope that by familiarizing him with something that actively limits me, he will be able to see a different perspective. I hope that he will someday find the strength to turn white guilt from resentment to action.
From December 2016 issue