in the company of men.

 As a feminist I have, of course, heard numerous forms of the ‘man-hater’ label.  Usually this happens when a man is threatened by my mere mentioning of the fact that some men are violent or when I point out that they aren’t picking up on my emotional, experiential logic framework of discussion.  No, I don’t hate men.  In fact, I married one.  Though this is somewhat surprising given the actual state of affairs: I am afraid of men.


a man's man.

a man's man.

I am not the only one afraid of men: many women (and men) have shared with me that they are  likewise fearful.  Our shared fear takes many forms.  Personally, I face extreme discomfort with actual or possible sexual attention from men, panic at the sight of certain types of men (read: dudes), and absolute panic at the thought of interacting with male authority figures on a personal or critical level.  This means that going out to any public drinking establishment sans spouse is frightening (last time I was called a ‘lesbian’ and was forced to call the guy ‘asshole’), interaction with male professors and administrators takes extensive emotional planning and preparation, and asserting myself with peers of the opposite sex is next to impossible.


Am I neurotic? Perhaps. But these personal experiences are not the most extreme I’ve heard of and I know many people who face similar tribulations. In fact, the overarching problem of fear of men is far more prevalent than we should be comfortable with in a supposedly progressing society. The good news is that, as I see it,  it has its foundation in avoidable circumstances.

First, of course, low self-esteem is instilled in women and girls through various actions of a unintentional social conspiracy of the patriarchy including the obvious, beauty standards, and the less obvious, a well-documented lack of support for girls in the classroom.  

Second, from a very young age socialization is gendered.  Boys hang out with boys and play boys’ games with boys’ toys and girls hang out with girls and play girls’ games with girls’ toys.  To blur these lines is to be socially punished by peers – think being taunted as a ‘tomboy’ or ‘sissy’.  Thus, with little variance, girls grow up on one path and boys on another not to meet again until it comes time to partner off in heterosexual couplehood.  The outcome is essentially two groups unique in childhood experience, and therefore socialization, somewhat coached in reconciling these differences for the purpose of  sexual pairing but with no real development of the tools necessary to effectively interact with the opposite sex outside of that sexual framework.  On top of this, as girls, we are taught that there are strange predatory men lurking around every corner poised to attack.  

So by the time we are women we have learned how to deal with family-member men, boyfriend/husband men, and dangerous men.  But what about all those other men?  From personal experience and in talking with others I come to realize that to many women, those other men become mysterious beings who communicate very differently than we do. We have been told (and sometimes we perceive first-hand) that they are unemotional, helpless against our sexual power, constantly judging our sexual power, and are prone to arrogance, disloyalty, superiority,violence, and general dude-ness.

So, what of all those complicated social interactions between sexes?  Well, some women end up feeling constantly disempowered: those women who do fear men likely feel constantly disadvantaged in social relationships with them as their self-doubt is magnified by a palpable, though often imaginarily so, sense of inferiority and powerlessness.  

I believe this is all connected to the fact that women are still entering a ‘man’s world’ when entering the public sphere.  Less gendered socialization and more support for the development of self-esteem and empowerment in women and girls are minimum steps necessary to making a truly egalitarian society.


Filed under feminism

3 responses to “in the company of men.

  1. Ashley Bushfield

    A convo about this post from facebook:

    R.T.:The commentary certainly identifies very real and troubling problems, but the causes…?
    1. “various actions of a[n] unintentional social conspiracy of the patriarchy”
    2. “socialization is gendered”
    I’m not clear on what #1 means. Of course, #2 is well established.
    I think what’s missing, here, is an analysis of social organization, how it entrenches patriarchy, and how it leads to differential socialization.
    In short, where’s the critique of capitalism as a root cause of women’s oppression?

    I totally agree about analysis of social organization, but blog posts by customs are only supposed to be so long! Essentially”various actions of [the] unintentional social conspiracy of the patriarchy” encompasses things such as organizational behaviour and specifically refers to all those factors, which I believe are now unintentional, that contribute to the socialization of women as inferior to men.

    I don’t view capitalism as a root cause of women’s oppression but rather somewhat the other way around: women’s oppression started long before capitalism and its contributing principles such as hierarchical ontology, destructive competition, and the need to oppress are the causes of capitalism AND the oppression of women.

    Me again:
    Thinking about this further, it must be noted that those principles I mentioned are directly related to what we now consider to be the liberal notion of the primacy of the individual.

    Further, oppressive actions of individuals within the capitalist system, specifically capitalists and those benefactoring workers, ie. men., are often intentional. For instance, the use beauty norms to sell products to women. But in this, the intentional actions are for the purpose of profit as opposed to oppression, which is the unintentional by-product.

  2. kerry riordan

    I have the same feelings about the boys in the world. I am usually very conscious when there are lots of men in a room and find it very intimidating. I also have a habit of assuming that when I meet a male he will oppose something I say right off the bat. Its funny because I was having a conversation with my boss about how neither of us have ever had very many male bosses and the one that we did have did NOT work out. I find it very difficult to take instruction from a man, especially if he is in some place of power, which usually means he is very used to not being challenged and is not at all aware of his privelege. I have also had varying degrees of difficulty with some of my male profs but that stemmed from them being sexist assholes without a clue ( and this from an arts university!) and I didnt feel as uncomfortable with them only because my work could speak for itself.
    Do you think most women feel this way or is that because as feminists we might be more keenly aware of patriarchal systems and behaviour?
    What about the many girls that I meet that say ” I dont like girls” who claim to like the company of men more.I always considered that to be an unfortunate avenue to go down, they buy into the competitive conditioning and see other women as a threat. I wonder how they see men? All of them as potential partners? Ive never experienced this, having always had really good relationships with women throughout my life and never understood the preference to exclusive male company.

  3. Daniel

    What should I do? I read these sort of articles, and I wonder what a man ought to do to stop contributing to this state of affairs. How do my choices contribute to the patriarchy, and what can I do to reduce your sense of inferiority and powerlessness in the face of my maleness? I will probably always be a touch “unemotional, helpless against [your] sexual power, constantly judging [of your] sexual power (more like fear and awe), and prone to arrogance,” but I am most certainly not disloyal or violent towards women. As a man I probably cannot change my nature, but hopefully my choices reflect a better path.

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