Sunday, November 4, 2012

On being a man-hating bitch

Feminists are often disparagingly called “man-haters” or “man hating bitches.” One website goes so far as to call feminism a “hate group.” I’ve never understood this reaction. The first time I came across feminism, it appeared to be eminently reasonable, and about as controversial as not being racist. It was just a straightforward application of humanistic principles of equality.

Taken at face value, calling feminists “man-haters” is nothing but incendiary rhetoric devoid of rational value. Despite the fact that it appears to make a claim about feminists – that they hate men – it is nothing more than an argumentum ad hominem, an informal logical fallacy where one personally attacks an opponent rather than his or her argument.

Seen from this perspective, calling feminists “man-haters” is just another way for a person with privilege to derail any conversation that challenges that privilege. As “Derailing for Dummies” humorously states in its intro, “Just follow this step-by-step guide to Conversing with Marginalised People™ and in no time at all you will have a fool-proof method of derailing every challenging conversation you may get into, thus reaping the full benefits of every privilege that you have.”

For some, calling a feminist a “man-hater” is straightforward misogyny, an expression of a deep-seated hatred for women. However, for many, I would argue that it is the product of an unconscious “distress of the privileged.” Men uncritically assume that their place in society is just. They fail to see their own privilege.

Therefore, when feminists challenge this privilege, when they try to remove it permanently, they are taking away benefits to which men feel entitled. Because male privilege goes unnoticed, men fail to realize that they were never entitled to the benefits they enjoy to begin with.

In an effort to explain why feminists would want to redistribute societal benefits to the detriment of men, many men uncritically and childishly assume that it is because feminists hate them. Seen from the perspective of a privilege-blind male, this makes sense. If the pie is already evenly split, and someone tries to take some more from you, it is reasonable to impute bad intent. But when you realize that you’ve always had more than your fair share, then the goals of feminism are simply the goals of justice.

However, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that “man-hater” is not the petulant whining of a spoiled child. How does it stand up to criticism?

First, it is Feminism 101 that the vast majority of feminists don’t hate men. They hate misogyny. In this light, feminism is not a threat to one’s existence as a male, but a challenge to be a better person, a challenge to overcome the unconscious ways one harms women. If a man refuses to accept this challenge, he deserves to be hated and reviled.

Second, and more subtly, “man-hater” completely misses the entire tradition of anti-essentialism in feminist theory. Anti-essentialist feminists don’t critique biological males but the cultural constructs that turn biological males into oppressors. Feminists hate these cultural constructs, not men themselves.

Therefore, “man-hater” fails even the most cursory analysis, making it clear that it is just childish whining and willful ignorance.


KB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pali said...

I totally agree. The idea that all feminists hate men (and are lesbians) seems to have arisen in 60s and 70s when a small radical movement was used to depict feminism in its entirety. It's egregious to think about how the preexisting societal construct of homophobia was exploited to deter support for feminism.

CET said...

I agree with KB that the people who call feminists man-haters do not understand what feminists are trying to argue and fight for. The reality is that most people have not been exposed to formal "feminism" and seem to offhandedly deem is as man-hating. If more people educated themselves as to what feminism actually stands for, they would realize that it's not about men at all. It's, as Sam states, about society and the constructs that create a male-dominated patriarchy that disadvantages women. If "feminist" weren't such a bad word, perhaps people would feel more comfortable being exposed to feminist ideas. I would expect that the majority of people would agree with these ideas if they actually knew what they were.

Sarah said...

In my experience anti-feminism often gets thrown in my face as a punchline - one that I am meant to laugh along with. Or, if I don't, it confirms the bias my stony face rejects. Such a catch 22 - but better to be a lonely bitch than a laughing doormat. Cheers Sam!

KSergent said...

Your post represents one of the many reasons I cannot wait to rock my "This is what a feminist looks like" KHWLA shirt. Personally, I believe the best way to combat the "feminists are man-hating bitches" stereotype is for everyone to fully embrace the "feminist" label.

As KB mentioned, I think part of the problem is that women enforce the stereotype. They have a higher status on the hierarchy if they separate themselves from those man-hating feminists! Looks like women should learn a thing or two from those crafty bonobo alliances!

Jihan A. Kahssay said...

This was an interesting blog. I'd like to share some history (more from my readings of Michael Kimmel): In 1910, a group of feminist men -- calling themselves the Greenwhich Village radicals -- established the Men's League for Woman Suffrage. Here was an organization for male feminists. Like women feminists at the time, the men of the Men's League were portrayed as man-hating men, or "male suffragettes." (Michael Kimmel, Manhood in America 85 (2012).) What I thought was interesting, however, was the insight that these men provided about how feminism benefits men.

They tied their support of women’s rights to their own manhood. The founder of the Men's League, Max Eastman, wrote "There was nothing harder for a man with my mamma's-boy complex to do than stand up and be counted as a 'male suffragette'... It meant not only that I had asserted my manhood, but that I had passed beyond the need of asserting it." (Id.)

I think, however, Eastman's stenographer (a woman) did a better job at explaining why men should embrace feminism. Upon revealing that she was a feminist, Eastman probed further about the stenographer's understanding of feminism:

"What do you mean by Feminist?" asked Eastman.
"Being like a man," she answered.
"Now you are joking!"
"No, I'm not. I mean real independence. And emotional independence too -- living in relation to the universe rather than in relations to some other person."
"All men are not like that," Eastman said sadly.
"Then they should join the Feminist movement!" (Id. at 86)

Thanks for the post.

Elizabeth said...

The idea that to be a feminist you have to be a "man hater" is just absurd. It really reinforces that the male is the default in the patriarchy. In order to be pro-woman, it must mean anti-man because men are what we are supposed to aspire to? As you pointed out, it also completely ignores that there are male feminists out there.

As KSergent mentioned, I can't wait to have us all wear our "this is what a feminist looks like" KHWLA shirts so people can see that feminists are not one "type" of person. If people realize that a "feminist" can be anyone, including men, we can reclaim the word from the haters. I look forward to a day when "feminist" isn't hurled around as an insult, but given the respect that the term deserves.

Attisaurus said...

I can't help but be reminded of the first time I was called a "chauvinist" - in freshman year of high school - for organizing my school's first ever Feminist Society (ironic, yes). I created the group and garnered faculty and staff support after a string of date rapes at my high school.

This guy was actually a casual friend, and someone I saw on a fairly regular basis. He proclaimed in class that it should have been illegal for me to establish a Feminist Society, and that in response he would gather his friends and start The Chauvinist Club. I thought he was kidding. But his request went through (still not sure why - might have been a public school thing where no one realized what the word meant), and we began a weekly battle of fighting over room reservations and popularity with our classmates. Luckily, his event-planning skills were pathetic, and soon his Chauvinist Club deteriorated into a gaggle of boys sitting in a circle on the grassy oval trading pornographic magazines. But eventually I confronted him about why he felt the need to have a Chauvinist Club - I explained that I wasn't trying to disenfranchise men, didn't hate men, and personally had nothing against him.

He responded, "No, you might not. But you want 50%. You want equality. Equality for you means I have to give something up - I have to give you 50%. And I don't want to."

KB said...

I agree that the arguments from some men calling feminists “man hating” are misplaced and a diversion. It makes sense for these men to criticize what they see as man hating to protect their privilege.

However, what does it mean when a women accuses other women of being man-haters? When a woman accuses another woman of man hating, it is unlikely she means to create a diversion, call all feminism into question, or support male domination. Rather, her statement likely stems from a reaction to protect the men who do not subscribe to the male-dominated structure. I think if both men and women better understood your final two arguments about feminists critiquing the structure and not men themselves, we would have fewer accusations of man hating.