Pin It
Sex and the City, 1998- 2004 (TV Still)
Sex and the City, 1998- 2004 (TV Still)

Will ‘decentering’ men really fix all your problems?

Calls to decentre men have grown with fury over the last few years. Those making the content suggest that it is the key to women’s empowerment. But how liberating is decentring men, and is it even possible?

“All we talk about anymore is Big or balls or small dicks. How does it happen that four such smart women have nothing to talk about but boyfriends? What about us? What we think, we feel, we know? Christ!” 

In episode one, season two of Sex and the City, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) snaps. Frustrated by her friend’s obsession with talking about men (Big and Carrie had just broken up for the first time, and Charlotte’s boyfriend won’t stop touching his balls in public), she confronts them, asking why they can’t have a single conversation that doesn’t revolve around men. While season two of SATC first aired in 1999, Miranda’s call to decentre men continues to resonate with women today. 

It’s difficult to pinpoint when discussions around decentring men first emerged on the internet, but they’ve grown with fury over the last few years. This is partly due to the increase in feminist thought and media in popular culture, as well as feminist movements like #MeToo. If you look up “decentring men” on YouTube, you will see hundreds of videos made over the last few months about the importance of de-prioritising men. From video essays and confessionals to guided meditations, those making this content claim that through this practice, women will learn true empowerment, as they’ll stop “investing their energy into futile romantic ventures” and put that energy towards those they often neglect: friends, family and themselves. 

On paper, this sounds great. Living under a patriarchy – a political system that insists that men hold positions of dominance and privilege – means that many women are socialised to prioritise men from a young age. When I was a child, my mother encouraged my sister and I to serve my father his dinner every night and clean up after my brother. She would remind us of the importance of doing this correctly so that in the future, we would make good wives and mothers. This rhetoric (along with what I was learning from television about gender roles) taught me that there was something innately special about men. They possessed a certain quality that made them important in a way that women were not. This made any interaction I had with men more exciting than my interactions with women. I craved their attention and desired their validation in ways that harmed and continue to harm me today. So calls to decentre men make sense. 

Violence against women, particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence, is a significant public health problem around the world. In 2021, 72.1 per cent of victims of domestic homicide in the UK were women, and a majority of the suspects in those cases were men. Additionally, as the Financial Times reported in January, young men are becoming more conservative globally, while young women are becoming more progressive. This, along with frustrations about living in a conservative and patriarchal society, resulted in the 4B movement (Four Nos) in South Korea, where since 2019, women have started to renounce dating men, marriage, sex with men and having children. 

Decentring men, or literally removing them from your life, is seen as the fix to our problems with them. But is it really the liberatory solution that women claim it to be? 

“I think [those calling to decentre men] are trying to identify the issue, which is ‘I feel dissatisfied in the way that I’m relating to men,’” explains 29-year-old Moya Lothian-McLean, Contributing Editor of Novara Media and co-host of the podcast If I Speak. But it’s a partial solution because it wholly puts the blame on men or just one man. There’s this belief that if I remove this tumour, I’ll be happy. But that’s not how it works because there’s still a problem within yourself that you won’t be identifying. What we get wrong about the way patriarchy operates is that we believe that it’s executed solely by just one gender.” To truly end patriarchy, as bell hooks argued in her groundbreaking text, Feminism Is For Everybody; we need to be clear that we are all participants in perpetuating and sustaining patriarchal domination, not just men. But this isn’t the way conversations around decentring men are framed online. 

In one YouTube video, content creator Jasmin Siri explained that she decentred men by going celibate for a year and nine months. She claimed that it made her “magnetic”, helping her “set a better foundation to be a better partner for her next relationship”, as she focused on healthy living and her own self-improvement. Siri’s actions still centre on men, as she hopes that by working on herself, she will be a better partner and thus will find a better partner. Beyond that, her video (which does have some excellent points) exemplifies the individualist nature that makes one weary about conversations around decentring men online. “There’s not a clear sense of what ‘decentring men’ means, and I worry that people are going to have an individualistic take on it,” our deputy editor Serena Smith confesses. “They say, ‘Oh, I’m going to focus on myself,’ but that just means going to the gym a ridiculous amount, doing their skincare routine and wearing athleisure clothes. I’m in favour of decentring men if it’s about emphasising the importance of all other relationships, but I’m less in favour of it if it means focusing solely on yourself.”

This individualistic approach to decentring men and ultimately challenging patriarchy, as these women are trying to do, can, at times, focus too much on the self. So much so that it ignores the external factors that make genuinely decentring men so challenging in our society. 24-year-old Master’s graduate Sandra worries that once she finds an “adult job”, she will almost have no choice but to become fixated on men and relationships because we don’t live in a society that creates space for friendships. “I’m currently unemployed and just graduated from university, so I’ve had so much time to centre my friendships. But I worry that when I start working, those friendships will dwindle because work becomes people’s whole lives. I think I’ll want a relationship more then, because I’ll want someone who I can just lay in bed and do nothing with, compared to someone I have to always go out with and make an effort to see because they live far away.” 

In our heteronormative society, we aren’t socialised to prioritise friendships. As people get older, find partners and have children — they focus on their privatised nuclear units. Some consider living closer to their parents or their jobs, but rarely consider living closer to their friends. It’s also difficult to challenge this mindset because it is so normalised and the housing market is in shambles. Our world is exceptionally accommodating to romantic love, so it’s not surprising that it is centred above all else. These structural problems, created by heteronormative domination and capitalism, need better solutions than individually decentring men for one’s own self-improvement.  

@ayanaadadoll how to decenter men💌✏️ as we all pray for our fallen sisters and welcome them to full recovery from (MEN)ingitis😵‍💫 #selfhelp #decentermen #datingadvice #selfimprovementdaily #selfcaretips #reinventingmyself #growthmindset #luckygirlsyndrome #glowup #levelup #changeyourlife #dreamlife ♬ original sound - ayanadadoll🐰

So how do we take what calls to decentre men are trying to do further? How do we work towards a world where heterosexual women and men can experience equal and fulfilling love? Where romantic love can be celebrated but not be seen as the centre of everything? 24-year-old Master’s graduate Zara believes it starts with not decentring men, but decentring the importance of gender and romantic relationships in our lives: “For me, decentring men means decentring heteronormativity and gender. It is to see everyone as the same. To deplatform what the nuclear family, western societies and the patriarchy have historically seen as paramount. To practise love and life with everyone with the same care, attention and intention.”

What Zara is suggesting is easier said than done. It is long-term work that requires a community to guide you while the world tells you differently. But even if the work is hard and doesn’t result in immediate satisfaction, the outcome will be better than where the world is currently heading as we continue to cut people out of our lives. “We have a real mistrust of one another living under a patriarchy, rifled with capitalistic individualism,” Lothian-Mclean tells Dazed. “I think that’s where people are operating out of when they talk about decentring men and not doing emotional labour in friendships. It all serves to further cut us off from one another and fear each other, and it still doesn’t solve our problems with men.”

While many people’s intentions around decentring men are good and important, the goal should not be to move us away from those we love romantically or platonically, but to challenge gender, heteronormativity and the importance of romantic love. For that to be achieved, we must fight to transform not only ourselves but the world. It is a lifelong effort.  

Download the app 📱

  • Build your network and meet other creatives
  • Be the first to hear about exclusive Dazed events and offers
  • Share your work with our community
Join Dazed Club