A conversation I had recently with my boyfriend’s brother and (another) viewing of the film ‘Superbad’ has led to me to some inner ruminations: should men be judged by the proxy of their peers? Is it unreasonable to judge someone by the actions of their friends? What can we really expect from our male partners? Are all men, ultimately, sexist?
It’s an unreasonable request to ask your partner to stop seeing certain friends (no matter how much you dislike them) but is it unreasonable to ask your boyfriend to stop participating in proxy misogyny?
If you watched or read ‘Normal People’ you will have borne witness to the scene in which Connell’s friend Rob shows his girlfriend’s nudes to his two best friends. Should he be doing this? Of course not. It’s a great invasion of privacy and most likely a betrayal of consent – if she’s under 16 it’s technically the distribution of child pornography. However, we later find out that Rob is suicidal – and so it’s indicated that this misogyny is a malformed way of trying to connect with his friends. In which case, does the scene hold an entirely different significance?
Maybe I’m being condescending, but I do wonder if men are actually capable of not being misogynistic? Media portrayals of male friendship are common, but often narrow in scope. Let’s look at films: ‘Superbad’, ‘Young Offenders’ , ‘Trainspotting’, (in which there’s a similar scene to ‘Normal People’ where Renton steals the sex tape of his friend Tommy) and ‘Wayne’s World’. All great films with male characters I would like to be friends with, and yet at the bedrock of their friendships is the flippant objectification of women. Perhaps, just like Rob in ‘Normal People’ my boyfriend’s friends don’t have a better way of communicating with each other than base misogyny, because it’s just not in their vocabulary. There’s very little representation of male friendship in media which doesn’t include some form of casual sexism.
Every time I try to tell my boyfriend that his misogynist friends make me uncomfortable, that I wish he wasn’t on a group chat that regularly ranks women’s Instagram photos, he says to me, ‘I’ve known them since I was 12 years old’.
See, intellectually, I know that these men are objectifying these women because they’re simply jealous, and disenfranchised and quite frankly need a hug. I know that they’re deciding this perfectly beautiful girl is ‘a waste of a good arse’ because they’re lonely and sad and don’t know how to value women without objectifying them. They’re incels basically, except they have girlfriends.
Which begs the question, why are they doing this? They can’t hate women – they have mothers and girlfriends and sisters and grandmas – and yet I doubt any of the women in their life know that this is happening.
But then again – I know. I am the girlfriend of a boy on this group chat – I may have had reassurances that he never participates directly in the misogyny, but he does bare witness to it. He participates by proxy and to a large extent I have forgiven him for it, even if I’m writing this article.
Before I started dating, I thought it was something simple I could expect from my partner, that he has absolutely no friends who are misogynistic, but perhaps the real world isn’t like that. If all misogynists are disenfranchised from their friends by request of their girlfriends, how is society expected to progress. The cross pollination of ideas required in order to change people’s minds would stagnate by virtue of segregation. But then again, there is no cross pollination. Even of the guys I know who aren’t sexist, maybe even feminist, I personally know no one who would call their male friends out on misogyny.
And I wonder why that is, an open question to all men – if men love the women in their lives, why do they have such a hard time defending woman in general?
Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash