That delightful old chestnut, “all feminists hate men” came up in my French Feminism class yesterday. A guy was giving a presentation on the first chapter of Simone de Beauvoir’s Seconde Sexe II and said he felt that de Beauvoir didn’t appear to be blaming anyone for the way boys and girls are socialised into gender roles – unlike most feminists, who hate and blame men – and that it was just a never ending cycle perpetuated by both men and women. I asked him where he thought the idea that women should play a subservient role came from, and he replied that it was something we’d never know.
Really? Because here was me thinking that practically every major religion that asserts female subservience was – and continues to be – created and dominated by men. And that, entirely coincidentally I’m sure, religion has for centuries been and in many cases remains the dominant force in human societies. My conclusion being that, actually, men are to blame.
I’ll take a break there to let 99 per cent of the population attempt to bite my head off.
The fact is, men have, and continue to gain from patriarchy. They have power and wealth and their laws continue to protect that privilege. Female subservience is essential to this privilege, because if all humans were recognised and treated as equals, privilege would not exist.
This is not to say, however, that men are not also oppressed by patriarchy. You have to be a certain type of man to benefit from the current system, namely white and heterosexual, and that’s without factoring in the capitalism essential to its survival, the capitalism that ensures power and wealth remains in the hands of those who already have it. Masculinity also oppresses men (something de Beauvoir has been criticised for not recognising), forcing them into certain roles and denying them the ability to determine their own identity, just as femininity denies women the same freedom. Boys are still mocked for displaying emotions, while men who care deeply for children are often seen as weirdos with paedophilic intentions.
Nevertheless, patriarchy did not come about randomly. While I personally feel it is more pertinent to blame the way men are socialised for the continuance of patriarchy, we have to accept that its history is one of men oppressing women, and unless we can address this central issue, women cannot move forward.
If that means facing accusations of man hating, so be it.
The answer is not to spend hours desperately trying to prove how much you love men, but rather to encourage the accuser to see where this stereotype has come from, to understand what patriarchy means, why it exists and how it came about and to point out how the very accusation of man hating is just another way to protect the Man from those uppity, equality demanding womens.