Comment: Gay male misogyny is a real problem
Charmed actress Rose McGowan faced criticism this week when she said gay men were as misogynistic as straight men. Carrie Lyell thinks she’s right.
Let me tell you a story. It's the story of a gay male friend of mine, who we'll call James. I say friend, but our relationship turned rather sour a few years ago when he came round for dinner one evening and, during a hug, proceeded to undo my bra. Despite my verbal and physical protests, he refused to stop, and eventually succeeded in removing it. He cackled as he swung it around his head like a trophy.
It wasn't the first time James had behaved inappropriately towards me (and to other female friends of ours), and he's certainly not the only gay man who has poked and prodded my body without my permission. When I was younger and finding my feet on the scene, I thought it was a perfectly acceptable way to behave. This was around the time when the "bitchy gay man" trope was being peddled by shows like Sex and The City, Will and Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and many men I knew were milking that stereotype. Yoko Akili from The Good Men Project explains, "At a recent presentation, I asked all of the gay male students in the room to raise their hand if in the past week they touched a woman's body without her consent. After a moment of hesitation, all of the hands of the gay men in the room went up."
In an article for Jezebel, gay male feminist Rohin Guha says: "Popular culture was teaching newly-out gay men that they could be welcomed into the heteronormative fold so long as they shoehorned themselves into those pre-approved moulds of gay male identity. Unsurprisingly, this persona - vetted by mainstream media - allowed a gay man a liberal margin of misogyny, allowing them to write such behaviour off as part of their identity."
Back then, I thought it was fine for gay men to touch me inappropriately because it wasn't sexual. So I sucked up my discomfort and let random men in sweaty clubs shove their tongues down my throat or grab my breasts. It was fun, wasn't it? We were all having fun. But soon, the joke began to wear thin. It wasn't funny. It was a perverse, casual misogyny that is still all too prevalent among some gay men. The same gay men who belittle or even demonise women - particularly lesbians, and who see the struggle for equality as over now that they can marry their boyfriends. Never mind tackling lesbophobia. Never mind transmisogyny. Never mind racism and ableism and problems that affect poor people. I'm not saying that all gay men are guilty of it - far from it - but it does exist and it does need to acknowledged.
This week, Charmed actress Rose McGowan found herself in hot water for doing just that - acknowledging the problem of gay male misogyny. In an article on Pink News, she was quoted as saying: "Gay men are as misogynistic as straight men, if not more so." Cue lots of very upset men in the comments, proclaiming their feminist credentials by accusing McGowan of being menopausal, stupid, useless, an f list star, an ageing nobody, a silly cow, an ignorant cunt and a talentless bitch, among others. Definitely no misogyny at work there, then. One commentator even went as far to say, "Women bring up children and form the attitudes men have towards women from an early age. So in fact women are responsible for how men mistreat women." That's some meta victim blaming.
Although many of McGowan's comments were problematic, she raised an important point. Being gay doesn't excuse men from sexism. Gay men, particularly those who are white, cisgender and wealthy, have privilege and engage with and benefit from sexism. Look at gay men like Perez Hilton (pictured) or Dan Savage, who seem to be given a free pass to be misogynistic, or the film Pride, where the lesbians were often the butt of their gay male comrades' jokes.
And yet, whenever it's called out, many gay men can't or won't acknowledge that there's a problem, seeing themselves as the owners of oppression. Of course, within the LGBT+ umbrella, gay men do face their own unique set of challenges posed by a heteropatriarchal society, but they also enjoy many benefits of male privilege. For example, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, recently came out as a gay man. He has no doubt faced adversity in his life due to his sexuality, but his white, cis male privilege has helped him get to where he is in his career. Can you imagine a black lesbian as the chief of the largest companies in the world? No, I can't either.
In the same Jezebel article, Guha went on to say, "It's endemic of a gay male culture that would sooner trot out a history of being victimised as an excuse for acting like assholes rather than taking ownership for said behaviour, or better yet, correcting that kind of behaviour."
McGowan has since apologised for not "articulating it better" but says she stands by her original point. And I, for one, stand by her for opening up a very important dialogue in the gay male community.
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