By Lisa Keating
I’ve always been aware of misogynistic tendencies our culture has, especially growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Larry, a character from the 80’s TV show Three’s Company, is a prime example of “that” guy; the one who is overly machismo and marks every corner he walks by. Misogyny becomes blatantly obvious raising a gay child. Trying to navigate, support, and encourage my son’s gender expression and orientation is challenging when we’re bombarded with “man up” rhetoric.
I work diligently to expose him to a range of male expressions to provide examples of what’s possible for him. It’s a tall order given there are very few openly gay children under the age of fourteen (which is a magical age when kids “figure out” their orientation, or so we keep being told). Additionally, all the gendered market segmentation totally undermines my efforts. The Checkout-ABC TV does a phenomenal job of spelling it out in this video. Warning, it might make you a little crazy and pissed off!.
For the purpose of this article, I was going to use the word effeminate to describe Morgan and I looked it up to verify I was using it correctly. As defined on FreeDictionary.com – Effeminate: adj.- having unsuitable feminine qualities. Unsuitable? Seriously?? Who and/or what governing body decides what feminine qualities are unsuitable? Which qualities do I have that are unsuitable for my son to emulate? By that definition, any male emulating me, or someone like me, is unsuitable. By the way the definition of unsuitable is: not worthy of being chosen.
After Morgan came out couple of months ago, a mentor of his was honest enough to tell him, “You’ll have good days and bad days.” She didn’t promise him that everyone would accept and/or appreciate him for being gay or that it would be easy. Her advice was authentic and real, pointing out who he could lean into when things get hard.
It’s one thing to hear adult LGBTQ people share retrospective stories concerning their childhood struggles with understanding what was “different” about them that eventually lead them to “coming out”. There wasn’t a vocabulary to describe them, identify themselves, or social representations to model themselves after until much later in life. That’s not the case for Morgan’s generation.
Experiencing his anger and fears about being gay is heart wrenching; and what pisses me off the most is that, at nine years old, he knows in our society being gay is “less than.” Morgan’s entire school experience thus far has been a journey of trying to be like all the other kids, yet the truth is he’s not. Morgan has said he acts like the other kids to fit in but inside knows he doesn’t. I have worked so hard to help Morgan avoid these feelings but the truth is I’ve been fooling myself.
My husband and I continue holding a space for Morgan to have confidence, self-respect and pride, no matter the label he chooses to embrace or identify. I know that will happen in time. Raising a child who doesn’t fit into the hyper masculine or hyper feminine stereotypes was not covered in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”, or as I refer to it, “What to Fear When You’re Expecting”. The chapter on gender expression and gender identity was completely left out. I know many of us out there raising gender non-conforming kids would deeply appreciate expert advice. Oh, wait…we are the experts, without a manual.
I know that anyone who’s raised a child wishes they had a manual. But the difference is that on top of the whirlwind social and emotional growth of a pint sized human, we’re fighting for our children’s rights, safety, and competent medical care. Sometimes even those obstacles seem small when we’re trying to gain acceptance in a culture that labeled them wrong or broken from the get go.
I can’t save him from homophobia and I want to scream, “You don’t get to break him!” But who the hell am I screaming at? Religious anti-gay zealots? Policy makers? Homophobic men? Marketing firms cramming hyper-gendered products? Rappers and professional athletes who haze each other with vile homophobic slams? There is a much deeper, insidious message needing to be revealed.
Misogyny is interwoven into our culture so much so that it goes unnoticed. It’s what fueled the suffrages and feminist movements, and ignited the hearts of gay rights activists. Misogyny fuels rape culture, language and the inequality of minorities. When I researched quotes on misogyny, I came across one from Jon Stewart (a personal hero), “In politics, it’s okay to be a pussy as long as you have a dick.” That about sums up my point.
If we continue to tolerate language, messages and behavior that degrades femininity as being less than masculinity nothing is going to change. This affects so much more than a gay kid finding his way in a dominant heterosexual world. As I see it, we cannot separate homophobia from the feminist movement. They are extensions of one another. At the root of each cause is misogyny. For most, it’s comments, behaviors, and judgments that individually seem insignificant and go un-noticed. Collectively, especially if subjected to it repeatedly over a life time, it diminishes all of us. One judgment stacks on top of another and soon those judgments become stereotypes, which widen the gap and decrease the ability for a dialog of understanding. Stereotypes become cemented in pop culture and infringe on a person’s rights, causes violence, and perpetuates hate that takes generations to heal.
In “Gender & Sexuality for Beginners”, Jaimee Garbacik writes,
“Do you think a cisgender female or cisgender male is “less” female or male if they behave in a manner that our society does not consider “feminine” or “masculine”? What do statements like “be a real man” or “behave like a lady” actually mean?”
Now apply this to a child. I know many men who don’t feel “man enough” no matter their sexual orientation. Societal norms bombard kids with the message to “man up!” when they are hurt, upset, or not performing to imaginary standards. If men can’t figure out how to live up to the imaginary standards of a perfect man, why the hell are we perpetuating that message to children? Not once have I had a conversation with another woman about being “woman enough”.
Please don’t hear that I think women don’t compare themselves or feel inadequate. I am all too familiar in the ways female culture destroys worthiness, confidence and self-image. What I am saying is that women don’t demand that we prove our womanhood on a constant, daily basis. Our body parts are subject to ridicule, debate, discrimination, for sale, abuse, objectification everywhere we look but what I don’t experience is women saying to one another “validate your vagina.”
A misogynistic society hurts us all and no one wins. Men continue to feel inadequate, women continue to be treated inadequately, and people who identify outside of the gender binary face an uphill battle with no end in sight. So, what next? What will YOU do with this awareness? How will you help re-shape our culture? I cannot do it alone. I need your help and I’m building my tribe. Yesterday, Morgan was dreaming about becoming the first gay president of the United States of America. Together, we can make that possible.
If you would like to read more by Lisa Keating, check out My Purple Umbrella.
Image by Jacob Ladue