On the morning of the Senate vote over whether or not to elevate Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, I felt an overwhelming sense of despair. Like so many other people that day, I was dismayed that someone who was an obvious liar was being excused of that because his lies and the people they hurt didn’t really matter to those in power. It’s widely known that “Devil’s Triangle” is not a drinking game and was never a drinking game, and is instead, what it’s called when one woman and two men have sex. Kavanaugh answered Yes or No questions with long, rambling rants, another common tell that someone is lying. But this was all excused and overlooked and some people even felt sorry for him in the process.
That morning I said to my husband James, “I don’t know a time when I haven’t been mad at men.” His somewhat surprising answer was, “I understand. I feel the same.” His school years had been full of being bullied by coaches and given a hard time by random assholes for no good reason. Patriarchy is a type of dominance hierarchy and position in it is gotten and maintained by demonstrating that you are more fit (i.e., more ruthless) than those around you. His dad had been both a bully and an asshole, and so it wasn’t a surprise to me that James also hated the idea of some guy who represented this same might makes right culture getting a lifetime appointment on the highest court in the land — a place that both he and I had worked and had a lot of respect for.
But just because James and I (and millions of other people) felt that way doesn’t indicate misandry — it indicates emotional fatigue with a system that is built around clawing your way to the highest part of the social hierarchy at the expense of those around you. Even though not all men behave in this way, it is still the pervasive experience of most women and many men to have had repeated and systemically supported bad experiences at the hands of men who were brought up in a patriarchal society. Pointing out that you’re sick of that is not what misandry means and using that term as a kind of clap-back is kind of like the elementary school taunt, “I know you are, but what am I?”
I’ve seen this term bandied about more and more often lately, although I’ve not yet seen it used correctly. In fact, I’ve never actually met or come across someone who truly hates men, although I’ve met plenty of people who are disgusted with patriarchy and the societal dynamics that go with that. They are mad at the particular men who hurt them and at the world that often turns a blind eye to that or blames them for the bad things that have happened to them. But that’s not the same thing as hating men, which is why the use of that term (misandry) is incorrect.
Only a tiny percentage of truly radical women believe that all men are despicable. Saying things like, “It’s not safe to be a woman,” or “You could be killed by the guy who is supposed to love you” are not inherently misandric statements. They reflect the realities of being female in a world where that is statistically a very dangerous thing to be. Half of all women who are murdered die at the hands of a current or former intimate partner. About 85% of rapes are committed by someone the woman knows. All women run a constant low-level threat assessment sub-routine that never turns off, something that most men rarely if ever do because it’s very dangerous to be a woman. Speaking about that is not inherently misandric.
“Sociologist Allan G. Johnson argues in The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy that accusations of man-hating have been used to put down feminists and to shift attention onto men, reinforcing a male-centered culture. Johnson posits that culture offers no comparable anti-male ideology to misogyny and that ‘people often confuse men as individuals with men as a dominant and privileged category of people’ and that ‘[given the] reality of women’s oppression, male privilege, and men’s enforcement of both, it’s hardly surprising that every woman should have moments where she resents or even hates men’.”
Johnson has some good points. North Americans are likely to see themselves as individuals only and to have a hard time considering how they participate in a social dynamic, either actively or passively. But once again, being angry about the treatment that one has received over a lifetime at the hands of men is not the same thing as actually hating them or blaming each and every one of them. Reacting defensively against that makes a lot less sense than agreeing that we all need to work together to create a different kind of culture — something that many men are actively participating in.
One guy I came across who used the term misandry incorrectly commented that it was “othering” to men to talk about them in this way. But if 90% of sexual violence against women is perpetrated by men, and 1 in 6 women will be raped, then how are we supposed to talk about the facts of that if we aren’t allowed to say that men raping women is a problem in our society? As Allan Johnson pointed out, it’s taking an issue that is about the harm done to women and reframing it so as to put the attention back onto men, which interestingly, is a big part of misogyny.
Misogyny is not really about hate either. Rather, it is the policing arm of patriarchy that attempts to keep women in their designated place. The emotional labor and care-giving that are a part of so many women’s daily experiences, both in the family and in the larger community, is unremarked upon unless a woman is notably resisting these functions. Misogyny is the hostilities that arise in the face of such resistance, which may be intended to punish, dominate, or condemn the women who are perceived as a threat to the status quo.
In other words, most of these guys who are misusing the term misandry are actually acting out of misogyny. They are (subconsciously) incensed that women aren’t focusing on what they “should be” — the lives and well-being of men, but instead are complaining about the bad things that are happening to them. Meanwhile, many men are concerned about and sensitive to the issues that marginalized people face, including sexual violence against women. They understand that it’s not a contest and can care about more than one societal problem at a time, including ones that don’t hurt them directly.
Some consider terms like “mansplaining” to be misandric, although as a really pragmatic person who often has my own thoughts, experiences, and area of expertise explained to me by men who just assume they must know more about it than I do, I have to say that if the shoe fits…. Not all men speak in this condescending way to women, and some men do it to other men as well. Sometimes women even do this. But once again, the overwhelming societal dynamic is that this is something that is done to women by men.
It’s another one of those manifestations of the patriarchal dominance hierarchy that harms women by treating them as children who need their own life and thoughts explained to them. This reflects how men have been socialized and does not reflect upon the inherent worth or goodness of men as a gender. But I’ve also never met a man who was incensed by that word who didn’t also do it on a regular basis.
I get that it would be nice if we had a less gender-specific term for this kind of behavior, but it would also be nice if we had a less gendered application of it as well. The guys who take it as a baseless slur are completely oblivious to the fact that mansplaining is not just when a man talks and it pisses a woman off. It has very specific criteria that are listed in most modern dictionaries.
- the explanation of something by a man, typically to a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.
As my friend, Lorelei Weldon wrote a while back, when we talk about WWII, we routinely speak about the Germans, as in “the Germans invaded Poland.” This does not mean that every person of German heritage who lived in that country at that time was guilty of acts of atrocity or hatred or that average German citizens didn’t also suffer during the war.
If you can’t separate out individuals from societies, then that is a part of the problem, but the greater issue seems to actually be the guys who are incensed that any woman should ever speak negatively about the bad things that have happened to them at the hands of men. They make it about them, and take it personally, wallowing in their hurt feelings rather than looking at the bigger picture.
We can create a better world for us all, but first, we have to identify what the issues are, not just on an individual basis but on a societal and systemic one. Many men are already doing that. Most women care about the welfare of not just themselves but men as well. They want their sons, their husbands, their lovers, and their friends to have wonderful lives, just not at their expense or at the expense of being able to speak about what is harming them.