This is an edited extract from the conclusion of Spreading Misandry by Katherine K. Young & Paul Nathanson
There have probably always been feminists who have recognized misandry and been troubled by it. It flies in the face of everything feminists have learned from the experience of women and everything that some feminists claim about the innate decency of women. But it is worth pointing out that this extraordinary phenomenon, the dehumanization of half the population, has gone almost unnoticed not only by the reviewers and journalists who work for the mass media but also by the critics and theorists who write for academic journals. Despite the vaunted capacity of women for empathy, only a few feminist publications, albeit ones of profound moral significance, have so far expressed sympathy for men in general, except as a way of encouraging men to believe that feminism is in their own interest.
Until very recently, moreover, the few feminists who dared to speak out against misandry were usually declared to be enemies of feminism, or even enemies of women, and thus effectively silenced. Most feminists deny misandry. When challenged, which happens occasionally, they use three strategies: excusing it, justifying it, or trivializing it.
Women who try to excuse misandry acknowledge it as a moral problem. They do not approve of it, but they are willing to tolerate it, at least for the time being. There are several characteristic excuses. One of them is based on psychology. It is a lamentable but inevitable fact, some observe, that most women see nothing wrong with attacks on men, masculinity, or even maleness itself. People always find it hard to feel sympathy for those they consider privileged (although that did not prevent many women from feeling sympathy for the unhappily married Princess of Wales, who had access to privilege and status beyond the wildest dreams of most women or men). It is even harder for people to feel sympathy for those they consider rivals or enemies.
Another excuse is based on expediency. It is a lamentable but inevitable fact, some say, that many women succumb to misandry. However, when feeling endangered, people tend to close ranks. In a more secure future, maybe women will address the problem of misandry. Maybe, or maybe not.
Underlying all excuses for misandry is the tenacious belief that men have "all the power." Resistance to men's studies, for instance, is often based on the belief that only victims are worthy of study. The response among female academics is often as follows: "Oh, please. Something like 90 per cent of the world's resources are owned and operated by 3 per cent of the population, all of whom are white males." Never mind that this 3 per cent is a tiny fraction of the male population, even of the white male population. The underlying assumption, in any case, is that men cannot be damaged by misandry. Anyone who complains should "take it like a man." These women seldom take seriously forms of power other than physical, political, or economic power. The fact that many men do not have godlike power in any of these realms, something anyone can observe merely by walking down tthe street or watching the nightly news, makes no difference. Neither does the fact that not even physical, political, or economic power can generate emotional invincibility (assuming that this would be a good thing). They see men as a "class," in any case, not as individuals or even as a class with a "diversity" of "voices." Rendering women either unwilling or unable to see men as fully human beings, as people who can indeed be hurt both individually and collectively, might well be the single most serious flaw in feminism. If men are truly vulnerable in any way, after all, then they can surely be expected either to fight back or to withdraw sullenly when threatened at a fundamental level. And the level of identity is about as fundamental as you can get.
Women who trivialize misandry belong in a second category, probably the most popular one (although they could be included in the first category on the grounds that the easiest way to excuse misandry is to argue that it is a trivial phenomenon.) They sometimes acknowledge misandry as a moral problem but not a serious one. They are willing to tolerate it, therefore, though not necessarily to encourage it.
Both unsophisticated women and ideological feminists are likely to say, for different reasons, that pop cultural misandry is ephemeral and trivial; lapses in good taste, common sense, or even common decency may be excused. But they would never tolerate that argument in connection with pop cultural misogyny: feminists have argued very effectively that there can be no such thing as taking that too seriously. In fact, they have made popular culture one of the chief battlegrounds in their struggle for women.
The world presented in movies or on television, they continue, is merely a fantasy world. Well, yes, but it is also a self-contained and often convincing simulation of the real world. Indeed, movies fail at the box office and shows fail in the ratings when they do not convince viewers of a likeness between the fantasy world and the real one, when they do not encourage the willing suspension of disbelief. With both this and their own intellectual or political interests in mind, those who create these productions carefully select features of everyday life that they consider significant and reject others that they consider insignificant. Virtually nothing of the real world that appears onscreen, in theatres or at home, is there by accident. Similarly, virtually nothing of the real world that "disappears" onscreen is absent by accident. In other words, movies and shows are never direct transcriptions of reality; they are always interpretations of reality. What would otherwise be dry theories of interest only to academics become powerfully evocative experiences of interest, if made with skill, to all viewers. They are secular myths. Their moral value, therefore, depends more on what kind of secular myth than on their correlation with empirical information that can be verified by historians or social scientists. It could argued that misandric movies such as those discussed in this book are either immoral or unhealthy, for instance, because they encourage people to stereotype men as evil, psychotic, or, at best, inadequate. The same argument would apply to movies that stereotype other groups of people, including women. But moral consistency is not always a high priority among critics or, for that matter, the population at large.
When criticized for their silence in the face of misandry, at any rate,these women usually argue that only "radical" feminists on the "lunatic fringe" could ever be found guilty of hatred. Others argue that misandry might have been common in the past — in the 1980s, say — but is no longer. Maybe they actually believe that. We have been told for decades that women are innately "nurturant" beings and thus virtually immune to hating. Women who do hate must therefore be rare anomalies, either the crazed victims of a male-dominated society or the crazed victims of some psychological or physiological disorder. Theory not-withstanding, the evidence presented to everyone in everyday life indicates that women are no less capable of prejudice and hatred than men.
Women who try to justify misandry are in an entirely different category. They do not acknowledge it as a moral problem, but on the contrary see it as a moral and practical duty. Thus, they are willing not merely to tolerate it but also to encourage it.
Some women try to justify misandry as a legitimate "choice" for women, a "voice" for those who have been "silenced." Expressing anger is useful, they believe, as one feature of collective therapy for women. But they make the dubious assumption that misandry is about anger, not hatred. Even feminists who disapprove of Andrea Dworkin's misandric claim that any act of sexual intercourse with men amounts to rape, for example, often defend her as someone who "pushes the boundaries" and thus promotes the cause of women (albeit in a way that embarrasses some of them).
In its most sophisticated form, this attempt at justification is couched in terms of postmodernism. Once that became de rigueur among feminists, they could argue that man-hating was merely one example of the "diversity" or "pluralism" within feminism. According to one variant of this strategy, misandry is not aimed at all men but only at those with "privileged" status: rich men, white men, or any other group of elite men. Yet the distinction is often more theoretical and politically correct than practical, because they go on to argue that all men benefit from the behaviour of those few. Implicit, therefore, is the belief that all men are intentionally or unintentionally the enemies of Women and therefore legitimate targets of attack in popular culture.
Other women try to justify misandry on the purely practical grounds of political expediency. Even passive sympathy with men in connection with misandry would be tantamount to sympathy for the enemy or even, as one feminist put it in when her university was considering the establishment of a men's studies program, sympathy for Nazis. Whether in connection with movies and talk shows or greeting cards and comic strips, moreover, misandry is seen as a legitimate attack on those who foster misogyny. That is fighting fire with fire. They are not troubled by the moral non sequitur. The continued existence of misogyny has nothing whatever to do with the existence of misandry, after all — not unless two wrongs make a right. To those who point out that misogyny is being fought directly through legislation and indirectly through the manipulation of public opinion, some would reply that it persists in the form of a "glass ceiling" (even though the explanation of that problem does not necessarily involve misogyny) or that it persists in non-Western countries and in non-Western subcultures within the West. Once again, though, what has one thing got to do with the other? How does the existence of misogyny justify misandry, whether in our society or any other?
Still other women try to justify misandry with something far more sinister in mind: revenge. They argue that negative stereotypes of men are long overdue, because negative stereotypes of women have been around for so long. If that argument is to be taken seriously on moral grounds, those who use it would have to demonstrate that revenge is synonymous, or at least compatible, with justice. But if negative stereotyping is wrong when applied to women, how can it he right when applied to men? Is there nothing inherently wrong with promoting contempt or hatred for an entire group of people? If not, then things are right or wrong only when it is politically expedient to say so. In addition, advocates of this approach would have to demonstrate on purely pragmatic grounds that it is likely to bring about the desired results. The practical problem with revenge, of course, is that it quickly becomes a vicious circle. Once it is accepted as a legitimate political device, there is no way to prevent or terminate vendettas. And the current state of relations between men and women could well be described in precisely that way.
Underlying all of these attempts to justify misandry is a fundamental problem. Morality and practicality sometimes seem incompatible. Some women believe that feeling or expressing concern for men as the victims of misandry would mean indulging in a luxury that women cannot afford — this despite the vaunted capacity of women for compassion. But since when is compassion like money? Must it be carefully budgeted by reserving it for one's own people? Must we avoid squandering it on those judged "undeserving" for one reason or another? The fact is, nevertheless, that the more compassion is "spent," the more there is to go around.
Other women believe that taking any problem of men seriously would mean taking a non-feminist point of view. In fact, it would mean taking men as seriously as they see themselves, as people. The worldview of ideological feminism, like that of every other religion or movement, is all inclusive; nothing is beyond its purview. From that perspective, it would seem that men can be understood best through its lens.The trouble is that this form of feminism has no philosophical or moral framework for the notion that women, like men, can succumb to sexism or that men, like women, can be seriously damaged by hatred. To the extent that feminists refuse to focus much attention on their own gains (mainly because doing so would undermine their call for continuing political action), and to the extent that they refuse to acknowledge the problems of men (including misandry as the intentional or unintentional fallout from ideological feminism), they are morally implicated in the problem. That perspective leaves women largely unaccountable for their own behaviour.
What about the reactions of men to misandry? Ironically, many ordinary men have a vested interest in not seeing the pervasive misandry of everyday life. Misandry, no matter how trite it might seem on the surface, is an attack on men. Even worse, from a traditionally masculine point of view, it is an attack from the perspective of women (though not necessarily by women). To acknowledge being under attack is to acknowledge vulnerability. And to acknowledge vulnerability, for many men in our society, is to deny their own manhood, even if doing so would be in their own best interest. Being a man, they have been taught, means being in control, not necessarily of others but certainly of themselves and their own fate. These are often the men who find it easier to hide behind macho posturing than to admit being threatened by women (or by other men presumably acting on behalf of women).
Many men, therefore, find that acknowledging the problem of rampant misandry is too painful. Some ignore it. That usually happens at a subconscious level. Other men, though, deny it. That happens on a conscious level among those who are sincerely motivated by the need to ensure justice for women, not merely by the pressure of political correctness. (Some of these men, unfortunately, actually believe that men are morally responsible for most or all of women's problems.) This could mean internalizing a negative identity, which would be both neurotic and self-destructive. But "male feminists" have discovered a way of getting around that problem: they maintain their self-respect not as members of a group (men) but as individuals at its expense (as what could be called "honorary women"). They expect nothing from other men, but they do expect to be rewarded by women for being polically correct. Not many men are impressed by the self-righteousness inherent in that position. They are alienated not only from feminists in general, therefore, but from "male feminists" in particular (even though many of them believe that men are morally obliged to help create a more egalitarian society).
Most men, however, are probably too confused to take a position specifically on misandry. They are aware at some level of consciousness that something is wrong, but they are not equipped to identify or analyse it. Even the few men who really are equipped to do so often find it difficult to say anything in public. The taboo on male vulnerability is not only experienced internally, remember, but also enforced externally. Men who admit to feeling vulnerable are attacked as cowards, and by no group more effectively than women. The ability to shame men has always been among the most useful of women's weapons. In this case, men are shamed into silence, a form of abuse that few women today would tolerate.
What is happening to men as a result of this massive assault on their identity? How do men feel about being portrayed over and over again as psychotic or sinister thugs? What does it mean for a group of people to be identified as a class of victimizers? We will not know the full effect of all this misandry for many years. Given the predictable results of unleashing institutionalized anger against identifiable target groups (which is hatred) and the unpredictable results of manipulating collective guilt (which would be either destruction or self-destruction), this is a questionable method for pursuing social change, to say the least. In the meantime, one thing is certain: attacking the identity of any group of human beings per se is an extremely dangerous experiment. People are not like rats in a laboratory. They cannot be manipulated conveniently and safely with fairly predictable results. Misandry could convince some men to seek new sources of identity. To be effective, however, these would have to be chosen by men, not dictated by women. At issue here is identity, in short, not sociology. It should be obvious that most men consciously or unconsciously resent misandry. That is because all people resent having their identity undermined or attacked. Less obvious, perhaps, is the fact that misandry can backfire on women. What if men feel the need to reassert their identity as men? Ironically, misandry could encourage other men to reassert their identity as macho aggressors. Since our society tolerates a high level of hostility towards men as such, why be surprised when they resort to misogyny? That, after all, is a major feature of machismo. And it is surely no accident that the resurgence of machismo in the 1980s — consider movies such as Rambo and Top Gun, which suddenly ended two decades of glorifying the mentality of those men who had rejected both Vietnam and Wall Street — coincided with the flowering of ideological feminism. This particular response to misandry is clear. If men are told over and over again that they are not only brutal subhumans in general but also hostile to women in particular, they are likely to say, "So be it." Whatever their own inclinations, they realize that even a negative identity is better than no identity at all. Thus, when women think about misandry in popular culture, they should consider the danger of self-fulfilling prophecies. What goes around, according to the old saying, comes around. Or, for those who prefer biblical allusions, whoever sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind.
That possibility is often denied by those who view misandry as a political weapon to fight misogyny. They argue that the immediate result might be polarization but the eventual result will be reconciliation. In other words, the end justifies the means. But if polarization can bring about changes for the better, it can also bring about changes for the worse. How do we know that polarization will give rise to reconciliation? We do not. At the moment, things are moving in the opposite direction.
At any rate, the possibilities for mutual understanding between women and men did not increase in the 1990s. On the contrary, they diminished. Women such as Andrea Dworkin openly advocated that women become vigilantes and murder the men who afflict them. If any of this indicates the shape of things to come — and much of the material we have analysed might have been produced by Dworkin herself — those who hope for healing and reconciliation have every reason to look ahead with foreboding. The popular culture of misandry had a life of its own in 2000. Ideological feminists had to make only occasional appearances to ensure that it stayed that way.
Fostered by political correctness, misandry was the characteristic pattern of the 1990s. At first, it was actively promoted in academic and political circles as justifiable "anger" or a way of "pushing the boundaries." And this tendency, directly promoted on talk shows and either directly or indirectly in other genres of popular culture, quickly went mainstream. Popular culture both mediated and fostered the teaching of contempt for men. This was now the establishment. Androcentrism, often accompanied by misogyny, did not cease to exist but generally went underground (although it probably declined too, because many men really did take seriously the message that an androcentric world was unjust to women). It surfaced only in the music of very alienated subcultures, among individual men who "forgot" the new rules, and in some traditional or isolated communities. To the extent that gynocentrism and androcentrism can be described as worldviews, then the dominant worldview of this period, at least in public, was clearly gynocentrism. The fact that it has a dark underside has been ignored, excused, and trivialized. The revolution has been successful, as Marxists would say, because the new values are now so firmly embedded in everyday life that we can hardly see them, let alone challenge them. That is why we have written this book.