If I Admit That ‘Hating Men’ Is a Thing, Will You Stop Turning It Into a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?
by Lindy West
Okay, so maybe you are a man. Maybe you haven’t had the easiest ride in life—maybe you grew up in poverty; you’ve experienced death, neglect, and despair; you hate your job, your car, your body. Maybe somebody (or multiple somebodies) pulverized your heart, or maybe you’ve never even been loved enough to know what a broken heart feels like. Maybe shit started out unfair and became irreparable and you never deserved any of this. Maybe everything looks fine on paper, but you’re just unhappy and you don’t know why. These are human problems and other human beings feel for you very deeply. It is hard to be a human. I am so sorry.
Though it is a seductive scapegoat (I understand why it attracts you), none of these terrible, painful problems in your life were caused by the spectre of “misandry.” You can rest easy about that, I promise! In fact, the most powerful proponent of misandry in modern internet discourse is you — specifically, your dogged insistence that misandry is a genuine, systemic, oppressive force on par with misogyny. This is specious, it hurts women, and it is hurting you. Most feminists don’t hate men, as a group (we hate the system that disproportionately favors men at the expense of women), but — congratulations! — we are starting to hate you. You, the person. Your obsession with misandry has turned misandry into a self-fulfilling prophecy. (I mean, sort of. Hating individual men is not the same as hating all men. But more on that in a minute.) Are you happy now? Is this what you wanted? Feminism is, in essence, a social justice movement—it wants to take the side of the alienated and the marginalized, and that includes alienated and marginalized men. Please stop turning us against you.
It is nearly impossible to address problems facing women—especially problems in which men are even tangentially culpable—without comments sections devolving into cries of “misandry!” from men and replies of “misandry isn’t real” from women. Feminists are tired of this endless, fruitless turd-pong: hollow “conversation” built on willful miscommunication, bouncing back and forth, back and forth, until both sides throw up their hands and bolt. Maybe you are tired of this too. We seem to be having some very deep misunderstandings on this point, so let’s unpack it. I promise not to yell.
Part One: Why Feminism Has “Fem” in the Name, or, Why Can’t We All Just Be Humanists?
I wish, more than anything, that I could just be a “humanist.” Oh, man, that would be amazing! Because that would mean that we lived in a magical world where all humans were born on equal footing, and maybe I could live in a house shaped like a big mushroom and birds would help me get dressed or something. Humanism is a gorgeous dream, and something to strive for. In fact, it is the exact thing that feminism is striving for right now (and has been working on for decades)! Yay, feminism!
Unfortunately, the reason that “fem” is a part of the word “feminism” is that the world is not, currently, an equal, safe, and just place for women (and other groups as well—in its idealized form, intersectional feminism seeks to correct all those imbalances). To remove the gendered implications of the term is to deny that those imbalances exist, and you can’t make problems disappear just by changing “feminism” to “humanism” and declaring the world healed. That won’t work.
Think of it like this. Imagine you’re reading a Dr. Seuss book about a bunch of beasts living on an island. There are two kinds of beasts: Fleetches and Flootches. (Stick with me here! I love you!) Though the two are functionally identical in terms of intellect and general competence, Fleetches are in charge of pretty much everything. They hold the majority of political positions, they make the most money (beast-bucks!), they dominate the beast media, they enact all kinds of laws infringing on the bodily autonomy of Flootches. Individually, most of them are perfectly nice beasts, but collectively they benefit comfortably from inequalities that are historically entrenched in the power structure of Beast Island. So, from birth, even the most unfortunate Fleetches encounter fewer institutional roadblocks and greater opportunity than almost all Flootches, regardless of individual merit. One day, a group of Flootches (the ones who have not internalized their inferiority) get together and decide to agitate to change that system. They call their movement “Flootchism,” because it is specifically intended to address problems that disproportionately disadvantage Flootches while benefiting Fleetches. That makes sense, right?
Now imagine that, in response, a bunch of Fleetches begin complaining that Flootchism doesn’t address their needs, and they have problems too, and therefore the movement should really be renamed Beastism. To be fair. The problem with that name change is that it that undermines the basic mission of the movement, because it obscures (deliberately, I’d warrant) that beast society is inherently weighted against Flootches. It implies that all problems are just beast problems, and that all beasts suffer comparably, which cripples the very necessary effort to prioritize and repair problems that are Flootch-specific. Those problems are a priority because they harm all Flootches, systematically, whereas Fleetch problems merely harm individual Fleetches. To argue that all problems are just “beast problems” is to discredit the idea of inequality altogether. It is, in fact, insulting.
Or, if you didn’t like that one, here’s another ridiculous metaphor: When women say things like “misandry isn’t real,” we mean it the same way you might say, “Freddy Krueger isn’t real.” Theidea of Freddy Krueger is real, Freddy Krueger absolutely has the power to scare you, and if you suspend your disbelief it’s almost plausible to blame all of the unsolved knife-crime in the world on Freddy Krueger. Additionally, it is totally possible for some rando to dress up like Freddy Krueger and start murdering teens all over the place. But that doesn’t meant that Freddy-Krueger-the-dude is literally real. He is never going to creep into your dreams at night and murder you. He has the power to frighten, there are isolated forces in the world that resemble him, but he is ultimately a manufactured menace.
Part Two: Why Claiming that Sexism Isn’t Real Is a Sexist Thing to Say
We live in a world of measurable, glaring inequalities. Look at politicians, CEOs, film directors, law enforcement officers, comedians, tech professionals, executive chefs, mathematicians, and on and on and on—these fields are dominated by men. (And, in many cases, white men.) To claim that there is no systemic inequality keeping women and minorities out of those jobs is to claim that men (people like you) are just naturally better. If there is no social structure favoring men, then it stands to reason that men simply work harder and/or are more skilled in nearly every high-level specialized field.
It’s fine (though discouraging) if you legitimately believe that, but you need to own up to the fact that that is a self-serving and bigoted point of view. If you do not consider yourself a bigot, then kindly get on board with those of us who are trying to proactively correct inequalities. It is not enough to be neutral and tacitly benefit from inequality while others are left behind through no fault of their own. Anti-sexism, anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-transphobia—that’s where we’re at now. Catch up or own your prejudice.
Part Three: Why People Being Shitty to You Is Not the Same as You Being Systematically Disenfranchised
There might be a lot of women in your life who are mean to you, but that’s just women not likingyou personally. Women are allowed to not like you personally, just like you are allowed to not like us personally. It’s not misandry, it’s mis-Kevin-dry. Or, you know, whoever you are. It is not built into our culture or codified into law, and you can rest assured that most women you encounter are not harboring secret, latent, gendered prejudices against Kevins that could cost you a job or an apartment or your physical sanctity. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t isolated incidents wherein mean women hurt men on purpose. But it is not a systemic problem that results in the mass disenfranchisement of men.
There are some really shitty things about being a man. You are 100% right on that. You are held up to unreasonable expectations about your body and your career and your ability/desire to conform to traditional modes of masculinity (just like women are with traditional femininity), and that is absolutely oppressive. There are radical feminists and deeply wounded women and women who just don’t have the patience for diplomacy anymore who absolutely hate you because of your gender. (However, for whatever it’s worth, I do not personally know a single woman like that.) That is an unpleasant situation to be in—especially when you also feel like you’re being blamed for the seemingly distant problems of people you’ve never met and towards whom you feel no particular animus.
The difference is, though, that the radfem community on Tumblr does not currently hold the reins of power in every country on earth (even in nations with female heads of state, the political and economic power structures are still dominated by men). You do, abstractly. No, you don’t have the ability or the responsibility to fix those imbalances single-handedly, but refusing to acknowledge that power structure is a slap in the face to people actively disadvantaged by it every day of their lives. You might not benefit from patriarchy in any measurable way—on an individual level your life might actually be much, much worse than mine—but the fact is that certain disadvantages are absent from your experience (and, likely, invisible to you) because of your gender.
Maybe you’re saying, “Hey, but my life wasn’t fair either. I’ve had to struggle.” I know it wasn’t. I know you have. But that’s not how fairness works. If you present fairness as the goal—that some day everything will be “fair” for everyone—you’re slipping into an unrealistic fantasy land. Life already isn’t fair, because of coincidence and circumstance and the DNA you were born with, and we all have to accept the hands we’re dealt and live within that reality. But life doesn’t have to be additionally unfair because of imposed systems of disenfranchisement that only affect certain groups. We can fight against that.
Feminism isn’t about striving for individual fairness, on a life-by-life basis—it’s about fighting against a systematic removal of opportunity that infringes on women’s basic freedoms. If a woman and a man have equal potential in a field, they should have an equal opportunity to achieve success in that field. It’s not that we want the least qualified women to be handed everything just because they’re women. It’s that we want all women to have the same opportunities as all men to fulfill (or fail to fulfill, on their own inherent merits) their potential. If a particular woman is underqualified for a particular job, fine. That isn’t sexism. But she shouldn’t have to be systematically set up, from birth, to be underqualified for all jobs (except for jobs that reinforce traditional femininity, obv).
Part Four: A List of “Men’s Rights” Issues That Feminism Is Already Working On
Feminists do not want you to lose custody of your children. The assumption that women are naturally better caregivers is part of patriarchy.
Feminists do not like commercials in which bumbling dads mess up the laundry and competent wives have to bustle in and fix it. The assumption that women are naturally better housekeepers is part of patriarchy.
Feminists do not want you to have to make alimony payments. Alimony is set up to combat the fact that women have been historically expected to prioritize domestic duties over professional goals, thus minimizing their earning potential if their “traditional” marriages end. The assumption that wives should make babies instead of money is part of patriarchy.
Feminists do not want anyone to get raped in prison. Permissiveness and jokes about prison rape are part of rape culture, which is part of patriarchy.
Feminists do not want anyone to be falsely accused of rape. False rape accusations discredit rape victims, which reinforces rape culture, which is part of patriarchy.
Feminists do not want you to be lonely and we do not hate “nice guys.” The idea that certain people are inherently more valuable than other people because of superficial physical attributes is part of patriarchy.
Feminists do not want you to have to pay for dinner. We want the opportunity to achieve financial success on par with men in any field we choose (and are qualified for), and the fact that we currently don’t is part of patriarchy. The idea that men should coddle and provide for women, and/or purchase their affections in romantic contexts, is condescending and damaging and part of patriarchy.
Feminists do not want you to be maimed or killed in industrial accidents, or toil in coal mines while we do cushy secretarial work and various yarn-themed activities. The fact that women have long been shut out of dangerous industrial jobs (by men, by the way) is part of patriarchy.
Feminists do not want you to commit suicide. Any pressures and expectations that lower the quality of life of either gender are part of patriarchy. The fact that depression is characterized as an effeminate weakness, making men less likely to seek treatment, is part of patriarchy.
Feminists do not want you to be viewed with suspicion when you take your child to the park (men frequently insist that this is a serious issue, so I will take them at their word). The assumption that men are insatiable sexual animals, combined with the idea that it’s unnatural for men to care for children, is part of patriarchy.
Feminists do not want you to be drafted and then die in a war while we stay home and iron stuff. The idea that women are too weak to fight or too delicate to function in a military setting is part of patriarchy.
Feminists do not want women to escape prosecution on legitimate domestic violence charges, nor do we want men to be ridiculed for being raped or abused. The idea that women are naturally gentle and compliant and that victimhood is inherently feminine is part of patriarchy.
Feminists hate patriarchy. We do not hate you.
If you really care about those issues as passionately as you say you do, you should be thanking feminists, because feminism is a social movement actively dedicated to dismantling every single one of them. The fact that you blame feminists—your allies—for problems against which they have been struggling for decades suggests that supporting men isn’t nearly as important to you as resenting women. We care about your problems a lot. Could you try caring about ours?
Part Five: I’m Sorry That You Are in Pain, But Please Stop Taking It Out on Women
It’s not easy to swallow your own privilege—to admit that you’re a Fleetch—but once you do, it’s addictive. It feels good to open up to perspectives that are foreign to you, accept your complicity in this shitty system, and work on making the world better for everyone instead of just defending your territory. It’s something I had to do as a privileged white woman, and something I still have to work on every day, because it’s right. That doesn’t make me (or you) a bad person—it makes me an extremely lucky person who was born into a white body in a great family in a vibrant, liberal city in a powerful, wealthy country that implicitly values white bodies over all other bodies. The least I can do is acknowledge the arbitrariness of that luck, and work to tear down the obstacles facing those who are disenfranchised by the insidious fetishization of whiteness. Blanket defensiveness isn’t going to get any of us anywhere.
To all the men who have had shitty lives and mistake that pain for “misandry”: I totally get it. Humans are not such complicated creatures. All we want is to feel like we’re valued, like we deserve to exist. And I’m sorry if you haven’t found that so far in your life. But it’s not women’s fault, it’s not my fault, and it’s certainly not feminism’s fault. The thing is, you’re not really that different from the women you rail against so passionately in these comment threads—the women who are trying to carve out some space and assert their value in a world of powerful men. Plenty of women know exactly what it feels like to be pushed to the fringe of society, to be rejected so many times that you eventually reject yourself. That alienation is a big part of what feminism is fighting against. A lot of those women would be on your side, if you would just let them instead of insisting that they’re the villains. It’s better over here, and we have room for you. So stop trying to convince us that we hate you and I promise we’ll start liking you a whole lot more.