In many books discussing media, culture, and sex, the same contradiction is highlighted: our media is becoming increasingly “pornified,” even as we judge and punish any woman who has sex for pleasure. These books then point out the tie that binds the contradictions—patriarchy. Patriarchy is all about a woman’s skirt: one hand is up the skirt while the other points a finger at how short it is. The hand up the skirt is about forbidden fruit, the sin of the body and the woman as vessel of sin, sex as dirty, guilty, violent male pleasure—and establishing male ownership of women. The hand pointing at the skirt is about the sin of the body and woman as flawed temptress, man as weak in the face of his own base lust—and establishing male ownership of women. What gets lost, on this side and on that, is the humanity of sex: connection.
We are in the midst of a cultural shift, a time of awakening to the power of women. As a part of this shift, we need to retell our fairy tales—all the stories that have stripped women of power, defined “real men” as dominant abusers, and upheld patriarchy at all costs. We cannot simply replace the old tales with new ones, for the ancient stories are a part of us, buried deep within our psyches. They have been handed down through oral tradition for centuries. In the updating, we need not replace one form of dominance with another: no, the point is reclamation, a shift toward physical and spiritual wholeness. The movie Maleficient, in its retelling of Sleeping Beauty, has broken new, vital ground in this shift. It is an absolutely thrilling movie to watch as a woman, for it returns to us what has long been lost.
The first time I read virulent online misogyny, I was angry, of course. But I also felt a very specific fear, one that included an unconscious undercurrent of shame: what might I have done to create such hatred in the eyes and hearts of men? This, my friends, is the lesson of Eve: our bodies are our selves, and our selves invoke the fear and loathing of men. The Men’s Rights Movement relies on this collective fear. Its proponents claim to be championing men, and indeed they do appeal to the frustrations and angers of men—the ones that patriarchy, via its neverending game of prove-yourself-as-a-man, engenders. Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) claim not to hate women, while blaming them for the problems of a sexist society. They believe women should pay for these problems with our bodies and minds.
Whore. The word is a threat held over every woman’s head, a dark promise of what she will become if her sexuality is hers alone. Whore, every woman knows, is irredeemable—there is no coming back from it. Once a whore, always a whore. And if the woman should be a literal prostitute? Heaven help her, because no one on earth will. The word, though it hurts all women, hurts women of color most deeply, for imperialist patriarchy has chosen the non-white woman as the receptacle for its most virulent hatred, its most callous indifference. And this pain is not only metaphorical—it is brutally literal, as women the world over are sold into sex slavery. Adolescent girls are regularly taken for this purpose—a mother’s baby, stolen, raped, called a whore, and forgotten.
The short answer is yes, women can hold and express sexist ideas about both women and men. That’s because patriarchy is sexist, and patriarchy is the bedrock of our lives—so it gets in everyone’s head. And yet, conversations from the banal to the highly intellectual often assume that if a woman participates in an activity or makes a statement, her femaleness justifies her judgments and actions as empowering to women. The logic goes: if a woman does or says it, it must not be sexist. This logic assumes that no woman is capable of holding ideas or taking actions that would harm her self-image or our national concept of free and empowered womanhood. Nothing could be further from the truth.