Today, I experienced misogyny*. It came naturally to Bill^, a white man in his 50’s who I met at a community meeting, a couple hours’ drive from San Francisco. I do not believe that all white men over 50 are misogynists; my mum would have divorced my dad decades ago if he behaved like Bill. Yet it was obvious to me from Bill’s language and tone when I talked to him that he simply hates women 🤷🏼♀️.
The first sign of a misogynist is someone who is overly negative and complains when a woman shares her opinion. During the community meeting, one middle-aged woman spoke. She was not that articulate, and she stumbled through a long-winded, uninteresting story. But there were other inarticulate “folks” who spoke at that meeting, and more than a couple of them were men. After the meeting, Bill singled her out and was incredibly damning about her.
“Her words were so muddled. I just had no idea what she could possibly be saying. And she went on and on,” he pleaded. He hadn’t listened to her. He also could not find it in himself to respect that fact that she had a point of view. A misogynist will criticize a woman’s opinion in a way that makes her sound crazy and stupid, and that is exactly what Bill did.
Bill held this woman to a higher standard than the other men. But the problem with talking to a misogynist as a woman is that the second you open your mouth, the misogynist stops listening. They struggle to acknowledge that you made a point, let alone a valid point, and that you might have even said something more intelligent than them 🤓.
The second sign of a misogynist is a person who interrupts a woman at every opportunity. They find that their voice has more weight and truth than anything a woman could possibly say. Whether it’s a conservation about the 4th of July or chicken sandwiches from Wawa, a misogynist will always speak over a woman and steer the conversation in their desired direction, as a way to assert their dominance. For me, this is even more painful to watch when the woman being interrupted lets it happen, over and over again.
After the meeting, Bill and I went out to dinner with a woman in her 50s from the community called Sarah^. Over dinner, Bill interrupted Sarah and corrected her about everything: baseball, the local community’s preparedness for earthquakes and even her own kids’ teachers 🤔. A part of my millennial feminist soul died with Sarah that day, as I watched her give in to Bill for at least 20 minutes. How we got to this stage where a woman is subject to constant conversation hijacking and won’t retaliate in any way, I will never understand. By the end of the conversation, I began to think that Sarah actually believed that Bill was smarter than her, and that his opinions were superior to hers.
What is most frustrating about being a woman talking to a misogynist is that they can’t understand that you might be an intelligent human being 😏. This probably frustrates me because I grew up during the self-esteem movement, and I’m an extrovert who likes to express my opinions. However, I am humble enough to defer to the smartest and most informed person in a conversation on any given topic. Surely Sarah knew more about her own kids’ teachers than Bill ever would? Even if Sarah was not well informed, the respectful thing for Bill to do would have been to listen to her while she was speaking. As Bill talked over her, I felt like he had lived his whole life and never considered the possibility that his wife, or any woman that he knew, could be smarter than him. Before leaving the bubble of San Francisco, I thought that everyone and their dog had read Men Explain Things to me by Rebecca Solnit. But talking with Bill, I realized I could not have been more wrong. Next time I get interrupted by an American man who explains English cuisine to me, I’ll be damned if I don’t interrupt him back immediately 🗣 🇬🇧.
At the end of the day, I can only hope that some of Bill’s misogyny was due to a generational divide. These days, our politically correct culture has its flaws, but at least his tactics would not stand with my “woke”, male-allies and friends in San Francisco. Still, I do believe that achieving conversational equality comes down to how much we’re willing to put up with as women. Sarah was too willing to let Bill interrupt her, and so misogyny in their community was normalized. Next time you find a man interrupting you, I dare you to consider the fact that you could be smarter and more informed than him and interrupt him back 😌.
p.s. Further Thoughts
In Sarah and Bill’s community, I later learnt that most women had the traditional role as a homemaker who took care of children, while the men were the sole bread-winners with jobs at companies. In this way, men are the economic lifeline for women and their children. Sarah was not paid for doing house cleaning or child care, and her financial dependency on her husband might explain why Bill saw her as lesser than him. Maybe Sarah was less likely to challenge him because he was offering to pay for dinner.
Still, this does not excuse Bill’s behavior of interrupting everything that Sarah said and treating her like a second-class citizen. As a man, making money does not entitle you to be disrespectful and hateful to women. Thanks to the advancement of gay rights and gender fluidity in public discourse, masculinity today is no longer about being macho. And with the #MeToo movement, the social acceptability of treating women badly is going out of fashion fast.
In my world in San Francisco, everyone has to get the highest paying job that we can find because it is so expensive to live here. I could not stop working even if I wanted to. The silver-living to sky-rocketing living expenses is that it improves gender equality in the workplace, because women are forced to stay in the workforce for as long as possible. And because I’m financially independent, I don’t have to put up with these outdated, misogynistic attitudes.
I pay my own bills, thank you very much 🧾.
* Definition: Misogyny is the dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.
^Not their real names.