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“Women are bitches,” says a young man as he sits down. Apparently a woman at the bar wouldn’t give him her number. He’s talking to the man sitting on his left in spite of the fact that I am sitting two feet to his right and at the same table.

I’ve spent the last couple months in the company of writers, mostly poets, mostly men. I am growing weary. The group I hang with is large and fluid—I’m not naming names, not pointing fingers, I like these people—and yet an issue I cannot ignore has begun to emerge: when it comes to many of the men in the company, mid-thirties and younger, making conversation, even with women present (older, younger, students, professionals, I’m a grandmother for Christ’s sake), the topics frequently revolve around who is sleeping with whom, which female is more fuckable, which poop or dog-cum reference is the funniest, and what is the latest text from “the Korean girlfriend.”
It’s not that I mind swearing, not that I dislike racy humor, not that I’m a prude—the more sex the better, I say—but self-aggrandizing dick jokes get old fast. At one point, just to balance the conversation, I suggested, loudly, to another woman in the group that we begin starting our sentences with “My vagina is so tight…”

[…] Back to the weeks of concentrated writer events. One man offered as a compliment “You look rape-able.” One man seemed compelled to check out and comment on the breasts and legs of all the women we passed (or perhaps it just seemed like all) on the street, at the bar, in the restaurants. One man I was talking to opened a conversation with “You know that chick…” It turned out he was referring to the late-thirties editor we had just been chatting with, but it took me a minute to figure it out, because not in my wildest dreams would I have referred to the mature, professional woman as a “chick.”

This kind of crap went on and on. It was exhausting. Exhausting to figure out how to respond to the relentless misogyny from men who are otherwise kind and educated, who would never think of themselves as chauvinist assholes. I have heard more than once from this crew, “Most of my favorite poets are women.” If I were to guess, I’d bet that the lot of them vote pro-choice, support the Violence Against Women Act, and consider women well capable of intelligent, complex thought. I certainly don’t assume that all men under 40 would engage in the kind of language and behavior described above; indeed, I know of many who would never do so. And yet, after the past several weeks, its frequency is far beyond what I thought possible.

What is up with all this dehumanizing language? Honestly, I have no idea. But I do know this. If “good guys” feel perfectly at ease using degrading language that objectifies women when talking not only to one another but also to women they purportedly respect, then the bullshit that came out of the GOP this past election cycle (vaginas that can tell the difference between consensual sex and rape, for example) can be explained. A big pile of reasonably aware and well-intentioned people doing thoughtless shit creates a solid set of stairs for unreasonable, ignorant assholes to say and do what most of us (men and women alike) would deem shockingly destructive.

KMA Sullivan writes about what it’s like to spend time in a “women are bitches” culture. Cue dehumanising language, endless objectification, rape “jokes”, and bucket-loads of entitlement. It’s distressing and infuriating, in equal measures. I do love the image though (created by Jason Novak).

Rest: The Rumpus.net (where you can also scroll down to listen to KMA read her essay.

KMA Sullivan‘s poetry and essays have been published or are forthcoming in Forklift, Ohio, The Nervous Break Down, Southern Humanities Review, Pear Noir!, Gargoyle, The Good Men Project, diode, and elsewhere. She is the editor of Vinyl Poetry and the founding editor and publisher of YesYes Books. KMA tweets at @kmasullivan.