In real life, I like male bosses who hire and work well with women, men who count women as good friends, and guys who look at their significant others as partners instead of sources of sex and cooking. But in my entertainment, I have a fond spot for misogynists.
Without Don Draper’s myopic belief in himself as the rightful master of his universe, where’s the drama on Mad Men? And what would Peggy, Betty, and Megan have to rebel against? I even like modern-day misogynists: Some of my favorites are the working-class biker gang members in FX’s Sons of Anarchy, who illustrate what happens when hyper-masculinity starts yielding diminishing returns.
That point is most clearly drawn by Otto Delaney, played by Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter, a writer with an imagination so fetid and fervid that his wife and leading lady Katey Sagal calls him her “Twisted Walter Mitty.” Rather than giving himself a heroic role, Sutter chose to portray one of the most grotesque characters on the show. Otto is a violent, angry man who’s spent the entire run of Sons of Anarchy imprisoned on murder charges, where he’s continued his bloody streak—one character refers to his penchant for sticking things in people’s ears, and she doesn’t mean in a kindergartener-with-toys kind of way. Other than his wife Luann, Otto hates pretty much everyone, though he reserves some particular venom for women, calling Tara (Maggie Siff), a doctor who visits him in prison on behalf of the club, “a persistent little gash.”
But for all his macho posturing, the terrible damage Otto suffers in prison is a direct result of his loyalty to the Sons, an organization that sets up men as gods and women as the Old Ladies dedicated to serving and supporting them. His eye is gouged out in an attack by white supremacist gang members retaliating against the Sons. Luann is murdered when the Sons fail to protect her from a business rival. Otto commits murders in prison that expose him to further retaliation. And in last night’s season finale, Otto literally bit off his own tongue in one of the queasiest scenes I’ve ever watched on television to avoid giving up more information about himself and the club.
Otto may be a nasty human being, but he’s also a tragic one. It’s one thing to hold on to masculine privilege because of the things that it gets you—if you’re Don Draper, that’s a lot of things. But it’s quite another to be Otto, holding on to a certain conception of his own manhood and a twisted loyalty to the all-male organization that helped give him that identity long after they’ve stopped serving him in any meaningful way. In Sons of Anarchy, when men embrace patriarchy, it isn’t only the women who end up maimed.