Recently I went to the eye doctor, and after the nurse did my initial eye check she said, “the doctor will be in to see you in a few minutes.” Soon the door opened, and a beautiful young woman walked in. I noticed my first reaction was, “this can’t be the doctor.”
Horrified, I started challenging my original thought. Of course women are doctors. Of course this woman can be in her late twenties or early thirties and be a doctor. Of course women who are smart and educated can also be gorgeous and sexy. All of these things I know are true, but yet my initial gut reaction was one of surprise when this woman walked in the door, when I was expecting the doctor. Then it hit me what the problem was.
I realized that I’m a misogynist.
Even though I’ve studied internalized oppression, internalized sexism, and I’ve taught my students about it, I’m not immune. If I had such limiting beliefs about doctors and the woman in front of me, is it possible I have these beliefs about myself as well?
It takes a hard look at yourself. In meditation we see things we don’t really want to see about ourselves. And then we can’t un-see them. Personally, I think I’ve been operating my whole life with the fundamental belief that men are the ones in power in the world, and in order to achieve my goals or to be successful, at some point I’ll need to convince male gatekeepers of that power to support me, and to give me what I want, or to give me permission.
In my mind, deep below all of my feminist ideals and intellectual background, that means sex appeal. This is the way to power in the world.
Where did I get that message? Being raised in an environment of sexual abuse probably didn’t help. But in the film America the Beautiful 3, director Darryl Roberts looks at how images in the media are sending girls the message that, “if you’re not fuck-able, you’re invisible.”
I see a lot of teenage girls going through that dance – realizing that they have this sexuality, that it is a kind of power, and then seeing how they can use it to get attention and the things that they want. In his TED Talk, Why I Stopped Watching Porn, Ran Gavrieli talks about how most 12-year-olds now have access to porn. Girls grow up with the idea not only that their power is only in their attractiveness to men, but that using their sexuality (reduced by porn to simply mean penetration) is also the only way to get love.
We think that using sex appeal gives us power, but really we are not empowered at all. We are only borrowing power, like a loan from a bank, who has the ability to foreclose on us at any time when they decide we’re no longer “fuck-able.”
A lot of female musicians seem to walk the line, too, between owning female sexual power and giving it away. In Lady Gaga’s live performance of Poker Face, she seems strong and empowered, even when saying, “get your dicks out,” and miming giving hand jobs while singing. I’m not so sure here. I’m not convinced. It seems like the message here is that the only way to hold onto your own sexuality as a woman is to be the pimp as well as the whore. You’re willingly giving it away, and you don’t give a shit.
This is the story of the old madam in the brothel, and the way women have navigated patriarchy for thousands of years. This is a lot of what my song Chameleon is about.
Is that the only way, even now?
I don’t know the answer yet. I’m just sitting with the question.
I’m just starting with this – I’m a misogynist. Now what to do about it?