When Pauline Harmange published her Essay “I hate men” (in French: “Moi, les hommes, je les déteste”) – the first edition with only 400 copies printed by a small French publisher – the 25 years old blogger and author expected, that only feminist activists would be interested in it.
But then Ralph Zurmély, an advisor of the French Ministry for Equality, read the text and publicly threatened Harmange with a lawsuit for “Inciting Hatred”. The ministry quickly distanced itself, but the public had already gotten wind of the manifest. For the author, this meant a flood of insults and threats over social networks, but also attention from international publishers. Her book is now being translated into ten languages; in German it is being published by Rowohlt. At this point, the 25 year old can laugh about Zurmélys threat, “because it proves my thesis beautifully”, she says on the telephone.
ZEIT Campus ONLINE: Feminists worldwide are justified in defending themselves against all forms of misogyny, the hatred of women. Now you are advocating for hating men. Fighting hate with hate, can that be a good idea?
Pauline Harmange: Now, hating men and hating women are not the same thing. Behind misogyny, the hatred of women, there is a system, which is extremely dangerous and violent in many ways. Misandry, hating men, is a way for women to protect and defend themselves from the violent behaviour of men. It is a counter-reaction. There would not be a need to dislike or hate men, if hating women would not systematically exist. Men are in many ways simply a danger to our life.
ZEIT Campus ONLINE: But does that justify a general hate against men, all men?
Harmange: For me and a lot of other feminists men form a social class. The phrase “I hate men” means that I hate the social group of men, because of all the privileges that they enjoy. I’d like to tell everyone that it is okay and important to be tired of this group. Misandry is a freeing form of hostility, and it covers a wide range of emotions and needs: It can mean, that we publicly fight against the violence of men against women. It can also mean personal consequences, like making the decision to not meet with men anymore and not trust them. All those things are okay and legitimate.
ZEIT Campus ONLINE: Is it not more important to differentiate, which men and which behaviours are problematic?
Harmange: When we take the time and effort, to exactly decide which men are good and bad, we lose a lot of our feminist energy, which we need in the fight against the patriarchy. The “Not all men” argument isn’t a strong enough answer for the systematic oppression which women experience through men. When we as feminists say, that we hate all men, that doesn’t mean that we don’t make any differences.
ZEIT Campus ONLINE: Which differences do you mean?
Harmange: Picture the system of misogyny like a pyramid. On top we have a few extremely violent men. Under that comes a large portion of men, which can be good, for example to the woman that they love. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t live in a misogynist system and support it in other ways. For example if they make sexist jokes or speak badly of women with their friends.
Zeit Campus ONLINE: You are married to a man and have male friends. How do you live with the contradiction, hating all men, but loving one and liking some?
Harmange: That is not a contradiction. I’m only married to a man, because we grew together as people. I live in a relationship which allows me to be the person I want to be. But yes, it was tiring to become a feminist and kind of take my husband with me during that process. I don’t know if I could do that again with a different man. My husband and my male friends know, what I mean when I say that I hate men or “men are trash”. They understand, that masculine ideals are not good for themselves or society. Only because one dislikes men as a social group, does not mean that one cannot have individual, very good relationships to men. The prerequisite for that however is, that you have men in front of you who are ready to listen and understand.
ZEIT Campus Online: You don’t seem to have a lot of faith in the introspection of men. In your text you write that behind every man that takes an interest in gender equality, “there are multiple women which have opened his eyes with hard work.”
Harmange: It is very frustrating for me and a lot of other feminists that men don’t use any of their time to learn anything about gender equality. A lot of women don’t get the choice but learn about the topic of sexual violence, for them it is only a choice of life or death. They have to learn to protect themselves. We get taught from small age to always learn and better ourselves to find a place in society. Men don’t feel that need. They grow up with the idea, that they are good the way they are. For them it is easier to say “I don’t hate women, I treat my girlfriend well, I’m one of the good ones.” That’s not enough, because it’s not just about the women they love. Men have to think about privileges and the system of oppression of women through men.
ZEIT Campus ONLINE: But if you advocate misandry, wouldn’t the opposite happen? Wouldn’t men feel appalled by feminist discourse and stop taking an interest in it?
Harmange: I find this idea horrible, that men have to feel liked by women to be interested in the feminist fight and gender equality. We don’t have the time or energy to convince men or give them a good feeling just to hope that they maybe do something for us. This inequality between the genders exists since hundreds of years, thousands of smart things have been said and written about it. Now it’s one the men to take an interest in it. By motivating themselves. It can’t be, that this interest is only done for their girlfriends.
ZEIT Campus ONLINE: What does that mean for you? Do you not talk to your male friends about gender equality?
Harmange: I’m ready to discuss with individuals I like and where I know that they want to learn and be better. But I won’t be a teacher for men in general. It is extremely tiring and gives me no benefit.
ZEIT Campus ONLINE: What about a man who takes interest in gender equality and wants to do something? What can he do?
Harmange: There’s a feminist influencer on Instagram which I really like, @irenevrose, and she wrote “When men ask me what they can do for the feminist fight, I always say: Watch the kids while your girlfriends go take part in demonstrations.” Even when the women in their surroundings aren’t activists, men should ask themselves: How can I support them and help? It’s important that men don’t push themselves into the foreground. It’s not their fight and not their stage.
ZEIT Campus ONLINE: But isn’t it important that men call themselves feminists in public and talk about gender equality, so the work doesn’t just stay with the women?
Harmange: Men who call themselves feminist in public often sadly want to be the star of the show. Many of them want to get compliments, without ever asking themselves: “When have I benefited from my male privilege? How did I treat the women in my life?” There was surely problematic behaviour at some point. If a man is serious about his fight against the patriarchy, he has to start with himself. And his friends. Men can talk with friends about how to treat women and can criticise it, when someone makes a sexist joke or comment. That’s much more important than any kind of interview or text, in which a man celebrates himself as an exemplary feminist.
ZEIT Campus ONLINE: Back to the hate on men: Which social vision is connected to this? If you think it through – do we really want to live in a society, where all women hate men?
Harmange: I think the chance, that we wake up tomorrow in a matriarchy, in which all women hate men is fairly small (laughs). But seriously: We women know how hard it is to be oppressed in a society and treated harshly. All women have lived through it at some point. We wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone. To think, that from critical feminist discourse a matriarchy would arise which oppresses men is a too simple view on the subject. I see this fear of men of man-hating, female wielders of power as admitting their own wrong behaviour.
ZEIT Campus ONLINE: How do you mean?
Harmange: Well, they seem to think that systematic oppression of women in the patriarchy for hundreds of years could evoke a strong counter reaction. The best thing would be to reflect on this fear and ask yourself: In which society do I want to live? A lot of men would conclude that the patriarchy hurts them too. Of course, in the first step they lose the as naturally viewed confirmation from women. But in the second step they gain a new equality between the genders. Men and women would learn to be more honest to each other, in their relationships as well.
ZEIT Campus ONLINE: What personal consequences have you drawn from hating men?
Harmange: I’ve realised that my well-being is not depended on the acknowledgement from men. I’ve shifted my focus radically on the women in my surroundings, whose support I need and whom I can offer help and support myself. I think that allowing yourself to hate men can help a lot of women in deepening the relationships to their female friends. Through this I have discovered a new quality of sisterhood.
ZEIT Campus ONLINE: What defines this sisterhood?
Harmange: One thing in which women are better than men are building up emotional relationships to other people. That can help us build deep connections. Moments, in which women are between each other, are important. We collect our energy, charge our batteries for the feminist fight. It doesn’t matter if we meet to knit, read, network or protest. I believe firmly that the private and intimate is political, so a round to knit can be political. Just sitting down with female friends and drinking tea helps the feminist fight, because we say things that we wouldn’t be saying if men were present. Because we talk about our experiences in a patriarchal society. And because we realize that it’s beautiful that men don’t play a role in every aspect of our lives.
This text is a translation of the German original. The translation is written by me. Not because I agree with the person, I think her views are abhorrent and self-absorbed, more because I think it's a good basis for discussion, and because I liked the exercise. Link to the (paywalled) original