“I announced that I hate all men and wish all men were dead.”
Those words appeared in the Washington Post, when nearly 70-year-old Victoria Bissell Brown described addressing her husband, in a fit of rage. She recognized that the statement was “ridiculous,” but it was not so ridiculous, apparently, as to prevent her from repeating it in a major newspaper in order to make the point that something is very wrong with men today.
Something is certainly very wrong, but it’s with a culture that is increasingly comfortable with such broad-brush denunciations of men as a group.
It isn’t enough to note that a newspaper like the Washington Post wouldn’t publish such a statement about any other group. There are legitimate reasons why the statement “I hate men” is less discomfiting than “I hate women” would be. Men have historically enjoyed more power than and dominance over women, so demeaning or abusive statements about them don’t carry the same implicit threat or impact. Jokes about Great Britain or France, longtime world powerhouses, can just be funny, whereas making fun of a weaker or historically disadvantaged country comes off as mean. This holds for other groups and identifies, and most can sense these distinctions instinctively.
Yet today’s anti-male rhetoric isn’t humorous or apt criticism, but rather seems to seek to make men, particularly white men, an outgroup. It makes it easier to hold them responsible for societal ills or to find them guilty without evidence suggesting personal culpability, since they are part of the larger problem anyway. This isn’t only unfair to these men, but it’s bad for everyone who engages in such clumsy stereotyping.
Obviously, such groupings miss all the nuance in each individual story. No one is just a “white man.” Each has other identities: whether gay or straight, religious or non-religious (and of what kind), some come from rich families, some from poor; some are athletic and talented while others are not. We’ve gone through this exercise before when the term “white privilege” was entering our lexicon: We learned how someone who at first glance had a lot of privilege as a white male might have had that privilege mitigated due to a physical or mental handicap, immigrant background, association with drug addiction or other hardship.
But even this is to miss the point: Even the classically privileged, white, male, Protestant, Ivy League son of a Cleaver-esque family is an individual who deserves to be treated with respect and to be judged based on his actions— not to be belittled based on the circumstances of his birth.
It seems bizarre, especially in the wake of years of appreciation for gender-fluidity, that so many would now seem to want to make sex determinative, as if the male classification alone makes one as good as guilty of being a predator or an enabler of a wholly abusive society.
Even if we only cared about the fate of women, the current dehumanization of men would still be an error. How does it encourage better, more respectful behavior of women to throw guys who do treat women well, and commit no greater sin against society than failing to sit with their knees together, in with the Harvey Weinsteins of the world?
And anyway, we shouldn’t only care about the fate of women. Boys and men are human beings who should be encouraged to make the most of their unique, individual talents and to pursue their own visions of happiness, without being saddled with a sense of guilt just for being who they are.