'Male-hater misandrist': Australian feminist Clementine Ford in her own words

Clementine Ford is speaking and a man is shouting.

She's addressing a packed Freeman's Bay Community Hall and he's addressing Hepburn St, yelling into a megaphone just outside the doors of the sold-out speaking event.

As she talks, words like 'reprehensible' and 'disgusting' punctuate her sentences like the echo of a pissed off ghost.

The man with the megaphone isn't alone. He's one of about eight people, mostly male and middle-aged, who have shown up to protest the Australian author's presence. 

On Monday, a group called Families 4 Justice sent an email to almost every media outlet and politician in New Zealand voicing their displeasure at Ford's event, with the subject line: 'NO to promoting mens [sic] killing and inciting violence in Auckland Council venues'.

Three's The Project said she was the most controversial guest they'd ever had.

So who is Clementine Ford and why does she make people so angry?

If you believe the leaflet the protesters were handing out on Tuesday, she's a "male-hater misandrist". 

One of the leaflets protesters handed out before Clementine Ford's speaking event.
One of the leaflets protesters handed out before Clementine Ford's speaking event. Photo credit: Newshub.

"I think that some men react to me the way that they do because they're essentially just scared of what I'm saying," she tells me backstage. 

"It's a frightening prospect for a lot of men to have their notion of the world they live in challenged. As much as patriarchy oppresses men, it's an oppression many of them are comfortable with because they know it and understand it. It's one that's always carried certain benefits for them.

"The idea that women, who they've historically held power and privilege over, could come in and start disrupting that system is frightening to them."

Ford is very much a disruptor. The author of two successful books on harmful gender roles (2016's Fight Like A Girl and 2018's Boys Will Be Boys) is the frequent target of online abuse. But she gives as good as she gets, often 'outing' the men who send her vile threats to make them realise words have consequences, even on the internet.

She has plenty of female critics as well. One woman protesting outside the hall tells me her main concern is what she's said on Twitter.

"Someone who says all men should die shouldn't be allowed to speak," she says.

Ford has indeed said she thinks all men should die. A compilation of tweet screenshots made the rounds recently, circulated by none other than our very own ACT Party.

Why did she say those things? It was, she says, a joke. A joke at her own 'man hater' image, a joke about how women's rights activists have always been perceived. 

"What's not pointed out in this collage of my tweets is that I'm often responding to people who are saying ludicrous things like 'feminists like you hate all men and want them to die'," she says.

"There's only so many times you can hear those things before you want to react to them with the nonsense that they are."

Clementine Ford speaking at the Freeman's Bay Community Hall.
Clementine Ford speaking at the Freeman's Bay Community Hall. Photo credit: Newshub.

It's a joke she doesn't make anymore because she says it's not worth the effort of explaining.

"I think some of them really desperately want to believe that I'm serious about that. Essentially it comes down to the fact that women and marginalised groups have always been expected to laugh at jokes about ourselves, yet white men find that very difficult a lot of the time."

The protesters at her Auckland event might have expected a violent political rally, complete with witchcraft and perhaps a male sacrifice. But the scene inside the hall couldn't be more different.

Moderator Carol Beu from the Women's Bookshop encourages the crowd of hundreds to take a breather outside if they feel upset by discussions of rape and violence.

Ford herself apologises to the overwhelmingly female audience, many of whom will, statistically, have experienced sexual assault, that they had to walk through aggressive protesters on their way in.

She's not fazed, and contemplates taking the man with the megaphone a cup of tea before she goes onstage.

"If you say you're for free speech, you have to allow it for both sides. So they're welcome to be here as far as I'm concerned."

Some said Ford shouldn't have the right to speak where she did, and should have been banned from council-owned venues as far-right Canadian provocateurs Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux were when they came here in August.

"I take exception to the comparison between me and Lauren and Stefan, primarily because they're both idiots," Ford says.

"But I do think we need to be careful about the space we give people to spread ideas that are dangerous and regressive, as some people think my ideas are. Yet my beliefs aren't reinforcing a status quo. I challenge demonstrable statistics like men's violence against women, like the fact that in Aotearoa men's violence against women goes up 25 percent every time the All Blacks lose a game.

"People like Lauren and Stefan, on the other hand, are very threatened by any narrative that challenges power as it exists in society. Southern turning up in Australia wearing a T-shirt that says 'It's okay to be white', as if whiteness itself is under threat or attack, as if white supremacy could possibly be at risk of losing its power overnight."

Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern.
Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern came to New Zealand in August. Photo credit: Newshub.

Power structures are a key theme of the evening. Onstage she likens patriarchy to a mountain, with a few men at the top. The men lower down resent their position, but alleviate that powerlessness by lashing out at those beneath them in the structure: women.

Ford says it's a system that does no one any good, men included. She mentions the high male suicide rate, and the way boys are taught to suppress their own feelings from a heartbreakingly young age.

Most of all, she's frustrated by men's inability to see they're all trying to solve the same problem.  

"Feminists are doing it by acknowledging that that oppression and rigidity comes from the patriarchal structure we live in, that places so many demands on masculinity. I'm not sure why they can't see that connection or how they propose to change those circumstances for men, but it seems they're deeply invested in maintaining men's power over women as a way of mitigating some of that harm they feel at the hands of the broader structure we live in."

The people I speak to outside Ford's event clearly feel a sense of injustice at how the world currently operates.

"I'm a proud men's right's activist," a bearded man tells me, and he's got the T-shirt to prove it.

Protesters outside the Freeman's Bay Community Hall.
Protesters outside the Freeman's Bay Community Hall. Photo credit: Newshub.

Despite Ford's divisive reputation in Australia, no protesters turned up at any of her events in her home country.

"I think Australian men are just incredibly lazy," she says. "That's one of the things you New Zealanders have over them is that you're obviously a bit more organised."

The wall of the community centre was all that separated Ford from the man with the megaphone, and it's hard not to wonder if, had she taken him that cup of tea, he might have realised they have more in common than he thought.  

"I want a world in which we can all breathe a bit more easily, and I don't understand why this is so difficult for people to stomach. Perhaps if they actually read my books rather than reading tweets about me, they might get a better picture of who I am."


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