I want to talk about misandry. I have just typed this into my *word processor* and it has given me the evil squiggly red underline of death. Apparently misandry is not even in the dictionary…well we’ll soon see about that: ADD.
But this is symptomatic of the problem. Discrimination against women has been the major issue for so long that we forget about unfair treatment of men. Now, I realise I’ve already broken untold scores of feminist taboos, so a few words of self-protective caveat before I get started.
I am aware that, despite what I will argue in this article, women have it immeasurably worse than men. The whole of society is organised so as to not just subordinate women, but condition them to internalise a state of subjugation. There’s certainly no debate about which sex has it worse when it comes to empirical metric – violent crime, employment prospects, political power etc etc – and such outward expressions of discrimination are just the beginning. Society rests on a deeply sexist psychological structure that has solidified into something immovable and horrific over millennia.
All I wish to point out is that there is a corresponding stigma for men, even if the scale is not comparable. Just as society dictates that, no matter what we think consciously, we sill will expect women to live up to bizarre primal models of obedience and, essentially, sex, so there is pressure on men to conform to their pre-ordained acceptable behaviour types. Internally, this is manifested in peer pressure from the earliest ages, forcing children to behave in aggressive or unpleasant ways in order to gain respect (and, after such values are quickly internalised, to gain self-respect). Externally, it is manifested in small things like work-place dress codes. Why should men have to wear bland, uncomfortable things like ties and top-buttons as a symbol of smartness? Why, at a “black tie” event, as the name suggests, do all males have to adorn identical penguin uniform while the women are permitted to make themselves look as aesthetically appealing as they can? Obviously, that women are expected to be sexy is a terrible social force that needs to be purged – but it’s not like there aren’t similar forces acting on men.
When it gets serious is in the few areas where gender stereotypes might benefit women. The pressure group “Fathers 4 Justice” has largely been ignored as being good at publicity stunts but not much else, but they have a very good point: why should fathers be at such a disadvantage when it comes to child custody cases? There is absolutely no psychological evidence that children are better adjusted if raised by a female, yet it is somehow “felt” by judges that normally the mother will make a better custodian. Women are unfairly pressurised into “having to look after the kids”, yet the same prejudices that cause this also mean that well-intentioned fathers are often pressurised into staying away from their kids when they’d rather help raise them.
I recently had reason to browse the opinion pages of the Cambridge Tab, an incredibly sexist publication that has vociferously attacked the feminist society, and which I think is fairly representative of UK tabloids, and maybe even of mainstream culture. The findings were horrifying, as I expected, but the sexist ratio was surprising. There was the obligatory article decrying female empowerment, and another stereotyping women as image-obsessed, but there were also three “opinions” that were blatantly sexist against men: one arguing that it’s a sign of weakness for guys to cry, one rejoicing in “ladishness” generally, and one despairing at the thought of – gasp! – metrosexuality. I might add that two of these were written by women.
Why should I, as a designated “man”, have to feel a strange sense of discomfort – guilt? self-loathing? – every time I refuse a pint of unappealing, poisonous and expensive amber fluid or prefer not to spend an evening getting life-threateningly intoxicated with a bunch of rude, unattractive and arrogant alcoholics? Why do I feel socially compromised when I am unable to hold a conversation about a mind-numbingly boring sport played by angry millionaires? The masculine stereotype is as much of a burden as it is a licence to dominate women. The only reason people appear to “enjoy” this burden is that they have become so used to it that it represents their sense of identity, and helps them create positive bonds with others who share the same yoke. And also because it allows them to subjugate women.
I’m not suggesting that the feminist movement should devote equal time to male injustices as to female ones. Clearly the problems are largely one-sided. But it would be a fatal mistake for feminism, like my spell-check, to simply ignore misandry or somehow see it as men getting what they deserve. The crucial point is that the suffering of women cannot possibly end until the problems outlined above are also eliminated. At the moment, society exerts sexist demands (from the playground onwards) on men that compel them to adopt a masculine attitude which is equally sexist. If women are made objects by men, it’s only because society insists that men be subjects. As has been repeatedly stated by most progressive feminists, the whole aim of the movement is not to make men and women equal, though that may be a good starting point, but to make it so that everyone sees that a basic distinction is not even valid. Only when sex no longer determines where you lie on the gender spectrum (or whatever model you want to see it as) will feminism have succeeded, and freeing “men” from having to box themselves into one extreme is an important part of that.