Misunderstanding the “Man Hater”

Important note: The content of this piece quite often speaks of men in a less than desirable light. Please know that I am exclusively referring to cis straight men. I have found my trans and gay brothers to be some of my strongest allies, protectors and friends.

I recently engaged in an ill-advised social media debate on chivalry and its impact on gender equality. The debate was sparked by a highly offensive video in which a man holds the door open for a woman walking through behind him. Rather than acknowledging the perceived polite gesture with a ladylike smile or “Thank you,” the woman simply walks through the door. Having his masculine sensibilities challenged in such an apparent fashion, the “gentleman” follows the ungrateful woman and hits her.

The punishment totally fit the crime, right? I mean, if I had the audacity to ignore such a kind gesture from a man, I’d expect to be quickly corrected with violence. Thanks to the meaningful lesson I was taught in viewing this significant video, if I ever fail to smile and say thank you in response to a man holding the door for me, I vow to follow him and demand he hit me as I cannot be absolved of my lady-sin without experiencing the appropriate consequences.

As fun as it was to briefly relive my life before I was saved by the grace of feminism, even pretending to subscribe to such a dangerous mentality makes me feel icky. ICKY!

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As I said, a debate was had. A man–we’ll call him “Mr. Men’s Rights”–attempted to justify the actions of the man in the video in our online conversation. Mr. Men’s Rights shared of his feelings being harmed beyond repair at the hands of a woman who supposedly told him he was “offending her feminine independence” by holding the door for her. In the current age of digital disputes, I feel sure you know how the remainder of the conversation went. I attempted to kindly correct and educate Mr. Men’s Rights; he responded in that understated condescension men think we don’t notice, but we totally do. I rebutted with less patience and more firmness; he held to his convictions of Trumpian woman-cherishing and old-fashioned oppression guised as politeness. I gave up.

While I’d bet my whole paycheck, Mr. Men’s Rights learned nothing from our conversation, I may have gained some insight on man-hating, feminism, and myself.

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Cut to approximately two months following the online argument. My wife and I attended and participated in a weekend tattoo convention. My wife is a tattoo artist and, together, we own a tattoo shop. Tattoo conventions, while long and sometimes menial for me, are an important part of marketing and advertising for our business and brand.

During our seven-year relationship, I’ve been involved in more conventions than I can count. Hell, our first date was at a tattoo convention. After being involved in so many of these together as we have, a pattern is established: Register and pay for the booth, advertise with our followers, schedule appointments for my wife to tattoo, load up the car with tattooing essentials and luggage, travel to the event, set up the booth, settle in for a long weekend with lots of margaritas, tear down the booth, load up the car, return home to sleep for a week (or as long as our work schedules allow).

While our tattoo convention routine is no doubt beneficial, I’ve found that I can be a bit zombie-ish in how I go through the motions, almost unconsciously. I’m trained to bring headphones in anticipation of MCs who yell into the microphone. We prepare for less than speedy wi-fi in reactivating our internet hot spot on our cell plan. I avoid close proximity with the stage for at least an hour after a “suspension” is first mentioned. When convention-goers purchase merch, it’s expected that I’ll pocket the cash and use it to buy cocktails. It’s all a part of the process.

However, a product of my tattoo convention training that I hadn’t yet been conscious of is how I actively avoid contact with male attendees and participants as much as possible. This is not to say that all male tattooers and tattoo collectors are misogynists. But, let’s just say tattoo conventions aren’t known for stomping the patriarchy. While female tattooers are becoming more and more common and increasingly successful in the industry, this business is still highly dominated by men. In this community, artists are likened to rock stars. And I think we’re all familiar with men who’ve made careers in rock music; they haven’t exactly earned their fame by calling out sexism. Male tattooers are notorious for partying with strippers and using their position to get laid. Here I am, a card carrying lesbian feminist, with my butch wife surrounded by a community of people who are technically cohorts, but still quite foreign to me.

I avoid men at tattoo conventions if possible, because I’m not interested in commentary on how I look. I avoid men at tattoo conventions because I’m not interested in having my brain and intellect being viewed as secondary to my body. I avoid men at tattoo conventions because I’m not there to educate others on my sexuality. I avoid men at tattoo conventions because I’m not interested in being diminished to something less than human. I avoid men at tattoo conventions because I do not want to be intruded upon. And, more than any of the aforementioned reasons, I avoid men at tattoo conventions because, if my wife witnesses my falling victim to any of these microaggressions, I cannot be held responsible for her “born and raised in the ghetto, military trained” reaction.

I avoid men at tattoo conventions if possible, because I’m not interested in commentary on how I look. I avoid men at tattoo conventions because I’m not interested in having my brain and intellect being viewed as secondary to my body. I avoid men at tattoo conventions because I’m not there to educate others on my sexuality.

Although I have limited these fears and concerns to tattoo conventions, a periodic occurrence in my life, I know this to be an almost daily reality for many women–myself included. Videos of women being catcalled while walking down the street have gone viral. Conversations have been inspired all over social media and spilled over into our “IRL” lives regarding unwanted male attention. Women are looking out for one another–on the street, at work, in bars. We’re being empowered to speak up for ourselves and correcting unwanted attention from men. But, the harmful behaviors of men persist.

When we consider the fears, we can’t help but feel during our interactions with men, many of us are making real connections concerning from where these fears originate. Along the way, I’ve learned that my kindness and politeness–no matter how innocent or platonic in nature–is too often misconstrued as flirtation or an invitation to cross a boundary.

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To provide an example, I formed a friendship with a male co-worker several years ago. He was engaged to a woman I’d met a couple of times, which let me to believe a professional friendship with him would be safe for me. I was much younger at the time and still quite ignorant to the politics of love relationships. Over time, I noticed he became exceedingly comfortable sharing information with me about his relationship with his fiance–much of which I had no interest in knowing. Rather than speaking up, I rationalized that he trusted me. The fact that I’d become somewhat of a confidante for him was a compliment. It meant I was trustworthy and a good friend–characteristics I’d always strived toward.

As women, we know how the rest of the story goes. The conversations became more and more inappropriate, and before I knew it, I was crying in my supervisor’s office after he’d commented on my breasts and the fact that I’d lost weight and was now “hot again.” I found myself downplaying my appearance, wearing less makeup; and avoiding areas of our building in which I’d be likely to run into him.

I resigned soon after only to accept a position in which I’d be placed in yet another uncomfortable and unwanted situation with a male coworker. After so many intrusions at the hands of men, I’ve quite literally closed myself off to new friendships with men,  work or otherwise. I’m hardened and jaded. And while the loving and spiritual sides of me want to reject any suggestion of a closed heart, it’s honestly been a necessary method of defense from further hurt and disappointment. For me, it’s survival.

As we continue to live in a world that remains uncomfortable and even dangerous for women, some of us have elected to avoid unnecessary interactions with men.

I share this story because I’ve only recently come to understand that these very relationships with men which ended in isolation and pain have been a catalyst to a real change in how I interact with men. The fact that my shop is indefinitely closed to potential friendships with men is a direct result of the crossing of one too many boundaries, one too many times. The fact that I avoid polite small talk or the exchanging of niceties with men I encounter is a product one too many intrusions, one too many times. And I’m fairly confident I’m not the only one.

As we continue to live in a world that remains uncomfortable and even dangerous for women, some of us have elected to avoid unnecessary interactions with men. Are we taking the easy way out? Maybe. But, don’t we deserve to protect ourselves by any means necessary? Don’t we deserve to exist in our communities without the intrusions of men being a part of our routine?

I’m beginning to realize that, in this particular method of self-protection, I may very well have turned into the man-hating feminist your father warned you about and that I swore I’d never be. And I’m beginning to realize that the man-hating feminist is nothing more than a highly misunderstood victim–a victim who has chosen to shield herself from the dangers of the patriarchy–a victim who has chosen to transition into a survivor.

The man-hating feminist is nothing more than a highly misunderstood victim–a victim who has chosen to shield herself from the dangers of the patriarchy.

Maybe that woman in the video posted to social media who failed to acknowledge a man holding the door was like me. And maybe the woman who claimed Mr. Men’s Rights offended her feminine independence was like me. And maybe if men could take a short break from coddling their egos, they might consider from where we’ve sourced our isolation. Or maybe not.

Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmilyAMcGaughy

*First featured in August 2016, and republished in light of Women’s History Month and current attacks on  feminism. 

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