The White House Triumph of the #BanMen Movement
The year just ended was a banner year for misogyny—review the scandals of GamerGate, the revelations of sexual violence from the National Football to the Ivy Leagues, and Elliot Rodger’s California killing spree intended to enact “revenge” against “all you girls who rejected me and looked down on me, treated me like scum while you gave yourselves to other men.” These days, we ingest our news in memes, streams, and social exchange tapped out in the shorthand of public e-space. Pith is sovereign. And so as misogyny swelled, Twitter—that many-ringed circus where outrage emerges, then cycles and sloughs—took a look and found the mirror image: misandry. All year long, one hashtag reigned on my Twitter feed, snarky, flippant, and less than delicate or helpfully nuanced: #BanMen. Here’s what 140 characters will do to the mind.
On the diffuse, difficult-to-legislate, and anonymity-permitting world of the Internet, trolls are king. Police forces and tech companies, both overwhelmingly male, are often unsure how to intervene. So female denizens, noticing the easy ubiquity of misogyny, imagined a different regime: would there even be violence against women without men? Would there be catcalls, school shootings, wars, or anything bad at all? Ban 'em, expel 'em, and why not exterminate 'em while we’re at it? For perhaps the first time since the mid-1970s, the dream of a penis-free world—a lot funnier this time—became a bonafide fashion, extending past the confines of Twitter’s letter limits. Misandrist book clubs and makeup tutorials debuted. Men published articles with headlines like “33 Reasons Why Men Should Be Banned.” ‘Male Tears’ mugs made bank. In the spring, as part of its ad campaign for the fourth season of “Game of Thrones,” finger-on-the-pulse HBO posted signs all around the subway reading, sinister and seriffed, “ALL MEN MUST DIE.”
At every new news turn—or something like it—the topic trended:
Ridiculous as #BanMen can seem, it’s a weapon that’s perfectly suited to the contemporary battlefield, where attacks have to be outlandish to break through. Against rape threats, report-abuses, shaming-retweets, girl power. The year that Beyoncé stood in silhouette with the word ‘'Feminist' in lights behind her, and Taylor Swift clapped for the cause, gender-inflected anger isn’t whiny anymore—it’s hip. Young feminists got there through language of extremes and exclusion. If there were a word for the female variation of ballsy, I’d use it.
Man-banning has, inevitably, even become the stuff of Internet think-pieces. The blogger and tech entrepreneur Anil Dash spent 2013 retweeting only women, and wrote about it in February. For him, he wrote in Medium, the tactic was about thoughtfulness and about a “growing sense of social responsibility about what messages I choose to share and amplify, and whose voices and identities I strive to bring to a broader audience.” Inspired by Dash, BuzzFeed’s Katie Notopoulus decided to unfollow men on Twitter, in July publishing the explainer “Why I Created The #UnfollowAMan Movement,” with a handy checklist. All of a sudden, it’s kosher to target stereotypically male behavior—regard the New York M.T.A.'s attack on “manspreading.”
The principle of #BanMen gained steam, which rises. In President Obama’s press conference last week, held before his family vacation in Hawaii, Obama took eight questions from reporters: all from women. It was deliberate: White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that they realized the “unique opportunity” to highlight the fact that women “do the hard work” of covering the president “day-in and day-out.” As Obama was leaving, a male reporter shouted out a question about the president’s New Year’s resolutions. He ignored it, and called instead on American Urban Radio’s April Ryan. What lessons the male press corp may draw from this sudden invisibility, who knows. But women have an idea.