You've probably seen the word somewhere on Tumblr or Youtube, but what exactly is misandry?
Misandry is a concept that plays off and subverts the tropes and stereotypes of the modern feminist (you know, that she’s a man-hating b-tch) by owning and reclaiming those misconceptions, and embracing the skepticism and often straight-up disbelief many women face when they claim something is sexist.
Now misandry has become a device for humor, and it's where we get coffee mugs and needlepoints (I know, needlepoints!) that say “male tears” or “boys suck,” bro-repellent candles, and an endless parade of misandry-themed gifs — expressions of anger wrapped in adorable and cuddly packages showing up again and again on female-dominated web spaces like Tumblr, Etsy and Pinterest.
The idea of "bathing in male tears" was created by Slate writer Amanda Hess in her 2014 essay “The Rise of the Ironic Man-Hater,” and used again in Jessica Valenti’s recent Guardian column to describe a beloved inside joke in feminist communities.
Jillian Horowitz, who wrote the essay “Collecting Male Tears: Misandry and Weaponized Femininity on the Internet” says that a large part of the ironic misandry joke involves taking the things that represent overt and stereotypical femininity and turning them into “symbols of feminist anger.”
In other words, you can take the fuzzy bunnies, lipstick, and glitter and make them into weapons.
“Cuteness is the fetishization of powerlessness,” Horowitz says. “Taking a lot of these trappings of teenage femininity and using those sorts of images and markers while espousing these sorts of jokes about killing all men and drinking male tears -- it sort of turns the cultural conventions on it’s head.”
And, how exactly, is this different than misogyny?
Well, Horowitz says it's pretty simple: Misandry ultimately lacks the same power as misogyny.
Almost every society in the world gives cis men more power and money than everyone else, and it's been that way for a very long time. This is what systemic and institutional oppression is about: Creating systems where it is very hard (or often impossible) for anyone who is not the privileged group to get ahead, or, in the case of women, just acquire equality.
Misandry can't possibly overthrow the patriarchy, and the words and actions will never have the same cultural effect as misogyny does every day. Centuries of oppressing women can’t exactly be undone in under 10 years of snarky coffee mugs and hilarious gifs, despite what it says in my dream journal.
“One of the rules of comedy is you punch up, you don’t punch down,” says Horowitz. "You poke fun at those who have power. Arguments equating the two [misogyny and misandry] are just not there. The power differentials are just too different, the institutional backing, the centuries if not millennia of oppression aren’t there.”
Horowitz says it’s easy to understand why teen girls, who are in a particularly vulnerable and powerless stage of their lives, are quick to get in on the joke.
“I think that there’s societal pressure on girls and the idea that girls are supposed to be pretty and are supposed to be feminine and are supposed to be perfect and also unquestioning,” she says. “A lot of younger women feel powerless in a lot of ways against misogyny they come across, young women whose voices aren’t as strong or established.”
It also helps, Horowitz says, that misandry jokes don't really cater to men, as the joke really succeeds as an inside joke between members of the same in-group (feminist women). Being in on the joke can help foster a connection and a sense of solidarity between women with common feminist goals, and for those who need it, it can serve as a coping mechanism for living in a world that wasn't build for you.
More to the point, joking about misandry with your friends is a way to vent, while at the same time imagining a world where women are respected, and perhaps even in charge.
“I don’t want to say it’s empowering necessarily,” Horowitz says. “But it gives a lot of young women a sense of power while being in on this joke, and that power is attractive.”