The first week, there were three dudes in our Women’s Studies class. The second week, there was one. By the third, none. Visible dudes, that is. I’m sure any invisible trans guys wouldn’t have said anything because it was that kind of Women’s Studies class. You know the type. The sort of class “men’s rights activists” fear. It was all empowering women and misandry (which are like two of my favorite pastimes!), but also “Masculinity in Women is a Tool of the Patriarchy” and “Why Shaving Body Hair is a Tool of the Patriarchy” and “Real Women Fight the Patriarchy in This Very Specific Way.”
My then girlfriend (now wife) and I were given a pass on a lot because we’re lesbians and so was the professor. I imagine we’d have been eaten alive if she had been straight. We were not “good” feminists. My girlfriend had the nerve to say (out loud, of all things) that she liked shaving her legs. Worse, she was able to explain her position well. We had the audacity to do that a lot. It was almost as if we had our own thoughts and feelings outside of the collective opinion of our professor and class.
I try to cultivate space for dialogue with my students. I don’t want them to regurgitate my thoughts or their friends’ thoughts. I want them to have opinions they developed via emotion and logic and discussion and time. I want them to give a shit about the communities they belong to because they have an investment in them not because they are supposed to.
My own misogyny was fully established by the time I was in that Women’s Studies class. I was raised in America during the tail end of the twentieth century. Of course my misogyny was ingrained. A bunch of militant, hairy-legged women didn’t help. And I say that as a hairy-legged lesbian. I mean, I do shave my legs. But I tend to do so more in winter than summer because I hate the feeling of socks and hair. In summer it doesn’t bother me. My wife likes feeling clean shaven year-round. She doesn’t have an opinion about my shaving habits and I don’t have an opinion about hers. As it turns out, we are distinct humans who respect each other’s bodily autonomy. It took me years to arrive at my current state. I had to unpack a lot of learned behavior, a lot of learned opinions. I had to realize that feminism (like shaving habits) is about acknowledging social constructs and deciding which to participate in. It is about the freedom of choice. It is about access to choice.
We tried to be troopers. And not just to earn A’s in Women’s Studies. Really. We didn’t write the people in class off until one of the women said we should all bleed in the forest together. A little tip from me to you: if you’re in a Women’s Studies class where everyone thinks your masc of center presentation is a representation of the patriarchy and someone suggests going as a group to bleed in the forest, the appropriate response is NOT to laugh.
I get it. People in possession of uteri tend to bleed once a month and people not in possession of uteri need to not stigmatize it. I just think (and this is going to sound bananas) that maybe we shouldn’t shame people for destigmatizing in different ways. Don’t get me wrong. We need to destigmatize the fuck out of periods. But “we” really only applies to people over the age of twenty-five. GenZ does not give the remotest of fucks about our generational shame around periods. GenZ has no problem coming up to me during Queer Prom and announcing “Ashley, I started my period and I need a tampon and there aren’t any in the bathroom,” knowing full well I’m going to find them a tampon in under two minutes. GenZ has no problem coming into my office and shouting “Does anyone have fucking Midol? My uterus is trying to fucking kill me!” GenZ has no problem openly comparing period tracker apps while sitting in class next to a group of cisboys. GenZ is a trans boy sitting in my office saying “My body reminded me it was International Women’s Day today.” After we all laugh, I say I thought T was supposed to stop menstruation, but he is GenZ so he has no issue explaining to his advisor and a handful of peers the amount of time it takes the average teenage trans boy to stop menstruation.
Misogyny gives us strange hang ups. I spent years having other people celebrate my masculinity. I’m stoic and logical and I don’t marinate on problems, I fix them. I don’t cry. The fact that I’m built like a teenage boy confuses people because they read behavior as masculine even when it’s only my gender presentation that’s masculine. The internalized misogyny comes into play when I let those assumptions stand. When I lean into them. When I forget how to cry and end up cracked in the brittle places. It doesn’t do much good to uphold the patriarchy and benefit from it while simultaneously railing against it. But it does even less good to tell someone else they are doing it wrong. Let’s all just destroy the patriarchy together, friends.