Rosel Jackson Stern refuses to apologise for her ironic approach to tackling sexism.
A lot of men ask me if I hate men. When running the podcast Stay Mad, writing articles for various online platforms or presenting a feminist analysis of whatever topic we’re discussing in my politics seminar, it always comes back to the same question: “So, do you hate men?” This question often comes up before anything else and it overshadows what I am actually talking about. There is a sense of a bruised ego here. Maybe it’s crass to admit, but I do immediately see in front of me a caveman holding a club, looking rather forlorn and asking: “What do you mean this isn’t about me???” But I’m not one to dictate anyone’s response to what I do, so I thought I would address the elephant in the room and once and for all proclaim my undying hatred for man(yes, man)kind.
Given all of this, I understand men in their concern. I am the worst nightmare of liberal feminists preaching “feminism is not about hating men”. I am vocal and dismissive of men because they haven’t historically had my back and, to this day, I have had no indication that this is about to change. I frequently remark upon men’s inadequacies to my friends and anyone who knows me will be familiar with my running gag about men in gulags. Wow, we really are getting crass; this is stuff that should only be between me, my girlfriends and a bottle of wine. But here we are, airing it to the world because it illustrates the larger backdrop against which my “man hate” sits. In the words of Slate writer Amanda Hess: “On it’s most basic level, ironic misandry functions like a stuck-out tongue pointed at a playground bully.”
Before you, dear reader, completely lose patience with me, I think it’s necessary to clarify something. I do not personally go around hating every person that happens to be born with a penis. That would be ridiculous and more importantly transphobic; a set of ideas which I vehemently oppose and consider detrimental to the feminist movement. However, anyone who’s familiar with the concept of gender will know that it’s not so much about biology, but the social constructions attached to it. So really, when I say I hate men, I mean that I hate the maleness and masculinity in which men are indoctrinated and that comes at women’s expense. To be masculine means to be dominant, controlling and strong. The question then becomes dominant over what? Controlling whom? Exercising strength when?
Men have caused me and every woman I know pain, if not directly, then at least indirectly. Apart from my dad, I can confidently say that I have not had a relationship with a man that has not been physically or emotionally abusive to a greater or lesser extent. This is not unreasonable considering that 1 in 3 women have been physically or sexually abused, usually by an intimate partner, in their lifetime. It’s a statistic under which every woman I know has suffered. The gendered dynamic between men and women has been present in my life in everything from doing the emotional labour of trying to get my first boyfriend to talk about his feelings, to clutching my keys as I hurriedly walk home from a night out, to supporting my female friends as they report their sexual assault only to be failed by a legal system that protects their abusers. But the “why I need feminism” schtick has been well rehearsed, so what does it have to do with man hate? It becomes a weapon in the fight for women’s liberation when empathy is no longer an an accessible tool under patriarchal masculinity.
There is an extent to which there is no way of properly communicating the experience of being a woman to someone who isn’t one. There is an extent to which, as a man, you just have to believe women when we say our experience is “x, y and z”. Sure, I could quote you statistics, feminist literature and studies done on young children revealing the insidious ways in which gender is imposed from childhood but, ultimately, you need to be willing to use your empathy to understand this disadvantage. Unfortunately though, the norms of masculinity dictate that any emotion that doesn’t ultimately facilitate ejaculating over some girl’s face or throwing a punch at the nearest perceived threat towards said masculinity is to be discouraged.
The lack of empathy that masculinity enforces in men stands in direct contrast to what I so appreciate in my female friendships: the ability to understand, support and stand in solidarity with each other’s experiences. My friendships are intense and at this point in my life, I want nothing less. That’s not to say men are unempathetic robots incapable of human connection. Like all humans, they are complex and encompass both masculinities and femininities. Yet the nature of patriarchy, of valuing masculine traits above feminine traits, means that men are more likely to suppress their femininities, including their ability to digest the plight of female oppression in which they are fundamentally complicit. I’m done with catering to men’s feelings and ideas about how I should be and act. And yet, the possibility of closing the lid on conversations that might lead to men becoming aware of how they treat women makes me uneasy. The question then remains: how do we communicate effectively outside the confines of masculinity? How do I, in the pub, at the club or on the street, let men know how their behaviour affects my experience and ability to move through the world?
I can’t honestly say that I have the answer to this question, it’s not something that seems appropriate in the small amount of time it takes for a man to abuse me. Pinpointing the behaviours and ideas informed by masculinity and refusing to endorse them has led people to believe that I hate men. But in this case, ironic misandry is one of my weapons. Its ridiculousness gives me the tools to approach negative stereotypes of feminists with humor instead of despair and resolve instead of insecurity. Moreover, it can reaffirm this radical idea of refusing to put up with men’s bullshit, to move through the world where the condescension of the male gaze no longer bothers you. Because frankly, who cares what men think of your feminism? It’s not for them, it’s for you. It’s for a world where you in your bodily glory, spirit and being, can exist free from the overbearing glare of masculinity. And more than anything, I wish that world to become a reality.
Illustration by Jess Baxter