Pay attention, men. I’ve got something to tell you, so let’s get to it.
Honesty’s worthless if it isn’t direct, so here it is: through most of my life, up to my mid-30s, I was a misogynist. It’s not easy to broadcast such a confession. It took most of my life to realize I was a misogynist. Accepting the concept opened my eyes, yet I still experience discomfort and shame when I type those words: I was a misogynist. Now here comes the controversial part: I will not apologize for it.
If that infuriates you, it should. The Daulton writing this now is not the misogynistic Daulton, the prick who objectified women. An apology from him would have meant little because he wouldn’t have accepted the premise. Apologies are worthless if your behavior and your words diverge. From me now, an apology means less. I try to correct my way of thinking, and of the ideas I propagate, every minute of every day, instead of apologizing, I try to show that I’m different, that I’m not the prick I used to be, through my actions. I hope my behavior telegraphs my sincerest apologies.
Instead of apologizing now, instead of tossing around platitudes, I want to describe the way I used to think, my worldview, and how easy it is for us, especially you younger men out there, to fall into the trap.
First things first: you’ll rarely, if ever, meet a misogynist–that is, someone willing to admit they’re a misogynist. They simply cannot accept the notion. The way they think precludes even the possibility of misogyny.
If they’re called out for saying nasty or appalling things to or about women, they don’t see it for what it is. They see it as a joke, perhaps even admittedly a tasteless or a dark joke. You can never convince a misogynist of his transgressions because countless cognitive biases will rationalize his words or behavior in benign, non-threatening terms.
‘I’m not a misogynist,’ he might think or say, ‘we just live in a world where feminists want to ruin everything.’ Or he might say something like ‘precious little snowflakes can’t take a joke.’
I believe these men when they use such lines. I believe them when they deny their misogyny–or, specifically: I believe they believe they’re not misogynists.
I used similar lines and ways of thinking in my 20s and early 30s–and I believed it. To me, the issue always revolved around everyone else. I was never at fault, I was never appalling or sexist or offensive, and I was never understood. I just lived in a world eager to condemn–this is how I thought. And I’m willing to wager it’s how other misogynists think, too.
I wasn’t a misogynist, I’d insist. Sensitive idiots populate this world. And they’re ruining it for good people like me.
There’s no point in picking apart this way of thinking. It’s ridiculous on its surface and it has no depth.
Misogynists might say or do awful things then deny so much as a fleeting misogynistic thought. Despite the protests of anyone calling them out, misogynists cannot perceive contradictions in their behavior and words.
As humans, we’re simply not wired to accept information challenging our worldview. A challenge to our worldview could shatter our perceptions of reality, which could throw everything off-kilter. This is the reason cognitive biases pack our brain–to prevent such a thing from occurring. But it can occur, and it is shattering when it does.
A mental health joke, of all things, and my awesome wife triggered my realization.
I suffer from mental health issues and for a while, I would go on the offensive and attack people in online forums or on social media who made jokes about mental health or who treated it as a stigma. Then without realizing the contradiction, I posted an article about a female celebrity and poked fun at her mental health. This was uncharacteristic behavior–especially at the time.
My wife called me out on the post. She chastised me for criticizing others, then turning around and doing the same thing.
Fuck, I thought. She was right.
I deleted the post and apologized.
Then I thought ‘why would I do that?’ Although I can’t trace the line of thinking with clarity, I can tell you my mind kept circling back to a hideous notion, one I tried several times to dismiss: you weren’t making fun of mental illness; you were making fun of her. Then another thought struck me. I was making fun of her, not because of any perceived mental disorders, but because her erratic public behavior and the way she spoke in interviews didn’t live up to my ideal of how women should behave.
The moment this line of reasoning fluttered through my brain, everything changed.
Who the fuck was I to impose my ideal on another person? Her behavior didn’t correspond to how I assumed she should behave so the fault somehow lied with her? Bullshit. And what were these ‘ideals,’ anyway? Were they even mine? Did they blossom from original thoughts or analyses or were they implanted into my brain? And did I accept them as somehow truthful or factual without bothering to exercise my critical faculties?
As anyone who’s analyzed their beliefs–seriously analyzed them–know, the moment you question presuppositions on which you’ve based beliefs is the moment you’ll alter or shatter those beliefs. That’s certainly what happened to me. I tapped a single tile, then another, and soon the entire mosaic disintegrated. It collapsed over me and suffocated me, and I didn’t try to climb out of the rubble.
Instead, I’d find myself lying in bed at night, thinking about misogyny–about my misogyny. It’s like an illusion: as soon as you see it, you’ll know you can never unsee it. Most of us–I certainly didn’t–don’t realize how misogynistic our society is unless we analyze everything, unless we approach everything with skepticism and doubt.
Whether you’re willing to accept it or not, our culture is repressive and misogynistic–and you can only see it, you can only truly appreciate it, when you put on They Live-style glasses and glimpse the world as it is. I implore every man reading this to try it. Focus on the world as it is, not as you think it ought to be.
When you do, you’ll see that misogyny is undeniable. It permeates our culture, our thoughts–and it has for a long time.
Look at our media. Unless women relegate themselves to roles of secretaries in comedies about ghosts, some men express outrage. Cast a woman as a Jedi? Outrage. But this outrage is an expression of something; what’s it’s source? I’m no anthropologist or sociologist, but to my mind it’s ingrained in our culture through Christianity, the loss of men as dominate “heads of house,” as “breadwinners”–a variety of factors. But, to me, two shining examples exemplify how implicitly misogyny runs through our culture.
Misogyny isn’t simply a bias. It’s an ideology. If you look closely, most ideologies present themselves implicitly. “The truth,” Zizek once wrote, quoting the X-Files, “is out there” when it comes to identifying ideology and how it’s presenting itself–as well as its intentions–to a culture.
The truth is out there–you just have to pay attention.
Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula is one of the two examples that come to mind when I think of our repressive, Christian, misogynistic culture. While Stoker may not have meant it as a didactic piece designed to inculcate and reinforce cultural norms, he nonetheless produced a work serving such a purpose.
Now let’s strip away the bullshit and look at the story:
A naive young woman falls under the spell of a charming yet depraved older man who seduces and violates her. Having stolen her metaphorical chastity, he’s cursed her. Men protect and guide her through her trauma while using the power of Christian sacraments and iconography to temper her newly discovered desires. Only when the combination of strong men and Christianity defeats depravity can the young woman marry her fiancé–and life carries on, a happier life.
Is this a creative reading of Dracula? Admittedly so. But it’s core is hard to ignore: only women protected by strong men and faithful to Christianity can overcome and defeat desire, temptation, depravity.
The other example propagating misogyny does so by appealing to women. This is the ‘working girl’ subset of romantic comedies. We’ve all seen one–or at least a trailer for one.
An ambitious woman focused solely on her career finds her life, especially her romantic life, in tatters, largely through apathy generated by careerism. She only learns the futility of obsession with work and how to appreciate life and love when she meets a man who teaches her how to emulate his joie de vivre. These stories always seem to point to the conclusion that women should stop focusing on work and pay more attention to men and family.
Like Stoker, the writers and directors of such films–many of whom are women–are probably not consciously propagating these ideologies. But the point of these films is undeniable: in the end, men and families are more important than work and personal ambition.
You could probably come up with countless such examples spanning numerous media. That misogyny is so ingrained in our culture, that we transmit ideology without consciously realizing it, that those who consciously act as misogynists are explicitly articulating ideologies present in our culture–these points are easy to recognize and hard to refute.
Even a concept such as “the friendzone,” which receives wide circulation in our culture, is at core misogynistic. In my 20s, I, too, fell for this concept. But the moment I stopped to consider it, to analyze it, I recognized its absurdity.
Here’s the friendzone as I see it: for whatever reason, you’ve developed feelings for her. Then you’ve invented scenarios involving her. These scenarios, not necessarily sexual, are products of your brain. They don’t extend farther than clusters of neurons firing chemicals through meat in your skull. Yet through a perverted form of wishful thinking–mutating into a sort of delusion–you make certain assumptions about her. Then, when you discover her reality doesn’t correspond to your reality–to one invented by your brain–you get pissed off and blame her for hurting your feelings.
It’s extraordinary. It’s absolutely a form of delusion. You conflate fantasy with reality, then blame her for dividing fantasy from reality. Then you go on rants about how women don’t want nice men, implying that you’re one of the good ones. But are you a nice guy? Are you a good one? Or are you a misogynistic pig objectifying women too blinded by ideology to realize it?
And one thing never occurs to you in your conflation: that she’s a separate human being with hopes and dreams and desires distinct from yours. Instead, the “her” you’ve fallen for is a fictional character, one you’ve created and grafted onto her. Yet when she disabuses you of your fantasies, instead of accepting them as nothing more than thoughts you’d taken too seriously, you turn against her.
It’s misogynistic to its core, an example of men objectifying women then turning against them when reality doesn’t converge with expectations. How the fuck can a woman assume blame in such a scenario? The blame lies entirely with the man who chose to occupy his head in lieu of the real world.
I chose Confessions of a Former Misogynist as the original title. But “Former” felt wrong. Intuitively, it reeked of bullshit. “Reformed” seems more appropriate–but still not right.I’d lie to your face if I told you I no longer experience misogynistic thoughts. I do. My ability to catch these thoughts, to understand them and override them, distinguishes me from the old Daulton–that prick.
Overcoming an ideology such as misogyny isn’t like disconnecting a wire, certain the wires will never connect again. It’s an activity, an ongoing battle. In a sense, you must re-train yourself. You must alter how you perceive things. It takes time. But the more I do it, the more I’m conscious of it, I experience fewer such thoughts.
For me, the key is to seize a thought the minute it pops into my head. I also strive not to attach any emotions to that thought. Instead, I push it out and tell it to fuck off. Am I a better person because of it? Probably not. I’m still an elitist asshole, still a miserable fuck, but at least I no longer actively embrace misogynistic thoughts or ideologies.
Now that’s my confession. Let’s hear yours.
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Daulton Dickey is a novelist, poet, and content creator currently living in Indiana with his wife and kids. He’s the author of A Peculiar Arrangement of Atoms: Stories, Still Life with Chattering Teeth and People-Shaped Things, and other stories, Elegiac Machinations: an experimental novella, and Bastard Virtues, a novel. Rooster Republic Press will publish his latest novel, Flesh Made World, later this year. Contact him at daultondickey[at]yahoo[dot]com.