There are lots of women in the world, and you will dislike, or even hate, some of them. But if they have sexist insults hurled at them, even if they’re not there, I’d argue that you should defend them. Even if they’re sexist themselves and don’t want your help.
It’s easy to come to the defense of someone you like who’s worth the effort. It’s a lot harder when someone who says you’re a bitter, ugly man hater becomes upset when she receives sexist treatment. It’s tempting to say, “Awww, poor baby! Are you uncomfortable in the bed that you made?” Then you cackle and disappear in a puff of smoke like the Wicked Witch of the West.
I won’t lie to you and say it won’t feel good for a few moments, especially the disappearing in a puff of smoke part. But what you achieve with either approval or silence is signaling to everyone around you that misogyny is okay. And here’s the thing about misogyny: it doesn’t pick and choose which woman will get hit. It hits all women. Always. Including you.
You will never be pretty enough, smart enough, rich enough, tough enough, married enough, cool enough, kind enough to dodge misogyny. Because while misogynistic comments are usually couched as someone lacking these traits (and more!) they function on the assumption that women – all women – can and should be put in their place by highlighting their contemptible womanhood.
For example, Ann Coulter participated in the Comedy Central roast of Rob Lowe. She makes it her job to piss people off, and fellow roasters responded with some intense barbs, including comparing her looks to a scarecrow and a horse. Jewel, who also participated in the roast, said, “As a feminist, I can’t support everything that’s being said tonight, but as somebody who hates Ann Coulter, I’m delighted.”
This all went down at a roast, where crude, biting insults are supposed to fly. Plus, Coulter isn’t some delicate flower, nor does she seem to be invested in things like “kindness” or “empathy.” I doubt she’d need, much less want, someone like me to leap to her defense. However, insulting a woman’s looks is a typical misogynistic method to bring her down a notch. For one, you privilege her looks over anything she does or says. And for two, you bring down the brunt of society’s expectation that women should be properly decorative if they should be seen at all.
If this sounds hyperbolic, consider the other people this kind of tactic has been used against: Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, Hillary Clinton, Carly Fiorina, Serena Williams, any woman who turns down a dude at a bar, etc. Across the spectrum of political beliefs, actions, demeanors, and abilities, any woman can have her looks criticized to delegitimize what she’s doing and who she is. And it’s not just looks; there’s her tone, her voice, her familial relationships, her sexuality, and her likability. You know, the stuff that doesn’t actually affect how someone is able to get shit done.
I know the typical response is, “Yeah, well, she deserves it.” (I can’t say that I’ve never said that in my less noble moments.) But that’s like poisoning a well to get at one person you want to keel over and then drinking water from the well thinking that you’ll be fine. Misogyny isn’t some keen arrow of justice that only snipes down bitches. Some women deserve many criticisms, but none deserve misogyny. The only thing you do to “deserve” misogyny is being a woman.
“How will I insult women I don’t like?” you ask. First of all, if the only criticism you have of someone is that she’s a woman, you have some soul searching to do. But if that’s not the case, it’s as easy as saying why you don’t like someone: “She doesn’t care whose bones she has to grind to make her bread.” “She confuses lack of substance for relatability.” “She killed and ate my dog.”
Now, I will say that in general women are criticized more for less, given less benefit of the doubt, and are assumed to be less competent than men. Misogyny is poison in the well; it gets everywhere the water should be, and its effects can be subtle. Most people don’t go, “Ha ha! I’ll use misogyny to make other people hate this woman! It’s so easy!” You often don’t know when you’re doing it. But when you do recognize misogyny from friends and foes alike, you should call it out. If not for the intended target, at the very least for yourself.