The conundrum of a skilled feminist response to fratastic misogyny

I was on a plane last week behind a group of dudes, all appearing to be in their late 30s or early 40s, hell bent and determined to get trashed at 11 in the morning so they could launch into their bachelor party weekend in New Orleans sufficiently blitzed and, apparently, super sexist. They loudly regaled one another with some of their favorite stories from the past–that night they invited two strippers back to their room in Vegas and went into back rooms for extra money, coming out and smelling each other’s fingers (I couldn’t make this shit up) and that “bitch” who rejected them at the bar last weekend, but they didn’t care because she was ugly anyway. Every woman was introduced by the fitness of her body and/or the beauty of her face.

Appropriately enough, I was reading Kay S. Hymowitz’s new book (review to come), Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys. I gave one dude the death stare, but it really didn’t feel like there was much else I could do to burst their fratty, craptastic bubble. I tried to think of ways to make fun of them, but nothing came to mind in the moment. I hate that feeling of benign neglect when I’m witnessing absolute bullshit in public spaces but I can’t figure out how to intervene, how to name my values so that they can stand up to the anemic, sorry excuse for conduct that I’m witnessing.

I was reminded of that feeling while reading the latest frat boy buffoonery via Jezebel. Basically some guy decided to coddify all of his -isms into one incredibly offensive little email and send it to all of his friends. And, of course, they sent it to all of their friends, including school authorities. Whoops. Here’s just a tiny taste, because I refuse to give this guy much more air time:

Please send me all of your hook-ups in Tucker Max format (for those unfamiliar with this legend, google will suffice). These renditions should be elaborate and interesting. I want raw data on who fucks and who doesn’t. In conclusion the gullet report will strengthen brotherhood and help pin-point sorostitiutes more inclined to put-out. From my experience when a female goes Ksig shes typically repeats…Note: I will refer to females as “targets”. They aren’t actual people like us men. Consequently, giving them a certain name or distinction is pointless.

I’m struck, once again, by the conundrum of how to respond. What would it really look like to change the hearts and minds of this desperate little boy, trying to seem cool among his friends, annihilating women’s humanity in the process? What would have made those guys on that plane check themselves and recognize that they actually didn’t want to offend one half (and, God, I hope more) of the population trapped on the plane with them and their stinking misogyny? Shaming these dudes is not the answer, I know that. Humor sometimes works, but when things get seriously offensive, making fun of someone feels anemic, and at worse, even complicit. Is it just all out, feminist guns blazin’ anger that these guys must be met with? It’s how I feel, but I’m not sure that’s really persuasive. In fact, I fear it reinforces their sexism by making them feel targeted and like their worst stereotypes of feminists are true.

There must be repercussions for these frat fucks, no question, but will those consequences, impressed on them by authorities on high, really make any kind of long term impact? I thinks not.

Join the Conversation

  • Kit

    Unfortunately, the “it’s us men against them bitches” thing seems to be the fastest and easiest “bonding” technique men have. I was shocked to witness my own husband trash-talk women to bond with a co-worker. Also unfortunate is the fact that sometimes people just aren’t ready to hear and learn the facts about their behavior. Instead of really listening and hearing you, they will produce bullshit excuses about “bonding”, or worse, include you in the “bitches” they are currently saying / thinking hateful thing about.

    • emmie

      Wait a second Kit?! Your own husband did this, and right in front of you too?!! What the heck was he thinking, and what the heck did you do when you witnessed him do this? I really hope you gave him an earful, or at least tried to explain to him what he was doing. How are you still married to him? I’m not trying to be rude but dang! You married a guy that trash-talks women and you just find this out, that must be (like you said) shocking!

  • Helen

    I think the best way to help change the attitudes of general misogyny some men have is to find a woman in their life they care for and empathise with and help extrapolate that to the wider population. I mean if they have mothers/daughters/sisters/aunts/nieces/grandmas etc they genuinely care for I doubt they would like for them to be spoken about in such a degrading way. Then pointing out to them that the women they see as ‘targets’ are *all* someone’s daughter/sister/mother etc. They are all people with loved ones too just like their female family members/friends. The problem with this is actually raising it in a way where groups like the one on the plane wouldn’t turn it round into some sort of “Yo momma” jokes game. That and the misogynists out there who genuinely have no love for empathy with any females whatsoever.

  • Sam Lindsay-Levine

    In my very limited life experience, I find that it stops these sorts of people cold when they get objections from people from whom they expected at least tacit acceptance. As you say, these men / boys are looking for approval from other men, and if they get slapped down by those other men instead, that’s something they can’t easily laugh off or use to reinforce their own preconceptions.

    • Caitlin

      That is totally great advice! As a woman, whenever I’ve tried to show disapproval for this type of behavior I immediately get written off, usually with the term “feminist” which to these type of people usually means they feel no need to listen to my opinion. I can imagine that criticism of this behavior would be much more effective coming from a member of their own circle.

  • Caroline V

    I hope this makes everyone feel a little better: My sister (real sister) is in a sorority at USC and she has informed me that the Kappa Sigmas are pretty much being punished in the most effective way possible. The email has circulated around a bunch of the sororities and basically, no one has any intention of going to the KSig house anymore, or any of their events. So, hopefully they will learn that racism and misogyny means no more ‘pie.’ They’re also likely to lose their house over this.

  • Kayla

    I am often in the same conundrum. Do I say something, witty or otherwise, and inevitably get told off for being a feminatzi! Or worse being berated for not getting the “joke” of misogyny! I get this a lot and…it just makes me sick inside :( But any advice for occasions such as these would be insanely appreciated!

  • Brian Richter

    To change this repulsive culture, it’s largely up to men ourselves. In this scenario (not to discount your influence Courtney!), one of the guys sticking up for what’s right is going to have much more sway over some random woman on a plane. Another example from my own life: for the longest time I said “gay,” fag,” ect. as an insult. I didn’t change when teachers or adults told me to stop, I changed when an older male peer whom I respected told me to stop. That said, action is better than inaction. To stick up for what’s right in any situation is the honorable thing to do.

    • Jessica “Jess” Victoria Carillo

      If only more people, much less men, took responsibility like you did

  • Véronique

    There seems to be a point where misogyny reaches such an extreme that it’s hard to know even where to begin to address it, never mind how. The guys on the plane were bad enough, but that excerpt you published made my jaw drop. Is there a point where (some) men become irredeemable? Will they grow out of it, or will such attitudes persist for a lifetime?

    I’m looking forward to your review of that book. How can I not be intrigued by a title like that?

  • Maggie

    Honestly, in cases like this, I realize there is nothing I could possibly say that will not get immediately dismessed as “hairy/weird/ugly/fat/etc.. feminist bullshit” so I tend to just rail them. I know that I’m not going to change the minds of any testosterone-drunk bros, but I may empower the other, equally outraged, bystanders to stand up to this behavior in the future.

  • Nick

    It’s easier for us guys, for sure, but relying on guys to speak up to other guys has a lot of drawbacks too. First off, a lot of us are the problem. Then there’s the issue that, by virtue of privilege, I just don’t notice a lot of the shit that goes on unless somebody points it out to me. I’m certainly getting better as I grow older, wiser, and more educated about feminism and our repressive culture, but I don’t know that I can possibly be as attuned to the degradation as the actual targets of it. (I flatter myself to think I’d notice the asshats on a plane, though. That’s pretty blatant.) And then, there’s the risk of speaking out. It’s a different, and no doubt lesser risk than women take when they speak out (mostly because I’m not as likely to be physically assaulted), but it is real.

    It’s the risk that keeps me from speaking out sometimes. I have a coworker I can’t figure out how to talk to, or even if I should. So I guess this comment is also asking for advice, if there’s any to be had. He’s a smart, decent, well-educated guy. He thinks of himself as a liberal, though he’d run from the label of ‘feminist’ or ‘ally’ as fast as he could. And he thinks he’s a nice guy. But he’s a misogynist.

    It took me a while to recognize it, but the pattern eventually became apparent. There’s a lot of folks in our field and in our department that he doesn’t professionally respect. Thinks they don’t work hard, aren’t that bright, aren’t that creative, or whatever. There are also quite a few that he does respect. And I didn’t notice the pattern for a while because there are people he doesn’t respect who are men, women, white, non-white. But I eventually figured out that everyone that he _does_ respect is a dude. There’s not a single woman respects professionally.

    So, what to do? I work with this guy, closely, every day. And we’re friendly coworkers (bullshit over lunch sometimes, watched the Super Bowl together, that sort of normal workplace bonding sort of thing), but he’s not a friend. On the one hand, I know he has a self-image as a good person. But I don’t know if he would take me mentioning my observation as an opportunity for reflection, or as a challenge to his self image. And if I speak up – this is in the workplace. That could cause me a lot of grief if I’m viewed as a troublemaker, or if he starts feuding. Then again – there are women who work in our group. If _I_ notice the lack of respect when he speaks of women, surely they notice. Maybe I should bite the bullet and stand up for what I know is right, since I’m undoubtedly in a more secure place to do so than they are (I’m at a more advanced stage of my career than any of the women I work with, I am departing this job in the relatively near future, and am protected by male privilege). But what obligation do I have to do so at risk to myself? If I don’t speak up – and I haven’t thus far – how does that affect my self-respect? (Ok, that last one isn’t really anything anybody else can answer, but it’s been on my mind.)

    So… I’m confused. And unhappy. And hoping somebody out there in Feministingland can help.

    • sex-toy-james

      There’s always helpfully pointing it out and asking him if he might have some subconscious bias that he might want to examine. I’d go with the attitude of doing it because you care and you wouldn’t want to see him labeled as a misogynist. Being seen as some kind of old fashioned misogynist could hurt his career and his inter-office relations, and you just want to help him head that off. If he identifies as liberal, so maybe that will appeal to him. It’s also hard to feud with someone who comes to you trying to help.

  • Esmeralda

    Unfortunately, some men NEVER grow out of this disgusting mysoginistic behavior. Case in point: I have a FORMER male friend who is no longer my friend because I finally got close enough to him to see just how much of a disgusting woman-using pig he is. He cheated on his wife all throughout the three years they were married (including with a 16 year old girl), beat up his wife towards the end of their marriage, has unprotected sex with anything even REMOTELY resembling a female all the while calling women “whores” and “tricks”, and has now spawned several illegitimate children with various women that he does not care about. He is the poster child for the “hump them and dump them” type of boy. I think the saddest part of all is that his ex-wife actually MISSES this douchebag and continues to give him money and has gotten herself pregnant by him now…even though they’ve been divorced since September. It saddens me to see a woman with such little self-esteem that she would hang onto an abusive douchebag like that and purposely get pregnant by him knowing that he is having unprotected sex with everything else that moves. Guys like him will NEVER grow up. They don’t care who they hurt or offend, it’s all about them and their primal urges.

  • sex-toy-james

    Courtney, I think that you did the right thing by refraining from coming down on them as the powerless authority figure, only to be laughed off. That is a tough situation and I empathize. I don’t think that any person acting like an authority figure, man or woman is going to have much effect unless that person has some sort of celebrity status.
    Possibilities though…
    Discretely taken cell phone video, post to youtube, preferably tag it with the groom-to-be’s name. Upload first, mention “You’d better hope your wife or mother never google your name.” after.
    Low blows. Don’t go with the moral high ground because the moral high ground isn’t funny. Hit them in their weak machismo. You’ve got them having paid for sex, which opens up opportunities to suggest that they have to pay for it because they’re that undesirable, like: “If you really think about women like that, no wonder you have to pay for sex.” The finger sniffing thing sounds so weird and immature that you can go with inexperience, like: “Wow, you boys sound so excited, was that the first time for you? It’s so cute that you all got to touch your first pussy together.” You can take it further with implication that their shared sexual experience is a little homoerotic, like: “Did it excite you sharing the same woman? Did you think about each other while you were with her? Did you share something else together too?” I don’t know if you want to take it there though.
    You can also turn the situation around, like: “With pathetic little boys like you for husbands I’ll bet your wives jump at any chance to sleep with a real man. I wonder what they’re up to this weekend.”
    I don’t know if you’re allowed to use emasculating snark, but I’d bet on it having more effect and possibly discourage the attitudes that you’re trying to discourage. No dude like that wants to say things that open him up to the criticism that he’s less of a man. Good luck.

  • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    “and that “bitch” who rejected them at the bar last weekend, but they didn’t care because she was ugly anyway.”

    Of course they found her ugly. That’s why they hit on her in the first place. And of course they didn’t care. That’s why they were still going on about it a week later. What a transparent bunch of losers.

    “Is it just all out, feminist guns blazin’ anger that these guys must be met with? It’s how I feel, but I’m not sure that’s really persuasive. In fact, I fear it reinforces their sexism by making them feel targeted and like their worst stereotypes of feminists are true.”

    Honestly, and not just because the guns thing is my default mode, I don’t think there’s any persuading guys like this. I think their annelid-sized ganglia, or whatever you call the thing they take in their cultural mindset with (I don’t think “brain” is accurate in this case) is already set, and nothing anyone says or does is going to change it, least of all a woman. So you may as well have a little fun an let of that pent up rage.

    Though actually, annelids are hermaphroditic, and so even they probably have more gender sensitivity than these assholes.

  • Labeatz

    I know that it can seem counter intuitive but I would actually engage them in a normal way. I wouldn’t be super combative and emasculating like some have suggested because I think thats counterproductive on several levels. However, what I would try to do is just talk to them, and remind them, that, hello, there are men and women stuck here with you. We all understand exactly what you’re saying, and no one else wants to hear it.

    I know that they can dismiss that right away, but they can dismiss anything you say, anyway. I think if you just speak straight with them, most people will knock it off. Especially because when you speak straight then guys are forced to acknowledge that you’re a normal, rational person, just like them. At least thats the normal human thing to do. If they choose to be obnoxious after that, I think you just have to let it go. Clearly they’ve decided that acting like a human being is not for them, and there isn’t much you can do.

    I also have to ask, were there no kids on that plane? Because I would expect that a lot of parents wouldn’t want to hear such vulgar stories either with their kids around.

    • Labeatz

      Also despite all this, its good to remember that there are lots of men, who don’t behave that way at all. And men who would stand up to such misogyny. It’s important to celebrate that too, and not just engage in man bashing.

    • sex-toy-james

      I like your middle path between sinking to that level and moralizing feminist rage. It looks like the superior option.

  • Taylor

    Men can have a positive impact when calling out fratboy misogyny, yes, but there is something problematic in offering that as the solution. If the root issue is that the men on that plane don’t hear women’s voices, and that they wouldn’t want to be “put in their place” by one, then is a male voice speaking for change really going to undermine the root of their patriarchy? Another problem is that in voicing our displeasure at objectification, us men have to be very careful not to Be Protective, because then we’re just basing our behaviour upon another misogynist assumption (I still battle this as a feminist ally, because protectiveness was ingrained in me by patriarchy). Also, saying things like “I’ll bet your wives jump at any chance to sleep with a real man” reinforces their slut shaming, and reinforces rather than questions their messed up concept of a Real Man in the first place. Even saying “That’s someone’s daughter” is rooted in a kind of patriarchal ownership that eventually leads to fratastic misogyny. A woman is more than “someone’s daughter,” a woman is a freaking person, and these people need to be forced to see that, not on their own patriarchal merit, but on a merit of feminism, because the merit of feminism is that it humanizes.

    If the root issue is women’s voices not being heard, then it seems to me that the root answer lies in women’s voices being heard, loudly and often. Doesn’t mean men can’t help, but if the response to misogyny doesn’t involve a female voice, then we’re countering a problem created by patriarchy with more patriarchy.

    The bitch label will happen either way because that’s the first line of defense in fratboy logic. As far as fearing that you’ve reinforced their sexism/image of feminists by calling them out, yeah, that’s problematic, and I don’t have a clear answer, short of calling out their one-dimensional view of feminism, too. (Seriously, if only I had a loonie for every time I’ve said “And how many feminist texts have you read in the last year? Where did you get your image of feminism? TV sitcoms with white male writers? That’s not feminism, that’s white male privilege responding *to* feminism,” and been responded to with silence or subject changing).

    That said, I guarantee you in every one of those groups there’s at least one man who is a little uncomfortable dehumanizing women but does so anyway to fit into the tribe, and when you call the whole group out, you help those particular men to reject a masculinity that is puritanical in its rejection of empathy toward women (this is at the root of how feminism has liberated me). Also, in the plane scenario, if someone speaks out against those men, then whether or not that person is supported by others on the plane, that group has just learned they aren’t so comfortably in the mainstream with their misogyny that they can hijack a plane with it. And who knows, maybe there’s a woman or man three rows in front of you who you’ve silently empowered to stand up for her/himself.

    It feels like cold comfort to suggest faith and continuing to speak up, but what else can I do? We need your feminism, more than ever with this USC bullcrap. We MEN need it so we can stop dehumanizing ourselves and dehumanizing women. We need feminism, and we need it to be radical, rather than watered down, traipsing, and apologetic. “Radical” comes from the latin word for “root”, and (far be it from me to declare what feminism is, but) when feminism doesn’t get to the root, it eventually starts smelling like patriarchy.

  • Rob

    Plain and simple- no one likes to be laughed at. Or you can really highlight the absurdity (and offensive) of their words. Imagine if you loudly exclaimed the same sort of things that they did. Sort of like Alannis Morrisette singing My Humps.

  • onlynow

    I am wondering if this type of behavior is an unintended consequence of our liberal society. Liberalism values personal autonomy, and holds that each individual is free to construct their life according to their own will and reason. So far, so good. But there is one serious weakness to liberalism – what if people choose badly?

    What if the majority of men become like this – followers of Tucker Max and Roissy? What if they choose even worse? To embrace the rape culture as their own, perhaps? To celebrate violence against women as a rite of manhood?

    Will anything you or I say – angry denunciation, calm reasoning, mocking humor – matter then?

    I am not trying to predict the future or play Chicken Little. But I am concerned. Over the last couple of decades I have seen a remarkable increase in incivility in general, and gender hostility in particular. We are throwing off traditions and established roles in society, but what exactly are we replacing them with? Roissy? Tucker? Or worse?

  • Maria

    I firmly believe that the only way for someone to learn is by “giving them a taste of their own medicine”. These men need to feel on their own skin how it is to be reduced to the status of a slave or an object. Unfortunately, far too often in responding to such horrendous attitudes, women are more concerned in protecting the men feelings: “God forbid to men bash them!” I think this kind of attitude is no better than being more concerned for the perpetrator’s fate in case of a rape, than for the victim. A very fresh example of this is the New York Times article that blamed an 11 year old child for being raped by 18 men. I think we need to stop feeling empathetic toward the feelings of these men, and just give them a taste of their own medicine. I agree with sex-toys-james tactics. I know it takes a lot of courage , but it is best if you stand up against these guys in public and shame them, or just throw a couple of witty remarks at them questioning their masculinity, or film their behavior and post it on youtube for everyone to see. I also agree with Taylor, if women never speak up and take humiliation silently, men will think they can keep on doing it, because we are too weak to counter them.
    For the record, I don’t hate men or think all men are evil. Thank God there are men out there who would never engage in such behavior and treat women like people. I am referring to using these tactics against men who hate women and seek to degrade and oppress them with every chance.

  • Caitlin

    I feel uncomfortable with the gendering in this discussion due to the fact that the offensive party in the above article is male. It should be acknowledged that misogyny is a culture perpetuated and internalized by both men and women. In order to combat this culture we have to root it out in ourselves and our assumptions, as well as in the people around us. If you have the opportunity, and do not feel that your personal safety is threatened, than you should say something to individuals carrying out this culture. Perhaps if they are met with enough general disapproval they’ll give it up.

    • Caitlin

      One other point. Misogyny is incredibly dehumanizing to heterosexual men as it makes them incapable of engaging in any sort of multi-level relationship with women. I’m not saying this to garner pity for these men, they are clearly being assholes, but perhaps part of the cultural solution to this issue lays in showing men, and women, what they stand to gain from rejecting misogyny.

      At root level everyone wants to feel love and affection in some form and a misogynist must always fear rejection as they have chosen a lifestyle grounded in rejecting and being rejected by that which they desire, even if they believe they only desire physical pleasure. These men you describe on the plane are a particularly nice example in their comments about the woman at the bar. They voice their rejection by her and then feel compelled to verbally reject her in order to nullify the damage she has done in rejecting them. It is clear in this instance that they feel shame at this rejection, even if all they wanted was sex they still put themselves out there are were rejected.

      Point being, full -feminist-guns-blazing would be exactly the wrong way to handle this situation. It is incredibly difficult when met with such infantile behavior to keep a level head, but this kind of enraged speech from a woman would probably read to them as just another rejection which they must meet by rejecting you and therefore not even taking in your comments. If you can manage a slow and deliberate burn, the best way to handle this would be to point out that they are aboard a plane and that you feel their comments are rude and demeaning to women and you would prefer that if they must engage in that manner they do so in private.

      As feminists, male and female, we should be angry, there is a lot to be angry about, but the anger explosion seems to cause people to just tune out our voices, which is what we are angry about in the first place. Opt for the slow burn, you’re much more likely to be listened to.