Misogyny Reflected in Grocery Line Checkout

Amani Waseef

When I stand in the grocery store line-up, my eyes usually shift between the various reading materials displayed, ranging from “Women's Day Recipes for the 90's” to “The 5-Year Old Boy Who Gave Birth to Twins”. Most of this material I simply glance at without a second thought, with the exception perhaps of the odd chuckle of disbelief or groan of disgust. One day while waiting to pay for my groceries my eyes were drawn to a small pocket-size book called “What Men Hate About Women”. What struck me about this title was its explicitness in describing how men think about women. Usually the message in popular culture material is somehow disguised and hidden to avoid the reality of such thought. Anyway, I bought the 99 cent book, partly from the curiosity of wanting to know what could possibly be in it that I didn't already know (or what was presented as reality), and partly due to my outrage at such a publication.

The book begins by describing the basic physiological differences between women and men. For example, “(men have) male sex organs, abundant facial and body hair, thick vocal chords, more muscle and larger bone structure, and a tendency to favour torn T-shirts and baseball caps.” In contrast, “females have bigger breasts, more body fat, and often have a can of diet soda in their predominant hand.”

The book proceeds to outline various physiological differences between women and men beginning from foetal development to old age. At the infant stage, girls and boys were described as the following: “(Girls are) more responsive to touch as well as sounds and smells, like the sensuous creatures they'll grow up to be.” On the other hand, “Male babies spend more time awake and respond earlier to visual clues thus preparing them, perhaps, for ogling centrefolds in adulthood.” There were also some “general” differences which account for women's and men's incompatibility. Here are a few mentioned for men:

* Life expectancy as of 1985: 71.2 years, considerably shorter than women's (some may swear silently it is women who drive them to an earlier grave)”. [Obviously, the number of women murdered by enraged male partners or misogynist killers was not considered.]
* “They have a better sense of smell they can sniff a strange women's perfume on hubby's shirt from a mile away.”
* “Despite all efforts and expensive creams, they wrinkle sooner because their skin loses elasticity more quickly and the bones shrink after menopause.”
* “It's much more difficult for them to keep their weight down while eating a balanced diet.”

There is much more to the booklet including chapters on “Money”, “Feelings”, “Trouble spots”, and “Looks aren't everything”, however, I think the overall feeling of the book can be appreciated from the few quotes cited above.

The ideology presented in this book is profoundly sexist and misogynist. The reasons given as to why men hate women are trivial and derogatory, usually relating to women's physical size or physiology. The portrayal of women is organized in a humourous fashion, perhaps to invoke still further a disrespect and trivialization of the things which perpetuate male hatred of women. Humour is grounded within the ideal and stereotypical notions of male complaints about women, with weight and beauty clearly emerging as the most important aspects of heterosexual relationships. Traditionally, humour has always been used at the expense of a minority or disadvantaged group or person. In keeping with this spirit “What Men Hate About Women” conforms with popular notions of humour using women as its victim. When I picked up the booklet, I didn't really expect to learn anything constructive or valuable, but at the same time I thought it was important to recognize how women are perceived and valued by a male-stream culture which awards us no respect or validity. And it is not only a lack of respect or validity that we suffer from, but at the hands of this culture we also encounter rape, violence, murder, harassment, and the normal everyday experiences of being treated as second class citizens. The booklet was a reminder to me of the backlash which has hit the women's movement with full force in the last two years. Women's community groups and women on campuses across Canada have been bombarded with hate mail, spray-painting depicting acts of violence against women and dangerous threats on personal answering machines.

The publication of a booklet such as “What Men Hate About Women” is symptomatic of the larger societal problem which disregards the value of women and then trivializes it through humour (we have all heard the Marc Lepine jokes which have sprung up since December 1989). In Vancouver last year, a man arrived at a masquerade party dressed in fatigues pretending to be Lepine. He thought it was funny. At Osgoode Law School in Toronto, a group of men created the Lepine drama of female slaughter in their annual variety show. They also thought it was funny.

Lastly, I've been feeling more and more like a victim, unable to escape the constant sense of fear I experience for publicly declaring I am a feminist. Recently, I watched a show on the backlash against feminists at Osgoode Law School in Toronto, horrified to hear the stories of violence and threats against women who dared to speak out about the inherent sexism at the school. I then watched the Man Alive (ironically about dead women) show about the Montreal massacre and the effects it has had on the lives of women. What really alarmed me about the episode was the calmness and matter-of-fact nature in which women accepted and expected violence as a normal part of their lives.

I guess in a way I also expect some violence in my life, for I am a woman and I am a feminist, I, however, will never accept it and will continually fight against it.

From Pandora, Vol.6, No.2, January 1991
“Pandora” is published four times a year by Pandora Publishing Association, a non-profit organization of women in Nova Scotia. (It) is a newspaper produced by, for, and about women. Subscription rates are $5 Individual, up to $50 Contributing Membership, over $50 Sustaining Membership and $15 Institutional, available from Pandora, P.O.Box 1209, North Halifax, N.S. B3K 5H4



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