Last week, Suzanna Danuta Walters, a professor of sociology and director of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Northeastern University, posed the question, “Why can’t we hate men?” Because hate speech remains protected by the First Amendment, we can peruse her argument in The Washington Post, preempt anyone inclined to mistake it for mainstream feminism, and respond with persuasion rather than having her ideas fester unseen.
In her telling, at this cultural moment, “it seems logical to hate men.”
She implies that she doesn’t necessarily mean non-American men or men of color, writing that “criticisms of this blanket condemnation of men—from transnational feminists who decry such glib universalism to U.S. women of color who demand an intersectional perspective—are mostly on the mark.” However, she adds, none of that should blind anyone to “some universal facts” about the sexes:
Pretty much everywhere in the world, this is true: Women experience sexual violence, and the threat of that violence permeates our choices big and small. In addition, male violence is not restricted to intimate-partner attacks or sexual assault but plagues us in the form of terrorism and mass gun violence. Women are underrepresented in higher-wage jobs, local and federal government, business, educational leadership, etc.; wage inequality continues to permeate every economy and almost every industry; women continue to provide far higher rates of unpaid labor in the home (e.g., child care, elder care, care for disabled individuals, housework and food provision); women have less access to education, particularly at the higher levels; women have lower rates of property ownership.
The list goes on.
Women are told “#NotAllMen” and “#NotHim,” she continues.
“But, truly, if he were with us, wouldn’t this all have ended a long time ago?” she asks. “If he really were with us, wouldn’t he reckon that one good way to change structural violence and inequity would be to refuse the power that comes with it?” She concludes her opinion piece with an admonition to all of the men that are reading it, whom she appears to blame for producing ills going back thousands of years:
If you really are #WithUs and would like us to not hate you for all the millennia of woe you have produced and benefited from, start with this: Lean out so we can actually just stand up without being beaten down.
Pledge to vote for feminist women only. Don’t run for office. Don’t be in charge of anything. Step away from the power. We got this. And please know that your crocodile tears won’t be wiped away by us anymore. We have every right to hate you. You have done us wrong. #BecausePatriarchy. It is long past time to play hard for Team Feminism. And win.
The argument is actually a perversion of “Team Feminism”—that is, the web is awash with feminists earnestly dismissing the notion that “Team Feminism” hates men, and the view is so unrepresentative of the various strands of “in real life” feminism that it is encountered more commonly among ideological enemies trying to parody or undermine feminism than among earnest advocates like Walters.
Still, the core question warrants a dispassionate, substantive answer.
“Is it really so illogical to hate men?”
Yes, it is.
It is always illogical to hate an entire group of people for behavior perpetrated by a subset of its members and actively opposed or renounced by literally millions of them. It is every bit as easy, and more just, to assign collective rhetorical blame to groups that deserve it, like “murderers” or “rapists” or “domestic abusers” or “sexists.”
Indulging in collective hate validates hatred itself and the flawed premise of group rather than individual responsibility. It puts all groups at greater risk of suffering hatred, for there are bad individuals in any group and folks ready to hate every group. What’s more, any hate tends to harm the individual who harbors it.
Finally, group hate tends to make those who harbor it less able to see clearly, less likely to acknowledge nuance, and less able to improve the world, even as their wrongheaded ideas risk leading others into destructive errors.
For example, some of Walters’s less thoughtful readers might draw the conclusion that bad behavior by men damages women exclusively, and erroneously conclude that half the population—maybe their own half—has no strictly selfish interest in tackling the sundry forms of violence that are mostly caused by men. But (for instance) men are wildly overrepresented among both homicide perpetrators and homicide victims—according to the UN, 78 percent of homicide victims are male. Even the most self-interested man has a stake in perceiving, studying, and trying to remedy most ills men disproportionately inflict.
Little wonder so many have tried so mightily to do so.
Less-thoughtful readers might mistakenly draw the conclusion, as well, that women need play no part in remedying the problem that Walters calls toxic masculinity. But insofar as socialization helps create some gendered ills, insofar as women participate in the socialization of infant and adolescent boys, and insofar as some of those women as surely as some men socialize them into “toxic” patterns of behavior, advising men, “don’t be in charge of anything” is inadequate.
Indeed, in the realm of fatherhood, where too much abdication of responsibility is a catastrophic societal problem, it would be deeply counterproductive. (If there’s a particular man out there really excelling at heading a cancer research lab or a project on carbon capture, perhaps he ought to stay on the job, too?) The overwhelming majority of feminists want equality, not male abdication of power and responsibility. In the name of feminism, Walters advocates for a future that few women want within a framework that mistakenly treats their project as zero sum.
There is much more to be said about the folly of hatred, and none of it best said by me. Martin Luther King Jr. believed that “darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that,” and that “hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals … It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive.
Said Coretta Scott King, who had ample occasion to be tempted by hatred, “Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated.”
An unfortunate number of people nevertheless persist in believing that group hatred is logical. Humanity’s survival may hinge on our ability to defeat their poor logic.
That effort should not involve silencing people like Walters. Her tenured position shouldn’t be threatened; no one should file a Title IX complaint or suspend her from teaching or advising men out of concern for their safety and psychological well-being.
Even this person who argues, “We have every right to hate [men],” will likely keep teaching them without much controversy, barring antagonistic classroom behavior. And that’s as it should be. Men, like all students, benefit from the implicit lesson that they are resilient and the explicit lessons gleaned from ostensibly hostile professors, the hostility of whom is more often than not overblown. So don’t hate Walters, men of Northeastern. And do consider taking her class. It is likely to forcefully convey a perspective very different from your own.
If you’re offended by something that Walters says, you could politely object or ignore it. And I suspect her lectures are fun—that she’s forthright, able to express provocative ideas in a way that’s refreshingly free of euphemism or jargon, and that her most bigoted ideological commitments don’t affect how she treats her students. So long as she’s never put in charge of deciding, say, how much money should be allocated to fight prison rape or prostate cancer, folks should keep calm, carry on, and be savvy enough to glean wisdom from a wrongheaded eccentric.