I’m a misogynist. I’m a black man who likes to think of himself as a feminist. I’m a progressive. I’m gay. Hopefully, I’m a relatively decent guy; I certainly mean well. Still, I’m also a misogynist.
How could I not be? I’ve spent my entire life in a society that, by every imaginable measure, devalues and dismisses women. It’s the case for politics: In the nearly 230-year history of the US Senate, we have elected just 50 women to serve; nearly half of that number are in office now. It’s the case for wages: Women still make roughly 80 cents on the dollar that’s paid to men. It’s the case for families: “Single mother” remains a casual, if coded, slur in a great many minds, shorthand for a jezebel who’s damned her offspring by failing to get and keep a man. It’s even the case for our diversions—in sports stadiums and movie theaters and museum galleries and comedy clubs, and on and drearily on it goes.
We’ve gone so far as to organize our gods around misogyny. The evangelical South’s support for Roy Moore has drawn shocked, breathless comment. But the white South’s Christian faith has always been malleable, bending to accommodate the power of white men.
As Christine Leigh Heyrman lays out in Southern Cross, her study of the Bible Belt’s origin story, women and young single men initially dominated evangelical Christianity in Revolutionary-era America with a doctrine that rejected slavery. But these upstart congregations struggled to gain a mass following in the South, because their power structure threatened to undermine a society built around married white men—the lords of the South’s women, children, and enslaved workers. So by the early 1800s, Southern Baptists had stripped women and black people of all decision-making roles. Once the new faith tradition had aligned itself with a white-supremacist patriarchy, it flourished.
Our national history is full of such stories. America is rooted in misogyny, and thus so am I. I have spent most of my adult life trying to acknowledge these facts and correct the way they shape my own behavior.
It has been said that we’re living through a reckoning with sexual harassment on the job. One powerful man after another has been outed as a predator, and my own workplaces have not been spared. This reckoning with sex as a tool of male power has also generated questions about complicity: Who watched and did nothing? Who enabled such bold behavior? When the morning-show anchor turned his office into a dungeon, somebody surely noticed. Certainly, each of these men had active accomplices in management, and those people must be held accountable.