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Heteropessimism: Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em

By Genevieve Brown

A look at man-hating humour and whether it has any consequences, other than the obvious positive ones.

If you are a young woman, it’s possible, even likely, that you hear some variation of the exclamation “I hate men!” on an almost-daily basis. Even more likely, arguably, that this exclamation emerges from the mouth of someone who dates men, and who may even have a boyfriend. It is viewed as completely normal to be both sexually attracted to men, and to detest their existence. This is a big source of humour among young heterosexual, bisexual and pansexual women both in person and online. I, too, have laughed at the Tiktok of a sparkling-clean flat with the caption, “POV a man who doesn’t care if you live or die is coming over”.

These attitudes develop, more often than not, from negative personal experiences with men: in relationships, casual encounters, and everything in between. Vogue dating columnist Annie Lord provides a neat summary of the commonly-held feelings of women who find themselves in “friends-with-benefits” and “situationships” roles in her article “Why Men Are Bad At Casual Sex”. Lord writes, “You ask for the minimal amount of respect and they still manage to go lower.” She continues, on the lack of appeal of casual encounters for women, “It’s not enjoyable enough to continue seeing someone who doesn’t want to talk, to touch you, who considers you only as a thing they can plunge into”. However, solace from this treatment is all-too-infrequently found in proper, labelled relationships, too. 

A viral article from the Guardian divided opinion recently, as viral articles are wont to do, when its writer seemed to argue that women should expect poor treatment at the hands of men. Its title is self-explanatory, “My boyfriend, a writer, broke up with me because I’m a writer”. Its author, Isabel Kaplan, claims that “The ability to bend an inch at a time while seeming to stand up straight is a useful and gendered skill. Most women I know do it regularly. They bend until they’re pretzeled and then blame themselves for the body aches.” The idea is that it is simply the unavoidable fate of women to acquiesce to men’s unreasonableness. This premise has been rejected by several writers responding to Kaplan’s article, such as Rachel Connolly, who argues that this type of essay positions men as “two-dimensional villains”. Connolly also writes, of the apparent vulnerability of the women featured in these essays,“I suspect that these stories are popular because they present themselves as progressive and challenging while reaffirming this comfortable stereotype”. Journalist Moya Lothian-McLean makes the point that while articles such as Kaplan’s detail the bad behaviour of men, “There is little interrogation of how these patterns of behaviour might operate, or why they might exist in the first place.” 

The crucial distinction to be made here is that many, many women are in abusive relationships that they are unable to leave. They can be unable to leave for reasons directly related to the abuse they experience, or for separate reasons. The cases discussed in this article, those of bad treatment and disappointing behaviour, are not abuse. It is human nature to be bad sometimes and to hurt people emotionally as a result. The important thing is to try to minimise this hurt. The question still remains, however, as to why so many men appear to lack the emotional tools required for sexual intimacy with women that is enjoyable for those women. As hard as it is for me to write, I believe that the solution will require a degree of empathy with these men, who must endure emotionally-deprived existences. 

It is possible that these men are aware of the sadness they are causing, which is too depressing to contemplate, and so I choose to believe that they are simply unaware of the nuances of emotional interactions, such as those that take place in sex. This “emotional gap” between women and men causes suffering for both parties. This is even if it might feel obvious where to foot the blame, as in Annie Lord’s friend’s quote, “his mum told him he’s amazing too much.”

So should you, as a woman, stop making jokes at men’s expense? Absolutely not! Humour is essential when handling the life challenge of finding someone to love, or just shag. It’s simply worth considering the ways in which the patriarchal system we live in has damaged them, as well as us. I should also say that I sometimes fear that this humour gives men a bit of a free pass to be terrible, so leave them out of the jokes: they don’t get it! This humour can also offer a lazy way out for those of us who want to keep seeing bad men because it’s easier than acknowledging that we are making a choice when we continue to see them. We’re doing it to ourselves, we’re using our agency to make a decision that inevitably leads to our own unhappiness, and we don’t want to have to think about why. If we are in a privileged-enough position to not be trapped with a man who leaves us wanting more, we must exercise that privilege and leave him, even as we empathise with his plight. I’ll leave you with a strong behaviour-related dating tip from the goddess of dating advice, Dolly Alderton. It might help you find one of the men who has been able to overcome the emotional challenges of a patriarchal system, “When I reflected on all the reasons I fell for a particularly dodgy ex, I realised it was because of things he said rather than things he did. And sayings are almost entirely useless. Big words feel good in the moment and then disappear into nothing and all you have are the memory of them.”


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