While I’m thrilled that we’re finally having an extended conversation about violence against women on a larger cultural scale, I also want to talk about the reasons behind said violence, focusing on two major reasons for men to hate women.
I’ve written about hegemonic masculinity and how it can be used synonymously for toxic masculinity, a concept that’s gaining cultural currency but is also not the most scholarly expression of the concept. My argument here is that hegemonic/toxic masculinity is rooted in misogyny, or hatred of women. It can be a virulent or violent hatred, as some feminists have argued, or a very low-key mundane form of objectification and dehumanization, or anything on the spectrum between these two poles. My point is that it doesn’t have to look like rampaging loathing in order to count as misogyny; it can look like a cascade of catcalling, harassment, and sexist jokes from dudes who might not think of themselves as misogynists, and may even act nicely to certain women in their lives.
The first reason that men are given to hate women is that men are socialized to believe that women owe them sex, and the second reason is that the withholding of (heterosexual) sex impacts whether men are seen as masculinity by their peers, fellow men who are also implicated in upholding the norms of hegemonic masculinity.
I’ve written in the past about the commodification of sex as an object that women “have” and men try to “get” and how icky/problematic this model is. Sex is a behavior engaged in by one, two, or more people at a time; it is not a gift, nor a commodity, nor an object, nor a token in a transaction. It can certainly be tinged by transactional behaviors, capitalism, and the like, but it’s ultimately heterosexist and misogynist to make women the gatekeepers of sex.
Yet in a culture where men are socialized to expect sex – and expect it from women specifically, and “hot”/”pure” ones at that – it becomes a reason for men to loathe women, when the endless fonts are sex are not forthcoming. We see this in the incel movement, in domestic violence, and more.
Why are men entitled to sex? In large part, because they own women’s bodies, and this is something that both men and women are taught from an early age in many areas of American culture. This belief system is found, albeit in a more extreme version, in the purity culture created by conservative Christians in the U.S. As Carly Gelsinger writes at Huffpost:
There exists a generation of women who were never taught consent ― and I’m not talking about Boomers. I’m talking about the hundreds of thousands of us who were raised in church and came of age at the turn of the millennium.
In our world, we were taught that our bodies didn’t belong to ourselves. God owned them, they said, but really, that meant that men owned them. Our fathers. Our pastors. Our husbands. Our politicians. Never ourselves.
Do men actually own women’s bodies? Of course not. But if enough people believe it, it’s true for them, and that is one thing we must counteract with comprehensive, medically-accurate sex education from an early age with a focus on consent. Unfortunately, there are many religious objections to comprehensive sex ed, despite (or perhaps because of) the mounting evidence in favor of its efficacy.
My second point is that many men are given reasons to hate women because being denied sex costs them their masculinity. Here, I want to talk a bit about homosociality, or social relationships between members of the same gender. Homosociality as a form of male bonding in particular operates in a number of ways, such as enforcing rigid boundaries around homophobia and policing all things feminine. Sexuality researcher Michael Flood argues that “Homosociality…mediates men’s heterosexual relations through the presence of an imaginary male audience for one’s sexual behavior” (348). In a sense, the homosocial expectations on men to perform their masculinity by bragging about their sexual conquests is what allows this tale to conclude in the way it does.
So it’s not just about being denied sex being perceived as a personal affront, it’s also about one’s social standing in front of one’s fellows, which impacts one’s position in the hierarchy. From this perspective, it’s easy to see why men denied sex – or held accountable for their sexual transgressions, as Kavanaugh was in the hearing – take it so poorly and react, sometimes, with violence (whether verbal or physical).
To return to Gelsinger’s post, and connect it back to current events, she writes:
So this is why it is not surprising to me that so many women are rushing to protect Kavanaugh and deriding Ford. The women who grew up being guardians of male sexuality are now approaching middle age, and many of us are still assuming that role and expecting other women to as well.
There are reasons for women to be complicit with patriarchy, though these reasons are ultimately faulty and will never protect women as much as it is assumed. Women, men, and people of all genders must resist the cultural conditioning that tells us that women’s bodies and sexuality belongs to men, and that men’s identities and roles are tied up in this ownership and conquest.
If you think the title of this post was misleading, well, the items I’ve discussed here are reasons for men to hate women, they’re just crummy reasons and socially constructed ones, not ones that are inherent to humanity or universal. The sooner that men begin to reject the strictures of hegemonic masculinity, for themselves and their peers, the sooner reasons for one gender hating another – or fearing another – will end.
Flood, Michael. “Men, Sex, and Homosociality: How Bonds between Men Shape Their Sexual Relations with Women.” Men and Masculinities 10.3 (2008): 339-359.