Dear Captain most Awkward,
As I say in my subject line: Help! My brother is a teenage misogynist!
He’s always been really awful about treating women as people thanks to his preferred media and genres, as well as the fact that our mother and other female family friends and relatives enabled and enable him like… like the seagulls that run rampant at the beaches. I don’t just mean the little kid “Girls are icky and have cooties!” but that he was (TW for misogynistic slurs) calling me a “two cent whore” and a “fat whale” and a “bitch” by the time he was ten (to be fair, I responded similarly, but I realized pretty quickly that we had shitty role models and that Shit Like That Was Not Okay – not even a whole year later, I had my temper under way better control). He also has had a really bad temper.
It used to be that if he got bored or someone denied him something he wanted, he would hit and kick and scream, now he just sulks and has said that if he isn’t happy, he’s going to just make everyone around him miserable. Don’t even get me started on what happens if I turn off or change his music while I’m driving (I have a lot of driving anxiety, his music generally makes it worse). He’s been getting better, though, especially because his legal guardian (a family friend, it’s complicated, but both parents are definitely in the picture, despite being in other cities).
Even so, the misogyny? Is not getting much better. Being around our father makes it so, so much worse. He thinks sexist jokes are hil-LARIOUS and constantly mansplains. He complains when my mother or I comment on something problematic in the media, or if I say anything about rape culture (which apparently makes me like a racist because I think everyone is an asshole?) or misogyny (No, I don’t use the terms, really, because that would be ineffective communication right now and make him turn out). And he really, really wants to be a marketing/advertising/businessman type.
It makes me feel awful because I know he could really hurt a lot of women around him and, tbh, most of the people in his life are really bad role models. I’ve been the only one to enforce consequences for him, which makes him view me as one of the Big, Bad, Scary Feminists as well as his “bitch sister.”
Please, Captain and Army Awkward, help me come up with some ways to introduce my baby brother to the idea that Women Are People? Maybe some women produced media that would hold a seventeen year old’s attention? Links to discussion of the use of women in advertising? Hopefully so he doesn’t fuck up anyone’s life when he goes away to college next year?
Thank you all so much,
Your brother sounds like kind of a tool. But who isn’t at 17? Check out this blog by Melissa S. He’s not alone.
I can tell you one hopeful thing and some not-so-hopeful things.
First, I have a confession to make. Between 18 and 20, I was a libertarian. It started when I met some of the people at my college’s student activity fair. I wanted to sleep with/hang out with them at their super-fun parties full of underage drinking, the male-to-female ratio was definitely skewed in my favor, I was a college freshman at a fancy international affairs/political science/economics program and therefore had a high tolerance for mansplaining. Since I had just previously tried on Communism as a political philosophy (mostly to piss off my conservative Grampa) it made total sense to go with the complete opposite for a while. I was so far in that when the guys who ran the club graduated they made me the co-president and I used to set up poorly-attended talks by the “fellows” (and they were always fellows, if you know what I mean and I think you do) at the Cato Institute. Years later during grad school I used these old affiliations and an ability to speak the correct buzzwords into a bunch of scholarship money to make weird feminist movies.*
Hopeful thing: I got better. Your brother might, too.
I was rebellious and shitty wanted to “provoke” people with my “unconventional” “wisdom” because I was a young kid whose chief talent was thinking I was smarter than other people. My perspective changed with time and reading better books and meeting different people and trying on a few different political personae to see how they fit. See also: a) having people I liked and respected totally demolish my idiotic arguments b) traveling overseas to formerly socialist countries and seeing what happens when the social safety net get completely and gleefully demolished by Harvard boys treating it like a fun science project and c) developing some maturity and fucking empathy for a change.
Your brother’s misogynist ways are going to get him a lot of positive reinforcement from the dicks of the world, but in college he’s going to meet all kinds of people and try on all kinds of ideas and identities. And, if he’s straight, he’s going to want to meet and sleep with girls and some of those girls are going to tell him where he can stick his insults and retrograde ideas. Maybe he’ll run into it in the workplace, or in class from a cool professor who shuts down his sexist bullshit in front of the whole class. Wherever it happens, at some point I have to hope that it will become embarrassing and unproductive for him to spout this stuff, and at that moment he’ll either start to evolve or he won’t.
Here’s the less comforting news: He’s trying hard to find his own identity and pull away from family influences, including you, right now. He’s going to be way more concerned with what his peers and role models (maybe your dad is one of these for him – far enough away to loom large) have to say than with hearing a lecture or some feminist reading recommendations from big sis. I get that it feels like your job because he’s your brother, but recognize that even if he is absorbing your lessons and example they might not sink in for a long time until he’s ready to hear and understand them. This is pretty much true of anything anyone tries to teach kids.
I think you can do three things, basically:
1) Say “Wow” whenever he says some bullshit, and then withdraw yourself from the conversation so you’re not getting pummeled with this stuff when you’re trying to drive him around. Mouthing off might just be a way of getting your attention and a safe way of picking a fight to let off steam, so what would happen if he didn’t get attention? You can’t control how he’ll behave or what he’ll say, so think of it more as trying to make things more bearable and comfortable for you.
2) Make a “driver chooses music” rule in the car. You drive, your music or no music. If he wants to listen to his music, he can walk. There will be a big argument when you drive off and leave him somewhere, probably, and he’ll feel like the Wronged One. It happens. Outside of spaces you control, he will watch/play/listen to what he wants to, and you can’t really police it. And you shouldn’t even try to police it. As the great Snarky’s Machine says, it’s very easy to point out problematic aspects of pop culture you don’t like anyway and very hard to look at the problems in the stuff you love.
3) Try to have one serious heart-to-heart about sex, rape, consent, birth control, STDs, etc. before he goes to college. Or refer him to someone in the family or a friend of the family he does get along with and trust to get this done. A good approach is “I’m sure you know most of this stuff, but can you listen to me for 15 minutes? We can set an alarm to go off when it’s time to stop.”
The least helpful thing I can offer: Misogyny has real-world consequences. Hurtful attitudes and hurtful words actually hurt people and make the world a worse place. But if he messes up his or someone else’s life, it’s not your responsibility or your fault for not having somehow gotten through to him. All you can really do is try your best and be a good example. Plenty of racist and sexist people grow up with comfortable, loving two-parent homes, and in the end we’re responsible for ourselves no matter how we came up.
There are tons of recs for media made by women in this thread and tons of advice (and examples of how not to act) here. I wish I had some magic “Stop being a misogynist!” spell or pill or powder, but I don’t. Can any commenters tell us heartening stories of how you talked someone out of problematic belief? Or, much more likely, can you share stories of your own realization and letting go of a problematic viewpoint? What influence did others have on your change in thinking? I’d especially like to hear from men here.
*It’s still pledge drive week, so let me remind you that you can watch one of these weird feminist films for the low, low price of a dollar donation to Captain Awkward Dot Com enterprises.