A lot of people have asked me why LISTEN exists. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t need to explain why this project, or feminism, is necessary. It would just exist and we would all just know. But writing this is helpful for me too. Like any belief, my relationship to it changes often and writing about it helps me understand it better.
Writing essays and articles is new for me but feminism isn’t. I was raised a feminist by an incredibly loving and supportive mother who – like all humans – also had her flaws. She wasn’t ashamed of being honest about those flaws with us kids, so I had years of discourse and questioning around my feminism.
I’ve realised I was a misogynist for the duration of my 20s. Let me explain.
Constantly grappling with the pendulum swing between complete, unwavering admiration and fraught, confused uncertainty about my mother’s motivations and morals was an excellent training ground for me.
My teen years were spent questioning if feminism was a valid line of inquiry at all, reserving my final assessment until I felt I was a ‘real adult’. While I can’t say I feel I have attained the holy grail of ‘adulthood’ just yet, I can say that my feminist beliefs have become clear and precise during my transition into my 30s. Although my beliefs are still evolving , I at least now feel I have the right to speak about them. It’s a shame it has taken so long to realise that.
The most startling clarity that has occurred is about my understanding of patriarchy and how I have unwittingly helped to perpetuate it. I’ve realised I was a misogynist for the duration of my 20s. Let me explain.
I’ve never been able to shake a gut feeling that I’m not quite right. Other women know how to be women better than I do. They know how to dress like women, move like women, wear makeup with confidence, act ‘appropriately’ (Confidently skating that thin line between being sexy but not slutty, outspoken but not intense, intelligent but not intimidating, feminist but not abrasive…) and be better, more desirable humans than me in every way. Being female seemed like an innate quality I just didn’t have.
I thought men were better than me too but at least I felt I could learn to be impressive to them. The currency of admiration from men could be gained by having skills or being funny etc.
Other women know … how to dress like women, move like women, wear makeup with confidence and act ‘appropriately’.
Over the years, I’ve heard my male friends talking about the women they found attractive, sexy or interesting. But I could only see those women as different to me and I hated them for it. I also hated the men for admiring women in this superficial way; for reducing them to particulars and picking apart their qualities like it was their property to play with.
However, until I openly admitted to being bisexual I couldn’t really see these gender politics. Being bisexual isn’t the sole source of my confusion around gender but a layer of confusion was lifted when I stopped feeling afraid of it. Suddenly my fears about being rejected for not being either straight or gay melted away and I could see this warped view of women I’d had for so long just standing there, glaring at me, getting in the way of genuine and close female relationships. I guess I had feared that women would somehow sniff out the bisexual in me and then feel disgusted or afraid that I’d hit on them. Or perhaps I also thought they were well aware of all my various inadequacies, and looked down on me.
I realise it was an outlandish perspective, but it was partially based on the rejection I felt from my first lover in early high school. She feared being caught out as a lesbian so she told me to leave her alone. I kept pursuing her and ended up feeling like a disgusting sleazebag. High school really can be the most bullshit time.
But we humans are complex and this doesn’t entirely explain or excuse my misogyny.
I started to see how various aspects of my self-loathing impacted my view of women. The undermining need for approval from men; the comparison of myself to other women – both of these things, constant. It was startling and unnerving but I attempted to channel the fearless honesty I learnt from Mum and just accept these aspects of my personality with compassion. To address my behaviour every day and assign my beliefs to their appropriate places. I can see that my confusion around my own gender and sexuality was a contributing factor - however, I won’t accept all the blame! I was raised in a world that doesn’t allow women to be what or who they want to be without constant questioning and scrutiny.
One of the unfortunate outcomes of attempting to gain approval from men is that I spent most of my 20s drinking heavily, staying out super late and sleeping with random people as often as possible. I saw it as one way to ‘win over’ the men who I believed would undoubtedly think of me as repulsive also. I also didn’t feel confident about being promiscuous. I kept this quiet except from my best friends, because I feared slut-shaming. Being secretly hyper sexual was the currency of my self-esteem but it was, in fact, damaging to my self-esteem given that one night stands don’t often end up in meaningful relationships.
I know there’s nothing wrong with promiscuity and that most people sleep around in their 20s. But there was a particular tone to the interactions I would have. There were at least three times I should have known I had every right to kick those drunken horny douchebags out of my house for bad behaviour, or for horrible things they said, but my lack of confidence meant I also had no real understanding of the idea of consent or even respect. With the benefit of hindsight, I’ve unravelled these encounters and dealt with the feeling I was sexually abused on numerous occasions.
Several women I’ve spoken to have similar feelings about their younger years of sexual adventures in our musical communities. Consent is a discussion that hasn’t been fully explored for most of us, but it is a serious issue, even in the seemingly more ‘evolved’ communities we circulate in.
So while perpetuating hatred towards other women, I’ve also been accepting and even encouraging of misogynist behaviour from men towards me. I didn’t feel confident enough to tell them – in the moment – “hey I’m really uncomfortable about this situation and it needs to stop”. Or when I have said no, I haven’t said it with enough gusto. I wished I’d known I could take care of myself.
It may sound like I’m accepting the blame for being date-raped but I’m not. Or am I? I don’t know. I do know I am acknowledging the depth and intricacy of every human being. Perhaps I’m still confused about these incidents. I’m sure my perspectives around my sexuality will continue to evolve.
I’m speaking candidly because I want others to feel OK about doing the same. I want there to be no fear – or at least, less fear - about opening up and being honest about the moments we’ve felt horrible, or the moments we’ve felt truly triumphant. Or just the moments we’ve felt nothing at all, just observing life. Of course I don’t expect everyone to trawl through the finer points of their sexual history – I just want to throw down the gauntlet and show everyone there’s no better solution to feeling isolated, alone and insecure than to show others what you are dealing with. It’s OK if you disagree or take issue with this - I just want more open conversation.
We need to invent a community that doesn’t allow women to continuously and systematically believe the bullshit. To undermine the constant scrutiny by throwing down fears of being exposed and mocked and declaring we no longer care what people think of us on a superficial level. We are not measurable by our surface qualities or behaviours.
Don’t just assume because your friends think you’re a good person you have nothing to look into.
Patriarchy and misogyny don’t always happen to you at the hands of others – it becomes ingrained in you; a part of your psyche. The subtlety and insidiousness of mainstream ideals of being a woman can’t be overlooked and do not immediately disappear once you’re in a subcultural environment.
I’d like this column to encourage everyone to engage with their own unique flavour of misogyny. Don’t just assume that because your friends think you’re a good person you have nothing to look into. Equality is an ongoing and evolving conversation. Look actively within yourself for the perspectives you may need to rethink. Don’t wait to be called out and don’t be defensive if you do get called out. Be gracious and accept that we’re all in this mess together.
I want to focus on things I choose to focus on rather than things I’m driven to look at through panic or resentment. I want to have the freedom from insecurity to make clear choices. I want that to be a possibility for every person. LISTEN is a place where I hope this can begin to happen naturally. Let’s talk about it?