Busted Halo

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July 2nd, 2007

The Misery of Misandry

Are men inferior to women?

 
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As our June 16 wedding day approached, my fiancé got a lot of advice from married coworkers and friends about how to navigate his future relationship. It boiled down to two similar messages: “Do whatever she says” and “She’s always right.”

He smiled and nodded at these bits of “wisdom” but with a few weeks to go before we took our vows, he told me he was getting a little concerned. Was I going to change into some sort of bossy she-monster after our wedding day? Was he signing up for a life-sentence of being wrong and apologizing?

It’s the dead-man-walking trope that is so common in our modern discourse about relationships: Once a man gets married, he’s doomed.

Everybody Dumps on Raymond

This is the backbone of situation-comedies: On Everybody Loves Raymond, each episode catalogues another bit of husbandly stupidity and the wife saves the day. King of Queens, The Simpsons, it’s the same thing: Cartoon or human, if it’s a husband-and-wife combo, the men are portrayed as stupid until they agree to whatever the women want.

When we embrace the stereotype that men are mamma’s boys, invalids and bumblers, we’re falling into a dangerous trap: We’re emasculating the men we profess to love.

“I thought we were supposed to think and engage with issues together, and that our marriage was something we both had responsibility over,” my now-husband said to me a few days before the wedding. He’s right-and we’ve made a pact not to perpetuate the all-too-common popular misandry surrounding modern marriage.

Dolts?

Misandry is not a word you’ve probably heard before. Literally, it is the hatred of men, and it’s comparable to misogyny, the hatred of women. But more commonly, when someone talks about misandry, they are referring to the idea that men are inferior to women, dolts incapable of helping around the house, idiots who just fart and burp.

According to a 2007 study conducted by FathersAndHusbands.org, men in prime time television are viewed far more often than women as sources of marital discontent, as inadequate parents, and as “corrupt” and “stupid”. By a factor of over 11 to 1, wives are portrayed more often than husbands as “justifiably dissatisfied with” their spouses and by 17 to 1 that men are more often portrayed as “corrupt”. Women were significantly more likely

to be seen as intelligent (5 to 4), good looking (7 to 1), and inspiring (5 to 1).

Do the fictional interactions on TV reflect reality for the majority of American nuclear families? It seems likely: Get a group of married women together and tell a story about a stupid husband. Watch the others chime in with their own version in an instant. It’s hard to know what goes on privately between married couples, but in the female for-public-consumption version of stories, the man is usually the butt of the joke.

Tipping Point

What happened? Just two generations ago, a wife was advised to defer to her husband’s wishes, to smile sweetly and not burden him with her trivial problems, and to abide by his decisions as man of the house.

Misandry is not a word you’ve probably heard before. Literally, it is the hatred of men…but in its more common use it refers to the idea that men are inferior to women.

With the rise of feminism, the idea that father knows best went out of fashion with poodle skirts. As higher education and career opportunities became available to more women, the social imbalance of marriage began to change. A woman’s paycheck meant subservience wasn’t necessary.

Gender equality in relationships is the goal, yet somehow we’ve tipped the balance past the point of equanimity. Now the advice given to a man getting married seems to have a retro ring to it: demur to your wife’s wishes and abide by her decisions as mistress of the household.

A young, educated woman getting married in 2007 doesn’t need a husband to pay the rent. She’s a bit older when she gets married, she’s lived alone and knows how to take care of herself. And once married, she’ll continue to support herself, and increasingly, support her family as well. Indeed, more than half of women earning more than $50,000 outearn their husbands, according to U.S. Census data. But just because a woman has as much (or more) education, earns as much (or more) money as her husband, does not make him a bumbling idiot who should defer to his always-brilliant wife.


Emasculating

It was wrong to advise women in the 1950s to demur to her husband in all matters, and it’s wrong to advise young men to take a subordinate role today.

Women may be strong, successful and powerful, but for those of us who are choosing life-long relationships with men, we must not buy into a conventional wisdom that emasculates and infantilizes the men we chose as partners for life.

Neither of us made a promise to “obey” in our marriage vows, but we did promise to honor each other. My husband already has a mother, so he doesn’t need me to treat him like a child.

It’s time to stop joking about men’s subservience to their wives—and for this generation of strong, accomplished women to be secure enough not perpetuate this misandry in our own relationships.

What Do You Think?

More than two years ago, this column was the home for some lively debate about whether men were intimidated by smart women (SWANS: Strong Women Achievers No Spouse). I have a feeling this topic will spark some similarly strong feelings.

Guys: Do you feel like your wives or girlfriends aren’t recognizing what you bring to the relationship? Do you feel bossed around? What kind of advice do other men give you about your relationships?

Ladies: Is this a problem in your relationship? How do you and your boyfriend of spouse deal with issues of power and equality? Who wears the pants in the relationship? Do you think this is a problem—or just something for sit-com humor?

Share you thoughts below to keep the discussion going.

 
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The Author : Christine B. Whelan
Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Aletheia

    … sometimes just plain wrong about something, the way I am.

    (Sorry, hit the publish button too soon. Touchscreens are just like [insert whatever gender you're not]: too darn sensitive!)

  • Aletheia

    After six wonderful months of marriage I could tell you some hilarious stories about my husband. Of course, he could probably tell you a few about me! And that’s as it should be. We can laugh at ourselves and each other because underneath it all is a firm foundation of mutual affection and respect.

    Misandry obviously hurts men, but it hurts women too. It hurts us vicariously through its impact on the men we love. It hurts us when it gets turned around and used to justify misogynist attitudes. It also hurts us in that it goes to show that we are still not seen as individuals, but as representatives of a type. In a truly egalitarian society, we could have a sitcom about a foolish, bumbling woman with a smart, strong husband and it would be seen as a story about two individuals, not a sexist statement. Denying women the full range of human qualities doesn’t actually do them any favors. Men are powerful and precious and fallible and funny. So are women. And you know what? I deserve to see images in the media of women who are delightful and endearing and sometimes just plain

  • Paul

    Great article and pretty spot on, I agree with most of what is said.

    So to get onto the one part I take issue with it’s this:

    “Do the fictional interactions on TV reflect reality for the majority of American nuclear families? It seems likely: Get a group of married women together and tell a story about a stupid husband. Watch the others chime in with their own version in an instant. It’s hard to know what goes on privately between married couples, but in the female for-public-consumption version of stories, the man is usually the butt of the joke.”

    That may also be an effect of a few factors: one women being more likely to get together and denigrate their husbands to their women friends – and one wonders just how loyal these women are to their men; and secondly the fact that at this point in time it is socially acceptable to bash men, but criticizing women is far more censured. One is seen as sexist, the other is encouraged.

    Perhaps also men as a group feel more loyalty to their wives and don’t wish to put their partners down.

    So as a result who comes out looking the worst? The men due to the fact that they cared about their partners enough not to publically humiliate them while their female partners felt no such respect for their men.

    Of course this is a sweeping generalization and I’m sure the reverse is often true. As a man amongst men I can say that when we get together we are not interested in telling stories about whose wife is the dumbest, it’s something we would find distasteful.

  • Tom

    I love the article and totally agree. Whilst I do not find misandry a problem in my personal life, it does seem to be increasingly prevalent in the media and it really annoys me.

  • Angela Tell

    Misandry is definitely a problem in today’s culture. In my Spanish courses, which are overwhelmingly female, the prof was ever so gracious as to get up in front of the class and declare that “All men want is sex.” She then spent the next half hour making the 3 or 4 guys in the class squirm in their seats. Misandry is as institutionalized as Misogyny, and is being taught at an institutional level.

    For my fiance and I, I do give him the pants, so to speak. He does get to make decisions more often, but that’s mainly because I’m naturally indecisive. However, he will often get annoyed by that and tell me to make a decision, and I’m fine with that. To heck with the “feminists”.

    However, this all often depends on what the decision is in the first place. There are some things my fiance knows better than I, and some things I know better than him…so whoever makes the decision is the one who knows the most about that subject.

    Even so, I get told that I need to “train” him as if he were some animal. I also get told that I’m a horrible version of a woman, because I honestly do like the idea of cooking for (and with) him, and doing a lot of those stereotypical female roles. Its not for everyone, but it works for me.

    In any case, there is mutual respect, and its ridiculous to assume just because we do fit the gender roles we have an unhealthy relationship or are back in the stone age.

    When I get married to him, I promise to obey him- BUT he promises to respect me and to love me as if I were himself.

    Too often mysogynists and feminists alike like to pretend that second part of the vow doesn’t exist- I obey, but he practically has to worship me. If respect is a part of the equation, there is no problem- both sides must respect eachother.

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