The New Misandry: Man-Hating in 1972
Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives. October 12, 1972, Vol. XVII, No. 41
The new misandry by Joanna Russ
Gee, isn't it awful for women to hate men?
Of course lots of men despise women, but that's different; woman-hating isn't serious -- at worst it's eccentric, at best sort of cute. Woman-haters (many of whom are women) can express themselves all over the place, as the latest cartoon about women drivers reminds me, but man-haters have fewer opportunities. Man-hating takes self-control. Besides, man-haters are in the minority; for every Valerie Solanas, how many rapists, how many male murderers are there? What male reviewer found Hitchcock's "Frenzy" one-20th as revolting as Solanas's "Scum Manifesto?" Of course Solanas went out and did it, but then so do many men -- in the small town I live in there were several incidents of rape last year, and a common response to them was laughter.
Alas, it's nothing new for the oppressed to be solemnly told that their entry to Heaven depends on not hating the oppressor; labor is supposed not to hate management and black is not supposed to hate white because hatred is bad. It's a fine case of double-think. Watch: (1) You do something nasty to me. (2) I hate you. (3) You find it uncomfortable to be hated. (4) You think how nice it would be if I didn't hate you. (5) You decide I ought not to hate you because hate is bad. (6) Good people don't hate. (7) Because I hate I am a bad person. (8) It is not what you did to me that makes me hate you, it is my own bad nature. I -- not you -- am the cause of my hating you.
For some reason misandry (a fancy word for man-hating) is a very loaded topic. People even talk as if hating men meant murdering all of them right away -- as if there were no difference between feelings and acts. Man-haters are people who feel a certain way (not even all the time, believe it or not); they aren't Instant Murderesses. If misandrists were the uncontrolled, ravening wild beasts they are supposed to be, they would've been strangled in their cradles. Surely very few of us are seriously afraid that battalions of ardent feminist misandrists will come marching out of the sunrise to castrate every man between here and California -- though the jokes that are told seem to indicate we think so. Does Betty Friedan really think this will happen? Obviously not. Does Jill Johnston? Hardly. Yet Jill Johnston provokes such extraordinarily virulent abuse that she must be hitting a nerve of some sort and Betty Friedan recently accused Gloria Steinem (of all people) of -- what? Hating men. A serious charge.
Feminists who want feminism to be respectable are afraid the "radicals" will go "too far." That is, manhating gives the show away -- we aren't merely liberals; our complaints are drastic; we're demanding, not asking; we're breaking the mold in the most thorough way possible; we really mean it. (That is why "Man-hating" is used as a red herring -- it's such a loaded charge.) Movement women who come down hard in public on misandry are afraid of male backlash. They want men's (and women's) cooperation, they want acceptance, they want popularity.
Second, there are women who feel that their own choice of a lifestyle (living with a man, sleeping with a man, working with men, loving a man) is somehow impugned or rendered invalid by women who hate men. The second group, of course, feels exactly the same way about the first group -- but that's been going on for years. The novelty is that the conventional, socially approved choice is now open to question at all. Americans seem to be acting this way lately; we don't love ourselves enough to value our choices without some kind of outside sanction. So we deprecate others lest they deprecate us, even by implication.
Perhaps the most important cause of fear of misandry is the awfulness of facing the extent to which misandry and misogyny are an inescapable part of the texture of our lives. It is all right to joke about "the battle of the sexes" but we must not take it seriously for the paradoxical reason that it is too seriously -- every man is a misogynist, how can he help it? and very woman is a misandrist, how can she help it? The misandry, of course, is far worse than the misogyny -- thus giving us a clue as to who the aggressor is in the "battle." Solanas, Solanas is Everywoman -- this means that nobody can escape the general situation. True, some employers are nicer than others. But a job is still a job. True the enemy isn't shooting at Yossarian in particular. But they're still shooting at him.
We are all, to a very large and uncomfortable degree, prisoners of the institutions in which we live. Being forced to endure awful things is bad enough: we are forced to feel awful things too -- it is truly horrible to realize how much stunting and deformation has been forced upon us. It's so much easier to say that everything (as Perelman puts it) is leeches and cream, that all women really love men, that only "sick" women hate men. It is even getting so that to say something is the "wrong" thing to do in a practical, tactical sense, carries overtones of moral condemnation. (Hence Friedan's condemnation of Steinem, et al.) If you are to accept there are women who do indeed openly hate men either because they have hit extreme (but characteristic) circumstances or because they are more clear-sighted than the rest of us, that means you must accept misandry as a possibility for yourself. (If you are a man, this acceptance means you must accept the possibility of women's hatred as a rational response to a bad situation and that you must not get aggrieved at it.) To accept misandry is to perceive what dreadful messes are made of our lives even if we are lucky enough to escape the worst effects of our social structure. There are two kinds of women who never hate men: the very lucky and the very blind.
I think we ought to decide that man-hating is not only respectable but honorable. To be a misandrist a woman needs considerable ingenuity, originality, and resilience. A misogynist requires no such resources. Our men are brought up to hate us; it is the unconventional, intelligent, sensitive, truthful, original man who can get out from under that tyranny and love women. We are brought up to love our men -- uncritically and in fear of the consequences if we don't. (I am not talking about this or that particular man, but men as a group. The doctrine that men ought to be accepted or rejected as individuals is a life-saver to women who are horrified by man-hating. But these very women know perfectly well that the issue is a class issue -- they themselves argue that "men" are wonderful, that "men" are good, i.e., they almost always accept the class terms of the argument until some other person gets them off the hook by bringing in the individualist argument that people must be judged singly and then sliding imperceptibly into the stand that people do not belong to groups or classes at all.) It is the unconventional, truthful, sensitive, intelligent, original woman who can get out from under that tyranny and see clearly that to be discriminated against, patronized, belittled, frustrated, limited, treated without respect, and taught that one is not important are hardly breeding grounds for Love.
It's possible to reject misandry as a tactic, or even choose to suppress it in oneself, and yet to accept the misandrists themselves. This would involve recognizing misandry as a permanent possibility in every woman's situation and therefore in her life. It would mean not being nervous about what men would think of those awful, man-hating women. It would mean criticizing man-haters -- if at all -- in private.
Women's situation with respect to men isn't just oppressive; it's terribly confusing. As Virginia Woolf says, neither flattery, affection, ease in her company, nor love will prevent a woman from being put in her place. (Bad things happen not only when the subordinate gets uppity but when the superior gets irritable and wants somebody to take it out on -- we all admire the delicate realism of the cartoon in which Boss yells at Husband. Husband yells at wife, and wife yells at Child. That Child had better have a Dog.)
That bad things are done to you is bad enough; worse is the double-think that follows. The man insists -- often semi-sincerely, though he has some inkling of his motives because if you question them, he gets mad -- that (1) he didn't do anything, you must be hallucinating; (2) he did it but it's trivial and therefore you're irrational ("hysterical") to resent it or be hurt; (3) it's important but you're wrong to take it personally because he didn't mean it personally; (4) it is important and personal but you provoked it, i.e., it's your fault and not his. Worse still, he often insists on all of them at once. In this sort of ideologically mystified situation, clarity is crucial. Let us get several things clear: hurting people makes them angry, anger turns to hate when the anger is chronic and accompanied by helplessness, and although you can bully or shame people into not showing their anger, the only way to stop the anger is to stop the hurt. The cure for hate is power -- not power to hurt the hurter, but power to make the hurter stop.
It is a mistake to think that man-hating is a delicate self-indulgence; it's very unpleasant. Nor is it a pathological rarity; nothing could be more common. Go look at popular art meant for women: romance magazines, "women's" movies, modern Gothics. Where there is no disguised revenge (as there is in the presentation of the stupid, feeble males of the old radio soaps) there is abundant helplessness, pain, and self-hatred. I find hating others morally perferable to hating oneself; it gives the human race a backbone. It is the first of all the biological virtues, self-preservation, and it takes more bravery than you might think. And before you sneer at self-preservation and declare that self-immolation is wonderful (especially for women) remember that self-sacrifice is a virtue always forced on oppressed groups. (Some women twist the "virtue" of self-sacrifice and Love into weapons for themselves: i.e., the guilt-making "I sacrificed everything for you" and the more-loving-than-you crowd, who treat a spontaneous emotion as if it were a cultivated moral characteristic. They are very snotty to women who don't love as much as they do.
Why is man-hating so dreadful? Because it is easier for everybody, male and female, to demand saintly purity of the oppressed than to tee off on the oppressor. It's about time we stopped worrying about whether feminists are saints: they're not, quite predictably. And it's also time to scotch that perennial silliness about avoiding Change because Change will provoke a Backlash. Change always provokes a backlash. If you meet with no resistance, you're not doing your political job. As Philip Slater says in "The Pursuit of Loneliness," "backlash" is what happens when people find out that change means change. Pious statements that feminism is really very moderate and harmless aren't going to deceive anybody for long. The radicalism of cause doesn't come from the individual wishes of a few well-known leaders but from the situation in which large, large numbers of people find themselves. Feminism is radical. Those who don't want to be "that" radical are finding themselves either outstripped or ignored; they become (sadly) the darlings of an Establishment which likes them for all the wrong reasons.
To condemn misandry is to have higher standards of conduct for women than for men. It is to be so frightened about feminism per se that not a taint of ordinary human corruption can be allowed into it. It is to accept the idea of oppression only on the condition that the real, ugly effects of oppression be denied. It is to consider feminism a moral movement and not a political movement -- men are okay but we've got to be better.
Isn't that what we were trying to get away from in the first place?
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]
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