Well, well, well. It seems the latest thing feminism is fighting about is the phrase “kill all men”.
So, before I launch into this defence, let me point out that nobody is actually planning to kill all men. Not even some men. It’s just a phrase, an expression of rage, a rejection of a system which is riddled with violence.
“Kill all men” is a shorthand war cry, much the same as “ACAB” or “tremble hetero swine” or “die cis scum”. It represents a structural critique, presented in a provocative fashion. While my focus here is on “kill all men”, and therefore in relation to sexist oppression specifically, these points are applicable for all oppressors and all victims of oppression who dare to feel angry.
Patriarchy harms men, it’s true, but it oppresses the fuck out of women, and there are few, if any men who are not complicit in this oppression. Most men are not rapists or abusers, but many are complicit in perpetuating this violence by spreading rape apologist myths, by failing to stand against violence against women and girls, and by simply not nailing their colours to the mast and acting as allies.
I remember once being at a reading group where we were discussing the SCUM Manifesto. It was a mixed group, and we had loads to chat about. If you haven’t read SCUM, I’d well recommend it, as while its conception of gender is kind of rooted in its time, there’s a very astute analysis of how patriarchy and capitalism interact to produce a system which oppresses women. There’s also some very clever satire of the thinking of the time, flipped and reversed on its head to present a biological argument as to why men are inferior. In fact, the whole thing just inverts this system in which violence against women and girls is endemic, and exaggerates the problem to its logical conclusion. It’s really a very good text, whether or not its author truly believed what she’d written.
Part of the power of SCUM is the effect it has on men. At my reading group, the men present were allies, and I remember vividly one saying “I don’t think she went far enough at the end, letting some of the men live and act as the Men’s Auxilliary”. All of the other men nodded along. They got that this idea is just fantasy, just a satire.
On the other hand, it’s pretty difficult to mention SCUM (or indeed just cry “kill all men”) without the misogynists crawling in, crying misandry.
And this is because misogynists completely fail to understand how power works. They miss the fact that in this society, violence against women and girls is rife, that it is an everyday occurrence which is seen to at best utterly unremarkable and at worst funny or aspirational. Saying “kill all men” and violence against women and girls are completely different. There is no serious threat of the women rising up and actually killing all men, all the while the hum of background noise of another women raped, murdered or beaten by a man. That this culture of violence is gendered, and the system is set up in favour of keeping things that way.
So is it any wonder that sometimes women are angry enough to express a wish to see their oppressors dead? And that this violent revenge fantasy remains just that–a revenge fantasy?
I suppose it is hardly surprising that utterances of killing all men draw such ire, even from feminists. Under patriarchy, violence is the domain of men. It is no coincidence that when women fight back, it is seen as disgusting: it allows the system to thrive. This is why more column inches are given to women who kill their partners who have abused them every day; this is why we see such sexualised depictions of women being violent in films, defanging the raw aggression; why patriarchy freaks the fuck out over Rihanna or Christina Aguilera singing about vengeance. And it’s why even merely uttering “kill all men” is seen as so shocking: we’ve internalised this sentiment, and the idea that women are not violent or angry. It is unthinkable that we can think violent thoughts.
So no, we’re not actually advocating killing all men, but what we need is for men to understand why we might. A secondary function of this powerful little phrase is to seek out allies. Some men simply cannot fathom that we might be this furious. And they cannot help us as allies, as we need.
And of course, all men are not deserving of death. In fact, most of them aren’t. I can think of a fair few I do wish painful, violent death on, although this remains but a fantasy. Patriarchy would destroy me were I to ever touch a hair on their head. Patriarchy already tries to punish me for merely expressing these thoughts, because they are unbecoming of a woman.
Remember, we are born and socialised into a culture of violence. Is it any wonder we may entertain violent fantasies against our oppressors at times?