Is it okay to hate women? Obviously not. It’s not only stupid and immoral but impractical given how many of them there are and the marked differences between each and every one of them. Is it okay to hate men, then? Again, obviously not, for the same reasons. Except – it’s not so obvious. Because such sentiments are again entering the mainstream.
I say ‘again’, since misandry – the unapologetic hatred of men as an undifferentiated group – is nothing new. Radical feminists like Andrea Dworkin and Valerie Solanis (founder of the Society for Cutting Up Men and shooter of Andy Warhol) were the most famous man-haters in the 1970s, but were pretty much disavowed at the time by many more mainstream feminists and later by third wave feminists. Misandry went out of fashion during the 1980s and the idea that feminists were all ‘lesbians and man haters’ was rightly ridiculed.
Now it’s back – and much closer to the mainstream than it was 50 years ago. Despite all the remarkable advances we have made in gender equality, the idea that all men are the enemy of all women has been given a new lease of life, helped by the disgrace of Harvey Weinstein, the rise Donald Trump and the successes of the #metoo and #timesup movements.
Understandable though this hatred may be as an emotional reaction, it is shocking – at least for a man – to see it in cold print. The highest profile attack came from Susan Danuta Walters in the Washington Post earlier this year, who says, in a piece titled, ‘Why Can’t We Hate Men’ that, far from being irrational, it “seems logical to hate men.”
If this were a lone voice, one could dismiss it as a fringe point of view. But it isn’t.
“You can’t hate all men can you? Actually I can,” writes Suzanne Moore, a British feminist, in the New Statesman in 2016. “As a class, I hate men.” Men are not a class but this doesn’t deter Moore from continuing her peroration. “I think any intelligent woman hates men,” she continues. She even comes up with a hash tag in the hope that this blanket condemnation will catch on – #yesallmen.
Meanwhile, in ‘The Cut’ section of the New York magazine, a member of the public writing in complains to the ‘agony aunt’ – the journalist Heather Havrilesky – that she “hates men” and is in danger of becoming a “cranky old bitch”. Heather suggests in reply that she simply embrace her inner bitch. “Most men are terrible,” she says. “Most men are shit.”
In addition, two articles on Medium – not quite as mainstream as New York magazine, the Washington Post, and the New Statesman, but certainly not fringe – echo the theme. Turns out, it’s not only (self-defined) man-hating women who have turned towards hate as a response to gender inequality. So have some men – like Anthony James Williams who writes in Medium that, “Women don’t have to like us, and history shows us that they have a right to hate us.”
In the charmingly titled ‘When You Can’t Throw All Men Into The Ocean And Start Over, What CAN You Do? Ijeoma Oluo – the mother of two boys, God help them – writes,
This society is doing everything it can to create rapists, to enable rapists, and to protect rapists. This society is broken, abusive, patriarchal (and white supremacist, ableist, hetero-cisnormative) trash. This entire patriarchal society is responsible for every single sexual assault that occurs.If reading such hatred is exhausting, actually generating it must be even more so. I suspect hate is a young person’s game (although Danuta Walkers and Moore are not exactly spring chickens). It is tempting to shrug off this new misandry as just silly and something of a sideshow, but it’s possible that it represents a real strand of rising consciousness. If that is the case, it is not merely silly – it is dangerous. I have occasionally indulged in group hatred – ISIS in their racist, faithist, head-hacking, innocent-slaughtering prime, the Conservative Party in the 1980s, anyone involved in Prog Rock – but it’s not a very healthy principle to base your life around.
What does it mean to hate an otherwise random and unrelated group of people, as opposed to a specific individual? We can all enjoy hating, say, Nazis, pedophiles, and ISIS executioners beheading an aid worker. Hate can be reassuring, which is why it is so seductive. But when one is hating Nazis, one is hating people who subscribe to an ideology, an idea. Pedophiles and ISIS executioners are historically smaller groups, but they are also defined by a particular idea – sexual attraction to children and the cult of death. At some level, they’ve made a choice. No one is born a Nazi or an Islamist murderer, and even if Pedophilia is genetically influenced, that doesn’t absolve its perpetrators of guilt. However, hating men is not hating an idea or an abhorrent form of behaviour. It is hating half the world’s population, rich and poor, kind and cruel, black and white, gay and straight, just because they happen to have a Y chromosome.
To hate such a disparate group seems – is – demented. However, there is a prism through which it makes perfect sense, the prism constructed by the odd and contradictory fusion of neo-Marxism and post-modernism.
In this scheme of thought, now widely taught in the humanities and social science departments of the West’s leading universities, there are no intrinsically superior, universal values, like love or dignity or general human goodwill – and no such thing as ‘objective’ truth in the scientific sense. It’s all relative. There are just multiple and sometimes overlapping groups that compete for power, and their values, even their idea of what constitutes a ‘fact’, are determined by the relative status of their group. The most powerful group in society – in all societies – are men, and men, therefore, are collectively guilty for the oppression of every less powerful group.
Since anything men utter is tainted by their place in the power hierarchy and their implicit desire to maintain that power – a homeless man at Grand Central station may be surprised, even delighted, to learn that he occupies a ‘privileged’ position in this hierarchy – nothing a man says can be taken at face value because, consciously or unconsciously, it is imbued with patriarchal values and language. Whether they realise it or not, all men are engaged in a struggle to consolidate and extend their power, particularly over women. This is doubtless why, according to this theory, rape is considered a manifestation of male dominance – of the patriarchy – rather than an expression of sexual desire. Power is everything – which tells you something, perhaps, about the status anxiety of this theory’s most fanatical adherents.
Thus it is okay to hate all men – they are all infected by the canker of patriarchy which, unlike individual thoughts and motivations, is a kind of all-powerful super-organism, a hive mind controlling its male worker bees. Men as individuals are simply tokens of something deeper – structural misogyny embedded in institutional power. If you’re a man who thinks you are not a misogynist, who in fact thinks you like women perfectly well, you are deluding yourself. For such men, their sexism is simply unconscious, just as in classical Marxism the ‘good’ bourgeois was unconscious of the fact that he could not avoid exploiting his workers or employees, even though he might be providing them with a decent wage, good working conditions, and health and pension benefits.
This analysis, given a moment’s thought, doesn’t make a lot of sense. Even if you accept that all the ills of the world are down to patriarchy and the dominance of men, you have to concede the corollary – that all the triumphs of humankind are down to the patriarchy also, from medicine and science to the highest reaches of art and culture.
Women may point out that they have been excluded from these fields until now, and that’s largely true, although biology – the lack of control women have historically had over their own fertility and the greater physical strength of men – might be a far more simple and plausible explanation than the existence of a hypothetical, all-powerful super-organism. However, the very act that men hold the balance of power is proof of the existence of patriarchy, according to this belief system.
My own view is that we have not ended up in the place we are, for good or ill, because men are evil and stupid, or kind and clever, or because we’re all enslaved by the patriarchy. We are here largely because of blind chance – biology, the haphazard advance of technology and the peculiarities of human nature shaped by natural selection. Like most ‘ordinary’ people, I am quite sure such a thing as human nature exists and while some sex differences are biological, men and women are psychologically similar – far more similar than they are different.
As such, misandry is deeply irrational. Hating men is counterproductive. Hating men is not going to advance the cause of gender equality. On the contrary, if you tell someone that you hate them, simply because they have a penis, they have two basic alternative responses (other than ignoring you, which is probably the most sensible response). They can cringe and apologise – as many liberals do in the face of such onslaughts, hoping in vain for rehabilitation. The Maoists and their show trials did a lot to reveal the intrinsic human propensity to confess to imaginary sins. Alternatively, and more dangerously, you can respond with, “If you are justified in hating me then I am justified in hating you.”
Therein lies the hazard. I’m not denying that hatred can sometimes produce positive results, even a form of justice. Maybe some white supremacists, learning that they arouse intense feelings of hatred in others, have abandoned their beliefs. Perhaps those flirting with ethno-nationalism have been deterred from embracing it in the knowledge that it will make them a social pariah. But it’s harder to abandon your gender.
Hatred is also useful in providing people with motivation when prosecuting a just war – the Second World War wouldn’t have been won without hatred of the Nazis. But when unfocussed, inappropriate or overgeneralised, hatred is liable to produce far less desirable results. Resentment, for one thing. Anger, for another. More hatred in response. A sense of injustice on the part of good men – and such men do exist in numbers very similar, I suspect, to the number of good women. These feelings may well curdle and lead to an attitude of “If you think I’m hateful then I might as well be hateful.”
Such a response is tempting because hate has an array of psychological rewards. By hating me as a member of my group, you are legitimizing my temptation to hate you as a member of your group. So now I have a ready made justification for hating women, which didn’t previously exist (although a Google search of “I hate women” reveals zero results, unlike a search for “I hate men”).
Hatred can be a way of virtue-signaling – a way of contrasting yourself favorably with the hated party, i.e. as a ‘good person’ in comparison. To hate Nazis means you’re publicly announcing yourself as not being a Nazi. To hate pedophiles means you are not a pedophile. However, for all its short-term payoffs, hate strangles all understanding. This is as true when directed towards genuinely hateful groups – like white supremacists – as it is for those less universally deserving of condemnation, such as men. Once you hate someone, or a group, you don’t have to bother understanding them. It simplifies the world and saves a lot of mental spadework.
I don’t think that many women would say, or even think, that they hate men. But the increasingly widespread perception is that men are generally a bad lot, As Uluo puts it in Medium: “This entire patriarchal society is responsible for every single sexual assault that occurs.” We are, by default, morally in the wrong in most matters and furthermore unfairly privileged and entitled even when we don’t obviously appear to be (as in our homeless friend at Grand Central). This all-encompassing generalisation has a lot of small-scale but significant effects.
In personal relationships, for example, where any woman who thinks men are generally rotten and hateful is liable to take a pretty jaundiced view of any particular disagreement that unfolds between them and their significant other. The man, according to this toxic ideology, is going to be a priori in the wrong before the argument even starts.
I’m not suggesting women should be naïve or unduly trusting of men – yes, men commit nearly all the rapes, and most of the violence, there’s no getting away from that, and it’s no small thing, not in the least. I am forced to admit that in my experience, men are often, though by no means always, capable of being arrogant, ego driven, entitled and insensitive and I don’t necessarily exclude myself, certainly not my younger self.
Hate us if you will – your feelings are your own after all and sometimes those feelings are justified. Just don’t expect it to achieve anything positive, or make you feel better in the long run, or to produce a generous response in the objects of your ire. It may provide temporary relief from the phenomenon of the simple and relentless random unfairness of the world, but there can be a terrible arrogance in hate – the arrogance generated by what is in fact a deep self-doubt and buried fear. Fear of what? Of chaos, of uncertainty, of the fact that its very hard to work out what’s right and what’s wrong in even a single particular circumstance and individual, let alone an entire system or gender. As Reinhold Niebuhr said, “Frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith but in doubt. It is when we are unsure that we are doubly sure.”
It is an old and perhaps sexist trope that women should beware of ruthless and dishonest seducers who are out to lead them down the path to destruction. Perhaps it might be useful to think of hate in exactly that way – and send it packing, its ears ringing with curses, and vows of passionate and perpetual rejection.
Article originally appears at Quillette.com
Tim Lott is a writer and journalist. His best-known book is The Scent of Dried Roses which won the PEN/Ackerley Prize for autobiography and is now a Penguin Modern Classic. Follow him on Twitter at @timlottwriter.