"Dudes that don't realize that #killallmen means destroying Patriarchy/Capitalism/the State, not their literal immanent death, are stupid."
This tweet really stopped me in my tracks. I was trying to read the arguments on either side of this new twitter conflict, a conflict which already had me jittery and nervous, not just because of the premise of the joke/consciousness raising slogan involving the suggestion that my gender should be obliterated, but also because as usual in recent months I was watching people shouting at each other and not listening.
That triggers both my experiences growing up in an often dysfunctional family where screaming and violence often featured, and also due to the pile on, name calling, nature of twitter it also triggers my years being systematically bullied at school.
I really hope this post isn't dismissed as mansplaining. This hashtag is directed at men as individuals (or at least experienced that way, there is debate about the intended direction of its usage) and so I hope that as an individual man I have a right to comment on it. This is something I have experience of after all.
Also before I go on: I sympathise with the sentiment behind this hashtag. There are so many reasons to be angry at the patriarchy/the state/capitalism. That rage is felt more strongly by the groups I am outside of, who are affected by these systems much more seriously than I am. That rage isn't pretty but it is understandable. I am not trying to minimise the rage, although I question it's direction and methods. I am not saying all oppressions, all discriminations, all privileges are equal. And I, despite being a man, have felt that rage. I have in the past had thoughts like kill all men and I haven't had those thoughts as abstract metaphors or jokes but as a literal thoughts. I have thought men are a cancer, we are the problem, we are incapable of doing anything but harm and we should be erased.
Before someone tells me to check my privilege: I am trying to. I regularly do try and challenge what I inevitably cannot wholly see within myself. I think privilege checking is something everyone should do. But I do feel using that phrase in a way that shuts down debate with strangers whose circumstances you don't know anything about is a mistake. I accept I could have got everything wrong and if I have please put me right. I am interested in your opinion. If I am missing something in all this because of my privilege tell me what. I am open to learning more.
I consider myself an intersectional feminist amongst many other things. If you don't think men can be feminists fair enough. I thought they couldn't for years myself until some women and men persuaded me differently. But even if I can't be a feminist by your definition I hope you might consider me an ally. And if you dismiss feminism I hope one day you'll reconsider. If you are a man who doesn't feel comfortable with this term can I suggest considering at least being a MA'AM!
Before I go on to explain why I have wanted all men to be destroyed, some of the reasons that I am a feminist, and why this hashtag and the behaviours around it trigger and offend me, I just want to break down the tweet that pushed me to write this post:
"Dudes that don't realize"
This implies only men object to the hashtag. That isn't true. Many feminists are calling its use out. Here is one example.
"that #killallmen means destroying Patriarchy/Capitalism/the State not their literal immanent death"
The phrase kill all men doesn't obviously mean that. Whilst some people are using it that way it is hardly clear if you come to it out of context. A term that gives a very different impression to the one you mean to create is perhaps one to reconsider using. I'm not suggesting people shouldn't use it but assuming people will get what it means is a mistake.
Here are some respectful suggestions of alternatives:
I find the way that people are constantly dismissed online as stupid or idiotic to be problematic. It prioritises a certain kind of intelligence over others. It sets the author up as superior.
Don't get me wrong I use these terms despite trying not to. Unlike many problematic terms that I have phased out completely over my life stupid and idiot along with mad and crazy are terms I am still ironing out. And I do try and avoid word or tone policing where possible. But shouting you are stupid is not having a discourse. It is positioning yourself above others and when done many times to one person by one or more people is at best bullying.
Misogynists say women are stupid. Racists say PoC are stupid. Able-bodied people say people with disabilities are stupid. It is a way of stopping dialogue and silencing people.
I prefer to think of stupidity the way I think of evil. There are no stupid people just stupid actions.
One of the feminisms that feeds into my feminism is "the personal is the political". I hope you also see some validity in that way of thinking. Here is a personal experience that seems relevant to this debate:
When I was 12/13 years old and my mother was in the middle of a nervous breakdown caused in no small part by the effects of patriarchy on her life, she spent a lot of time shouting and crying at me as I tried in vain to persuade her to feel better.
One of the main things she instilled in me during that time was the idea that men are evil, we are wrong, we are toxic. She would mix in with her wishes that I had never been born, long diatribes on how men had ruined her life. All men were bad. Including me. Especially me.
This was an argument that made sense as I'd spent the past few years being hit and controlled by a man who had caused my mother to feel this way. (It's all much more complicated than that but I am describing how I received the information.) And when I looked at society, at how women were treated, this further confirmed this argument as truth.
Thankfully I had some balance to this with positive male role models in my life as well as negative ones. But when I began to get bullied at school in quite an extreme way, often in a homophobic and gender influenced manner, it met with this shame and guilt and I was filled (for a time) full of hatred for my gender. I was filled with hate for myself. Some of my first pieces of serious writing were about becoming a Eunuch. I wanted to rip my gender out of myself.
I still feel this way if I'm not careful.
Last Christmas I was talking to my mum about the things she had said to me during those years and she stood by her statements: men are still ultimately damaging and wrong.
I said to her how can she think that as the mother of two boys. And she said "of course I don't mean you, I mean men." And by this she is I guess saying "Patriarchy/Capitalism/the State" although to be honest I don't think her politics are quite that radical, so maybe it would be more accurate to say she means patriarchy.
But when she said that it also reminded me of misogynists who say horrible things about women. When I hear that shit I always think "don't they have sisters, daughters, mothers, female friends, how can they think this?" Sadly I think the answer they will often give is "of course I don't mean them."
Should I consider the abuse I received at school as being insignificant because I was a white, straight, middle class, currently able-bodied, cis boy? I often see people saying at the moment that oppression can only go down and not up. That aways seems to me to be a way of saying "I am better than you." I was once held down by a girl while two boys kicked me in the face. Women are often responsible for reenforcing the patriarchy. Sure they are conditioned to do so, they have internalised misogyny. But all genders have that.
Have the beatings I received from patriarchy been cancelled out by the ways I'm undoubtedly privileged due to my gender? When people spat on me and othered me by collectively using an abusive name for me did that have less effect on me because this wasn't racially orientated abuse? Does the abuse I received for not being a "real man" and for "being gay" have less effect on me because I'm straight? Yes and no. Different effects, certainly. Analogous effects arguably.
Certainly I'm not claiming I had it worse than anyone. And I know I had it better than many, many people. But that doesn't mean I haven't experienced marginalization. It doesn't mean that as I have not been oppressed. When you dismiss all men you are not considering the intersections of oppression that are working on all of us within the system.
Men are oppressed differently to women under patriarchy and capitalism. We are taught to express emotion less. We are penalised for not being man enough. We are often made into machines of violence, violence committed against women, against the other and also against ourselves. In many parts of the world we are made into machines of industry.
By and large we are oppressed less than women. We have more agency. We have less infringements on our body autonomy. We have more power to change our circumstances. We have more voice. But it really isn't as simple as men benefit from patriarchy and women are oppressed by it. It is systematic.
We are all potentially each others allies and whilst the rage we feel at our oppressions is understandable, when that rage is directed not at the systems but at groups within those systems we are doing exactly what we're supposed to be doing. Oppressing others because we feel oppressed is what many oppressors do. Oppressing because we feel entitled to oppress is a big part of the problem.
I don't hate the people who bullied me. I don't hate my mother or my stepdad. I see how the social forces, the trapped emotions, the weight and power of the system caused these things to happen. Perhaps it is my privilege, the safety I have found, that allows me to come to these conclusions, although I fear it will take me a life time to truly stop hating myself.
Twitter can be a place where people bully and shut each other down. I think it's the nature of the character limit and the speed of response time. But it's also something to do with group dynamics.
Anyone that has a thousand supportive followers has a gang. Power dynamics are still relevant of course some peoples gangs are larger than others. People should consider the size of their platforms. But the size of your platform isn't an indication that you are wrong or right. I don't think I have a gang but please don't attack anyone on my behalf. I didn't credit the tweeter because I don't want them to receive negative treatment for an off hand comment. I'd like to try and avoid the triggering experiences that I see from a distance suddenly descending on them, or on me. That isn't necessary.
I love twitter but it scares me because I don't want to be a bully, to silence people, to hurt or trigger people but I know how easy it is to do all these things.
I get that you don't want to kill me. I don't think it is my place to tell you what hashtags to use. I would never dream of banning any form of expression no matter how problematic it is. Nor, despite my privilege, do I have any power to do so. But perhaps this overlong jumble of words can make you consider the effect that you can have on people, whatever your intentions.
I can see the argument that as a privileged man it's about time me and mine felt silenced and had our experiences dismissed and minimised. If that's your goal and you use that hashtag to achieve it then well done. You've achieved it with at least one man.