The Perception Paradox: Men Who Hate Feminists Think Feminists Hate Men

Feminists, on the whole, don’t hate men. We hate sexism and sexist oppression. After all, men are harmed by patriarchy, too.

The perception that feminism is motivated by anti-male sentiment, or misandry, has been used to delegitimize and discredit the movement, has deterred women from joining it, and motivated men to oppose it, sometimes with violence. (Maskot / Getty Images)

The “feminists are man-haters” trope is getting old.

For far too long, opponents of feminism have claimed that our movement is rooted in misandry—the prejudice, contempt or hatred against men. Men who have not bothered to educate themselves about what feminism stands for declare loudly and proudly that, if possible, feminist women would subjugate men, destabilize civilization, and summon forth the end of humanity.

Until recently, refuting these claims has proven difficult. After all, every feminist-hating man has an anecdotal story of “that one feminist” he knows who definitively hates men. Thankfully, contemporary research has finally given us real, irrefutable evidence that feminists do not, in fact, despise men.

A 2023 study measured levels of hostility toward men among feminists, non-feminists and other men. Interestingly, across six experiments conducted in nine nations and almost 10,000 participants, the results revealed that feminist women show no more hostility toward men than both non-feminists and other men. It turns out that just about everyone, including men, has a fair amount of hostility toward men.

Feminists Won’t Coddle Men’s Egos

Something that stood out in the results of the study is that although feminist women appear to have no more hostility toward men than non-feminist women, they are significantly less likely to be benevolent toward men.

Whereas non-feminist women are likely to excuse or ignore men’s bad behavior toward women, feminist women will, more often than not, call it out. They will not pull their punches to spare men’s egos. They expect much from men, and will hold them accountable to the behavior they know men are capable of.

And it appears that this is where the man-hating feminist trope has its roots.

Misogynistic men prefer the company of non-feminist women who do not speak up about their misogyny. … They label feminists as man-haters to avoid having to examine their own attitudes and behaviors toward women.

Misogynistic men with weak egos cannot abide being criticized, even gently—especially when those criticisms come from women, and even more so when they come from feminist women, who they have declared to be their mortal enemy. To men like these, being held accountable feels like hostility. A demand for equality and liberation feels like oppression. And being de-centered feels like being shunned. When faced with non-benevolent behavior of feminist women, who they already view as angry, aggressive, stubborn and egotistical, they perceive that behavior as evidence that feminists simply hate men.

It is known that misogynistic men prefer the company of non-feminist women who do not speak up about their misogyny. Since they do not often (if ever) hear that their attitudes about women are problematic, they may indeed view themselves as men who like or even have affection for women. They are unable to handle the wounded ego and cognitive dissonance that accompany being held accountable for their misogyny by feminist women. So, rather than looking inward, they lash out. They label feminists as man-haters to avoid having to examine their own attitudes and behaviors toward women.

Addressing the Elephant in the Room

Yes, there is ample anecdotal evidence that some feminist women hate men. Following the #MeToo movement, many feminists began actively self-identifying as misandrists (man-haters) in response to the sheer volume of abusive, dangerous men who were exposed during that time. Many feminists and non-feminists alike saw their attitudes toward men evolve as they saw prominent male celebrities, political correspondents and politicians they trusted and admired be called out for their sexual misconduct and attempted cover-ups. For a lot of us, it was a time that eroded our trust in men. For some of us, that trust was never regained.

But the existence of some feminists who hate men does not prove that all feminists hate men. In fact, although feminism is a movement that seeks to center women’s equality and liberation, it has also done much for the liberation of men. After all, men are harmed by patriarchy, too, and feminists seek to abolish all forms of gender-based discrimination that are propped up by patriarchy. Establishing gender-based equality has clear benefits for men. For example, feminists seek family court reform (where things like custody, child support and alimony are determined) because family courts often engage in gender-based stereotypes that are harmful to both mothers and fathers. Mothers may end up with close to full-custody, leaving them responsible for the heavy lifting of parenting, while fathers end up missing out on the majority of their kids’ lives.

For a lot of us, #MeToo was a time that eroded our trust in men. For some of us, that trust was never regained.

Feminists also advocate for men’s mental health, believing that patriarchal structures that depict men as weak or “unmanly” if they need help with their mental health are actively harming men (and, as a result, also harming women).

The Mismatch of Perception and Realty

Although feminists will likely never center men in their work, they see men as their partners (but not co-equals) in gender-based oppression. They seek to improve civilization for both men and women by abolishing patriarchy and sexist oppression. In that work, they will often come across entitled, angry men who despise women generally and feminists specifically. When that happens, they will likely choose to go toe to toe with those men, refusing to coddle their egos and addressing their bad behavior instead. Rather than using this feedback as an invitation to challenge their beliefs and join us in the fight to end sexist oppression together, those men will decide to call those feminists man-haters.

In reality, it is far more likely that those men simply hate women. They may never change their views about women. But for the many women around the world who choose not to identify with feminism because a man who hates women told them that feminists hate men, we need to correct the perception problem.

Feminists, on the whole, don’t hate men. We hate sexism and sexist oppression, and we will not mollify, excuse or enable any man who chooses to uphold them.

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Amber Wardell, Ph.D., holds a doctorate degree in cognitive psychology from the University of Memphis. Her areas of expertise include emotion and cognition, quantitative and qualitative research design, experimental research methodology, and statistical modeling. She is a contributor to Psychology Today and is the author of Beyond Self-Care Potato Chips: Choosing Nourishing Self-Care in a Quick-Fix Culture, releasing this October.