Leah Letter

When men
fear women

It’s good to make men feel fear, and this is something women absolutely have the power to do.
Leah Letter

When men fear women

It’s good to make men feel fear, and this is something women absolutely have the power to do.

In a particularly scathing 2001 essay for the London Review of Books, Jenny Diski wrote about a book titled Misogyny: The Male Malady, by an anthropology professor named David Gilmore. Diski argued that the book, which billed itself as a “comprehensive historical and anthropological survey of woman-hating that casts new light on this age-old bias,” was nothing more than a wan apologia for sexism and, in her words, “the real victims of the malady of misogyny: the psychogenically challenged male who needs all the understanding we can give him.” I’ll give you more Diski here, because it’s so good: “Lord, how easily the image of the oppressed is appropriated. If women think they’ve had a hard time as a result of being loathed and bullied by men, it’s nothing compared to the hardship suffered by men that has resulted in their feeling the loathing.”

It’s been very difficult to process all the women’s stories that have come out in the last two weeks since Harvey Weinstein was revealed to be what we already knew he was, but worse. There have been a lot of feelings from everyone. Going online is like attending an Irish wake, just constant collective wailing, everyone’s nerve endings exposed. This is good, I think. Necessary catharsis. But somehow, even when women are suffering, as they have for the totality of human history while pushing new humans through their pelvic bones or being shamed about how they don’t want to push new humans through their pelvic bones, men feel entitled to let the Earth’s women know that actually, they are the ones who are suffering, even though it’s mostly (94 percent) them causing the sum total of the world’s pain (the remaining six percent is split as follows: three percent natural disasters, two percent random animal attacks, a half-percent glacial shifts, a half-percent women).

So it’s been quite rich to watch men squirm in their seats as the Weinstein story erupted into a national cascade of everyone telling how they, too, were sexually assaulted or otherwise violated by a disgusting but powerful man. Something else also happened: Men took to the internet to apologize to women, or profess their goodness, or say that they were once bad but are now better because they don’t drink anymore, and sometimes all three. “I’m not that guy!” they all wanted say, but, of course, they are.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Andrea Dworkin since all this shit hit the fan. I’m glad she did not have to live to see Chapo Trap House (she died in 2005), but maybe she would have been an entertaining guest on it. No one wrote like Andrea, whose ideas crackled beneath her words, and whose words thundered with the weight of their severity. I was in my mid-twenties when I first read her book Intercourse; my friend said that it would make me “never want to have sex again,” which sounded great at the time, and it was.

Men feel entitled to let the Earth’s women know that, actually, they are the ones who are suffering.

For the uninitiated, Dworkin holds a very low opinion of men, which is correct, and thinks they subjugate women simply by existing and also pushing us into various gender constructs, which is also correct. “Being female in this world is having been robbed of the potential for human choice by men who love to hate us,” she writes in Intercourse. “One does not make choices in freedom. Instead, one conforms in body type and behavior and values to become an object of male sexual desire, which requires an abandonment of a wide-ranging capacity for choice.”

Crucially, Dworkin’s feminism, however outdated some of it seems today, was one propelled by ideas, rather than feelings — the idea that men are bad rather than the feeling that they are, the idea that all men should be castrated rather than the feeling that they should be (I’m extrapolating a bit here). The false choices of modern feminism — Women are “empowered!” They work! AND they have babies now! And they do twice the amount of work as a man for less money! Slay! — have led us to a place of complacency, where what we feel takes precedence over what we think. The Women’s March on Washington earlier this year gathered an unprecedented number of women to “harness the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change,” but what if there was a march to stop men from groping?

It’s unrealistic to think that any true power reversal or shift of roles will emerge in our post-Harvey world. Men have already tainted the groundswell by shifting the narrative towards them, simply by posting Facebook statuses to apologize to women they “might have harmed,” they’re not sure, they were drunk, if they have hurt someone can you let them know? Men: please remember that an apology can be a selfish act. And PLEASE do not email a woman you have raped or harmed in any way, even if you’re not sure you did it and you are just hoping to get confirmation.

What if there was a march to stop men from groping?

I would like to take a moment here to address the “Shitty Men in Media List.” Personally, I loved this list. I thought it was genius. There it was, plainly, written down, a list of 75 bad men and their (alleged) acts of violence and grossness against women. Was I worried about the possibility of a man being falsely accused? Not in the least. I think the violent experiences of likely hundreds of women at the hands of men who have gone unpunished by our pathetic justice system and other various pathetic systems outweigh the risk of damaging a man's “reputation,” even if those accusations were recorded anonymously. Sorry it's just math! (It's unfortunate, sure, that men who may have sent women "creepy DMs" got lumped in with a bunch of (alleged!) rapists, but I really can't muster the energy to care.)

The list was completely overwhelming to look at, and I was overcome with a combination of nausea, horror, and relief as I watched it being filled out by scores of anonymous women. In its aftermath, I have rarely seen so many men so scared, so angry, searching so hard for someone to blame, and spiraling when there was no one. Men became scared of other men, of what they may or may not have known or encouraged. “Weird that the internet has facilitated the fifth wave of women’s liberation: the great doxxing of bad men,” one of my friends said. “Fear is the only deterrent,” another wrote to me.

I have rarely seen so many men so scared, so angry, searching so hard for someone to blame.

My Fear friend likes to talk about one of the great paradoxes of being a woman: That no one is ever afraid of you. This is great in some situations (like if you’re Erin Brockovich trying to find incriminating documents) and horrible in others (most everything else). A woman can be so easily squashed, destroyed, silenced, ruined, and yet, we are mostly the ones who are afraid. As Dworkin famously said in a 1975 speech at Queens College: “By the time we are women, fear is as familiar to us as air. It is our element."

But with the Weinstein fallout, and the List, we saw men actually becoming afraid of what they did or did not do (and honestly, if they didn’t feel any fear, they were deluded). If there’s one thing to learn from the endless morass of emotions that has been the past few weeks it’s that it’s good to make men feel fear, and this is something women absolutely have the power to do, even if it has to come anonymously, and in aggregate. Many men wonder what to do with their entitled mouths and brains at moments like this and the answer is: shut up and go away. Fear, not common sense or respect, is the only thing that seems to drive some of them to silence. However fleeting this change may be, it is a distinct role reversal and, I hope, it is progress.

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