Actress and activist Rose McGowan hit out at the gay community this week, saying “Gay men are as misogynistic as straight men, if not more so”. McGowan made the claims during an interview for gay American Psycho author Brett Easton Ellis’s podcast, and has since been criticised for making disparaging generalisations about gay men, suggesting that while many women have long been vocal supporters of gay rights, gay men have worked selfishly and not returned the favour. But does she have a point?
The patriarchal male–female dynamic is based in heterosexuality, and some of it’s most obvious manifestations reflect this, from a husband expecting his wife to do all the work looking after the children, to a group of men wolf-whistling and heckling a lone woman in the street, to women having to fear the possibility of being raped by a man. To think of misogyny in only these terms would suggest that the gay community is completely outside of this phenomenon. However, there are many non-sexual forms of misogyny, of which gay men can be and often are just as guilty.
Seeing women as weaker, submissive or less valid.
If you are a gay man reading this, think: would you be more or less likely to talk down to, interrupt, or ignore a male or female co-worker, family member or even a stranger? And would you accept criticism from them in the same way?
Using gendered insults
Think: would you condemn a straight woman for using a homophobic term like “faggot”? But then, would you ever criticise a straight woman using derogatory gendered terms like “slut”, “bitch” or “whore”?
Judging women based on their sexual attractiveness or availability.
Though we may not be sexually interested in women, gay men can often be very critical of women’s looks, insulting them, calling them fat or ugly, and believing that this is one of the biggest shames a woman can suffer, in a way that is not the same for men. This can be similarly true of “slut-shaming” straight women for being sexually promiscuous in a way that we don’t criticise straight men. Furthermore, one way this form of misogyny can appear in the gay male community in a way that it doesn’t in the straight community, is through spreading the idea that female sexuality is disgusting. Many of us may know the gay drag queen slang for looking really feminine: looking “fish” or “fishy”, stemming from the idea that female genitals stink of fish. This is so commonly used on Rupaul’s Drag Race I was surprised to hear that when asked, Michelle Visage, the only biological woman regularly on the show, admitted that she hated it.
Gay ally Michelle Visage on “serving fish”
Profiting from male privilege
There are many forms of oppression and privilege. While straight women like Rose enjoy straight privilege (e.g. being able to hold hands with her partner without fear of persecution) gay men still enjoy many (though not all) of the same privileges as straight men. We are not often taught to fear walking alone at night in the same way. We will never have to consider an abortion and risk being judged for our choice. We are not taught that having a career is unnecessary, or that we ought to give it up if we want to start a family. Usually, the overall boss of our workplace is the same sex as we are (though not often the same orientation). We are not taught that being dominant, opinionated or sexually available are negative characteristics. It is important to be mindful and respectful of the privileges we have that others don’t, and to actively challenge them in theory and in practice.
It is confusing that one group trying to fight for equality and respect for themselves can disregard and work against the similar struggle of another group. To be a misogynistic gay, a racist feminist etc. etc. is nothing but hypocrisy. Moreover, this even happens within the vast LGBTQ+ community, with some gay men having no respect for lesbians, some lesbians having no respect for trans people etc. etc. We cannot ask for empathy and generosity without offering the same in return.
As such, the main reason McGowan received criticism for her comments was the way she asked for the support of gay men with such vitriol towards them, being particularly dismissive of the gay rights movement, saying, “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].”
I was most surprised by her comment, “I think it’s what happens to you as a group when you are starting to get most of what you fought for”. This surprises me as this is a sentiment that has often been (erroneously) given to the women’s rights movement. I’ve often heard it said, “why do we need feminism? Women can vote? Women can have a career? Women can do anything a man can do”. However, until women stop making up such a disproportionally low percentage of world leaders and top earners, and such a disproportionally high percentage of victims of rape and domestic violence, feminism will always be relevant. Similarly, though gay men can now “officially” be out and proud and even get married in many states of McGowan’s native USA, in many states they can’t get married. In many states firing people for being gay is not illegal. Gay people have only been legally allowed in the US army for two years. ‘Sodomy’ laws were only officially struck down in all states in 2003. The prejudice and discrimination tied to such a history still looms in such comparatively left-leaning countries where homosexuality is legal. And then there are the countries where it is not legal. And then there are those where it is punishable by death. As long as that is the case, Gay Pride will always be more than a party.
Rose McGowan for Advocate
In an op–ed for Advocate, Rose McGowan has since apologised for the [in her words] “dumb” comments she made about gay men, however she fervently stands by her primary point that misogyny is indeed alive in the gay community, and that we are not doing enough to stop it. Though some took offence to some of what she said, the positive outcome of her speech was that she has opened up a public discourse that we were not really having before. And she is right. We can only reach equality for our own groups while actively working towards equality for everyone, in all forms, not just where we are motivated by self-interest.