A butch friend of mine went through this really unfortunate phase once, where she made all these jokes about women drivers.
I don’t tolerate that kind of talk. When I hear someone trashing women, I feel no less offended and disgusted than I would if that person had thrown up on my shoes.
So I told my friend that I didn’t think those jokes were funny, that she would have to stop telling them if she wanted to be my friend. Because she is a kind, thoughtful, politically aware person, she stopped telling them.
I’m still friends with her and she still feels embarrassed when she remembers what she said. To be honest, I think she’s a little hard on herself. We’ve all done it, and I don’t mean the butch we, I mean the lesbian we, the woman we, the ALL OF US we.
It’s too easy to engage in these little horizontal hostilities. It’s too easy to sympathize with the people who oppress us. We are all responsible for our ability to harm each other, and we are all responsible for calling out harmful behavior when we see it. I take that responsibility very seriously.
But the term “butch misogyny” makes me want to break something.
Because misogyny is poison, and every single person born female in our society is forced to drink it, and smile, and thank the person who poisoned her and lie about how good the poison tasted. And when you’re forced to drink poison with a grateful heart every single day of your life, it’s going to affect you in ugly ways. Sooner or later, you are going to throw up on someone’s shoes.
And when someone throws up, no matter how gross you think it is, a caring friend says: “Are you okay? Was it something you ate?” Instead, when butch women make misogynist comments, we call it by the special term created just for them— “butch misogyny”— suggesting that butch women INVENTED misogyny, that it has never harmed us, that we benefit from it, and that we are the primary perpetrators of it in queer communities.
Let that last part sink in.
There is no special term for “misogyny perpetrated by het males.” There is no special term for “misogyny perpetrated by gay males.” There is no special term for “misogyny perpetrated by males who like to wear women’s clothing.”
And that’s curious, isn’t it? Males are the only people who stand to benefit from misogyny without incurring any damage to themselves. Males are consistently the worst perpetrators of misogyny in queer communities, causing the most harm, on the highest institutional levels, the most often.
When you promote the term “butch misogyny,” you deliberately turn a blind eye to the real problem and promote the scapegoating of some of our community’s most vulnerable members.
What we call “butch misogyny” is not an expression of woman hatred but an expression of self hatred. Butch women are no strangers to self hatred, it comes easily to us, we have to make peace with it. Maybe that’s why we’ve accepted our role as scapegoat within queer communities. We’re already scapegoats in the straight world, where we are the most visible and most despised targets of our society’s hatred for lesbians; maybe we’re used to it.
Or maybe butch women cooperate with the term “butch misogyny” because it equates us with men. Maybe we take it as a twisted compliment; maybe we feel that it boosts us up a rung on the queer hierarchy. We’re no stranger to that, either. Since childhood, we have known that the barrier between the men’s world and the women’s world is permeable. We have been able to slip across and taste the forbidden fruits of personhood. Maybe we hope that, if we shoulder responsibility for men’s crimes, we can keep some of that personhood for ourselves, at least in our own little corner of society.
If that’s what we think, we’re horribly misguided. As much as it hurts to face the truth, we have to admit that we are not men. Butch women are women. We are brave, smart, scrappy, tough-as-hell women. The way we are is natural, healthy and adaptive. We deserve to be loved and respected for what we are and it is completely unfair that we ever have to pretend to be men to get that respect. It’s worse than unfair— it’s oppressive.
Because my friend still feels bad about her woman driver jokes, she brought it up again recently to apologize. I asked her why she ever thought those jokes were funny in the first place.
"Oh," she said, "I guess… I was working as a line cook and all of my coworkers were men. They made those jokes all the time, and I had to make those jokes too, or they’d turn it against me and make me the target. I forgot to leave that stuff in the kitchen where it belongs. You know. Butch privilege!"
"You had to make jokes at your own expense to protect yourself from male violence at work? I see the logic, but how is that privilege?"
"Because once I was in the boys club I got treated a lot better than other women," she said.
"Did you, though?" I said. "You don’t think your male coworkers enjoyed watching you humiliate yourself? You think you were getting what they had? Let me ask you something. How many of those men have ever had to disown their maleness as a survival tactic? When do men ever do that?"
She didn’t have an answer, but she was suspicious of my argument, she thought I was trying to tell her that it was okay for her to trash women.
Listen, that’s not what I’m saying. It is not okay for you to trash women. I mean “you” in the most collective sense possible, you, dear reader, YOU. Butch women are not acceptable female targets. Stop looking for acceptable female targets. Stop it.
I am saying that if you are a woman (ANY woman) who trashes women (ANY women) you need to realize that you are throwing up all over your sisters because you drank poison. It’s not your fault that you drank poison, but you need to stick around and help clean up.
I am saying that you need to look long and hard at men, and especially at your queer brothers. Look at the gay men who say that your genitals look like potted meat mush. Look at the drag queens who mock you in front of gleeful audiences. Look at the het males who demand that you validate their identities by sleeping with them and who fly into histrionic fits every time you say the word “vagina” or admit that you menstruate.
I want you to ask yourself why you’ve never proposed a special term for their brand of misogyny— actual misogyny that reflects an actual hierarchy.
Ask yourself why you’re so comfortable sacrificing butch women at the altar of male feelings.
Because it may be time to consider the possibility that you are engaging in a little horizontal aggression of your own.