The first person to call me a man hater was a man I privately, soulfully adored. Until that moment everything about him was brilliant, even his cerebral narrowness was something I could fix with gentle liberal illumination. I am reminded of that day because of the recent onslaught of high-profile women unwilling to regard themselves as feminists because people will accuse them of misandry. And they are right about that. At the time I was first accused of hating men, I was a budding feminist utterly captivated by a new language that validated my experiences as a young woman. The awareness was so intoxicating it never occurred to me that being a feminist might actually hurt. I wanted everyone to know how diminutive being a woman could be and I was naïve enough to think people would care.
But that joy was thwarted when a date suggested he would only go out with me again, if I “lost the feminism” and when a former boyfriend bargained he would accept feminism in exchange for my conversion to Christianity and when two family members disowned me because they thought I had chosen a “lesbian lifestyle”. Undoubtedly, feminism was shredding my restricted gendered definition of self, where a high school guidance counselor after reviewing my writing, theater work and yearbook experience suggested I become a hair dresser. But feminism was also exposing relationships that demanded my complicity in a life story of being less than.
The night before my fantasy shattering exchange I had attended a vigil at Interact for victims of domestic violence. Paper silhouettes of women and children murdered by partners lined the walls and all I could do was hold a tiny white candle in their memory. Every person there wept when the names of each innocent victim was announced, but even among the sounds of bereaved mothers I did not feel hate. Rage, fear, sadness, mortality. Yes. But hate was powerless to living in a culture that did not regard women and children as worthy of life. Hate will not budge a society that teaches some humans are expendable
The truth is the more indoctrinated into feminism I became, the less hate I felt.
Feminism was broadening my concept of love. The inadequate methods I used to understand life busted open and my view of humanity became panoramic. I shifted blame from victims on to perpetrators, I stopped abusing my body with cabbage soup diets, I let self-doubt erode and allowed myself to become authentic. But the more space I carved out for personal growth the more pushback I received from other people. Accusations about hating men became regular methods of shame, friend’s worried feminism might “turn me gay” and suddenly holding doors open became a universal sign of reverse sexism. The vitriol implied that by believing in my own basic human rights to life, love and liberty, I was simultaneously denying men theirs. These painful, often terrible lonely moments reassured me that feminism would absolutely save my life but maybe not my relationships. So when the man I had projected a lifetime of happiness on told me that valuing myself usurped his value, feminism gave me the strength to let the love live elsewhere. Being a feminist is not what created the tiny breaks in my spirit, discovering I was sharing my life with people who ridiculed, shamed and dismissed my reality did.
Powerful women publicly disregarding feminists will be universally lauded in a culture that still breeds violence against families. But why would they want that? When feminists have given them the opportunity to speak freely and boldly, why not be more than what this culture expects of them?