Found Out as a Misandrist!

Over the years I have been said to be many unpleasant things.* This week, however, I was accused of something new: “blatant misandry.”

As a man working in the academic humanities, I had of course became used to being called a misogynist, even though I have never been conscious of harboring a hatred for women in general. In English departments accusing someone of misogyny or sexism (or of racism) is an effective tactic because it lays an almost unanswerable charge against your opponent and puts you on the moral high ground. Since a couple decades ago we humanities professors gave up believing in truth (it’s a social construction, like everything else) or privileging reason (a tool of the white male power structure that devalues women’s ways of knowing), the moral high ground is about the best advantage one can have. And it is fair play, according the rules now in place, to apply such terms to anyone who hasn’t made a preemptive show of right thinking.

But misandry? You don’t hear nearly so much about that. When the ritual anathemas are pronounced against the sexist, racist, homophobic, classist demons who must be cast out of our nurturing community, a general hatred of men isn’t in the rubrics.

And why me as an example of misandry? I am a man myself, as most people come to realize quite early in our acquaintance. While I can’t say I prefer the society of my own sex to that of women, I feel no hatred for other fellows as a group. I do wish some of you guys would behave a bit better, but that’s not because I hate you. It’s because I feel solidarity with you, and I think you’re letting down the side!

So how did I come to be called a man-hater?

Chronicle of Higher Education ran a piece last week about what accommodations should be made for tenure-track faculty who face serious family emergencies in the years before they come up for tenure. In a touching essay using her own case as an example, the author argued for granting extensions to those dealing with a seriously ill child, as she had had to.

I added this comment:

I think very, very few people object to accommodations being made for people who are in real trouble, as this author clearly was. (And what a sad story she tells! And how well she moves from her story to issues other people face!)

What people do resent—at least sometimes with justification—is the assumption that parents, or anyone else, should always get a break because of the ordinary difficulties their life choices entail. Even the crustiest childless bachelor will be happy to see a colleague get some slack when s/he suffers a calamity; almost everyone will wonder why the troubles s/he struggles with go unnoticed while special arrangements are made for people who choose to have a child or a long-distance relationship and then feel burdened by travel or child-care.

So the author is right: while they can be abused, policies that let people deal with the duties that are thrust upon them by circumstance without risking their careers only make the workplace more humane—and more productive in the long run, I would think. But if someone thinks s/he is being taken advantage of because their woes don't fall into the right category, s/he shouldn't be ignored, either.
Those who know my work may both recognize my style and see that I have adapted a convention I usually avoid. I have used a form of “inclusive language.” (The s-slash-he pronoun and the solecism of using “their” after a singular antecedent.) I usually stick to the traditional conventions of English and use masculine pronouns with common gender antecedents. That is, I would say,

  • “No one has a right to an opinion until he has sought out evidence to support his position.”


  • “No one has a right to an opinion until he or she has sought out evidence to support his or her position.”


  • “No one has a right to an opinion until s/he has sought out evidence to support their position.”

though I might say,

  • “People have no right to opinions until they have sought out evidence to support their positions.”

I stick to the convention because I think it is clear that the “he” after “everyone” includes women, because I deplore the recent confusion of sex (male or female) and gender (masculine, feminine, neuter, or common), and because I resent a change in English grammar has come through a fiat pronounced by the same people who deplore “prescriptivism” when it comes to all other questions on grammar and usage. I also think that “their” is plural and shouldn’t be used with singular antecedents.

Here I decided not to have that fight, because I wanted the
Chronicle’s readers to pay attention to my point and not write me off as a nasty old sexist when they saw the first masculine pronoun. That was especially important in this instance, because the essay involved motherhood and childcare, which are subjects on which a male commentator must tread warily in academic circles, lest he find himself in a discussion of his own sexism rather than the discussion he thought had entered. I have heard the feminist hiss following my comments at enough MLA Conventions to be wary here: some take feminism as an excuse to heap opprobrium on people who have tried to make rational arguments in perfect good will. When I’m trying to talk about personnel policies, there is no need to give such people an excuse to avoid my argument and excoriate my pronouns.

In a sense, I was successful. I drew no scorn for my sexism. But I did get this comment:

Aside from the blatant misandry in your post, the rest of the post rings true.
I had managed to sound like a man-hater instead of a misogynist. Was it the reference to “crusty old bachelors?” Perhaps. I should have included the cranky old spinsters to be truly inclusive. But the use of the “s/he’s” may have been the main problem, and certainly made the reference to crusty bachelors worse. To some readers, I had uncased the colours of the Monstrous Regiment of Women. Why should I be surprised that they drew fire from the embattled men, who have been taking shots from every side?

I would say that my name should have served as a clue that in talking about crusty old bachelors I might be making a self-deprecatory reference to my own sort, rather than stigmatizing the other sex. (Thus far, I have only met one female Bryan, and that’s a family surname that has been fastened to one female in each generation to appease ancestral spirits who are evidently both cruel and eccentric.) But who reads the names attached to comments posted to online discussions? While I sign what I write, most people use a
nom de web, and any hints to sex, position, or nationality may be completely bogus.

From now on, I think I will just go back to using masculine pronouns with common gender antecedents. It is concise. It is correct according to authorities who wrote when people could be prescriptivists in good faith. And since I’m going to be accused of something in any case, I would just as soon bear a stigma that suits my sex.


*Just in print, I have been called “prolix” (too often true) and “Jansenist” (false, but better that than “Pelagian”).