‘I Hate Men’: The Feminist Book That Shook France
Do women have the right to not like men?
As a feminist, Pauline Hermange spent years hearing that she hated men. “It’s an insult you get as a feminist … Whatever you say, as soon as you criticize men, you’re accused of being a misandrist,” she told New York Times. One day, she snapped. Yeah. Maybe I do hate men, she thought. “ That’s when I realized: Actually, that’s exactly it.” So she wrote a book, Moi, Les Hommes, Je Les Déteste, in English: I hate men.
“The trouble was, I hated the idea of serving men in any way” — Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
The 96-page essay starts with this quote from Sylvia Plath, and goes on to explore whether women have good reason to hate men. In Hermange’s view, the reasons are plentiful, and hating men can serve a liberating purpose for women.
“I just don’t have trust in them. This comes less from personal experience than from being an activist in a feminist organisation that helps the victims of rape and sexual assault for several years. I can state for a fact that the majority of aggressors are men ( …) What if women have good reasons to detest men? What if anger towards men is in fact a joyful and emancipating path when it is allowed to express itself Misandry exists only as a reaction to misogyny, which is at the root of systemic violence … Whereas misandry has never killed anyone. (…)If we are heterosexual we are encouraged to like men, but we should absolutely have the right not to like them. I realise this sounds like a violent sentiment, but I feel strongly we should be allowed to not love them as a whole and make exceptions for certain men.”
In fact, Hermange made one notable exception: she married a man, one “who is great and really supports my writing. But in general, I mistrust men I don’t know.”
That there are exceptions at all suggests that it is not really men that Harmange hates. Her book reads more like a cry of frustration, after years of volunteering with a charity supporting women who have been sexually assaulted. In fact, the book originated with a blog piece about feminist burnout, in which she wrote about how being exposed to gendered violence, in your own life and those of others, gradually wears you down.
“I’m going to be very honest. At the moment, I am exhausted of being a woman (…) I know that it’s also my fault, it’s my fault for not being able to step back and let go, and I know that my anger and exhaustion are symptoms that need to be treated, not emotions from which I’m going to draw anything positive or constructive moving forward. But I am where I am today. At war. Not far from feeling like I’m losing, actually.”
I completely understand this feeling. Sexism is exhausting, even more so when you are an activist and focus your work on it, hearing terrible stories and being met with resistance everytime you try to make things better. And because you are still a woman when you leave work you don’t escape from sexism, there is no safe zone.
I also understand how this frustration can turn into an anger directed towards men. I don’t hate men, but I am angry at a lot of men, a lot of the time. Because they are the ones raping us, killing us and overriding us. They are the ones that make us feel unsafe. They are the ones that mean we can’t fully relax and enjoy ourselves at parties without worrying about being molested. They are the ones interrupting us at meetings, explaining things to us that we know better than them. I am angry at a lot of men for behaviour that is common in men. But part of the reason I am angry at them is because I love men, and know they can do better. I know men that are better and plenty more who are trying to be, despite everything they were taught.
The way Harmange explains it, men have had plenty of opportunities to show themselves to be worthy of trust and of being women’s allies against a sexist society and hadn’t taken them. Instead, every time such issues were raised, they accused women of being “man haters”. Feminists then were required to spend a lot of time and energy — limited resources to begin with — reassuring men that “no, we don’t really hate them, that they’re welcome,” Harmange said. “Not much has happened in exchange,” she says. Not many men turned around and started helping. Not many men stood up to prove that they didn’t hate women.
In a sexist society, “I hate men” is the primal cry of a woman who has heard too many stories of what bad men do, in the same way that it is the primal cry of the woman who just got dumped. It’s silly in sentiment. It’s not true. She doesn’t mean it when she says it, but she needs it. “Let’s generalise about men!” says a tongue-in-cheek song in the TV show Crazy Ex Girlfriend. “Let’s get super-lit and not admit this is a kind of primal ritual we need now and then.”
Maybe the focus on this man-hating is entirely misplaced. It brings the attention back to men rather than on empowering women. It’s often irrelevant to the initial argument. It ignores men that hate women — who are plentiful, especially when that woman expresses feminist view points. Harmange receives rape and death threats on the daily since she wrote her book. So who hates who? And which hatred is the most violent?
What’s ironic is no one would ever have heard of this book if it wasn’t for one man. It was originally scheduled to be published for a run of 400 copies by micro-publisher Monostrograph, a tiny organisation staffed by volunteers. Then an adviser to France’s ministry on gender equality Ralph Zurmély wrote to the publisher, calling for the book to be banned because it “incites gender-based hatred.”
“Now, let me remind you that incitement to hatred on the grounds of sex is a criminal offense! Consequently, I ask you to immediately remove this book from your catalog under penalty of prosecution,”
Zurmély, who hadn’t read the book, wrote in an email. The ministry later distanced itself from the prosecution initiative, saying Zurmély conducted “a personal initiative and completely independent of the ministry”.
The attempt to censor the book is, predictably, what brought it’s success. Overwhelmed my media attention, Monstrograph sold reprint rights to the major French publisher Seuil. The book has since sold 20 000 copies, along with translation rights for 17 languages. It will be released in the US on January 19 by HarperCollins, translated by Natasha Lehrer. Whatever you think of the matter, it is definitely an interesting read, which brings new issues to the feminist debate.