“Manhater!” cried one. “Misandrist!” yelled another. “Sexist bitch!” not far behind.
These were some of the responses to my comments on a thread about domestic violence deaths in Australia after a week when there had been three in quick succession. Naturally, in the wake of so much horror, social media was brimming with discussions about women and children dying “by violence”, as though violence is a thing that hides in a cupboard ready to jump out and stab us to death at any moment.
But violence isn’t a thing capable of holding a knife. It cannot throw a punch. It cannot light a match. Violence is not a tangible thing that can be held accountable, and we really need accountability.
My call — with a view to a more constructive conversation — was to move away from abstract language and name the thing most likely to kill a woman violently. And, as we know the world over, the thing most likely to kill a woman, is a man.
Let me share with you now my offending contribution to this conversation in all its raw brutality:
“Perhaps it’s time we shifted away from a passive voice when discussing the issue of domestic, family, and sexual violence, and start naming it up for what it is, male violence; against women, against children, and against other men.”
Cue pile-on from the subject of my comment — men.
Any woman who is active in the feminist space will be familiar with the man-hater label. Calling out patriarchal systems and toxic male behaviours that exclude and harm women — even when thoroughly supported by empirical data — will often be met with outrage; you’re critical of men, therefore you hate them.
It’s a lazy and disingenuous response implying that if critiquing male culture and behaviours is misandry, then the expression of misogyny would be the same; a critique of female culture and behaviours. It is not.
Misogyny — in its most simple and convenient definition — is hatred, contempt, and prejudice against women.
Misandry — in its own most simple and convenient definition — is hatred, contempt, and prejudice against men.
The two terms are equal in their description and expression of prejudice through the lens of gender. Hate women and you’re a misogynist. Hate men and misandry is your thing.
Simple. Convenient. But wrong.
Hatred and contempt
The problem with such a narrow definition is the implication that feelings of hatred and contempt are conscious and thus evidenced by deliberate actions. But when seeking to truly understand what it means to be a misog or misan-drist measuring the outward expression of hate and contempt is far too simple and, true to patriarchal constructs, all too often let the men who are outwardly “good” off the sexist hook while conveniently ensuring that the women who stand against inequality will get the short end of the sexist stick.
For example, who will society view as more guilty of an obvious display of “hate” directed at the opposite sex? The “good man” whose goodness is evidenced by having a wife and daughters and who regularly cries out with tear-jerking benevolence, “not all men”? Or the “angry woman” who stands up against the oppression of her kind, the inequity of income, the systemic roadblocks to her representative voice, and the violence perpetrated against her?
Misogyny is a value system intertwined with the social system of patriarchy, though which came first is a brain-bending chicken/egg and nurture/nature debate requiring a copious amount of wine and cheese to unravel. It’s what the deep thinkers might describe as an internal inconsistent value due to its often contradictory and conflicting nature. In other words, it’s rarely a value system someone will be conscious of — much less own — but it is something that can be observed and measured due to its manifestation of prejudice, a prejudice that works to establish and maintain inequality and oppression.
At the heart of it, both misogyny and misandry manifest, not as hatred and contempt, but as prejudice, often underpinned by fear and distrust — of the other, of that which we don’t understand, and of that which, if given power, could harm us. The prejudice born of misogyny and the resulting oppression of women isn’t justified. But I feel compelled to argue with conviction that responding in kind wholly is.
Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) understand this. Trans and gender diverse people understand this. LGB people understand this. Every marginalised group out there understands this. Straight, white men often do not.
The desire to push back against white privilege, creating black spaces with fists raised chanting “black lives matter” is not racism, it is a response to racism. Pride parades and gay bars are not heterophobic, they are a response to the homophobic. And, when women push back against male privilege, create women's spaces, and raise their fists to smash the patriarchy, it is not sexism. It is a response to sexism.
In short, misogyny is oppression and misandry it’s justifiable response.
Language is always evolving; meanings shifting from one generation to the next. At times this is organic, at other times deliberate, and occasionally its just a case of collective cognitive bias. Elements of all three probably apply with the current use of the term misandry.
In the mind of a misogynist, misandry is evidenced by such things as women-only gyms, gender quotas, or the existence of a Minister for Women in the absence of a Minister for Men. The accused misandrist will often be seen calling out misogyny which is evidenced by the objectifying of women, street harrassment, sexual assaults, high rates of intimate partner violence, the dominance of men in academic, political and professional spheres, and the sense of entitlement men and lawmakers have to women’s bodies.
Is calling this out this really misandry?
Excluding men from gymnasiums is a response to unwanted comments, stares, and sexual assaults by men. Quota’s address the reality that men have only ever used merit to compete against other men, while succeeding in competition against women has only ever required mediocrity. Women are given their own ministerial voice because men have — and in most countries still do have — the biggest voice on the decision-making floor.
Sarah Hagi wasn’t wrong when she said to women: “Carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man.” Because being a white man has been all it has ever taken to succeed in the same space against anyone who isn’t.
Florence Given was on the money when she said: “I swear to God you cut men and they bleed audacity.” Because challenging this gendered status quo elicits extreme and outraged responses.
So while misogyny and misandry are in their simple definitions equal, the question is are the terms being applied equally? The answer is, no.
Misogynists claim the world has become feminised, that being a man — especially a white man — makes them the target of prejudice, not the perpetrators of it. This perceived prejudice against men is just that, a perception. In reality, society is ramping up on calling out and addressing the measurable prejudice already in place against women.
But I want to be clear, misogyny is rarely a conscious and overt expression of hatred. It is, more often than not, an internalised one. A man can perceive himself as loving a woman and still perpetuate the behaviours and attitudes upholding the patriarchal structures that maintain his privilege at her expense. Being privileged leaves him with no reason to question it. No reason to reflect on the structure of his society. No reason to critique it.
Misogyny rarely involves critiquing gender in any way that is rational. It is not about stepping back to observe patterns of behaviour that perpetuate inequality with a view to closing any gaps. Its primary purpose is quite the opposite — to maintain, through various means, the status quo in which men naturally hold the position of power and control; an argument often supported by the male constructs of religion and the concept of divine authority.
Misogyny, in its truest form, acquiesces to male authority, preferences male needs, and rears aggressively when challenged. Can the same be said for misandry?
If misandry were misogyny’s equal it would be expressed with a deeply ingrained view that women possess natural authority and therefore priority over men. It is difficult to see the two terms as being equal in the absence of this fantastical feminised world in which misogynists tell us we live. But if we did live in such a world and it was challenged, would the matriarchy rear aggressively in a collective effort to quell the discontent and put men back in their rightful place, beneath women? We may never know.
While it is oft-times convenient to stick to simple definitions like hate, to both fend off accusations of misogyny and throw the accusation of misandry in return, such defences are really just a purposeful attempt to deflect from the deeper meanings.
Using the word misandry to describe the active objection to gender violence and inequality is lazy, disingenuous and, let’s be honest, a classic display of misogyny.
The accusation of misandry in the context we so often see it is in fact an example of what we now refer to as gaslighting, causing those accused of it to question themselves and to make women feel shame in the act of feminism. Well played gentlemen. Well played. Who knew a patriarchal society would shape our language to benefit men.
Interestingly, the desire to maintain a comfortable and furtively male-centred society is felt by both men and women. It is evidenced in a myriad of ways; how votes are cast, how a country is run, how careers are chosen, how the household chores are divvied out with little thought as to why. It is internalised by women who seek male approval — the interminable pick-me girls who engage in slut-shaming and wardrobe critiquing — and by the pants-suited politicians and professionals who have adopted misogyny to compete and succeed in male-dominated spaces.
Turning it on its head would mean facing the uncomfortable unknown. So we look to abject hate; to violence, to rape, and to the purposeful exclusion of women, as the only real examples of misogyny. This approach allows us to relegate misogyny to the margins of society where the killers and rapists reside. It ensures we talk about women dying “by violence” instead of the actions of men. Digging any deeper makes people uncomfortable, and, earns them the misnomer of misandrist, feminist, hater of men.
To only view misogyny in the extremes is doing the work of the patriarchy. Conflating feminism with sexism is right up there with the concept that seeking racial justice is in itself an act of racism; that extending equal rights to one group takes them away from those currently enjoying them in another.
Just as the patriarchy has shaped our culture, our systems, and our perceptions of what is natural, it has also shaped our language; conflating and co-opting terms to apply the accusation of misandry as though we already exist in a gender-equal world. We do not.
If misogyny is an unjustifiable prejudice that has oppressed women — and it is — then “misandry”, as men like to call it, is its natural and justified response.
And yes, I’ll be shooting off an email to the Oxford English tomorrow to straighten this out.
© Sarah J. Baker, 2021. All Rights Reserved.
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