The only thing that's "bad for feminism" is stifling women's voices.

Feminism has gone too far. It’s crossed the line.

That’s what columnist Cathy Young says in an editorial for the Washington Post titled “Feminists treat men badly and it’s bad for feminism”.

The problem, Young says, is that feminists are too busy picking on individual men’s behaviour to address the real issue here, which is… things that a lot of individual men do as a group.

She hates the way modern feminist rhetoric crosses the line from attacks on sexism to attacks on people.

After all, we know that sexism is a virus that can attack any man at any time, and that nobody can be held personally responsible when it happens. Why do women insist on making it seems like it’s the man’s fault? (Note: sarcasm)

Men: individually attacked for things they individually do, and cranky about it. Image: iStock. 

Women, she tells us, are constantly putting the "nastiest spin" on male behaviour. Take, for example, the term "friend zone", which Young claims has been spun by feminists to suggest that men think women exist only to have sex with them.

In fact, she argues, the term "friend zone" should be interpreted to reflect a man's romanticism and loneliness.

Which would be fine, if we didn't have thousands upon thousands of examples of men reacting with explosive vitriol and violence to women who reject their sexual advances.

It's a little hard to write off men's harassment of women who turn them down online as "romantic disappointment" when that same response too often ends in violence and sexual assault when it plays out face-to-face.

But Young delves further into the culture of "male bashing", taking particular exception to the words "mansplaining" and "manterrupting".

Women, she tells us, also explain things and interrupt each other, and it's unfair to suggest that men are the exclusive perpetrators of such behaviour.

What she fails to recognise, of course, is that when a man interrupts a woman where he wouldn't interrupt another man, or when he explains something to a female colleague but not a male colleague, he perpetuates the notion that a man's time and knowledge is more valuable than a woman's.

Young believes the term "mansplaining" unfairly singles out men.

Young isn't just defending men for men's sake, she hastens to add.

She's concerned that this nit-picking of (harmful and problematic) behaviour by individual men is detracting from our true feminist goals.

“The fixation on men behaving badly is a distraction from the more fundamental issues, such as changes in the workplace to promote work-life balance,” she argues.

But – and this is a serious question – if feminists aren’t allowed to critique individual male behaviour, how can we possibly address what Young would call the “fundamental issues”?

If it’s “man bashing” to call a guy out for whinging about being “friend zoned”, or “misandry” to take exception to a boys-will-be-boys style rape joke, how can we disrupt the harmful norms about male and female sexual relationships that play into high rates of sexual assault by men on women?

If it’s unacceptable to call out exclusionary male behaviour in the workplace, how can we expect to change the culture of men being promoted over women, or to challenge the pay gap that suggests men who do the same things as their female colleagues are deserving of more remuneration?

Women: Like men, only cheaper.

If it's uncool to criticise someone for "mansplaining" or "manterrupting", how will the power balance in conversations about gender - or, in fact, in any conversations - ever shift?

Young points out the dangers to men of this new hyper-feminist reality – a world where men can lose their jobs for “sexist missteps” and be expelled from college for allegations of sexual misconduct. The implication, of course, is that these consequences were an overreaction driven by rabid feminists desperate for male blood.


But surely, surely, it is only through calling out the inappropriate behaviour of individuals that anyone who cares about equality can hope to create a more equal society.

Without focussing on individual men, all that’s left for women to combat is an abstraction – a “patriarchy” that can’t be touched, because it’s a purely theoretical term for the behaviour of a lot of individual men all at once.

Young claims it’s harmful to the feminist cause to “treat men badly”, but it’s unclear what – if anything – she expects women seeking to disrupt harmful male attitudes to do instead.

The bottom line is, she's wrong: the only thing that harms the feminist cause is silencing women over issues that affect them.

If you need more convincing on the important of feminism, watch the receptionist who was sent home for not wearing high heels.

Video via BBC