It is not misogynist to assert that misandry is as significant a dynamic in gender relations as misogyny itself. It is also not misogynist to bring misandry “out of the closet” and to refuse to tolerate the silence, avoidance, denial and imbalance of its role in all encounters between men and women. Further, keeping it “off the table” of public discussion risks enhancing the likelihood of an impertinent and potentially heated encounter.
According to Wikipedia, misandry is the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against men or boys in general. Misandry may be manifested in numerous ways, including social exclusion, sex discrimination, hostility, gynocenrtrism, matriarchy, belittling of men, violence against men, and sexual objectification. Such attitudes may be normalised culturally, such as through humour at the expense of men or boys, or blaming all world problems on men, or suggesting that men are redundant.
Whether portrayed in any one of many television commercials depicting men as fools, stupid, disconnected, distracted, or worse, absent, or in Shakespere’s plays in which women in general have to marry down and men are portrayed as narcissistic and not to be trusted, or in North American culture which depicts African-American men too often as either infantile or as eroticized and hyper-masculine…Feminist Christina Hoff Sommers notes “in Eve Ensler’s play, The Vagina Monologues, there are no admirable males…the play presents a rogues gallery of male brutes, sadists, child-molesters, genital mutilators, gang rapists and hateful little boys…and most men are not brutes.. They are oppressors. (From the Hudson Review, as quoted on Wikipedia)
So obviously taken as the universal characterization of men in twenty-first century North America, these images do at least two things:
1) for women, they endorse and enhance an extremely negative view of men and
2) for men, they impose a radioactive barbed wire enclosing the word misandry in a vault of silence, endangering the fool who might open that vault and let the word and the concept out.
Adding to the implications of this kind of language and cultural meme, there is also the daily drum beat of media stories in which men betray, abuse and take advantage of women, all of these stories fuelling the fire of legitimate female anger, vengeance and the outrage of an ascerbic sisterhood.
On the other side, men, unlike our female partners, daughters, sisters, aunts, mothers and grandmothers, we are not the least bit inclined to bond together in a collective response to this stereotype. The Canadian Centre for Men and Families is currently conducting a fund-raiser to enhance public awareness of the billboard advertising campaign whose headline reads:
MEN: 75% of all suicides in Canada
Clearly, it would be a gross mistake to attribute male suicides anywhere to misandry, exclusively. Yet, it would also be reasonable to consider how misandry impacted the lives of men willing to do harm to themselves. It is primarily such consideration of misandry when investigating, researching and documenting troublesome gender encounters that this piece advocates. Ironically, and perhaps even paradoxically, the church has the opportunity to provide leadership in this regard, given the profound tradition in civil and criminal law that excludes or turns a blind eye to this dynamic. Current cultural vernacular, norms and expectations, too, tend to be deaf to the implications of misandry.
Discerning any potential difference between a woman’s negative animus and a more foundational misandry, if indeed there might be one, could be one of North American men’s most complex and difficult and necessary insights to be learned, and then to be passed along to other men.
Women have developed a plethora of both overt and covert behaviours, utterances, attitudes and body language to express contempt for the men in their lives. Deferring to the stereotype of “oppressor” as contained in The Vagina Monologues, as the starting point and the whole truth in the female “interpretation” of gender conflict, has to shift. And the shift could begin with a cultural window-opening to the potential presence and impact of misandry.
While hardly exhaustive, some of those expressions include:
· Whistling around the house when angry and while seeking to chastise son or husband or both
· Projecting the lower plate of false teeth through the lips to depict a grizzly hateful picture of wife/mother
· Failing to show up to the dinner table, when the meal has been served
· Throwing the Christmas dinner out the front door, as the family arrived on Christmas Day (an authentic story)
· Packing a bag and leaving the house at 3.00 a.m. after inquiring whether the ten-year-old wishes to “come with me or stay with your father” (another piece of history)
· Withdrawal of affection and all signs of participation in male-female relationships
· Assumption/presumption of the need for exaggerated messaging because “men just don’t and won’t listen”
· Clubbing at parties with other women, fully engaged in the game of “male-character-assassination.”
· Propagating the myth that men “only want one thing”
· Faking orgasm
· Refusing to partner a male with ED
· Scape-goating the male in the relationship
· Transferring anger and betrayal from one situation to another, without acknowledging the transference
· Assuming/presuming a greater sense of responsibility and maturity than a male partner
· Playing the victim role in the relationship while painting the male as bully
· Assessing female sisterhood as more emotionally mature than different evidence of male bonding
· Carrying the belief that “I married beneath me” through a marriage
· Engaging in male-bashing as part of the workplace culture
· Exposing intimate details of a relationship to female “friends”
· Displacing anger (negative emotions) from an in-law to a spouse
· Stereotyping males as having only two emotions: anger and sadness
· Using sex as a negotiating strategy to achieve a different objective
· Substituting a “role image” for the whole person of the male partner (CEO, General, Judge, Surgeon etc.)
· Reducing the male partner to a “cheque”
Put up against many males who neither comprehend a negative animus, or any notion of a projection (ideal or not so much), nor do we have a sophisticated language to capture our feelings, except that we know “something doesn’t feel good,” these and other behaviours tend to pass unacknowledged in many situations. Consequently, the behaviours, and the attitudes underlying each of them, can tend to fester, often generating a dialogue of the deaf.
Men have simply not been trained to function in the forest and winds of female emotions. We are not apprenticed in reading facial language, body language, except in the case when an often-repeated negative expression which will evoke an immediate internal response: “She is very upset, unhappy, disappointed, angry, mad or even disillusioned.” For us, the question of what to do at that moment, however, seems overwhelmingly complicated. We feel inadequate, insecure, fragile and disconnected, much of this emotional response coming, involuntarily from our own bodies. We feel that we are on the edge of an emotional precipice, for which we have not trained. There was no undergrad program in relationship-building in health class. They tended to be dedicated to the dangers of pregnancy, the anatomy of the human body, the dangers of drug dependence and perhaps, at a time in the distant past, even dance lessons. When we were in high school, and were expected to read about human emotions, we clearly noted a very different approach between the male and female characters. We identified with the male “actors” and their motivations, or not, and generally deferring when discussion turned to observations and interpretations of female emotions and motivations.
Highly “sensate” (in that much of our messages about the world come through our senses), we adolescent males were not tuned into concepts like tuition, empathy, compassion or even the complexities of a loving human relationship. Questions about the physical beauty of the female character in a movie, (objectification) dominated our volatile hormonal perceptions. And we did not recognize or understand objectifying of another. We easily adopted the “male patterning” of disdaining anything effeminate when we were in middle school and then we shifted to something like awe and wonder about the near-by girls as we processed through middle and later adolescence.
Occasionally, we were asked to “baby-sit” by a family friend or neighbour; some of us “took to it” more easily and effectively than others. We were guests at weddings and the parties that accompany these social celebrations, without becoming intimately engaged in the quality of the relationship between the partners. Generally, we either disdained the male attire of the wedding party, or perhaps found it both interesting and captivating.
These somewhat generalized observations of the pathway of most young men, as an unofficial apprenticeship for love and marriage, could be summed up in a word: ad hoc. Whatever situations, conversations, encounters, conflicts and successful dates we each experienced all helped to paint the preface of how we might have entered into those really serious male-female relationships.
Naturally, too, our relationships with our mothers, the first woman in our lives, plays a significant and long-lasting role in our perceptions, attitudes, and expectations of our female dates and potential partners. Fathers, too, play their part, although in many cases, they were more disassociated, detached than our mothers, and certainly with far fewer verbal exchanges about how to navigate the currents of male-female relationships. The culture of upholding “masculinity” without defaulting into the female culture, seemed important. And the degree to which we considered it important, given our family’s culture, would have an important impact on our strength or fragility of our own masculinity. If we played the piano, for example, we would already have encountered epithets like “fag” and if we were talented artists, singers, we might also have endured similar taunts all of them from other males.
The culture, especially the masculine culture, in North America, is intensively averse to supporting men who have “soft” male traits, who are gay or trans. Women, by contrast, are far less enraged by the spectre of a sensitive, or gay male. Some women have written and spoken positively about being around gay men, given that they feel no pressure from them. Nevertheless, the “masculine” macho stereotype has such a deep and firm hold on what North American culture considers an acceptable, honourable and even respectable masculinity. Some church leaders, tragically, have instituted “reformation” programs to bring about a complete and total and permanent change in personhood for gay men, back to being straight. Fortunately, this movement has been deemed unlawful in several jurisdictions.
A dialogue between misogyny and misandry is not going to have a healthy, healing and transformative impact on our gender relations. Nor is a dialogue, including research, public policy and literary and entertainment models that permits the existence, relevance and significance of misogyny, without at the same time, permitting the existence, relevance, and significance of misandry going to offer a beacon of light and hope into the dark corners of our gender relations. Men and women, both, are not only capable of, but also fully engaged in expressions of their respective contempt for the opposite gqaender. However a cultural wave of not only tolerance but also deference to misogyny, while ignoring misandry, is and will continue to plant seeds of perceived injustice, and add to the mountains of intolerance that can and does come between men and women.
Of course, it has to be acknowledged that women perceive their lot as “needing serious amendment and repair” in order to even begin to approximate gender equity. Men, for our part, have an obligation to engage in such dialogue, without falling into the “scape-goat” or victim, or “oppressor” or “abuser” stereotype. Having come from a family of origin in which the father incarnated the compassionate, empathic, collaborative, collegial peace-maker model while the mother incarnated precisely the opposite: the warrior, the bully, the tyrant, and the detached especially with regard to parenting, while serving up meals, needles, comfort and compassion to her nursing patients, I offer these observations, coming in part from the history that is recorded deeply in my veins, my brain and my conscience.
Inviting the North American culture to open the door of its eyes, ears, minds, hearts and spines to the prospect of an honest, full-throated, full-bodied and full-minded/hearted dialogue that not merely permits the concept of misandry a place at the table, but actually fosters its welcome. The extremes of misogyny and misandry can and will be mediated, moderated and detoxified if and when both are acknowledged as real, without permitting anyone to seek and to find refuge behind either.