Heterosexuality in the U.S. is gendered: women are expected to attract, men are supposed to be attracted. Men want, women want to be wanted. Metaphorically, this is a predator/prey type relationship. Women are subject to the hunt whether they like it or not, so men’s attention can be pleasing, annoying, or frightening. It all depends.
Accordingly, women know what it feels like to be prey. Not all men make us feel this way, of course, but some certainly do. The leering guy on the street, the heavy hitter in the bar, the frotteurist on the subway, the molesting uncle, the aggressive fraternity brother, etc. It doesn’t matter if we’re interested in men or not, interested in that guy or not, there are men that — with their eyes, mouths, hands, and more — apparently can’t help but get their “sexual energy slime” all over us.
So what’s homophobia? Sometimes I think it’s the moment that men feel what it’s like to be prey. See, women are used to it. It’s a familiar feeling we have to modulate all the time. We’re used to constantly judging whether it means danger or not. But when it happens to men for the first time, I bet it’s shocking as all hell. It’s like they’ve been treated like a human being their whole life and then, POW, they’re a piece of ass and nothing more. It must feel just crazy bad.
Of course, all that’s happened is that they’ve been demoted in the food chain. No longer the predator, they’re the prey. The dynamic between two men is the same as the one between men and women, except now they know what it feels like to be slimed.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.