In a recent post, I grappled with the question: Do men hate us?
This was in response to assertions that I have read a lot since I got into feminist literature and feminst blogs, and that I have really struggled with. Could it really be true?
As Clare pointed out in comments to my earlier post, I could certainly have been a bit clearer that I wasn’t talking about all men. Just as some men are worse than and more despicable than the norm, others are better than and more wonderful than the norm. It is easy to forget that when you are faced day-in day-out with genuine piggery, so it’s good to be reminded now and again that there are some decent chaps out there.
These are the men who treat women as equals and with true respect, and who do not make unwarranted assumptions about people just because those people happen to be female. At the least, they are the men who have enough self-awareness to be conscious of their own sexist attitudes, who acknowledge and actively try to resist their own impulses to view women as less than equal, as something other. (Ah, if only I could find one like that. Now that really would please my mother.)
They don’t necessarily deserve a cookie for this amazing feat of not-being-sexist-pigs, but what the heck – for the effort involved in overcoming the patriarchy, let’s give them a cookie.
I will come back to these good men in a little while, but first I want to talk about why I have come to the view that the good’uns are so rare.
In short, it is because of my own experiences of men.
[OK, so you want a CV? I have been dealing with men for (mumble mumble) years – I have many male relatives; I’ve had (mumble, mumble) boyfriends including some who were quite serious, and one husband; I’ve worked for years in a male-dominated profession and in male-dominated offices; most of my friends have been men including a number of close male friends; I’ve witnessed man-woman dynamics in numerous social, family and business situations; and many of my closer female friends and internet buddies have told me the inside story about their own experiences of and feelings about their relationships with men. That’s a lot of exposure to men and male behaviour, believe me.]
And my experience is that MOST men are, to a greater or lesser extent, just as I have described, that MOST women are not treated anything like as well by their men as they deserve, and that MOST people do not even recognise these behaviours as blameworthy. The examples I’ve given in my various “why (most) men are rubbish” posts have all been unexaggerated real-life examples, from my life or from the lives of women I know.
Think how few men work part time, work flexible hours, or give up paid work altogether in order to fit in round their family’s needs, compared to the number of women who do so. I’ve met one man who does this, and I know two women whose partners do this. Yet I know scores of women who do it. Almost every mother I know has compromised or sacrificed her economic independence, and almost no fathers have done it. For some families, the mother being the one to make economic sacrifices, in return for the opportunity to spend time with her children, is a mutual choice reached freely by all parties having a fair and informed part in the decision. For most, however, it is based on an assumption that the woman should be the one to give up her economic power and independence, that she should become little more than (unpaid and undervalued) domestic help. Indeed, this is what she should want – although what women are expected to think of as fulfilling, men are trained to think of as demeaning. And this is also reinforced by the usual point that for it to be the woman who gives up her job “makes financial sense” (from any point of view but her own) because, of course, most women earn less than their men anyway.
And, in the workplace itself, I can report that blatant sexism is rife. It isn’t the in-your-face harassment where bottoms are regularly pinched, but it can be almost as bad. As just mentioned, women tend to be worse-paid. They are also treated less well in myriad other ways. Gender differences are pointed, attitudes to women workers are stereotyped, no attempt is made to understand or care about women’s particular problems (which are only particular problems for women because of the inequality they already face in respect of domestic work and childcare at home). And there is still, undeniably, a glass ceiling that is rarely broken. Male senior managers regularly make jovial comments about their female colleagues’ bodies – but it is all “meant in fun” and you are not allowed to object.
Even men who are my friends and who I love, even those with whom I have had brilliant relationships – I know that despite their affection for me, they still in general have a woman-hostile mindset. They are astonished when they hear of a man who chooses to stay at home with his family (“she’s got him under her thumb!”) or when a man chooses to do a traditionally female occupation like childminding (“he must be mad!”). They talk about going out as “escaping” from their wives and children. They leave their wives at home to babysit night after night, and instead of being grateful for their freedom to come and go they complain about how they “had to wangle a pass out tonight”. They think they are God’s gift to womankind, New Men, if they do a bit of housework now and again.
And think of all those jokey insults that too many men use on each other: You’re such an old woman; You throw like a girl; You’d make someone a lovely housewife. Men who make those “jokes” are saying that being female or feminine = being rubbish and laughable.
In short, there is a great deal of open contempt for women and for what women do. They take us absolutely for granted. There is real, widespread objectification of female bodies. There is a great deal of hostility towards, mistrust of, and non-acceptance of, anything feminine – particularly if it in some way seems to threaten our ideas of masculinity, as with a man who is seen as feminised because, for example, he does “women’s work”.
This is *everywhere*. It may not be all men, not by any means, but it is certainly a lot of men, and (to a greater or lesser extent) it is almost all of the men that I personally know well enough to describe.
I do feel uncomfortable calling it “hate”, not least because some of the men I am talking about are my dearest friends – who are also capable of loving individual women, albeit often not on the basis of equal value and mutual respect. On the whole I do think that “hate” is probably the wrong word for what most men feel about women. A lot of radical feminists use that word, perhaps too glibly, and I’m really not convinced that it is accurate – hence my struggle to get to grips with the question “Do they hate us?” in the first place.
Nevertheless, I do think that there is a very widespread undercurrent of contempt, a refusal to truly identify with women as fellows (even the word “fellow” itself is gendered and male) and I think that this is really not too many clicks away from hate. It explains how some men can so easily switch into a more generalised, openly hostile attitude to women as a class.
Perhaps I should add that I don’t necessarily blame men, as a class, for this. I do blame some individual men, but not men as a class.
What I blame is – of course! – the Patriarchy.
Our culture trains us all to view women in a certain way, and it takes an effort of will to overcome that. Women and men both have to make that effort.
Women have a clear incentive to do so, because we can only benefit by overthrowing or undermining the social structures that oppress us. Men are in a more complicated position. They would benefit from the end of patriarchy, because they would then have the opportunity to participate in a more equal, fairer, more joyfully human society. But in a much more immediate sense they would also lose out, because they would have to give up the male privilege that patriarchy entails.
Moreover, the effort required can be less for women, than for men. As women we are able to draw on our own experience of womanhood, on our own self-knowledge, and thus we can realise that we are not really the way patriarchy paints us, we can realise what it feels like to be treated as Less Than, and as Other. But (white, straight, able-bodied) men can’t do that because they do not have any experience of being a woman or of being Less Than and Other. It is therefore very easy for them to assume that the patriarchal picture is true and very hard for them to come to terms with the idea that it is not.
Does this mean that we should let men off the hook? If we don’t blame them for the anti-woman attitudes into which they have been involuntarily indoctrinated, is it unfair to hold them to account for the wrongs they do to women as a result?
And the good men are the reason why we can hold the patriarchy-upholders to account, the good men are the ones that give us hope. If some men can behave in a way that is neither contemptuous nor contemptible, then all (or most) men can.
That so many men choose instead to remain oblivious to the harm they perpetrate and perpetuate, and choose to believe the easy lies of the patriarchy over the hard truths of real human relations, is justly a matter for our criticism. And even, in suitable cases, our rage.