Today (8 March) is International Women’s Day, commemorating the struggle for women’s rights.
It’s a day of reflection on the past and planning for the future – not just for women, but all humans who believe in equality, regardless of gender or sexuality.
Which brings me to gay men.
How many of us actually care about women? Discounting female relatives and pop stars, that is?
I used to think a belief in fairness was inbuilt in all of us. We’ve pretty much all faced prejudice and discrimination at some point in our lives, after all.
Then I wrote a piece called ‘Why gay girls have it harder than gay guys’, and realized how wrong I was.
Many disagreed with my view that lesbians are dealt a worse hand, by and large, simply because they’re women.
I took the measured counterarguments on board. But some of the comments were simply disgusting, and demonstrated a frightening lack of empathy.
As such, it’s clear there are a lot of gay male misogynists out there.
I’m not saying I’m perfect, by the way. Of the following nine examples of how gay men undermine and mistreat women, I’m guilty of more than a few. Falling at a few of these hurdles hardly makes one a woman-hater (although in a few cases, it definitely does).
And when I asked a Whatsapp group of female friends for more examples, some said they couldn’t think of any: that all the gay men in their lives were entirely supportive of them.
My point is, some of us need to be better, try harder, and recognize our behaviour if we’re going to change it.
1 When we act disgusted by breasts and vaginas
This is definitely one I’ve been guilty of in the past. However I think – or hope – I can chalk it up to immaturity.
I certainly didn’t mean it. I always said it to provoke a reaction, to make someone laugh, to make them uncomfortable. Comments about pregnancy and the menstrual cycle were also part of my hilarious oeuvre. Now I see what a sad stereotype I must have sounded.
I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying any of it now, especially given the current political climate. It would feel somehow equatable to Trump’s ‘pussy-grabbing’ comments. And who wants to be compared to him?
2 When we make women feel unwelcome in gay bars
A close female friend of mine was once turned away from an iconic gay club because she was with a group of female friends. It was her birthday, she’d been queuing for ages, and it was actually my suggestion that she go there. I should’ve known better.
Discriminatory door policies are bad enough, but the disdain with which some women are treated by gay men once inside gay venues is appalling.
I now struggle to convince my female friends to come with me to gay venues at all, so homogenized they’ve become with men sporting identical crewcuts.
3 When we use sexist language
When you use ‘she’ to playfully insult another gay man, what do you mean by it? In my experience, it’s usually to do with bitchiness – ‘she’, the gay man in question, is a bitch; ‘she’ is used to communicate that. However, that implies bitchiness is a female experience. Evidently, it isn’t.
‘Cunt’, ‘pussy’, ‘slut’ and ‘femme’ are all also problematic, for obvious reasons. And as for drag queens’ use of the word ‘fish’…
4 When we judge women’s appearance
Last year, BAFTA host Stephen Fry caused a stir with a joke about Jenny Beavan collecting an award for costume design while dressed like a ‘bag lady’. Beavan said she wasn’t upset by the remark (the two are friends), but the comment rang a lot of bells.
I’ve handed out plenty of often unsolicited fashion, make up and hair advice to my female friends and relatives over the years. But over time, I’ve realized I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. Where does this sense of entitlement come from?
5 When we judge women’s faces and bodies
Someone recently reminded my of the time I needlessly called a famous woman an ‘ugly cow’ in my student newspaper column. Not only do I have no recollection of writing it, but I’ve no idea why I wrote it. It’s complete rubbish.
But I think I know why I thought I could – because I’m gay. It makes no sense now, and I’m sorry for saying it, because women are worth more than their looks.
These days, I’m never more flummoxed than when a gay man criticises a woman’s body. And it happens all the time. I once heard a gay friend dismiss Gaga’s Artpop years by saying ‘I’d rather have a nice figure to look at.’ Why the hell does her figure matter to us? Women get enough judgement of their bodies from straight men and at times, each other.
6 When we touch women’s bodies without permission
Now we’re getting into really murky territory. I’ve seen it happen on more than one occasion, and it’s so cringeworthy. A lack of sexual interest in a woman’s body does not give licence to grope, slap or touch it in an otherwise sexual way without consent. It’s potentially assault.
7 When we fail to get on board with women’s issues
Charmed actress Rose McGowan sparked a huge debate when she slammed gay men for their lack of interest in feminism in a 2014 interview, saying:. ‘I have heard nobody in the gay community, no gay males, standing up for women on any level.’
She added: ‘There is Sharia law active in Saudi Arabia, there’s a woman who’s about to be stoned – I have not heard [AIDS activist] Cleve Jones discuss her, and nor will he.
‘[…] When the equal pay act was shut down by Republicans in the Senate, not a single man mentioned that. I see now people who have basically fought for the right to stand on top of a float wearing an orange Speedo and take molly [MDMA].’ She’s since apologized for her words, but not her message. Does she have a point?
8 When we refuse to consider alternative views on drag
The suggestion that drag is inherently misogynistic is a hard pill to swallow, even for me. But it’s not without its critics. Some even compare it to racial or cultural appropriation, like blackface or yellowface.
Taking it on a case-by-case basis, there are definitely acts who paint cruel portraits of women, that emphasize rather than subvert society’s pressures. Why do the fat/grotesque queens act less confident? And why do the hot/sexy/’fishy’ ones act bitchy/dumb?
9 When we treat them like a cliche, i.e. a fag hag
Love it or loathe it, Will and Grace is back. I adored the show at the time, but queer culture ages in dog years. By today’s standards, the show’s early depiction of gay male-straight female friendship looks positively prehistoric. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how the dynamic between the core four characters has evolved in the writers’ eyes.
I’m less hot on this one, because my female friends are hugely important to me, and I know them well enough that we can make fun of the cliche (which goes both ways – ever heard of the expression ‘fag bangle’?).
But the myth that women – straight women, especially – need gay male friends is so patronising. So much so, a matchmaking website called ‘Every Girl Needs a Gay‘ popped up in 2015. It was roundly ridiculed and now no longer exists. Which, hopefully, is a sign of progress.