Of all the myths about feminists and feminism, the most persistent might be the myth of the man-hater. You know that number. It goes like this:
Feminists hate men because men don’t like unshaven hags. Feminists think men are basically pigs. Feminists think the world would be a better place if they were in charge of everything and men just disappeared.
It’s hard to know where to even begin when it comes to dispelling this myth, but I’m going to give it a shot. I’ll do that by breaking the myth into its various parts.
Myth 1: Feminists hate men.
If this were actually true, we might assume it would be difficult to find a woman who identifies as feminist and is simultaneously in a healthy relationship with (or married to) a man. However, I am one such woman. I’ve been married to a delightful man for nearly 30 years. I have many friends who belong to the same club. The idea that feminists hate men can be disproved over and over again simply by contacting the people in my address book.
Why people believe it: If feminists actually like and respect men, that means men must also like and respect feminists. If men like and respect women who insist on being treated as their equal, then men who treat women as inferior must be choosing to behave that way. That’s a truth which requires a change in behavior. It’s much easier to just believe in the myth and keep things exactly as they are.
Myth 2: Feminists are hags.
Think about some well-known people who identify as feminists. On just one such list are Zooey Deschanel, Beyoncé, and John Legend. (That’s right, John Legend. Let’s remember that men can be feminists too. It’s all about a belief in equality.) Seriously? Feminists are hags? The planet on which the glorious Beyoncé could be called a hag is not one I plan to visit anytime soon. It would no doubt be lacking in prospects for an average-looking woman like myself.
Why people believe it: See Myth 1. If you believe that feminists hate men, it’s a small leap to the belief that this is because men don’t give them attention. Alternatively, it’s easy to believe feminists don’t make an effort to become attractive to men because — again — they hate them.
I’m not sure how any of this applies to John Legend. I suppose that’s just further proof of the flawed logic at work.
Myth 3: Feminists believe men are basically pigs.
If you’re under the impression that feminists, as a whole, believe anything in particular, then you don’t know many feminists. While there may be individuals who hold this belief, they are not representative of the much larger whole. Perhaps more importantly, the only people I have ever heard saying the words “men are pigs” are, in fact, men. They were either excusing men’s behavior (by saying we can’t reasonably expect more from them than we can from barnyard animals), or they were sharing their flawed comprehension of feminist ideology.
Why people believe it: See Myth 1. If you believe that feminists hate men, it’s easy enough to believe they would insult men in this way. And that insult helps people feel justified in their negative assessment of feminists.
Myth 4: Feminists think they should be in charge of the world.
There’s a microscopic grain of truth here, but it really has nothing to do with men. It has to do with patriarchy. That’s a system in which the qualities we identify as “masculine” are also the qualities of people in positions of power — a system in which it’s extremely difficult for anyone other than a man to rise into a position of leadership. The fact that we’ve never had a female president in the United States, while countries like Pakistan, Turkey, and Senegal have had women in their highest political offices, tells us what we need to know about patriarchy in the United States. We simply are not a country that believes women can be effective leaders. Yet.
Why people believe it: We’re used to seeing men in positions of power in the United States, so it makes logical sense that we might question whether women can also do those jobs. But this makes sense only because we believe in a fundamental difference between men and women. Once we wrap our minds around the fact that both men and women are capable of the same things — and that our socialization is the only thing that even makes us question whether this level of equality is true — those questions won’t make sense at all. But we clearly have a long way to go before that happens.
The myth of the man-hating feminist endures because it justifies the status quo, which is threatened by the very idea that things could change. Making a shift in the way we think is always hard, and it’s always a choice — but it’s a choice that has to be made before our country can move forward in a new direction. My hope is that, when this happens, we’ll move in a direction that’s good for everyone.