A journey through misogyny

Annette Pryce explores what it’s really like for women in the LGBTQ+ community when they experience sexism and sexist behaviour at the hands of men both inside and outside of the circle.

I spent most of my final year at university researching masculinity for my final dissertation, and the results around what motivated men to ‘check’ each other’s masculinity can sometimes see a line drawn all the way back in history to the age where men were conscripted into the army. Pronger (1990) suggests that “in a culture that is dominated by gender, in which gender is like a class system giving power to men and withholding it from women, all aspects of a persons life will be influenced by his or her gender”. This tells us that ‘privilege’, that little thing that makes lots of people uncomfortable in different ways these days, has in itself a clear line back in history, and trying to throw off that history is a hell of a lot harder than anyone could imagine.

“Men enjoy patriarchal power, but accept it as if it were given to them by an external force, by nature or convention or even women themselves, rather than by active subordination of women [and gay men] .” Pronger (1990).

Control, power, sex and domination of subordinates, usually women and gay men, through sexism and homophobia is what defines heterosexual masculinity in a patriarchy. Which begs the question, what’s going on in our own community ?

Surely, if gay men understand what it’s like to suffer at the hands of straight men, then why would they elbow us out of the way to get what they want? Why are there fewer scene spaces exclusively for les/bi/trans women? Why can’t some gay men acknowledge that actually, lesbians, trans and bisexual women do have some things harder for them, simply because they are women. This is where privilege theory hits home and the uncomfortable truth hits our community in that while we all have a shared oppression, and a common foe, we don’t always treat each other equally.

Where did the phrase ‘fag hag’ come from, a phrase that depicts women in a demeaning light? “No, you and your boyfriend cannot grab my boobs”.. and being gay doesn’t give you a free pass to be a dickhead to women. Why are we always discussing issues of privilege such as which gay bar is being closed down rather than disability and homelessness ? Could it be because issues of privilege which display as sexism and misogyny pervade all our lives and not just those of cis-heterosexual women? Could it be that sexism affects all of us somehow and we just don’t talk about it?

There was an interesting article in the Guardian aptly named Lesbophobia is homophobia with a side order of sexism.” Jane Czyselska wrote that:

Men …… are so invested in a cultural narrative that requires a heterosexual female support act – real and imagined – that they label women who transgress this social rule as legitimate targets for abusive behaviour.”

Even that left wing icon, Russell Brand, couldn’t help but say: “All lesbians want to “jump the fence”  and those who resist [his] advances are “just being difficult” . The Guardian

forkIt’s hard to accept his socialist credentials with a comment like that. Or maybe you don’t have to be politically aligned. Maybe it’s just what they all do, as I was standing at a bar chatting to a woman I didn’t know very well and a mutual aquantance felt it necessary to stand right next to us, (despite there being space around the bar); it was almost as though he felt it was his duty to protect this rather femme looking woman from me, or us from ourselves. He was ‘cock-blocking’, basically. It doesn’t stop there; there are no end of examples but this one below, unnervingly,  isn’t as uncommon as you’d think.

“My girlfriend and I were finishing our drinks in a pub in Cardiff. We shared a brief kiss and got up to leave. I was half-way to the door when I realised that a group of men were loudly applauding us and one was filming on his phone. The incident wasn’t just intimidating. As a woman in a lesbian relationship, it made me feel that my girlfriend and I were being considered ‘entertainment’ by these men.” The Independent

It’s necessary to see sexism affects us all but in very nuanced ways; gay men experience it through overt displays of masculinity and homophobia, lesbians experience it as demeaning and invalidating behaviour; then, there are bisexual and trans women. I’m neither bisexual nor trans so couldn’t begin to suggest what it might be like, though I can describe it. Instead, I asked my friends what it felt like for them. Their accounts are anonymous for obvious reasons, but seeing it through their eyes helps us all to realise that we need to be more aware of how the language used by men and the rest of the cis- heteronormative world, including some cis-het women, tries to keep us in our place and demeans us.

Trans misogyny – one trans woman’s perspective.

It’s when people are critical of your appearance, particularly in relation to looking too feminine, or not feminine enough. However, there is also a tendency to sneer at clothes choices or make up skill.

Trans women though, are, it seems, an exception. Being seen as responsible for, or reinforcing feminine or masculine stereotypes, rather than being seen as a victim of them.

The same societal structures that exist for cis people, in terms of pushing them to conform to gender stereotypes, or being political by trying to break them, are present for trans people.

Arguably, we see and feel them more than cis people. Whereas cis people are able to conform or rebel, they can choose, without being challenged; trans people are pressured to break them or are framed as being responsible for creating them.

Therefore, cis feminist women are able to be, as one example, ultra feminine as a statement (perhaps vintage/burlesque styled with dresses, shoes, and hair) without losing their right to be seen as ‘feminist’.

Trans women though, are, it seems, an exception. Being seen as responsible for, or reinforcing feminine or masculine stereotypes, rather than being seen as a victim of them.

A trans woman doing similar would very regularly be criticised. In a good scenario, being accused of transitioning to become a stereotype, in a bad scenario, being accused of fetishising the clothes.”

Bisexual lives and loves – A bisexual woman’s experience.

“The general assumption of heterosexuality is something which I guess all lesbians experience too, but it’s even more entrenched for a bi woman. Because it makes more sense to straight men if women don’t like them at all. But if a woman has ever been with/been attracted to men, they find it very confusing that they’d ever want to be with a woman. The male ego means that they can’t understand why, if you are attracted to men, you aren’t attracted to them. “

The hyper-sexualisation of bi women [is prevalent]. [We are] useful for threesomes but not seen as a regular identity. Women are only bi for the enjoyment of men. Also, bi women are characterised as always wanting sex/being promiscuous etc.

“Linked to this, the way in which female relationships aren’t seen as valid as heterosexual ones. So, I’ve had male partners say to me that they wouldn’t mind if I had another female partner or had sex with women, but not other men, because they’d feel threatened by that. So, to me, that shows that they don’t see relationships between women as equally valid or important.” 

“There’s definitely an assumption that bisexuality is something that is erased/paused when you enter into a relationship with a man. So, you weren’t really attracted to women, it was just a phase etc etc. And now you’ve settled down with a man, that’s the real relationship.

..it makes more sense to straight men if women don’t like them at all. But if a woman has ever been with/been attracted to men, they find it very confusing that they’d ever want to be with a woman.

 I think a lot of women who are bi and in relationships with men get their identity erased (not just by straight men either), but it’s even more difficult when it’s not just an attraction, but an actual whole relationship, with a real person.

Whilst I have not experienced domestic abuse, this idea bi women will be unfaithful is often used by abusers and bi women experience the worst rates of domestic abuse .

I think these micro-agressions lead to minority stress being worse for bi people. It wears you down to see your sexuality as constantly an excuse for cis men to objectify, hit upon and demand sex from you.”

I’ve said it before in my previous article Beauty and the Butch:: “Any lesbians/queer women who appropriate typically cis-het male ‘knobbish’ and sexist behaviours on other women, any women, all women, need a reality check.” We need a change. 

This comes when we first stop accepting sexist behaviour within our own community, then we challenge that which comes from outside. We don’t accept or perpetuate the myth that bisexual women are promiscuous, that is a lie perpetuated by men, we don’t exclude trans women, at all, because we become just like those men (and others), who demean and attack them. As women in the LGBTQ+ community, we need to take a moment and realise that we need to stand together.

Follow Annette on Twitter (@LGBTEXEC)

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