Not long ago, I had a vivid dream in which I was given the opportunity to confront someone who had done me wrong. There were several characters who were encouraging me to air my grievances and to act on them. They were even amplifying them, blowing things out of proportion and getting me worked up. As I went down the list of injustices, growing angrier and more indignant, I eventually reached a point where I lashed out and struck the object of my rage. At this point, everything changed, and now I was the guilty party. My feelings of anger changed immediately to fear and guilt.
It sounds like a simple dream, but it gave me a bit of insight into how people justify treating others badly, abusing them, and doing them harm. It seems obvious on the face of it that an object of scorn, fear and hatred will receive harsh treatment, but we tend to assume that we are rational people who are not susceptible to a base appeal to emotion. However, on some level it affects all of us. Perhaps the effect is subtle for the individual, but mass society magnifies it, and then politicizes it, and then it takes on a life of its own.
The demonization of men in our society is a case in point. At first it seemed that just a few crazy feminists were making ineffectual noise out there, but some of what they said struck a chord with a lot of women. It must not have been too hard to play to women’s insecurities in the early days of second wave feminism, when women were still largely dependent on men for both financial and physical security. I can’t exactly put myself in a woman’s shoes, but I can imagine that being surrounded by stronger people with more wealth and political power would be a bit disconcerting. Relying on these people might seem a bit risky, especially during the culturally and sexually anarchic time of the 1960s and 70s. Playing to women’s fears and anger at their plight right at that time would be an astute political move, so savvy activists and politicians did just that.
After the breakthrough in the late 60s, there was a crescendo of anti-male hatred that grew at least until the 1990s, when it culminated in some of the most abusive and punitive laws ever passed in the United States. Some other countries followed suit – most notably Australia and Canada – but none went quite so far. It only took a few decades of vilification of men to twist social policy into a truly oppressive instrument of punishment and resource extraction. And, paradoxically, it didn’t take outright misandry or radicalism on the part of most women, or even a majority, but rather only a little fear and a little anger in enough of them to sway their votes. And all it took to place those seeds in women’s minds was a few activists, a few movies and a few sensational stories.
Perhaps this is one of the inherent dangers of representative democracy in mass society. Shocking stories are transmitted instantly, blown out of proportion and turned into common experiences. Subtle undercurrents of fear and discontent are exploited by politicians for a crucial edge in elections. Promises are made, laws are passed, and in some cases the negative fallout can even appear to justify legislative fiascoes. Power is gained, above all, by exploiting, encouraging, and amplifying emotions — positive or negative is of little consequence if it can get votes and bring in the money.
In this light, it is easier to see how misandry has been exploited for over a generation — women’s emotions have been fuel for the generation of political power. Misandry has made careers, elected presidents, and influenced the makeup of the Supreme Court. However, as my dream suggested, there is a dark side side to this. These emotions eventually culminated in action, and many men have been at the receiving end of this pent up hatred and anger. Just as the few sensational crimes become a common experience, so does the generalized hatred of men.
And so the fear and frustration – some of which was doubtless justified – has resulted in a great deal of injustice. Men are automatically suspect, their due process rights are ignored, and they are dispossessed without a hint of guilt. After years of being painted as the enemy, it was inevitable that men would eventually be treated that way.