This was the question I was asked by a loved one when I was telling him my recent trials and tribulations at work. The boss was a man, and he was probably a misogynist in the original sense of the word: he abhorred he had to deal with women, treat them with at least a feigned form of respect due to social norms, and thus show such consideration by implementing said social norms through deigning women with the occasional hello, good-bye, and thank you. Of course, all that turned up once you had the ill luck of getting to know him.
He was young, smart, and successful. He had travelled the world, he liked books and movies, and he was interested in the trendy-fashionable left wing politics, dressed highly casually, and was not least of all what would generally be considered a socially charming person: he was perfectly able to have a witty conversation, show interest in his employees’ personal lives, offer advice and even help to some extent. He did voluntary work, had his eco-friendly collective farmers’ group and was genuinely interested in all things hip and not mainstream. The glass house was a perfect mirage.
He could have easily fitted into a pro choice or women’s rights demonstration. Only he didn’t. You spend enough time with someone, the honeymoon is soon over and the haunting truth starts to leak out of the fairy tale and dawn on you with its ugly dark face. It took me longer to realize it all, and I like to believe it was because I had never come up against anything not even remotely like it.
My fall was steep. But my friend’s question – if you were a man wouldn’t you be a misogynist, too? – made me wonder.
Of course, he didn’t mean the aggressive sort the word originally described – a man who abhors women for being women – he was referring to the differentiating part. Some men don’t necessarily feel superiority over women, but they have it, act as such, and don’t have a second’s thought over it. Yes, my friend was talking about education and awareness or the lack thereof, of course, but also about what I would call entitlements, the socially accepted ones. And the ones many men don’t stop to think of. That doesn’t make them misogynists; ignorance over social ills doesn’t make you guilty of any of them. That is just it, we should make efforts to better educate and raise our boys and girls, because they are biologically different.
I grew up with three brothers and a father who did absolutely nothing to make either my mother or me feel any less. Not any less for being women, but any less – period. Just as both my parents did absolutely nothing to differentiate between my brothers and me based on gender social stereotypes, not even the positively discriminating ones. Our parents taught us to be good people, not to hurt other people, help other people, feel compassion and love for other people, ignore and tolerate toxic people – and yes: be confident and think highly of ourselves, believe we could do anything we wanted, become anything we wanted in life. Yes, that, too. And we didn’t learn all that because they told us to, but because we simply saw it all at home every day. Then I left home, the choices I had made brought me in different countries, working with different people, in various environments and oh so many peculiar situations. Never had I felt anything but evenness and normality in relationships between men and women.
Many of my friends told me I had lived in my special Zen bubble, which burst out open when, as it happens, I got tangled in another type of scenario – another world, actually. One where the male boss can give the legendary cold shoulder to all women employees, especially after one in particular calls him out and tells him he is running a paternalist and men-favouring business; one where only the male counterparts were entitled to annual raises and better working hours; one where the male boss yells at and cusses females employees, but never dares to do the same to their male counterparts; one where even negotiations for better working conditions (raises included) for female employees had to be channeled through discussions with their male counterparts.
Then I heard all the fuss about the recent Gillette ad and the collective joy that poured over and enthused social media and the news alike, and the talent of the creative copyright that managed to capture the short distance from accepted, tolerated or hushed-over social behaviors to gender discrimination or even sexual harassment. It was the last part that caught my eye beyond the happiness and wicked enthusiasm: “men should hold other men accountable” or “the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow”. So basically let’s differentiate again: educate boys because they are boys, raise awareness among boys, and make men take action against their more aggressive counterparts, see to the best men can be. Oh, the irony.
As a child, even if I saw my brothers and I were different – whether it came to physical strength or size, abilities or capacities, skills, likes or dislikes emotional intelligence or whatnot – I never felt that would hinder me in any way, make me less able or them better endowed. Maybe that’s because I am pretty sure nobody ever told them to be generous and bestow upon me “the best men/boys can be” from the height of their biological endowments.
I didn’t grow up in a large family with no sense whatsoever of the differentiating treatment and behavior of men and women because I was raised, educated, taught or instructed differently than my brothers; or they than me, for that matter. I grew up with what proved to be this unfortunately idealistic view of equality and sameness because as a child, I did not know there was an equality or sameness to thrive to or even fight over; I had no idea it was an issue.