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I Feel Sorry for Kyle Smith; He’s Been Duped

When I’m faced with blatant misogyny, my immediate reaction isn’t anger; it’s confusion. I find it utterly mystifying that anyone could think that I have any less authority on my body and my own experience, so much so that it gives them the right to dismiss it altogether.

I know for a fact that I’m a human being, and I’ve always found it odd when someone treats me like I’m not. Yet somehow, I can relate to men’s experiences, but many of them can’t relate to mine.

Misogyny happens on a lot of levels, and at varying degrees of subtlety. It’s every time I’m automatically questioned on something that I know to be factual and true. Telling someone I know something to be factual and true isn’t always enough to convince them; neither is a bibliography.

It’s when I’m expected to clean up after someone else at the office. It’s when someone keeps hitting on me even after I’ve told them—explicitly—that I’m not interested. It’s when I’m followed on the street for a few blocks, for reasons that only include having a vagina.

It happens when the NY Post publishes a piece by Kyle Smith purporting that women can’t possibly understand “GoodFellas.”

Smith is right that “GoodFellas” is, among other things, a male fantasy, but not in the way he thinks. The male characters in the movie are an incarnation of masculinity, itself the ideal of maleness that’s constantly shoved down our collective throats. He describes what he thinks guys want to be, without considering that he’s actually buying into the idea of what guys are told they’re supposed to be.

It’s too bad that his imagination is so limited, but it also explains why he doesn’t stop to reflect on why men and women might experience a movie differently.

He’s also wrong to assume women don’t like ball-busting. Put a bunch of us together on ladies’ night, and the kinds of things we talk about would make men blush. In fact, the bulk of Smith’s piece demonstrates that he really doesn’t get women at all. Worse still, he’s not interested in trying to.

Women are very much aware of what the fantasy of maleness looks like, and because it’s the standard, even those of us who argue against it can still appreciate it, in part because we’ve been conditioned to value (and validate) the male experience over our own.

He’s wrong that women can’t understand the structure of that fantasy; we’re expected to come through on femininity, which is designed to satisfy the fantasy of male desire; and we’re humiliated if we do, damned if we don’t. Even Smith’s piece lives up to that behavior: praise be to Karen for busting Henry’s balls; shame on her for expecting Henry to treat her decently on their dates.

Unfortunately, it’s nearly pointless to argue with the Kyle Smiths of the world. They’ve been conned into a narrative that’s very convenient for them, so, on some level, I can actually understand the need to cling to that narrative.

It’s how I also totally get why someone like Smith isn’t willing to entertain the notion that women could possibly be on par with men when it comes to comprehension. It explains why he didn’t bother to ask female critics about “GoodFellas.” In reading his piece, we have to assume the only woman whose opinion he solicited was his ex-girlfriend’s…that one time in 1991.

Equality requires a big shake-up. When the French monarchy and aristocracy knew that commoners wanted equality, they were scared. To wit, non-nobles literally beheaded their own ruling class in an attempt to achieve fairness.

The quest for equality is an acknowledgement that equality is not the status quo. Anyone on the higher rung of that system necessarily has to relinquish a good deal of the good stuff they’ve become accustomed to; or, as they tend to fear most, they’ll have to share it. 

I understand the structure of power, and I understand how scary it is to let it go, or at least not to exercise that power in the same way as before. Oddly, it’s something I can understand without ever having had said power myself.

We live in the era of Jazmine Hughes, Jamelle Bouie, Laurie Penny, Mallory Ortberg, Lindy West, Roxane Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates. The status quo is actively being challenged for the fallacy that it is, and the movement has allies on all gender fronts, in all professions.

I feel sorry for Smith, because his piece betrays just how much he’s been duped. He bought the hack discourse that male and female “reptile” brains are innately different. He made a generalization based on information that’s known to be false. His mistake is a big one, and it’s so public that he’ll have to live with it for a long time.

Olivia Collette

Olivia Collette is based in Montreal, and has written for the Montreal Gazette, World Film Locations: San Francisco, Sparksheet, Indiewire’s Press Play blog, the Spectator Arts Blog and other outlets. She discusses pop culture at Livvy Jams.

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