How I learned to stop hating men

"My parents actually were '70s lesbian feminists, but they had loads of beloved male friends and were baffled by my ...

"My parents actually were '70s lesbian feminists, but they had loads of beloved male friends and were baffled by my youthful unwillingness to interact with 49% of the population." Photo: Stocksy

I was about 21 when I started making offhand remarks like "All men look the same to me" and "It's not that I hate men, it's just that I don't like any of them". It was around the same time my housemate and I took revenge on an awful guy she'd hooked up with by smearing used kitty litter all over his fancy car, paying careful attention to smoosh some shit under the door handle. I was a proud overalls-wearing, '70s-style, lesbian feminist (just without the transphobia).

I wasn't brought up this way. I mean, my parents actually were '70s lesbian feminists, but they had loads of beloved male friends and were baffled by my youthful unwillingness to interact with 49% of the population.

But too many encounters with misogyny left me distrustful and awkward when meeting the opposite sex (especially the straight, white variety). And too often, when I made a male friend, he'd become quite unpleasantly homophobic or sexist after a couple of beers.

One boy at school used to announce he was going on a "raping rampage", then he'd chase girls round the classroom, corner them and pretend to hump them like a dog. When we complained to the Principal, we all had to have a big conversation about the fact that we had apparently been 'bullying' him and he was just retaliating.

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One guy shouted at me, calling me a "big fucking dyke" in the middle of our graduation party. Another liked to position himself in my line of sight while I chatted to female friends at our local pub, then make grotesque sex faces at me (you know, the one where you place your fingers in a V in front of your mouth then waggle your tongue about? Classy stuff).

I can't count the times men shouted out car windows at my girlfriend and I. And such was the rate of sexual assault at our university, people referred to the road into campus as "Rape Station Drive".

So, I developed echidna-like properties, rolling into a ball and sticking my angry feminist spikes out in mixed social situations (if you compare misandry to an adorable marsupial, it's kinda cute, don't you think?). But misandry - the opposite of misogyny - isn't an actual thing because reverse oppression isn't a thing. An oppressed group can't 'discriminate' against their oppressor; we can just avoid them for our own safety and happiness. It was apprehension and fear that I was feeling about men, not hatred.

Last week, however, I arrived home chatting cheerfully on the phone. After I hung up, my girlfriend looked shocked. "Who were you talking to? It's a man and it isn't your brother!"

You see, after nearly a decade of separatism-lite, I have recently acquired a stack of new male friends. It seems that lovely men do exist, I just hadn't met many of them.

These days, debate is rife about whether misogyny is rising or just becoming increasingly exposed, thanks to social media. But it was social media that changed my view of men for the better.

While battling trolls together on Twitter, I found Mikey, my Grey's Anatomy-watching Adelaide pal; Richard, who I'm now collaborating with on an indie-folk feminist musical; Tim, a pinball champion who lives around the corner and is always up for an after-work wine; and Anthony, with whom I shoveled popcorn while watching Mad Max on the weekend.

The thing that sets these guys apart? They're all feminists. They're active feminists who proudly own the label and enthusiastically discuss gender politics. One of them has this incredible article, '35 Practical Steps Men Can Take To Support Feminism', taped to his fridge. And none of them expect a prize for being feminists (because that would be stupid); they just think it's the base level for being a decent human being.

One of my pet hates is people who tell me, via panel discussions, earnest conversations and, ironically, Facebook statuses, that social media is a barrier to "real communication"; that it's taking the place of "genuine connection" and I need to switch off.

Social media didn't exist when I was at uni, but if it had it would've helped me make more real connections, not less. For many people, especially those with niche interests or barriers to social inclusion, the Internet is a way to find like-minded people with shared values. Social media let me see these guys interact with other women I respect; it served as a sort of reference system, so I worry less about the potential for offhand remarks or microaggressions. And the block button is always there if needed.

I'm still livid about the structural and interpersonal sexism that plagues our society (and I'm still a big lesbian), but my feminism has shifted to include men who are true allies. I'm a proud ex-man-hating feminist and my social world is all the better for it.

Maeve Marsden is a freelance writer, director, producer and performer. She performs in feminist cabaret act, Lady Sings It Better, and collaborates on various creative projects.