Thursday, 10 September 2020

Is It Right To Hate Men?

French feminist Pauline Harmange (pictured) has defended her book, Moi les hommes, je les déteste (I Hate Men), and its contents after an advisor to the French equality ministry, Ralph Zurmély, demanded it be removed from publication on the grounds of incitement to hatred on the basis of sex. Predictably, sales of the hitherto little-known book have soared and required a reprint. The French, of course, have a term for this: Succès de scandale (success from scandal).

Harmange has defended her work not only on the basis that the equality ministry should have more important things to do than seeking the cancellation of niche ideological publications, but also that women have good reason to be distrustful, even hateful of men as a whole, whom she cites as the majority of perpetrators of violence against women. The real question: is she right?

On a legal basis, Zurmély's objections (seemingly to the book's title alone) appear trivial at best: as a statement, 'I Hate Men' surely cannot be an incitement to hatred because it is describing an existing hatred, specific to an individual, rather than calling for it from others. As Harmange describes her arguments from the book - which I have not read personally - she is defending women's right to distrust men as a group on the basis of the danger they supposedly pose, not directly calling for women to do so. As unhelpfully subjective as the concept of a hate crime often is, even the most ardent anti-misandrist would be hard-pressed to make a claim against it as described.

What to make of Harmange's arguments on a philosophical level, however? Does a person have the right to hate, distrust and dissociate from an entire group purely on the basis of immutable characteristics and the actions of some within that group?

Harmange's arguments are at their core similar to feelings confessed by the actor Liam Neeson last year when he described his youthful anger and wish to commit violence against black people after someone close to him was raped by a black man. The distinction must immediately be made that, according to Harmange, her book does not endorse or suggest any form of violence against men, unlike Neeson's short-lived and unconsummated desire for revenge. The underlying principle of the argument, however, is whether one has the right to hold an entire group responsible for the actions of criminal perpetrators within that group. Neeson's anger at the crime committed against his friend manifested in a hatred of all members of the alleged perpetrator's ethnic group. Harmange defends women's right to distrust men based on the action of male perpetrators of violence against women.

Collective punishment has long been recognised as immoral and even against the Geneva Convention when enacted in the context of war. Unfortunately, it is also becoming increasingly common as a means of forcing one's ideology on wider society. It is thought to be widely practiced in China, where the CCP is alleged to punish the families of dissenters. In the West, the far right has used statistics relating to black-on-black crime to justify police brutality in the US, while the far left uses the rhetoric of 'white privilege' to justify violence, vandalism and the reintroduction of discrimination based on immutable characteristics.

When it comes to Harmange's arguments, there are two ways of approaching them. The first is factually, asking whether the statistics of male violence against women justifies women choosing to distrust or hate men as a group. As per many of the arguments listed above, there is a degree of truth to this case: evidence suggests men are more likely than women to attack women and given the innate physical advantages the vast majority of men have over most women, it is somewhat reasonable to argue that being cautious and distrustful of men as a group could be suggested as a (highly risky) survival strategy for women.

Putting aside the destructively anti-social nature of such blanket distrust, like all statistical arguments it rests on a bed of sand, waiting for the next datum to come along to contradict it. One might counter, for instance, that men might be more likely to attack women than other women, but women represent a clear minority of victims of male violence. Female fear of being a victim of crime vastly outweighs their actual likelihood of being victimised. Feminists counter-argue that under-reporting is rife in the specific crimes where women are more likely to be victimised (sex crime and domestic violence being most commonly cited), only for those on the opposing side to argue that under-reporting on male victimhood for those crimes is even greater and some reports suggests the victimisation gap may be tighter than commonly perceived, or even non-existent. As the cliché says: you can prove anything with statistics.

More interesting is not whether women would be right to hate men, but whether they have the right to. Hate crime laws suggest not, although these are based on that hate having a physically, materially or psychologically detrimental effect on a person targeted as part of a perceived group. That does not appear to be what Harmange is arguing. Based on her interview, she says she is saying women should not feel compelled to express a liking for men and should be free to express anger towards men as a group and distrust and limit her association with men she does not know. On this basis, Harmange is correct that women not only do have that right, but must have it.

Since none of what is described can have any seriously detrimental effects on her targeted group, save hurt feelings for more sensitive types, being able to discriminate in this way is fundamental to the right to freedom of speech and freedom of choice. Just as nobody should be condemned for being sexually attracted to some characteristics and not others, for instance, so too must Harmange and all like her be free to discriminate who she personally associates with - professionally, of course, would be another matter.

This extends to racists of all ethnicities, those who dislike gay or straight or trans people and every other imaginable category. To be free and live in a free society means having the right to make one's own choices. It is inevitable that such freedom will come into conflict with those who make different choices than you, or perceive themselves to be negatively affected by your choices. The law is correct in limiting that freedom when one person's choice impacts the ability of another to have equal freedom, but within those reasonable limits, the rights to cause offence and choose one's personal associates are essential components of a society where personal choices can be made without coercion. Whether or not one agrees with or likes Harmange's expressed hatred of men, it is imperative that her right to it is defended.


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