I’m one of those men who are baffled by how some members of my gender can be so sexist and misogynistic towards women.
When I look back on my development as young man, it seemed I never had a shortage of female role-models in my life, which means I never needed to look far for examples of females I admired and respected. I don’t know if that played a part in how I view women, but it certainly couldn’t have hurt.
In my own family, my step-sister, Grace, is a shining example of a wonderful human being who is so kind, compassionate, responsible, considerate, polite, and hard-working. She was the kind of kid that other parents used to measure their own kids, and all of us boys in the family grew up hearing, “Why can’t you be half as good as Grace?”
In school, some of my favorite teachers had been women, particularly Dr. Vaughns, an old, petite black lady who taught English. She suffered no fools and was as serious as a heart-attack while class was in session, but as soon as class ended, she became this warm and endearing little old lady who encouraged and cheered on my artistic efforts.
My extracurricular Japanese language teacher, the elegant and beautiful Yumiko Tasaka, gave me the kind of motherly love that I had never experienced until I met her, at age sixteen. She knew my mother was abusive and wanted to adopt me and take me to Japan with her when her family moved back, but I couldn’t allow myself to intrude into her family as a stranger to her daughters and husband, so I declined with a heavy heart.
Throughout school, it was always obvious to me that many of the top students were girls, and most of them were much better behaved than the rowdy idiot boys who did a lot of dumb shit, including doing most of the bullying.
In the entertainment and art I was exposed to, there were plenty of positive female role-models. Some of my favorite books in English during those formative years were written by female authors like Jennifer Roberson (Sword Dancer series), Patricia C. Wrede (Caught In Crystal), Claudia J. Edwards (Taming the Forest King), and all featured strong female characters. In Chinese, female authors like Yun Ching (whose literary novel, Journey, is one of my favorite books of all time), Chiung Yao, and Lee Xiao-Ping all had significant influences on me. There was a sensitivity in their storytelling and writings that was unique to the feminine voice that was missing from the male authors.
In movies, Rippley and Newt from Aliens were two of my favorite fictional female characters, and even in anime and manga, despite Japanese culture being very sexist and often objectifies females in offensive ways, there were some really great strong female characters. The one character that immediately comes to mind is Nausicaa, from Miyazaki’s animated masterpiece, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. I distinctly remember that as a 13 year-old boy, I watched Nausicaa for the first time, and was in awe of Nausicaa’s courage, compassion, strength, intelligence, and how she led people by example through self-sacrifice–almost a female Christ figure (complete with resurrection!). She should have been a “Mary Sue” character because she seemed almost flawless, but she never came across that way in the film. Shirow Masamune, back when he was still a serious storyteller (before his career became so focused on erotica), created Deunan (from Appleseed), one of the most badass female characters in all of manga, and she wasn’t just a “dude with boobs” like a lot of ridiculous caricatures we often see when men attempt to create strong female characters.
On television, creators like Joss Whedon also reinforced the idea that strong female characters were every bit as compelling as their male counterparts. Even in video games–a culture that’s notorious for being juvenile and sexist, had great female characters like April Ryan from The Longest Journey, Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2, and Jade from Beyond Good & Evil (and now we have Ellie from The Last of Us).
In American comics, I was a huge fan of the indie comic, Love & Rockets, and that entire fictional world was chock-full of realistic female characters.
There were also the female singers and songwriters and bands with female vocalists that dominated my playlists like Lisa Ekdahl, Sarah McLachlan, Veruca Salt, The Sundays, Cocteau Twins, Blossom Dearie, Lamp, Hooverphonic, Cranes, Ivy, lisahall, Curve, frente!, Sixpence None the Richer, etc. I listened to a lot of Japanese music too, and I was/am a huge fan of Morikawa Miho, Kawai Sonoko (starting from her fourth album, Rouge et Bleu, after she left her idol image behind and became a serious musical artist), Hirose Kohmi, Karie Kahimi, and many of the J-pop and anime female singers at the time. In Chinese music, I really liked Faye Wong. Female singers and songwriters would continue to dominate my playlists throughout my life, and still does today (these days it’s a lot of Korean indie artists and K-pop).
When I discussed this with Elena, she said that perhaps female role-models weren’t necessarily the reason why I turned out the way I did, because many of the men who are sexist and misogynistic had no shortage of admirable females in their lives (real of fictional), and it’s maybe something more closely tied to personality (and also linked to racism). This is also why within the same social circle where people have very similar upbringings, there would still be differences in values and dispositions. I don’t know if she’s right, but I do know that my life would not be the same without those positive female role-models.