Is Misogyny Real
a local reporter asks Red to share her thoughts and it turns out she gave away an hour of time to the world’s most nightmare client for free
This reporter for one of the low budget Portland papers wrote a poorly researched article on sex work last winter, and I sent him an email saying if he ever wanted to interview actual sex work activists he should email SWOP.
So last week I get an email asking if he can interview me about misogyny. What exactly about misogyny? Anyone who has to read other people’s research will tell you that a question that broad is going to yield very poor results. Consider this part of my community service.
He opened by explaining that he got interested because of several recent articles (about trump, the sanders campaign in Vegas, and the weather reporter who had to put on a sweater because of a barrage of calls about her dress being too skimpy) that used “misogyny” in the headline, and he wanted to know if this is the hip new word for “male chauvinism” and “sexism”, and in the spirit of intellectual inquiry, he’s asking women in different professions about their experiences with misogyny, if they’ve had any.
I cringe inwardly.
“So where would you like me to start?”
“Well, is misogyny what we used to call male chauvinism, and then in the nineties, ‘sexism’?”
I believe in treating older people with all the tenderness with which I hope people treat my parents, but sometimes, old men? They try me.
I try to give a brief explanation of the history of like, FEMINISM, and POPULAR CULTURE, and CHANGING TIMES. “You can think of it as a phrase that’s expanding as people get more comfortable. A male chauvinist is an individual; sexism is gender neutral and less threatening; misogyny actually names the structural oppression, which is systemic.’
He’s typing, not recording, and I’m from Boston. “I’m sorry, can you speak slower and repeat that?”
“Sexism is gender neutral, and doesn’t specifically name the problem or indicate that it’s actually the systemic oppression of all women which all men benefit from. Misogyny is the term for this institutionalised oppression.”
“And why do you think we’re hearing about it more now?”
“Well, uh, actually, we aren’t. Women have always talked about and used the word misogyny, but it is replacing sexism in public discourse, maybe because women are less afraid to talk about it publicly. Men get really mad when you talk about misogyny.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
I can’t even tell what, if anything, he’s absorbing of all this. “Men get upset when we talk about misogyny.”
“Why do you think that is?”
Um, because men are babies spoiled by millennia of patriarchy? “I couldn’t say.”
“So have you seen misogyny in your work place?”
“Um, I have seen misogyny everywhere. It’s a systemic oppression. Yeah, it’s in the sex industry, but it was also at my office job--”
“Hold on,” needs to type “you have an office job?”
“I had one at the Bureau of Labour, and my union rep used to tell me he couldn’t stop looking at my chest.”
I can tell this won’t be making it into the paper.
“But do you think people can be misogynist in the sex industry?”
“Yes, people can be misogynist in the sex industry.”
“So you’re saying misogyny can happen in a strip club?”
“Misogynist acts can happen anywhere, because it’s a structure of oppression. Any man can be misogynist.”
“What’s an example of this? I mean how can you be misogynist to a stripper?”
I’m tripping out so hard on his use of language, it’s like when people say “a racist” instead of racism. It’s a total failure to understand the scope of the problem--to use his own parlance, this man definitely acts in a misogynist way. He can’t help it.
“Misogyny is a structure of oppression, right? So the strip club isn’t exempt from it.”
“But how could one be misogynist to a stripper? She’s naked. You’re saying you can be misogynist to a stripper?”
“Well, again, misogyny is an institutionalised structure of oppression that benefits all men, and yes, sex workers can be oppressed in the club. Certain things are appropriate in certain contexts where they would not be in others, but certain things will always be inappropriate. Objectifying women, treating them like they aren’t autonomous beings, treating women without respect, that’s misogyny.”
“So what does that look like? What’s an example?”
I’m reaching for anything he would understand as inappropriate and coming up empty and it’s so sad. It has to be something overt, he would never understand the constant barrage of misogyny that is life as a woman in 2k16.
“If something is rude or objectifying, it’s rude and objectifying. Telling someone she’s beautiful--”
“Is that misogynist?”
“No, not to a woman on a street or a dancer. But telling a woman on the street you like her breasts would be inappropriate, whereas it might not be inappropriate depending on the conversation with the dancer. So talking to a dancer without respect, there are ways to refuse a lapdance--”
“Wait, why would they be talking to you?”
I stare at him. “The bulk of our money is made through selling lapdances, so we circulate and talk to fifty to one hundred men [that’s a low ball, considering the numbers at my last club, but he probably wouldn’t believe the real numbers] a night and make conversation and that’s one of the opportunities they have to be misogynist, but they can also not tip, or ball up dollars and throw them at your vagina--”
He gestures for me to slow down and winces. “I can’t include that. Back to conversation, can you repeat that part?“
“We circulate to ask for dances and that’s an opportunity for misogynist behavior.”
“And how can they be misogynist in the lap dance?”
The word misogyny is starting to lose all meaning for me. “They can be disrespectful, they can violate boundaries--”
“How can they be disrespectful?”
“We don’t give up our right to consent when we walk into the club or get onstage. We’re still people who deserve respect. When we outline boundaries, they need to be respected.”
“What are boundaries?”
I choose to believe he’s asking for an example, rather than what they are. “If I say no touching--”
“Yeah, if I’m doing a lap dance and I say, don’t touch me, then don’t touch me.”
“So they can’t touch you?!”
“If a dancer says no, then no.”
“Ah, but she could say yes!” He says that like it’s some tremendous “gotcha!” moment and I decide he doesn’t need to know about the economics of extra and how everything is extra and also I should be charging him so much extra for being within three feet of me.
“At some clubs, yes. Sometimes I allow customers to touch my sides.”
“We don’t give up our right to consent or boundaries just because we’re strippers.”
“But it’s intimate! If I’m intimate with my wife, and she said, ‘you can’t touch me’--”
“We are not your wife! This is not intimate! This is a commodified, sexualised service! It’s a lap dance! And regardless of whether it’s a service or not, if someone says no, that means no.” We are really having this discussion.
“And you’re saying it’s misogyny if I touch a stripper when she doesn’t want to be touched?”
“I’m a married man, you know, and I never go to these places, so it’s all new to me.”
You and every other client, I think.
“Is there anything else?”
I can’t think of anything, I’m genuinely exhausted by this whole interaction. I gave him a copy of Working It when I first sat down and now I want it back--it’s expensive to print and I don’t want to waste it on him, but I can’t bring myself to ask. “That’s all I can think of.”
“How would you like to be credited?”
“Red is fine.”
“Just Red, no last name?”
“Right. And if you can add ‘director of STROLL’ and a link to strollpdx.org that would be great.”
“Oh no, I couldn’t do that.”
Blank look. Because you have so much journalistic integrity which this basic courtesy would tarnish, is that it? “Then please use Matilda Bickers.”
“Uh, no, M-a-t-i”
We get my name out of the way.
“Just curious, why the change?”
“If you aren’t going to link to my projects then at least this will connect to other articles about me and with information.”
“I sued a stripclub.”
“Oh, I think I remember that. Does that have anything to do with misogyny?”
“Well, it was about misclassification as well as sexual assault.”
“When you misclassify a worker in order to avoid paying payroll tax, minimum wage, benefits, overtime–”
“Oh yes. But that’s not misogyny. I have a nephew who was misclassified.”
“Yep, misclassification is the biggest issue facing labour in our time, however, a population that’s composed largely of young women with little social capital who are often ignorant of their rights or unable to enforce them is easy to take advantage of in this way and that’s misogynist.”
“Hm. Does sexual assault happen at all clubs?”
“It depends, but there are definite abuses of power that happen that are a result of misogyny: owners dating dancers and kicking them off the schedule when they’re done.”
“That’s not misogyny!”
“Errr, yes it is.”
“Would it be misogyny if it happened to a man?”
“It would be sexual harassment but not misogyny.”
“So it can’t be misogyny if it happens to a woman!”
He can tell I want to brain him with my cup.
“No, it’s still misogyny. A bit like a square is a rectangle but a rectangle can’t be a square.”
Paternalist jolly laugh.