I think one of the ongoing problems with the term “misogyny” is that, for many people, it conjures up strictly images of those men (and some women) who exhibit a really obvious hatred of women—people who say rape victims were asking for it, the scary dudes who troll Salon Broadsheet and seem to think every woman is out to castrate them and steal their wallets, wife beaters and pimps, the anti-choice protesters who scream vile shit because they blame women for all their life’s failures. Because of this, people who exhibit a more patronizing attitude towards women are assumed to be well-meaning if misguided, and don’t get treated like misogynists. Frankly, this troubles me, in no small part because condescending assholes often let the uglier hatred come out if challenged, and also because the assumptions the ones affecting a “well-meaning” pose promote are just as damaging to women as overt hatred.
For instance, a lot of “well-meaning” sexism comes complete with the assumption that women are, as a group, too stupid to breathe and need someone else to do it for them, someone male preferably (or in lieu of that, a woman invested in the patriarchy). For instance, Jos at Feministing wrote a post about the anti-choice harassers who say they want to “help” women. I’m more skeptical than she is that they mean this—like I said, my experience is the condescending assumptions that you’re just too stupid to know better give way to virulent misogyny when you challenge anti-choicers more often than you’d think—but I’ll accept that some have managed to rationalize their hatred and loathing for female sexuality into a paternalistic attitude. And in doing this, they promote an extremely bigoted view of women, which is that women are too stupid to figure out how to pick our noses. Here’s a typical “helpful” comment from an anti-choicer:
Please, you’re already a parent. There’s already a life inside of you, a heart beating, a baby that is growing inside of you that has fingers and toes. It’s gonna look like you, it’s gonna love you. Please we ask that you agree…
There are a couple possibilities about what could motivate this comment. Let’s entertain the idea of taking this comment at face value. This means that the anti actually believes some woman is going to be like, “Wait. You mean that if I don’t have this abortion, I’ll get to have a baby? Oh my god! Why didn’t anyone tell me? (Turns on clinic workers.) What kind of monsters are you? Did you know that women who get abortions won’t be having their babies? How did I get roped into this?” To assume that this is a possibility, you have to assume women are too stupid to breathe. Which in turn is an assumption that marks you as too stupid to figure out what a clinic is, how to get to it, and what day is Saturday.
I’m forced to conclude that this prejudice is disingenuous, a pose adopted by a misogynist who wants people to think well of him or her, and so conceals his/her mean-spiritedness under a narrative that implies that the human beings involved are too stupid to have taken the actions that led to this encounter. It’s likely that many people peddling this crap have somewhat convinced themselves they think women are that stupid, but at the end of the day, that’s just a thin rationalization they feed themselves and (mainly) others. When push comes to shove, there’s an ugly misogyny beating right under that “concerned” veneer.
Which leads me to a breath-taking bout of bullshit that I already blogged about at Double X. Eric Morris at Freakanomics entertained the question “Why, when a man and woman are going somewhere in the same car, is the man likely to do most of the driving?” The answer, of course, is sexism. But Morris can’t accept that—god forbid we admit that sexism exists and feminists have a point!—so he dithers around and then coughs up some essentialist arguments about female inferiority. It was surprisingly overt:
Why do men dominate the wheel? In the past, physical factors were important. My grandmother learned to drive only after the introduction of automatic transmission and power steering, which made the task much less physically demanding. But driving today’s cars requires little strength. In addition, our roads are engineered to be quite forgiving, for example with very long reaction times permitted by the system.
What else might be responsible? Cultural factors? Social ones? Psychological differences? Logistics? Animal instinct? Historical inertia?
To recap: In the past, it’s understandable that women might not want to drive because they were too weak to work a car and too stupid to know that you have to hit the brake when the stop sign comes up. I pointed out at Double X that the assumption that women are naturally weak is reaching a serious extreme, if you think that a car without power steering or a gear shift is too much for fragile female bodies to bear. (And that the assumption of female fragility is suspended for labor-intensive household chores that require a lot more strength than gear-shifting, which inclines me to believe that Morris also thinks gears intimidate the fragile female mind.) Since it’s self-evident that women aren’t naturally so weak we can’t turn a wheel and naturally so stupid that curves in the road blow out all our neurons, the question I have to ask is this: Is Morris fucking serious? Does he really think women are too stupid to drive a car more complicated than a go cart?
If indeed Morris is this stupid, he should not be writing for the NY Times and there needs to be a serious reckoning about why on earth one of the most important newspapers on the planet was unaware that women are not only smart enough to drive cars, but they also know how to read and some are even scientists and shit. And also that he was unaware that a woman who can lift a heavy pot of boiling water or a laundry basket can handle the intense power of the fucking gear shift. Since no one seems alarmed at how stupid Morris is, I’m forced to conclude that we all know that he knows that women aren’t that dumb, and he’s being disingenuous. And so once again, I’m forced to conclude that the paternalistic, “concerned” attitudes that assume women are stupid are a thin cover for uglier attitudes.