An Open Letter to Men

Dear Men:

As someone who writes about Augustan Age Rome, I spend a lot of time thinking about the lives of women in the ancient world. While Cleopatra was certainly not an overt activist on behalf of her gender, she was one of a long line of politically active women and she earned a rightful place as a trailblazer in the realm of women’s emancipation.

That she dared to assert herself into a political world dominated by men was, ultimately, her ruin. She was painted as a harlot, a seductress, and a betraying femme fatale. She was used as a justification for a Roman civil war. Her ideas were mocked, her son was murdered, and ultimately she was forced to suicide.

We like to think that a lot has changed in the more than 2000 years since Cleopatra’s death, but when I read news stories like this one about political commentators calling women sluts and prostitutes, it’s clear that we certainly haven’t come far enough. My aim is not to discuss the underlying political issue, upon which reasonable people might disagree, but to address the rampant misogyny reasserting itself in our culture.

The controversy apparently began when a young law student testified to congressional members about how her friend suffered from ovarian cysts because she could not afford the birth control pills to treat her symptoms. Almost nothing in this woman’s testimony had to do with sex. Even less of it had anything to do with her personally. And yet, in order to discredit her ideas, the criticisms immediately became very personal and utterly misogynistic.

Not only did a political commentator call her a slut and a prostitute, but he also invited her to post videos of her intimate sexual acts for the enjoyment of himself and his audience.

Calling a woman a slut or a prostitute in order to silence or marginalize her is nothing new. It has been used against women for thousands of years–and well into recent history, against women who dared to believe that they had a right to vote. The gender discrimination inherent in such rhetoric becomes obvious when you realize that men’s political opinions are never invalidated by means of such slurs.

When I think of all the young girls who read my novels, I think of young women who have a right to expect to be treated with the same respect and dignity as men. I think of young women who ought not grow up in a world afraid to take the stage in matters of public policy for fear that they will have their names dragged through the mud with sexually charged hate speech. They should not have to fear that they will face being shamed simply because they have ovaries and opinions about them.

And because I feel as if I have a responsibility to these young women, I cannot and will not be silent while this kind of rhetoric is blithely re-introduced into the public sphere. I ask you not to be silent either, because silence is complicity.

People who use these tactics deserve public opprobrium. Such rhetoric should be costly and I believe women will make sure that it is. But if you’re a man, this concerns you too. Even if you don’t have daughters, you might have a wife, or a mother. If you love these women, please don’t brush off remarks like this as simply tasteless entertainment; make sure that people who use this kind of tactic pay a heavy social price.

In short, be a hero.


Stephanie Dray

Comments (16)

  • What a powerful post! I’m appalled that women are still being treated this way, much less that we’re being treated that was so PUBLICALLY and so readily. Bravo for spreading the word and sharing your opinion.

  • Thank you for writing this important post.

  • Lisa Dunick

    I know that a lot of people–especially writers–avoid political discourse in the public sphere, and for the most part, I think that’s smart. I, too, have had a very, very hard time keeping my mouth shut about this particular issue. I’m glad you wrote this–it deserves and NEEDS to be heard.

  • Jen

    Beautifully expressed; I couldn’t agree more!

  • This is a well done, beautifully worded commentary on a deplorable, disgusting situation I had thought we left behind in the 60s. I’m sad to see it come up again, but glad for the chance to help grind it back into the dirt.

  • Michael

    Well said! With that statement I do have a rebuttal however… Ladies please dont put all of us guys in the same category as one male (I cant call him a man…after all a man takes responsibility for his actions) who uses hate speech on his show in order to get ratings.

  • I could not agree with you more. My first response to this travesty has been “male or not,I guess that makes me a slut too.” I am writing to you as a male author of feminist fiction to make the case that Rush Limbaugh certainly does not speak for all men, or even most men. He speaks from a lingering virus of Medieval witch-burning mentality that was outrageous five hundred years ago and simply not acceptable today.

    Yesterday, I could not contain myself from responding to an op-ed letter posted by the International Business Times written by a woman supporting Limbaugh’s remarks and waving the flag of Ronald Reagan. I have since been informed that I am going to burn in the lowest level of Dante’s hell for my opinion. I am stunned that someone thinks that the threat of a fictional hell is some how an argument. The hate that these people summons on the basis of twisted dogma (for nothing in the extensive reading I have done on the subject of the life of Jesus would indicate that he would have behaved in this way) and their own superstition is nothing short of mind-numbing.

    While haters are gonna hate, everyone else needs to stand up against this Neanderthal thinking, but more importantly, this vile kind of rhetoric. I am reminded of the many historic examples of Limbaugh’s thinking like Joseph McCarthy, George Wallace and Phyllis Schlafley who used hate to rally the spiritually vulnerable by attacking the innocent. In every case, history has relegated these people to the ash heap of “what were you thinking”. The fact is they were not thinking and that is the problem. Faith in the hands of the ignorant is a license to turn off the brain and drink the Kool-Aid.

    We can all be thankful that, in every case, a voice has arisen to speak sense into this hateful conversation and bring humanity to reason.

    Thank you for your post today. Everyone needs to stand up to this kind hateful rhetoric and let these airbags know that this kind of thing will be met with fierce resistance.

    D. M. Kenyon
    Author of The Lotus Blossom

  • Rock on, Stephanie! Thanks for posting this.

  • Well done, Stephanie. I’ve never been a listener to RL’s hatred and bigotry. That anyone listens to him is appalling. Thank you for speaking out. The whole attack on Birth Control is retrograde and must be stopped.

  • Ray Plasse

    You speak the truth young lady!

  • This post was extremely well-written. Thank you. I’m going to have to read your book! I suspect that your fiction is even better than your political commentary.

    • Thank you so much for the kind words. When I wrote this Open Letter to Men, I assumed mostly women would reply. It’s been so gratifying to hear from men on the subject, too!

  • Ella Quinn

    Thank you for a wonderful and powerful post. For thousands of years men have tired to shut women up and out. It\’s time we stop allowing it.

  • Love it, Stephanie. Thanks for posting!

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