Last year, a French woman named Pauline Harmange published a 95-page treatise called “I Hate Men” (Moi les hommes, je les déteste). The work flew under the radar and likely would have faded into obscurity, except that Ralph Zurmély, an adviser to France’s gender equality ministry, read the title and summary (but not the work itself) and threatened Harmange’s tiny publisher with legal action.
Zurmély wrote to Harmange’s publisher, “This book is obviously an ode to misandry (= hatred of men), both in terms of the summary on your site and in reading its title. I would like to remind you that incitement to hatred on the basis of sex is a criminal offence! Consequently, I ask you to immediately remove this book from your catalogue under penalty of criminal prosecution.”
This man didn’t even read the book. He read only the title and summary and believed that was sufficient enough information for him to have cultivated a nuanced understanding of Harmange’s views.
Gee, I wonder what ever could have driven Harmange to compose a treatise on her exasperation with men.
Other criticisms of Harmange’s work are similar. They come almost entirely from people who have not read what she actually wrote. They focus solely on the existence of the misandry itself and ignore the definition, context, and justification for it.
I admit, my gut twisted at the word “hate,” so boldly displayed on the cover like that. I was even a little offended, as I have a son who is a mere three years from being a man. The idea of anyone hating him without first getting to know him is hard to stomach. And yet, after reading “I Hate Men” from cover to cover, I have to admit that Harmange builds an excellent case.
First of all, she defines misandry (hatred of men) differently than some might. “I use the word misandry to mean a negative feeling towards the entirety of the male sex,” she writes. “This negative feeling might be understood as a spectrum that ranges from simple suspicion to outright loathing, and is generally expressed by an impatience towards men and a rejection of their presence in women’s spaces.” She adds that she means “cis men who have been socialized as such, and who enjoy their male privilege.”
It should be noted that Harmange is married to a man and is “still very fond of him.” She is also clear that there are plenty of exceptions to be found. But with “I Hate Men,” she makes the case that given the grotesque behavior of so many men and the indifference and apathy of most all the rest regarding said grotesque behavior, a generalized hatred of men is justified until their collective behavior improves.
Ultimately, misandry is a principle of precaution. Having spent so much time being at best disappointed and at worst abused by men — all the more so having absorbed the feminist theory that articulates patriarchy and sexism — it’s quite natural to develop a carapace and stop opening up to the first man who comes along and swears on his heart that he’s a really good guy. All the more so given that to prove his worth, the man in question simply has to demonstrate genuine thoughtfulness in order for our hostile feelings to subside. But his probation period will last forever: nothing against him personally, it’s just that it’s hard to give up privilege, and even more so to actively campaign for all one’s fellow men to be similarly stripped of theirs.
Harmange’s “hatred” of men amounts to distrust based on personal experience and statistical probability. And the statistics are damning indeed. In 2017 in France, of death threats against partners, 90% were made by men. Of murders committed by a partner or ex-partner, 86% were committed by men. Of the few women who killed their partner, 69% of them were themselves victims of domestic violence (by men). 96% of all domestic violence convictions were men, and 99% of sexual violence convictions were men.
The statistics are much the same in the U.S. 99% of offenders arrested for rape in the U.S. are male. This doesn’t mean that women can’t commit sexual assault or that men can’t be victims of it, but it does mean that rape and assault are, by a massive margin, predominantly male activities.
The smaller-scale stuff adds up too. “There is nothing more tedious than to see a man being covered in plaudits that are completely disproportional to the miniscule effort he makes,” writes Harmange, “while women continue to be subject to impossible standards that mean they’re always the ones to lose out. We have to stop praising men for such pathetically trivial things as leaving work early to pick up their kid from school.”
Where is the lie?
When will the standards be higher? When will we stop making excuses for men? When will it stop being meme-funny that a man can’t find that thing in the pantry that’s right in front of his face, or that a man took a midday snooze while his wife who got up three times with the baby last night entertains the kids in a bone-tired stupor, or that a father’s packing list for vacation has four things on it while the mother’s has 82 because she alone is responsible for the children’s needs?
None of these are funny. They’re all examples of men being shitheads and society normalizing it by acting like it’s funny.
In a Facebook group I’m in, a woman complained on Valentine’s Day that she had told her husband for years that she hates red roses. She likes white or pink, or just anything that isn’t red roses. And yet, year after year, her husband buys her red roses. They had a blowout argument over it a couple of years ago on Valentine’s Day. Guess what she got this Valentine’s Day.
As if that weren’t frustrating enough, the comment section was packed with women defending this man’s behavior and calling the woman ungrateful. Several commenters shamed her for her ingratitude based on the fact that their husband never buys them anything at all. This woman should be happy with the red roses she has repeatedly said she doesn’t want because other women are forced to put up with even bigger shitheads than her husband. She should count her blessings that she has a man who doesn’t listen to her and instead demands she appreciates whatever he thinks she should like. Because other men are worse.
I think after a while some of us just get to a point where we refuse to make excuses anymore — and Harmange has reached that point.
Personally, I haven’t trusted men since I was a child. Anytime I meet a new man, my expectation is that he will be misogynistic, overconfident, aggressive, entitled, and fragile-egoed. There is always a lingering fear that, given the right circumstances, he might sexually assault me. This is not based on statistics; it’s based on personal experience. After having endured countless shitty interactions with men that run the gamut from being sexually assaulted starting at age seven to enduring mansplaining and sexism in the workplace, my expectations of men are at zero. It’s easier to expect nothing and be pleasantly surprised than to assume good intentions and be constantly disappointed. I refuse to continue to expend energy being shocked by the breathtaking audacity of men.
That said, it positively delights me when I am pleasantly surprised by a man. It’s a relief to occasionally confirm, Not All Men. My own son seems to be shaping up to be the type who will pleasantly surprise cynical, distrusting women like me. And it’s true that I’ve known a few genuinely good men in my life. But even the good ones sometimes baffle me with their obliviousness to the constant stream of bullshit women put up with from men.
So what I won’t ever do is lead with trust. Like Harmange, I will lead with precaution. I will keep my expectations low and my standards high. I have a fort around myself, and the only men allowed within the walls of that fort are those who have defied my expectations and risen to meet my high, but really quite reasonable, standards.
And I think that’s ultimately the crux of what Harmange was saying. You can recognize that there are good men while also admitting that, statistically speaking, as a social group, men are shit. And women are tired of waiting for men to do better. For Harmange, and for many other women, this feels a lot like hate.