I’ve been online for a number of years but it’s been over the past two or three or so that I’ve started to notice a particular trend in the entertainment-centered communities and journals I read. That trend seems to be a growing bent towards a hair trigger temperament regarding any dialogue or scene that doesn’t have equality or empowerment or gosh-darn-it-ain’t-diversity-great either at its core or else somewhere explicitly stated within the scene/program/movie, et cetera.
Case in point? The way so many people keep throwing around the word “misogyny” if a male character dares to say something uncomplimentary about a female character on a television show (see latest example “The Walking Dead”).
In the first place, I don’t recall where broadcast companies ever developed a contract with the general public to make programming that showed a perfect world where everyone behaved with utter propriety and gentility towards their fellow man. That would be unrealistic – not to mention boring. Drama and comedy are both built on conflict, the fact that people are different from each other, and the working out (or not) of those differences.
That is not to say there is not misogyny both in the real world and portrayed in entertainment. However, there is a very big difference between misogyny, sexism and, frankly, just being a dim boor. Context is important and it’s the context of the comments characters make that is getting lost in the misogynistic battle cry.
Back to The Walking Dead for a minute. The premiere was on Halloween. Early in the premiere episode, two male characters have a conversation while sitting in their patrol car. One of them makes a couple comments about how women want men to talk about their feelings and so forth; standard guy complaints, essentially, that have been done a thousand times before. Cue journal posts and TWOP (itself a rather bizarre microcosm of the television-watching public) posts about misogynistic characters and how they won’t tune in again because that kind of crap has no place in appropriate or thoughtful programming and so on and so forth.
In the words of Stacy London: Shut up. No, really. Shut up.
It tends to boil down to two issues for me: television and the use of the word “misogyny” itself. To start with, let’s hit the television issue.
It’s the premiere. The first episode. Of a new series. The idea seems to escape some people that a character saying lines such as the ones mentioned above does not mean that the show itself is misogynistic nor, necessarily, is the character himself. Again, degrees of difference between misogyny, sexism and stupidity abound. If the character is a misogynist, it doesn’t mean that I have to (a) agree with what they are saying or (b) somehow see them as a hero just because they are on a show I like despite the presence of Misogyny Man. It’s okay to like a show and hate a character (see Battlestar Galactica Reboot and my everlasting grimace for Starbuck and Her Special Destiny). If the character does actually turn out to be a misogynist by definition versus a sexist or just a fool, then I can make a decision to continue watching the show based on whether I enjoy the show enough to put up with him and if I truly feel the show is somehow giving a platform to or endorsing misogyny.
The other thing about it being a premiere that makes me go “er?” is that I find it astounding someone is really going to judge an entire series based on less than five minutes of dialogue from a character that they’ve seen for less than sixty minutes. Okay, then. I mean, seriously. You (general you) as a woman have never made a similar, stereotypical comment about a subset of women that annoy you or a comment about men, perhaps? Applying similar logic, doesn’t that mean, then, that you’re also a misogynist or a misandrist?
The second issue is the use of the word “misogyny” by some women as a kind of catchall for any phrase or action they deem remotely offensive. Misogyny is defined as a hatred of women – prejudiced hostility or animosity, abhorrence, detestation, revulsion, loathing, disgust, et cetera, according to the dictionary and thesaurus. All of those are very strong words. As far as The Walking Dead goes, some guy making a general comment about women that is on the level (to my mind) of a Tim Allen Home Improvement episode is not misogynistic. It’s dim. It makes me wonder exactly what a (potential) girlfriend might see in the doofus. I might find it offensive or eyebrow-raising depending on the comment and the context if it happened/happens again and would place it alongside what I am learning about the character and use it to continue to evaluate his personality but I’m not going to rush right out and stock up on tar and feathers because he’s a jerk at first blush.
In the past I have worked with men whom I would consider to be much more towards the sexist/misogynist bent. When I worked security for concerts, one of our jobs was to go up in the stands during “no camera” shows anytime we saw a flash so we could confiscate the camera. When I started up the stairs, my erstwhile partner would shout “Rape her! Rape her!” When I was a crew chief on an Accommodations crew, I had a couple guys who would try to refuse the duties I assigned them because I am a woman.
I spent the last five years as a fighter and instructor in an MMA gym and that’s probably where some of my attitude about this comes from. You want to talk about a place that is rife for sexism and misogyny? Oh yeah. Respect is definitely earned in a place like that and, as a woman, there were times you had to work harder for it and you made definite choices about what was offensive and what was not. Context.
We had a “rage fighter” at the gym. Once you got to know him, he was one of the absolute sweetest guys you could meet. He trained me, worked with me, supported me and cheered me on more time than I could even recount and his support meant the world to me. Heck, he would tell newbies I was his hero, but some of the stuff that came out of his mouth when we were talking or training would make you want to smack him upside the head, and would have the people up in arms over The Walking Dead and other shows screaming for his blood. Yet I know that he most emphatically does not detest women. He doesn’t loathe them. In fact, he loves his wife and baby daughter and is working to be the best father he can be. Is he perfect? No. Could he improve? Sure (as can we all). Was he trying? Yes. People that are quick to jump to conclusions (about a fictional character no less, never mind a real human being) would never have the opportunity to find that out, though.
I’m not saying people don’t have the right to choose what offends them or where their line in the sand is to be drawn. Still, I find it hard to fathom that some people want to spend so much time and expend so much energy looking for prejudice when none may be intended or even thought of. It sounds very draining to me and I don’t think I’m the only person staring at my computer screen with a blank look and wondering what the Sam Hill you’re banging on about.
So, in summary? Misogyny is a bad thing. I think we can agree on that. However, when people immediately start playing Misogyny Bingo the moment a fictional character says or does something that they may find personally offensive but yet doesn’t even come close to fitting the definition, they are the ones diluting the gravity of the word and the charge it brings, not the show or its writers or actors