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.
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.