“We traffic in mockery,” wrote William Butler Yeats, in a poem that is a plea, a triumph, a call to arms that almost a century after its publication is as relevant now as it was then. In modern television and film portrayals, women are allowed the depth and complexity of their male counterparts, a privilege they were not afforded a century ago, but at a great cost. Much of the small, but growing portrayal of gay male characters presents, in a skillful manner, a subtle misogyny. They serve as caricatures, imitating women in their least substantial roles and qualities, ensuring that there is always a portrayal of women deserving of mockery. What is worse is that the novelty of this act, by virtue of its newness, is not recognized for what it really is: mockery.
“Come let us mock at the good.”
Similar to White actors in blackface (a form of theatrical makeup stereotyping a black person) alongside Black actors, the former diminish any progress the latter might make in representing their whole selves. The television and film industry attempts to be tactful in its perpetuation and cementation of prejudice, but the model for women is the same: provide them roles in which they represent themselves, but place characters alongside them who serve to remind us of our dormant prejudices.
One way this is skillfully done, in the television industry, is in the all too prevalent annexation of gay men to the female sex. They are passed off as just “one of the girls.” These men are pitched as some of the best friends a woman can have. They are allowed into their female friends’ intimate spaces—groping at liberty with exclamations of harmless extravagance: “It’s all right; he’s gay,” becomes an oft repeated adage of women. They are allowed to do and say things that their straight counterparts would scarcely get away with. Viewers are made to believe yet another dangerous notion: gay men admire women.
Yet there is something abusive in the way these men act: in their attempts to show they are privy to the inner workings of women, in their ungraceful possession of a feminine charisma and attitude, and in their feigning to experience their own version of PMS and a monthly cycle. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, except when it is actually a form of mockery. Forgive us women if we are not flattered, for it seems to be expected that we feel thus:
At long last, a man who knows my unique struggles as a woman; someone I don’t have to explain myself to!
Validation: a man could actually want to be like me!
And yet, someone must admit this is a fool’s victory. These are not the same men some women crave understanding and compassion from, or even equality with. Under the facetious remarks made by these characters, there is an apathy toward or even condemnation of women that runs deep. How can women think that they have made gains when the desired interlocutor has been so flagrantly replaced with someone easier to talk to yet totally irrelevant to the conversation? We are not so far from the superficiality brought to the fore in a George Bernard Shaw play. It even seems like we have sunk lower, for at least when Mr. Higgins and Eliza argued, they were the right interlocutors for the conversation. Imagine if Mr. Higgins put his maid in his position and told Eliza, “I am done talking with you; I will have the maid continue on the conversation in my place.” Imagine thinking that blackface was a kind of flattery. The thought alone is repulsive. Not only that, but the question, whining in the corner for recognition when this mockery takes place, is this: Is that all it takes? Is all it takes to be a woman a little attitude, a propensity to gossip with your friends, and a moody, irrational, attention-seeking personality? The image presented to everyone is this: Being a woman is not hard or unique. We would be remiss not to question whether this imitation is flattery or mockery, whether the man in his portrayal is friend or foe; for these imitations smell of contempt and derision. These exaggerated attempts at femininity are not fair to women, or the men who portray them.
Faatimah is a free lance writer residing in both New York and California. She has an interest in Literature, Arabic, Islamic Law and women’s issue. She recently gave a talk entitled ‘Heart Ethics’ and has a deep love for social justice.
This a article was originally posted here