[Opinion/feminism] Hate online is still hate: the male ego hat

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If you’re not already aware (and if you’re not, Van Badham has a great article in the Guardian to bring you up to date), superstar feminist and Fairfax columnist Clementine Ford has published a blog filled with pages and pages of misogynistic hate she’s received mostly for daring to have an opinion. These attacks range from hundreds of calls of “slut” and “whore”, to encouragements of suicide, to chilling death threats in case she can’t manage it alone.

Recently, these calls intensified when Ford pursued a complaint against one such poster by informing his employer, who — entirely of his own accord and at no encouragement from Ford — terminated the man’s employment. This was not Ford’s fault or responsibility: the man’s behavior and the consequences of his actions are his own.

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The kind of people mobilizing in support with the man and his fictional family include the usual MRAs, haters, and trolls, but their willingness to mobilize and issue threats like the one above in defense of a man they don’t know is puzzling. One enterprising user even sported a Confederate flag overlaid with the French tricolor in a somewhat confusing display of solidarity.

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What this all made me wonder, apart from the issues raised by Ford, Badham, and others, is where does this willingness come from?

The male ego hat and the Emperor’s New Clothes

It’s clear that Ford’s refusal to accept the man’s abuse or just ignore it poses a fundamental threat to something these posters hold dear. Stand by and do nothing while a man is apparently harmed by a woman’s actions? Unacceptable!

Raised and socialized as a male myself, I have always found the social narrative that men must never show weakness to be one of the most damaging to both mental health and healthy interpersonal relations. Young boy, be tough and resilient! Never back down! Even if you’re wrong, don’t admit it. We’re taught that we need to be stronger than women and everyone else around us, because men are strong.

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This translates into an innate compulsion to assert ourselves — and unfortunately, the easiest way to do that is to put others down, or threaten those who would dare to assert themselves against us. You can only demonstrate your strength by putting everyone else below you. Hence these posts.

Male ego is a bit like a hat placed on males at birth. We’re given this sweet chapeau to plonk down on our noggin, and told that it makes us special and unique and is a sign of our absolute authority. But we’re also told that we don’t need this hat to be all of those things — that we are innately powerful, and in fact to admit that we even have a hat is a mistake, because it will make others think less of us. As a result, we spend the rest of our lives aggressively denying the hat’s existence while jamming it further and further down on our heads.

Anyone who says we’re wearing one — or calls out a sexist or privilege-born remark — is threatening not just our hats but the all-important hats of men everywhere, and must be silenced.

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It all reminds me oddly of the old fable, the Emperor’s New Clothes. In it, the Emperor is given a new suit of clothing that he is promised is regal, magnificent, and opulent — but is invisible to anyone unfit for their positions. The Emperor and his advisers can see nothing, but of course ooh and ahh over the non-existent suit because to admit they can’t see anything would be to undermine the fragile illusion of their authority.

So out he goes, the Emperor in his proud new birthday suit, and all the citizens are too afraid to point it out lest they be revealed incompetent themselves. It takes a small boy, too young and brave to be cowed by their social traditions, to call out the Emperor for being naked. His mother tries to silence him — how embarrassing! — but he speaks up all the same.

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This boy is Clementine Ford, and Van Badham, and all the women who refuse to be silenced for fear of reprisals or upsetting the established order of things. The Emperor’s invisible clothes are the hat of privilege that these men wear but will never admit to, a hat which is based upon a social illusion desperately — and violently — enforced by members of the enhatted club.

There is no hat that makes you better than everyone else just for showing up. The Emperor was never wearing any clothes. And the sooner we can realize that with the help of Clementine Ford and others, the sooner we can get rid of this hate-filled, misogynistic, privilege-driven garbage that saturates our eyes and ears and the fabric of our society.

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