The Muzzle of Misogyny
And why I keep making noise anyway
When I was in college I wrote a column for my school newspaper about the patriarchy. The guy I was dating at the time told me that his whole family read it together and hated it, then proceeded to warn him that he should be careful because I was a man-hater and it was probably because of my “daddy issues.”
I was devasted. I cried for hours. I was, of course, disappointed and embarrassed by what his family thought of me. But I was mostly crushed that anyone could read what I had written — describing plainly, sans bells and whistles, my reality of existing in a patriarchal society — and only see a broken girl as the source of my experiences.
This experience taught me something valuable: Women who call out misogyny will always have the finger pointed back at us.
Feminists are called man-haters. Justice-seekers are called communists. And women who dare to use their voices to speak against the oppression they face daily will be picked apart until there is some other explanation for their struggles. It can never be the world’s fault. It must be the woman’s.
When someone stands up for the validity of their own existence, it is somehow shocking. It’s as if the knee-jerk response is, how dare you say anything?
Gloria Steinem says it like this:
“Any woman who chooses to behave as a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That’s their natural and first weapon.”
But why? Why is the first instinct not to acknowledge the structures of misogyny that women face constantly, but rather to blame the woman for acknowledging them herself? Our society still imposes the idea that women should be seen and not heard. It expects women to exist quietly, and it is taken aback by a woman who makes a statement or raises a complaint. When we do the grueling work to shine a light on the kinds of mental gymnastics we must do every single day to live in a society invented for men, we are so scrutinized that we start to believe it might be better not to say anything at all.
Our society holds tightly to its systems. It doesn’t want to see them criticized; it would rather silence the critics. Misogyny not only creates obstacles for women; it also muzzles the woman’s mouth so that those obstacles cannot be spoken. It sucks the oxygen from its critics so their words will never see the light of the public forum.
Women must make the decision to either stick quietly with the status quo or call out wrongs and be immediately scrutinized. We put not only our ideas and experiences, but our very selves on the chopping block if we dare speak up.
What makes it even more maddening is that our muzzlers often don’t even realize that’s what they’re doing. Misogyny is so obvious, so natural, so expected and accepted that many people who respond in this manner would never consider themselves to be acting out of an intuitive sexism. This makes it all the more impossible to expose. It’s a silent killer.
I will always have to brace myself when engaging in a conversation about gender inequality and patriarchy. Not in an intellectual way — I’m comfortable and confident in my intellect. I’m prepared to make a logical debate. But I have to brace myself for the personal attacks about my brain and my body. I have to be ready for my attractiveness and worth to be measured. I prepare myself to hear words like “bossy,” “sensitive,” and “hysterical.” I prepare myself in ways that men don’t have to. Because I am daring to defy the muzzle of misogyny.
The truth is, I wish it didn’t bother me when middle-aged men make it their mission to discredit it a 20something woman. I wish I didn’t feel the blow of women I have looked up to denouncing feminism as too radical. I wish I didn’t feel a sharp sting when I see girls I love absorbing misogyny to the point that they internalize it and act against their own interests. But I do. It kills me. It takes me back to the tear-soaked pillow case the night I obsessed over my column — for which I had immense pride — searching for where I had messed up, looking for the line that discredited me, coming up dry and more confused each time. Each blow of misogyny reminds me that women will always be blamed for the patriarchy we decry. We have daddy-issues or we hate men or we want a leg-up or we are being dramatic.
And sometimes, the fight doesn’t feel worth it. Believe it or not, I don’t always feel particulary excited about being harrassed by strangers on the internet. I don’t love the thrill of being passively condescended by family members. And I absolutely hated being vilified by my college boyfriend’s parents. But I’m still proud of that column. I still stand by what I wrote, and I’m glad I wrote it. I’m happy it’s out there in the Internet ether and that my name is attached to it. Because even though the fight is unfair and exhausting, I still believe it’s a worthy fight.
My hope is not that I will see the end of misogyny. I don’t think that I ever will. But my hope is that women will continue fighting in the face of all the backlash so that someday, in another generation that I’ll never get to see, women and girls will live in a world that values their voice.
When I think of women like Audre Lorde and Gloria Steinem, I think about how they’ll never know how much they affected the life of a 20 year old college girl drowning in insecurity and a desperate desire to be loved. They’ll never know they gave her a voice and the power to use it. That’s why I continue to use my voice now, even though the fight isn’t fair. Because maybe my niece will grow up to use her voice, too, because she heard mine. And maybe her future grandkids will use their voices because they heard hers. I have to continue to believe in the legacy and the hope of a tomorrow, somewhere way down the line, when the chains break and the muzzles are lifted. For now, I’ll continue walking and talking through all of the inevitable calls of hysteria, man-hating, and, of course, daddy issues. I have to.
It’s not fair, but I have to.