Should women erase men from their lives? This writer thinks so

One French feminist says women should, but is this throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

French writer, feminist activist and member of the Paris Council Alice Coffin. Photograph: Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images

French writer, feminist activist and member of the Paris Council Alice Coffin. Photograph: Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images

 

According to the popular book titles French Women Don’t Get Fat, and French Women Don’t Get Facelifts. Well, if a new book is to be believed, French women don’t get feminism, either.

This year already has seen the release of Pauline Harmanage’s I Hate Men, in which the 25-year-old feminist activist defends misandry and a general mistrust of men. “What if anger towards men is in fact a joyful and emancipating path when it is allowed to express itself?” she writes.

Hot on the heels of that publishing “sensation” comes Lesbian Genius, a book by Alice Coffin. In it, the Paris city councillor notes that she no longer reads books by men, doesn’t watch films made by men, nor listens to music created by men. “We need to eliminate men from our minds,” she theorises. The backlash has been predictably swift, with Coffin being accused of advocating “a form of apartheid”.

Does Coffin’s central theory have a point: do women need men like fish need a bicycle?

There are certainly other salient points made in Coffin’s book, especially about how power still protects male sexual predators (case in point: film director Roman Polanski picking up a César, the French version of an Oscar, earlier this year, despite his fleeing to the US after pleading guilty to sex with a minor).

But really, is a crusade against men, led by feminists, a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Or does Coffin’s central theory have a point: do women need men like fish need a bicycle?

I know women who have taken a similar stance, and will no longer consume books, films or songs authored by men. Their general stance is that women’s contributions to the arts have been on the fringes for long enough as it is, and that there are plenty of men who sidestep women’s contribution to the arts, deeming it as “other”.

But this is not the way to redress the balance. It’s one thing to make a concerted move to explore culture by women (or people of colour, or people with disability, or anyone who feels marginalised by the mainstream cultural canon); quite another to say that you’re going to do so while actively ignoring a whole other cohort of people. Consume and enjoy all the female-created arts that you want, but you will simply end up missing out on a vast array of great books, films and songs.

This sort of active erasure is an accusation that has long been levelled at misogynists

Even more importantly, eliminating the voices of men only creates room for women on your personal bookshelf, and not in wider culture.

It also creates the chasm, the otherness, that most feminists have been trying to eliminate since The Female Eunuch was published 50 years ago this month.

This sort of active erasure is an accusation that has long been levelled at misogynists. It’s not going to further feminism or equality in any constructive, healthy way. We don’t like it when men say they don’t have time for “chick-lit”, or they don’t listen to Lizzo or Billie Eilish because they feel she’s not addressing them. We particularly hate it when they reduce the vast and varied swathe of female culture to cat memes and rom-coms. So why on earth would this way of thinking work well the other way around?

Trust me, there are a few men I’d love to, as Coffin puts it, eliminate from my mind. I think of all the energy I spent on bad dates, badder boyfriends and unrequited crushes, and wish I’d not bothered and saved my bandwidth for something else. But men and women need each other, and not just for watching Netflix. And one’s contribution to the arts and letters is not “lesser” than the other’s.

The sooner we eliminate this idea and come around to believing that we’re all the same really, and that we can rub along together nicely, thank you very much… well, that eventuality will be the real triumph for feminism.

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