Is misandry a myth?
July 15, 2011 40 Comments
I was talking about racism a while ago with a friend – the kind of friend who really makes you think; one that forces you question your world view, introduces new concepts and challenges you to stand up for your beliefs. I said that years back, when I was walking home from school, I was the victim of a ‘racist attack’. “What do you mean racist attack?” he said. I explained was walking home from school when I got called “white prostitute”, “white bitch” and more by a group of 3 black boys, only slightly older than me.
“That’s not racist abuse, Soph” he said. And he rationalised it for about ten minutes, and I sat there wondering why he probably had a point; it dawned on me that actually it probably wasn’t racially motivated. If I had been a white man, I would not have been shouted at – I am almost certain of this. Had I happened to have been non-white, would I have been shouted at? Possibly. And then I realised, the part that scared me the most, the part that really angered me about that interaction was that I was referred to as a ‘bitch’ and a ‘whore’ – words with sexual connotations. Words that belittled me as a woman. I realised, had they just shouted “Hey, whitey!” would it have bothered me? Nope.
Someone tweeted me the other day saying that if anyone accuses me of misandry (it happens to me a lot) then they are inherently sexist, no questions asked. So, this kind of idea got me thinking. Is it possible for an oppressed minority section of society (by any means – race, gender, sexuality etc) to be ‘hateful’ towards the other and for it to be as unacceptable as it is for those in the majority to do so?
The idea that misandry is not actually possible is not a new one. I suppose for me it makes sense most when you consider that every interaction between two people does not take part in a social ‘vacuum’ free of assumptions, pressures, individual background and history, and a whole host of other variables. If interaction took place in an ideal society, where “isms” did not exist; where individuals are treated as individuals, then clearly this would not be the case – clearly it would be misandrist to say certain things, and the word would carry as much weight as the term ‘misogyny’. But we live in a society where women are consistently put down, not by individuals, but by their culture; by most men they meet (without a thought as to that potentially being the case!) and where women are stereotyped as characters of fantasy… Princesses in pink, ruthless bosses, etc. When men are misogynistic to women, it contributes to a wide range of experiences carried down for generations and perpetuated throughout her life in everything she does. When the situation is reversed it’s hardly comparable.
Much like me and my ‘racial abuse’ story: Why would it matter for someone to call me white? I am. I’ve never had the burden of being oppressed because of my race. And so men have never had the burden of being born a woman.
Sociologist Allan Johnson says: “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 when she resents or even hates ‘men’.” This suggests that not only is it reasonably normal for women to feel exasperated at their treatment in society, but that misandry is actually a valid response to oppression that women face. And they are right to do so, as they are restricted in varying degrees from doing what they want to in the same way that men are allowed to.
What’s more, the accusation of misandry tends to come out when discussing feminism and womens’ issues. It’s more of a cynical attempt to turn the very real and very prevalent ongoing victimisation and subordination of women into ‘what about the menz?!‘ It’s a classic derailment tactic when you don’t have a leg to stand on: Turn a genuine social problem around and make it about you, personally. Ignore the fact that we are not discussing your personal issues here, and continue. Tell me how bloody unfair it is that some girl you met five years ago broke your heart, and doesn’t even send you Christmas cards anymore. What a bitch she was, eh?
The fact is that misandry is an insult resorted to when there is very little capacity for honest and truthful debate. Why, otherwise, would you offer such a retort that generally shuts down debate and, ironically, proves the point that women do not feel listened to? It’s a way that, to me, men signal that they are not willing to even see it from a woman’s point of view – it is the clue that they have lost the argument and they are no longer willing to engage. Shutting down debate because you are a woman and he is a man… It’s sort of like mansplaining.
In looking for definitions of misandry, even the Urban Dictionary definition of misandry points to Allan Johnson’s work, which posits that misandry has no place in a patriarchal society. He states that “mainstream patriarchal culture offers no comparable antimale ideology (for women), and so their resentment is based more on experience as a subordinate group and men’s part in it.” (From The Gender Knot: Unraveling our patriarchal legacy) In other words, we are oppressed by a group of ‘men’ (in very general terms) so we are entitled to dislike this vague group of ‘men’ – and it’s not misandry to do so.
I could probably write a lot more about this and I may well do in the future. But to surmise: to say that women are misandrists is to completely ignore the clear gender divides in society, ignore thousands of years of marginalisation, and ignore social and cultural traditions that seek to dominate women, sometimes in the most subtle of ways. And it makes you a twit to boot.