It has been a long time since we’ve dwelled on the topic of misandry, the individual, institutional or structural fear or hatred of men as a gender. Depending who you listen to, it is either the most powerful prevailing discrimination in a gynocentric feminazi society or a fictional, imaginary construct dreamed up by bitter MRAs playing me-too oppression Olympics in a desperate bid to deflect attention from the real gender oppression of misogyny. You say tomayto.
As long-term readers may recall, I don’t really buy into either version. In brief, yes, of course misandry ‘is a thing.’ No, of course misandry as ‘a thing’ is not a mirror image of structural misogyny within a patriarchal society and asserting its existence as a social phenomena does not and should not in any way detract from or act as some kind of contradiction to prevalent misogyny elsewhere.
This week, the British media and political classes have been playing out some of the most extreme and overt misandrist attitudes I can ever recall, splashed in banner-sized fonts across the front pages of the nation’s bestselling newspapers. Those who are normally jumping up and down yelling “MISANDRY!” at the first whiff of an incompetent dad in a detergent commercial are entirely silent about this. Those who normally protest the loudest about any other structural prejudice and discrimination seem entirely oblivious to what is happening, even while they sympathise with the victims on other grounds.
I am of course describing the blood-raw hatred and inhumane demonization of the Calais children who are currently exercising their legal and moral rights to enter the UK as refugees or migrants and the ongoing debate about their presumed age and status.
There are some perfectly legitimate questions to be raised about the effectiveness and accuracy of the UK’s immigration and border control systems. As with any area of human life, incorrect decisions are undoubtedly being made, there will always be a few chancers and liars. There is also a very real and horrific humanitarian crisis underway. The level of panic and terror being whipped up this week is wildly out of proportion to the objective seriousness of the situation. Things have got so bad that this morning the Sun has dedicated its front page not simply to demonising the migrant boys, but bullying one-time national hero Gary Lineker, attempting to hound him out of his job for having the audacity to resist and reject the tide of hatred.
So what is the basis of this week’s media panic?
Firstly, these boys (or young men) are migrants, and much of this is undoubtedly straightforward racism, fear of foreigners, rejection of (any) immigration, part and parcel of our increasingly intolerant, hate-filled, post-Brexit Britain.
More specifically there is Islamophobia. Most of the migrants are coming from the warzones of Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan and most are Muslim. The assumption that Muslim refugees must be terrorists, Islamic fundamentalists or violent misogynists is widespread and profoundly ignorant and prejudicial – with very few exceptions these are not the perpetrators of fundamentalist violence and oppression but its victims and survivors.
But alongside that, equally if not more relevant, is the fear of men. Consider the subtext to the supposed scandal that some of the Calais migrants entering Britain are not actually children, but are grown adults. This possibility is considered so serious that senior politicians have been demanding degrading dental examinations – reminiscent not so much of livestock markets as slave markets.
It is being said, more or less explicitly, that Britain is prepared to accept (if not exactly welcome) migrants if they are children, or if they are women, but adult men? They’re rapists! They’re child molesters! They’re criminals! They’re fraudsters! Meanwhile the guys who affect swooning or furious horror at the stereotype Radfem claim that ‘all men are rapists’ suddenly seem to have added a caveat of their own: ‘…unless you mean those men. That’s fine.’
Back on the eve of the Brexit referendum, UKIP’s Nigel Farage was widely and rightly condemned for launching a hideous, fearmongering billboard displaying a snaking horde of queuing migrants. Commentators correctly pointed out the striking similarities to Nazi propaganda of the 1930s. There was, however, another element to his fascistic display. Look at the migrants. Virtually every one of them is an adult male. We are not just being invited to fear refugees, fear migrants, fear Muslims. We are being invited to hate refugee migrant Muslim men.
The supposed justifications for this overt prejudice barely survive a moment’s inspection. The misogynistic criminal rampage in Cologne on New Year’s Eve were horrific and unforgettable but “People who look a bit like you did something horrible in another country so you cannot be trusted” is just about the pinnacle of prejudicial sentiment not to mention utterly irrational. It should be noted that the people who throw around racist neologisms like “rapeugees” tend also to be the first to excuse away or deny allegations of sexual assaults by those who share their complexion, whether presidential candidates or football stars. The bottom line is that amongst any group of human beings there will be criminal, violent, damaged people. We cannot let that bury our compassion and humanity.
There will be those who read the above and still deny there is such a thing as misandry. “No, it’s just racism!” “It’s Islamophobia” “It’s about immigrants, not men.” This ignores the first lesson of intersectional thinking. The misandry at play with the Calais children is not contradicted by concurrent racism and xenophobia, it is amplified by it.
The American academic William A. Smith has written extensively about ‘black misandry’ which he defines as “an exaggerated pathological aversion toward black men created and reinforced in societal, institutional and individual ideologies, practices and behaviours.” Writing about the experiences of African-American male students at historically white institutions, he observed:
‘Black males on HWI campuses tend to be marginalized, hated, rendered invisible, held under suspicion, put under increased surveillance, or assigned to one or more socially acceptable stereotypical categories (e.g. lazy, unintelligent, violent, hypersexual, athletic etc.) without regard for their individual character or status.’
Give or take the finer details, if we consider the British Isles a ‘historically white institution’ then I think this is a remarkably accurate description of what we are doing to young male migrants right now.
I wish I could find some note of optimism on which to finish. The sad reality is that the racist misandry of The Sun and their ilk is likely to continue unchallenged, not least because those who object to racism and Islamophobia are too often actively indulgent of misandry and those who object to misandry tend to be too often actively indulgent of racism and Islamophobia. Meanwhile a handful of vulnerable, desperate boys or young men are caught in the twin prongs of hatred.