Bukowski and Misogyny
Despite achieving huge commercial and critical success by the time he died in 1994, poet and author, Charles Bukowski has been dogged by accusations of misogyny both during his lifetime and in the years following.
He was a man of great talent as a writer, who could often demonstrate enormous charisma, wisdom, and intelligence, but even his most fervent fans would likely concede that Bukowski's personality contained elements that were damaged and difficult.
His heavy drinking and misanthropic rants, as well as testimonies given by the people who knew him well, point to an individual who was also capable of deep anger, insecurity and disaffection.
But did that make Bukowski a misogynist?
The male, for all his bravado and exploration, is the loyal one, the one who generally feels love. The female is skilled at betrayal and torture and damnation.
— Charles Bukowski
A Brief Biography
Charles Henry Bukowski was born in Germany and moved to the United States at a young age. His sadistic father and passive mother made the young Bukowski’s life a living hell, according to the interviews given by Bukowski and the fictionalized account he wrote of his childhood, Ham on Rye: A Novel.
On top of receiving both physical and emotional abuse from his father, the young Bukowski was also plagued by terrible acne. Socially withdrawn and unable to get a girlfriend as a teenager, he didn’t lose his virginity until he was 24 years old.
Did the combination of these early bad experiences make Bukowski into a misogynist?
The following video features Linda King discussing her tempestuous relationship with Bukowski.
Three Specific Charges of Misogyny
To go through all of Charles Bukowski’s work, discussing each instance of alleged misogyny would clearly be a huge if not hopeless task. Bukowski was a prolific author and poet, and there are over sixty books of his in print at the time that I am writing, including novels, poetry collections, short stories, and other works.
Therefore, I intend to focus on the three things that are most often brought up when matters of his alleged women hating are raised:
- Bukowski’s general personality and emotional value system.
- The infamous Barbet Schroeder video, where Bukowski physically lashes out at his final wife Linda Lee after verbally abusing her.
- Bukowski’s literary output, especially his novel, Women, which has often been cited as being his most offensive and detrimental in regard to the female gender.
1. An Overview of Bukowski’s Personality
Critics have described Charles Bukowski as fulfilling a certain male fantasy of the anti-social slob, a man who can behave as he wishes, uninhibited by the general constraints of society.
It was an image that he often played up to in public, affecting a boorish, W.C. Fields type of persona for his later poetry readings.
How much was the real Charles Bukowski and how much was a deliberate persona that he affected is difficult to assess.
There are women who can make you feel more with their bodies and their souls, but these are the exact women who will turn the knife into you right in front of the crowd. Of course, I expect this, but the knife still cuts.
— Charles Bukowski
2. The Barbet Schroeder Film Clip
The second piece of evidence is the infamous incident at Bukowski’s home, captured on film by Barbet Schroeder, during delays with the filming of the movie, Barfly.
The film shows a drunken, snarling Bukowski aggressively accusing his wife of various, apparently irrational charges before physically lashing out at her with his feet.
You can see a Youtube clip of the kicking incident below. Unsurprisingly, his wife played down the incident afterwards, describing it as being fuelled by alcohol and implying that it was not regular behaviour for him.
3. His Novel, Women
Out of all Charles Bukoski's books, probably the most controversial is his book Women: A Novel. During the 1970's, Bukowski capitalized on his growing fame by sleeping with as many women as he could.
He explained this behaviour at the time as making amends for the involuntary celibacy of his youth, and also as “research” for his forthcoming novel, Women, which was published in 1978.
According to his critics, the book demonstrates that Bukowski was a chauvinist, because of its negative portrayals of women and the attitudes expressed towards them.
The book’s defenders, however, believe that Bukowski often portrayed the book's protagonist, Henry Chinaski, in a poor light, especially in relation to his sexual exploits, for comedic effect.
The lead character also eventually questions his behaviour and enters into a more serious, loving romance at the end of the book.
After his “research” for the novel, Bukowski became fed up with one night stands and settled down with his final wife, Linda Lee, who would be his partner for the rest of his life.
Never envy a man his lady. Behind it all lays a living hell.
— Charles Bukowski
Some of the Women in Bukowski's Life
- Jane Cooney Baker was his first love. She was a heavy drinker and died in 1962.
- In 1964 Bukowski had a daughter with his live-in lover, poet, Frances Smith.
- During the early 1970s he had a series of relationships and trysts as his fame began to grow, including a particularly tempestuous relationship with Linda King, a poet and sculptor.
- Bukowski eventually settled down and married Linda Lee Beighle, a health food restaurant owner. They lived together in San Pedro, Los Angeles until Bukowski's death in 1994 from leukemia.
Conclusion: Was Charles Bukowski a Misogynist?
I don’t think that many people would disagree that Bukowski possessed a strong streak of misanthropy generally, and also that his humor could be biting, even cruel at times, but whether he was a had a special hatred for women in particular is maybe a matter of opinion.
Discussions of Bukowski’s demeanor towards women can often divide along gender lines, in my experience, with women commonly taking a dimmer view of him, although it is also worth noting that maybe a third of Bukowski’s fanbase are female.
I suspect that the readers’ overall opinion as to whether he was a misogynist is influenced by whether they think that his talents as a writer outweighed his failings as a human being.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Paul Goodman
Apex Jump on March 11, 2019:
Clear thing, he was a misogynist!
miroslav228 from USA on January 29, 2019:
One of the most prominent representatives of "dirty realism". He expressed his thoughts as he wanted. I read one of his books, then I found a cool list of his best books: https://bookkooks.com/best-charles-bukowski-books/ . I have a plan: read all his "dirty" works)
AQ on April 29, 2018:
Of course he is in a feminized society, the most important thing he wrote without self censorship.
sszorin on April 26, 2018:
Bukowski was a misanthrope. The fanatical feminists and morons who fell in line with the feminists cherry pick evidence from Bukowski's writings to paint him as a "misogynist".
Scott on December 20, 2017:
Chauvinism is not the same thing as misogyny.
Koans on March 11, 2017:
By absurdist extension Buk' manages to cut through the mythology of human relationship - from the male point of view certainly - but also that of women's too.
Like or leave it it has literary merit. Which is more than I can say about anything I've ever written without bias.
Daniel on August 05, 2016:
The clip of him kicking his wife off the sofa is shocking the first time you watch it. Yet ultimately nothing happens. I don't think of him as a woman "beater" I think he was just volitile at times and it was ugly. Note that slow build up of false calm. Get back. Alcoholics do that. Shit, sometimes sober people do that. It is like a scared, angry badger growling softly while smiling. I watched the clip again later and found it strangley comedic.
I think that Bukowski did hardbor some feelings about women that sound like someone who didn't have great luck early on and felt often bitter about them later. Yet I don't think he "hated" women. When a part of you self loathes or predicts pain or abandonment, it can often be a self fufilling prophecy, and anyone who walks away or disapoints you just lives up to your fear and expectation.
PJS on June 01, 2015:
I agree with you Toad. The man was a product of his upbringing an addiction and it wasn't pretty. However, as a woman and writer, I do admire his talent. I have found that if we try to find a perfect person to admire, we will admire no one. I admire people for particular attributes and try to offer understanding and sadness for their major flaws. We all have them!
Toads on April 12, 2014:
I feel disgusted at you folks defending and pitying a man that lashes out physically at his wife. Disgusting behavior. If he does this with a camera rolling I'd hate to see what he does behind closed doors. He is making accusations and doesn't even have any proof to back it up. He's a drunk abuser. So many people have a dark childhood, it doesn't excuse their behavior as an adult. It's laughable that it's even a question if he was misogynist. The man is a text book misogynist and it's insanely easy to find quote after quote that proves it.
Garry on September 24, 2011:
In reference to the video where he lashes out at his future wife, i feel deeply sorry for the man, its pretty obvious what he's getting at, his wife is young, and pretty and, thus goes a lot without him, and almost definitely cheats on him on a regular basis as shes very young and hes quite old which leads to him lashing out
Marwan Asmar from Amman, Jordan on September 02, 2011:
Bukowski's Women is an interesting read because it is lusciously crude, playing out certain fantacies about the other sex
Paul Goodman (author) from Florida USA on February 17, 2011:
@Bronson - Linda Lee was Bukowski's second wife. She was pretty stable and straightforward compared to most of the others! I'm planning on writing a hub about Bukowski's wives and girlfriends next.
Bronson_Hub from San Francisco, CA on February 17, 2011:
This is an awesome post. In this video, she starts verbally abusing him, he remains as calm as a hindu cow in the beginning. She continues berating him. She pushes him while saying "WHY DO YOU LET YOURSELF BE PUSHED!" It's easy enough to let that stuff roll off your back but if someone lives with you and treats you that way, you're going to snap under the chinese water torture of verbal abuse over a long period of time.
He never yelled, and he's going to get a Jewish attorney LOL! Loved it! It sounds like he's not a mysoginist. It sounds like his girlfriend/wife is being is a total sh*t, she feels entitled to take his stuff, sleep around, and then come back and expect him to keep her in the house? She's not going to take it and deal with the consequences of sleeping around and then coming back and living at his house expecting him to put up with it? Really? Man, talk about a narcissist!
sligobay from east of the equator on February 17, 2011:
Plus Paul I have extensive personal experience with alcoholism. Cheers.
Paul Goodman (author) from Florida USA on February 17, 2011:
Good answer, sligobay. You've obviously given the matter some thought.
sligobay from east of the equator on February 16, 2011:
Excellent Hub Paul. His behavior is that of a typical alcoholic in a blackout. Hurt people; hurt people. With his history of mental and physical abuse by his father;the nurture side of his upbringing was somewhat lacking. He is a chameleon because he alternately charmed and abused the people closest to him.
Paul Goodman (author) from Florida USA on February 16, 2011:
The clip with him kicking his wife is certainly disturbing. There are plenty of videos of him behaving in a charming way too.
Todd Conaway on February 16, 2011:
Hard to image the mind in that poet. I think I'll have be be happy having had interaction with his words and knowing that while they often disturbed the daylights out of me, they also gave me hope and inspiration both as a poet and a person.
Back when I was reading him there was no YouTube. It has made the experience a bit different. Stranger. Scarier. Or something.