The question of whether one misogynist is more misogynist than another misogynist is not a particularly interesting one, but it certainly makes for mockable fodder. Here’s (terrible) Canadian novelist Russell Smith boring us all with a faux mea culpa for having called Gavin McInnes (of hipster bible Vice) the “m-word.” After detailing all the reasons why he is amused that McInnes took offense, Smith says:
And because I often take issue here with people who don’t use words carefully, I thought I had better own up to being a bit lazy myself with this one.
So why did I casually drop the M and the R words like that? I am trying to psychoanalyze myself here – forgive me if I publicly lay my head on your couch for a moment – and I think it was probably out of fear, fear of those very people whom I don’t respect. If you own up to liking something that’s admittedly cruel, you’re going to come in for criticism, so perhaps unconsciously I thought I would hedge my bets – that is, praise something in a way that would keep me safe from the bitter accusations of all the angry Womyn’s Studies and Earth Collectives of my university memories (now probably phantoms). That’s embarrassing, because it’s not brave.
Oh, Russell. Not that you’ve shown much capacity for it so far, but self-awareness is a key tool to the intellectual honesty you claim to seek. Here you are going on and on about how casually denigrating ideas you don’t understand is a problem and then you turn around and casually denigrate some ideas you clearly don’t understand. You later call such ideas “hysterical campus politics,” but it seems like the only one yelling and crying about someone not thinking you have accurately depicted “male desire” here is you.
How clearly doesn’t Smith understand what a misogynist is? Here’s his account of what he decided someone meant when they called him one:
The guy seemed to be referring to the fact that male characters in my fiction frequently expressed desire for female bodies. I guessed that he was just still living in that horrible airtight academic shoebox in which any expression or condoning of male desire will make you unpopular, and to be unpopular – particularly when you have that afternoon committee meeting to attend in the windowless staff lounge with a few representatives from Womyn’s Studies – is really not going to be fun or good for your career. It’s much easier to agree that male desire is sexist. (And I suppose it inherently is sexist, but to speak positively about male desire would be even more suicidal.)
Yeah, I don’t know what he means either. If he means that male desire is, essentially, the domination of women, he’s pretty much right that expressing that among actual thinking people, and such are often found in universities, will get him excommunicated from the coffee klatches. If he means that he doesn’t think male desire is sexist but that society has constructed it so, perhaps he could offer some account of it that might demonstrate why this is not so. Moreover, “to speak positively about male desire would be even more suicidal” – haha, did this guy read any Henry Miller at all??? If I recall correctly Miller is verrrrrry popular among undergrad lit majors.
Of course rather than admit that he himself might not understand, you know, everything, just because he is a Writer, he has decided that the problem of choosing words carefully is not his (even though his only vaguely successful book are horrible, thin and plotless things about aimless young urban men in Toronto), but everyone else’s:
There is something to [feminism, basically] and yet the conclusion often ends up being that men’s sexual desire, which is for whatever reason still triggered by visual stimuli (that is to say, women’s bodies or images of them), should never be represented or confessed to, for fear of perpetuating misogyny. And at that point the argument becomes a repressive and stupid one. And everyone gets upset and insulted. Because misogyny, like genocide, is just too emotionally powerful a word: You accuse someone of it and you are declaring that person a monster.
I’m not quite sure what he’s trying to get at here. Again, if it’s that genocide and misogynist are not words that should be used, despite their dictionary definitions being right in front of one’s face, so to speak, because of their emotional power, that’s an awful odd position for a writer who makes his living by his rhetorical skill to make. (Let alone one here who’s column is titled “The Power of Language.”) But let’s run with that interpretation. Were this the law, no person who feels oppressed/hated/ignored and otherwise exploited by someone else would have the right to use the terms the dictionary assigns to those who oppress/hate/ignore and otherwise exploit for fear of hurting their feelings? Eh?
I mean, if someone calls you a misogynist and you feel they are incorrect, the most you can do is offer an account why you think this is untrue – but first you have to listen to the complaint, hear it out. Smith clearly did not do this; he assumed his accuser’s issue was with “male desire,” again, whatever the hell that is, as opposed to making sure he had not inadvertently waved around his m-flag.
I grow tired of explaining this time and again, but the fact is one must make a choice in life: either your feelings are more important than someone else feeling fully human, or they aren’t. If they are, I’m gonna suggest to you that not only are you a misogynist, you’re a narcissist too. (Is that inflammatory?) If they aren’t, we all need to learn that words are the only tools by which a marginalized person can communicate with us, and interpret their words as such. As Dave Eggers says in a favourite essay of mine:*
It is a fuckload of work to be open-minded and generous and understanding and forgiving and accepting, but Christ, that is what matters.
I have days where I want to quit the internet because someone has called me a bitch or embarrassing or hell just plain fucking stupid but I try to remember to hitch up my jeans and suck it up. Some days I do have my head up my ass, and I would rather live in a world where I am corrected of these behaviours and have to nurse a wound for a day or two than one in which my feelings are protected at the expense of someone else’s wholeness. Wouldn’t you?
* Elsewhere in this essay Eggers does complain about people “run[ning] around college campuses calling each other racists and anti-Semites,” which one might think is similar to Smith’s point. I think the point is this, though: Smith is doing the same thing when he refers to “Womyn’s Studies” as though it were a slur.