Am I a female misogynist?

Being a woman, and a feminist, I really ought to like women better than I do.

Published November 2, 2005 1:26PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I'm a young liberal female with a strange problem for that species: I think I may be a misogynist. It's not just that I don't like women -- sometimes I seem to hate them.

I do have some dear female friends who are usually really different from my highly academic, simply dressed, too-philosophical self. They tend to have in common a piercing wit, a deep well of kindness, and an ability to identify with the misfit. And I try not to judge women on the way they initially present. But even when I get beyond the superficial things with a female, I very rarely find anyone whom I want to get to know further.

I don't feel that it's at all defensible to privilege a certain gender, and while I wish I could have a circle of female bosom buddies, I just can't see it happening. In truth I can't get over the ways in which women seem, despite the great leaps we've made socially, sexually and in the workplace, to be blind to our own behavior. Why aren't there more women who recognize and want to discuss deep psychological truths instead of nail polish colors or the latest celebrity gossip?

But I guess the more disturbing question I find myself asking is why, when in reality there must be as few deeply thinking, socially conscious men around, I seem to find so many more of them than their equivalent in the female gender? So far my answer to that question is to acknowledge that I have suffered some damage from my mother's (emotionally distant, often quite hurtful, unrepentantly judgmental) ways, and that I've internalized, perhaps, an aversion to females on principle. Couple that with my dad's desertion of the family when I was 10, and it might explain my tendency to seek male approval. Perhaps, although I am mostly straight, the fact that I can find women sexually attractive means that I have a little of the lover's worshipful, but often confused and sometimes angry, attitude in me. And I recognize that there are only so many people of either gender who have all the qualities that I find wonderful (open-minded, witty, caring) and that I should just keep seeking them in whatever gender they occur.

But even after this, I'm troubled by my decidedly un-feminist, rather callous dislike of women. I'm hoping you might have some insight that I, being entangled in the middle of all this, can't see.

Miss Misogynist

Dear Miss Misogynist,

How can you expect to enjoy life without heartily disliking a good many people? Do not be afraid to dislike the people you dislike. Disliking people is an oft-neglected pleasure. People have so many dislikable traits, it is a terrible waste to miss out on disliking them.

Just because somebody is a woman doesn't mean she can't be thoroughly disliked. If you were to, as if by government regulation, disqualify an entire sex from the pleasure of disliking them, it would visibly distort the marketplace, leading to all sorts of unforeseen consequences. In fact, I think we ought to be generous and inclusive, embracing diversity, disliking a healthy variety of -- as an esteemed Republican senator recently put it -- "men, women and minorities!

Women, as you say, have been known to do their nails and talk about movie stars without so much as an apology for the intellectual poverty of such an activity. If they fail to cleverly spin it -- making out that it is somehow ironic and retro, for instance -- it is of course thoroughly deplorable. Men, too, occasionally do their nails and talk about movie stars, although it's somehow not as irksome, which leads us to suspect that what really irks us is not so much shallowness as obviousness -- when people have the unmitigated gall to live up to their own stereotypes.

It's true that, morally speaking, men and women deserve to be treated equally. But it is exceedingly difficult to dislike an equal number of men and women with equal vehemence. It's just very hard to get the right mix. So if the women are now in the ascendant, have no fear: Men will surely best them as time goes on.

But, seriously now, there may be some deeper and more complex personal meaning to your current tendency to dislike women more than men.

In order to find out what is the meaning of your attitude toward women, I would first simply observe more closely and with an open heart your many responses to women. I think you would discover many things. You care about them deeply. You have high hopes for them. They disappoint you and infuriate you. They matter greatly to you. Although you dislike them, you also love them.

In fact, it seems to me, although the women seem to outnumber the men in dislikability, the men seem like mere stick figures in comparison. It is the women you find compelling, even if you express it as disdain. It is the women who engage you -- their failures, their insufficiencies. So if your complaint is that you fear you are not sufficiently engaged with women, it seems to me on the contrary that you are almost wholly engaged with women. And if, as you suggest, your dislike of these many women has in it a little of "the lover's worshipful, but often confused and sometimes angry, attitude," then perhaps that is something to consider: that your deepest feelings are reserved for women, not men.

I do not mean to imply something as callous as that you are fundamentally a lesbian. It's none of my business, and besides I detest the labeling of people -- it is one more thing I thoroughly enjoy disliking. I only mean to say that there is a great deal of energy and caring in your "callous dislike" of women, and so your concern that this dislike is somehow politically retrograde seems of little gravity.

What is the question, really? Is the question, "How much should I like women, and how well should I treat them?" And what is the answer? "I should like women a whole lot more than I seem to, and treat them a whole lot better than I do"?

Why is that the answer? Why isn't the answer, "I should respond to women honestly, as I genuinely feel about them"? Why isn't the answer, "I will show respect to women and men when I feel respect, but avoid people who bore me or who seem dull and shallow and crude and frivolous"? Why isn't the answer that "I myself am a woman and I will honor the way I feel"?

I'm so glad I could work that out for you. Don't we all feel much better now?

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