Is It Wrong To Be Afraid Of Men?

And more importantly, why am I afraid of men?

© Gabbi Wenyi Ayane (2016)

I used to pride myself on being fearless. I’m not afraid of cockroaches, or the dark, or dying. When I was smaller, I loved being the kid who wasn’t afraid of picking up a dead lizard, or climbing up something I wasn’t supposed to.

But I’d be lying if I said I still thought I was invincible.

I can tell you that as a child, the thought of hugging my uncles terrified me. I hated the way their bodies felt. Male bodies. For awhile, I held off holding my younger brother and my father for the same reason. I have vivid memories of boys calling out to me, of myself frozen in fear. Of boys asking favours of me, and of me complying out of fright. I remember being petrified by a photograph of a penis. I thought it was scary and foreign. When boys asked me out, I have almost always said no. The thought of being alone with a boy scares me.

I am afraid of men.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about that fear a lot, and trying to understand it. I still can’t figure out whether this fear is a patriarchal institution or an act of rebellion. Is it the implications of the patriarchal man — aggressive, dominating, unfeeling — that terrifies me? Or is my fear a bold insurgence against the hold that the patriarchal man has on women?

I’m beginning to think it’s the former. And I’m not here to blame men, because I believe my fear is a part of a system that disadvantages them too. I believe that boys are taught from a young age that they have to be patriarchal to succeed. Society feeds us the image of the strong, valorous man. The man who is fearless and invincible.

And it’s no fault of the men around me that some of them fall into the trap of believing this is what they have to be. Hell, I know I expected the men in my life to be that way. I know I saw my brother through the lens of the patriarchy. I expected him to be disconnected and aloof. I expected him to be an invulnerable protector. In our younger years, I was aggressive towards him because he was quieter and more intellectual than I was. I looked at him and I saw weakness. I’ll admit it to you now: I feared that he wouldn’t be “man enough” when he grew up. And I’m so sorry. If I could take that sentiment back, I would. Boys need to be taught to dissect patriarchal ideas of masculinity, but so do girls. I wish I had seen him for the intelligent, sensitive person that he was, and not for what he wasn’t. I know that he and I only really started to connect properly after I discovered feminism and realised that my view of men had been one tinted by fear, but also by sexism.

I grew up expecting chivalrous, strong men. I defined the attractive male as someone who was tougher than I was and more rational than me. I wanted a patriarch, and I wanted to be subservient.

Later, I acknowledged my fear of men (which was, no doubt, influenced by my idea of men as uncompromising and Herculean) and it festered in me. I distanced myself from men and maleness. In that space, I could reconsider my sexuality, but I also found an indescribable sense of revulsion towards men. I never went as far as to identify with the man-hating branches of feminism that pop up in the guise of girl power (“boy tears” sweatshirts, anyone?) but I certainly did my fair share of eye-rolling at the women who wanted to include men in their feminism.

It’s important to realise that feminism — any ideology, really — is a learning journey. My opinions will never be fully formed. And so all stages of my feminism — from wanting to “not put a label on it”, to trying to balance religion and equality, to rejecting men from my feminist space — all of them are valuable, and without them, I wouldn’t be reconsidering my feminism today.

I want to include men in my feminism. Not because I’m afraid of men (although I believe I have a way to go before I’m completely unafraid), but because I believe they’ve been hurt by the patriarchy as well. Men need space to vocalise that hurt, especially since the patriarchy tells men that their feelings must be bottled up and forgotten. Should there be rules on the extent of that space? I don’t know. Some people propose that men be allowed in feminist circles, but be discouraged from speaking for women. As a general rule, I believe that’s safe. Men shouldn’t assume things on behalf of women. Men should give women a platform to discuss the issues that concern them. But in the same way, there are things about maleness that us women might need to stop shouting over. Things we can listen to. Yes, I still believe women can talk to men about the privilege they have on account of their gender. When it comes to issues like bodily autonomy, safety, wages, sexual agency, respecting our voices, women have a lot to say that men need to listen to. But when it comes to issues like the stigma of emasculation, the patriarchal doctrine that tells men to stay silent and unfeeling, I believe it’s time we stopped shutting men up and out. When I say we need men in feminism, I don’t mean to say “women can’t do it ourselves”. We can. But who wants to live in a world where all women are informed, vocal, and close-knit, and the men are constantly trying to destroy what we have? I certainly don’t.

It doesn’t mean our feminism has to be quieter. I don’t think my apprehension towards men will disappear if I stop vocalising my opinions and my struggles. What will change my mind is a destruction of the patriarchal perception of masculinity that is already there. If I stop thinking of men as the unfeeling brutes that the patriarchy wants them to be, then maybe I’ll be able to fully see them as emotional beings. It’s worth acknowledging that it’ll be a difficult change to make, especially since society will keep feeding me its idea of masculinity. And it’s made worse by the fact that I do have negative experiences with boys and with men. But I’m ready, after dwelling in my terror for so long, to move past what’s in the past, and to attempt to refresh my mind. I’m holding out for a world where men aren’t afraid of feminism — where men aren’t afraid of feeling, or of being presented with a space where they can feel, and where they can speak about their feelings. I’m holding out for a world where women aren’t afraid of men, where men don’t worry about proving their dominance. Where people are people, regardless of gender, regardless of gender.