Steve Neumann is taking a new look at what it really means to love women, and how to take a new stand against the #Mis-Print that marks him as a child of his time.
The other night I happened to catch that episode of Two and a Half Men where Alan calls Charlie a misogynist. Charlie is indignant, but he has to go get a dictionary in order to find out what the word means. When he does, he comes back to Alan and declares, “I do not hate women …. If anything, I am the opposite of a misogynist. I’m a pro-sogynist. I love women.” The joke, of course, is that he loves women only because he loves having sex with them.
Doubtless many men think this way. They think that because they pursue women romantically, because they shower them with gifts, attention, and physical affection, they are showing their support for women—that there really isn’t a problem with the way women are treated in society. I believe I love women, too—and, since you don’t know me, you’ll have to take my word for it that I’m no Charlie Harper.
But I’ve increasingly felt the need to reduce my “misogyny footprint.” Just like more and more people these days are making an effort to reduce their carbon footprint in order to benefit society, I think more men—and maybe even some women—need to take a step back and reflect on how their subtle everyday attitudes affect the environment in which women find themselves today.
I am a product of my time and place. Everyone is. But I came of age in the 1980s, born into a fundamentalist Christian church and household, in a little Podunk town in eastern Pennsylvania—Pennsyltucky, as I affectionately refer to it now. My church was in the tradition of the Plymouth Brethren, where the Bible was taken literally as the inviolable word of God. And the Bible’s attitude toward women was less than optimal, to put it mildly. Our church followed the teaching of “male headship” where all the leadership and teaching roles were reserved solely for men, because as 1 Corinthians 14:34 states, “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
In addition to being a child of my time, I was also white, reasonably good-looking, popular, and a star athlete. And though the weapons-grade misogyny of Christian fundamentalism didn’t plant roots in me, the macho-jock culture on the soccer pitch did. If a teammate flubbed an easy shot on goal, we said “You gotta hit it, Nancy.” If another teammate, after initially failing to execute a slide tackle on an opponent, went in hard on the next one, we yelled “Atta girl!” These are the types of indirect misogyny I’m talking about. They were meant as insults—what could be worse for a jock than to be called a girl?
Fortunately I attended the public school system as I grew up, where there was much less overt fundamentalist influence; but this was still fairly rural Pennsylvania—lots of old-time Pennsylvania Dutch families and a decade-behind-the-times mindset generally. It was still a hotbed for traditional gender roles and stereotypes. The cultural milieu in which I grew up was a perfect storm of male privilege. I didn’t recognize that then, but I do now.
I know that what follows may sound to some like a version of “I don’t hate blacks; some of my best friends are black,” nevertheless I’d like you to keep in mind that explanation doesn’t mean exculpation—it’s not an attempt to excuse, it’s an attempt to educate, to provide background and context, and what might have led to my own changing attitudes toward women.
Yes, I loved women. I “chased girls” and did my best to strut and preen like a bird-of-paradise in the jungles of New Guinea, even through college. But at the same time I also developed a more nuanced relationship to women. When the poetry bug hit me in college, my favorite poet was a woman, Denise Levertov. This attraction had nothing to do with sexuality—she had a profound affect on my life spiritually. I even recently wrote about the impact she had—I was presumptuous enough to write her during my senior year in college, and we corresponded for a few years until her untimely death from cancer. I originally wrote to her for advice about being a poet, but ended up learning how to be a human being.
I also developed a decided preference for women singer-entertainers—Martina Topley-Bird, Alice Russell, Ke$ha, Lady Gaga. And my favorite genre cyberpunk is filled with prominent female characters—Kara Thrace from Battlestar Galactica, Trinity from The Matrix, Major Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell, and Lain Iwakura from Serial Experiments Lain, to name only a few. And while almost all of these people and characters exude some sexuality, I have to say that when I ask myself why I’m so drawn to them, I realize it has nothing to do with sexuality.
I really can’t say for sure why I’m drawn to female characters, but I can say one thing for certain—it’s about respect. I admire the talent of women singers, and I admire the actions of those female characters. And in most cyberpunk and anime films, they aren’t portrayed in stereotypical ways—the virtues of both the male and female characters are indistinguishable, and equally worthy of emulation.
Today I am still white (obviously), and reasonably popular in my smaller circle of influence, though less good-looking and no longer an athlete, and I treat women with general respect, whether they are friends, colleagues, or strangers. But I’m more self-consciously aware of how even my limited impact on society affects the overall attitude toward women.
I made a concerted effort to contribute my fair share, if not more, to my relationship with my former girlfriend. I love to cook, and even though our agreed-upon arrangement was that I cook and she cleans, I made sure I did as much cleaning while I cooked and sneaked in as much cleaning while she relaxed on the couch. In the morning I made coffee, then checked to see if the trash or recycling needed to go out.
All this is more than just a Facebook humblebrag—I did those things because I believeed she deserved it. When we met, she had just finished spending years in a stereotypical marriage where “the wife” was underappreciated and taken for granted, and cooked, cleaned, and took care of the kid.
I realize I’m liable to labeled a “self-hating liberal” by someone like Rush Limbaugh, but it’s not because I hate myself that I want to try and make amends for the mistreatment of women in our society—it’s because I love women. And, it’s because I love myself. Though I said before that my favorite poet, singers, and film characters are all women, my favorite philosopher is a man—and it’s he who taught me the kind of self-love I mean. His notion of self-love is a derivative of his concept of self-overcoming. He asked: “What does a philosopher demand of himself first and last? To overcome his time in himself… With what must he therefore engage in the hardest combat? With whatever marks him as the child of his time.”
These are the words of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche was a famous misogynist—along with being an elitist and an anti-theist—but none of these are the reasons why he’s my favorite philosopher. Despite the fact that he, too, was a child of his time, he still had the courage to take a stand against the prevailing winds of society. Unfortunately, he didn’t see the need to take a stand against misogyny—but I do. And I’d like to pledge to do my best to overcome any misogynist tendencies in myself and society.
My efforts will be modest at best, to be sure—I’m no politician or other influential public figure—but just as many of us make small strides toward reducing our carbon footprint, I’d like to work at reducing my misogyny footprint, my “mis-print.” A“misprint” is something that is an error and has potentially detrimental effects without your intending it to. I think a lot of misogyny today is like that. So I’d like to rechristen this word and start a new hashtag: #misprint. I’d like to see how many people can commit to “reducing their #misprint.”
Photo: Flickr/Steven Zwerink