Femen protesters outside the Ukrainian ambassy in Brussels. Photograph: Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images
If only men ran feminism, we wouldn't be in the mess we are in. We wouldn't have to worry about offending them or arguing among ourselves. We would simply take instruction from consultants on gender struggle. Only the prettiest would be allowed to fight the gender jihad. And we would have to do it topless.
You can't make this stuff up. And I am not. It turns out that that Femen, the Ukrainian feminist group known for semi-naked media stunts, slogan "Our mission is protest, our weapons are bare breasts" was actually founded by a man, Victor Svyatski. It gets weirder. This man hand picked attractive women knowing they would make the front pages – and they did. Many feminists were disturbed by the imperialist implications,that these stereotypical blondes had no relationship with the culture or ethnicity of those they choose to bare their breasts to. They have caused offence in many ways and indeed have been a disappointment to their great leader. "These girls are weak. They don't have the strength of character … Instead they show submissiveness, spinelessness, lack of punctuality, and many other factors which prevent them from becoming political activists." Yes, women are so useless we can't even get out tops off in the right way. Who knows how we ever got the vote?
This whole ridiculous tale is symptomatic of the huge muddle around men's relationship to feminism. Obviously men can be feminists, as I often say. They can walk alongside us, just not ahead and take charge of the whole shebang. Increasingly, though, to talk about gender-specific issues invokes cries of "misandry" from the What About The Men brigade. According to some, anyone who mentions breast cancer therefore doesn't care about prostate cancer, anyone who mentions "domestic violence" doesn't care that men are victims of violence too. Female genital mutilation? What about circumcision? And so it goes ludicrously on, as though any woman speaking about these issues does not have sons, fathers, lovers.
To be accused of misandry – hating all men – when sometimes one is merely trying to stick up for some women is really tedious. I don't hate all men. Give me time!
Of course men suffer, and men who hit women are likely to hit other men. Women who are violent to men are likely to hit their children. None of this exists in isolation; it's the links that matter. This week, for example, activists who amazingly kept their clothes on were asking whether there is a connection between trolling, online stalking and actual violence against women. Women's Aid workers are reporting that there is. Immediately the What About The Men brigade suggests that somehow this means we don't care when men are killed.
The battering ram of misandry is another attempt to silence debate. It is misguided. It operates from the assumption that we are all on a level playing field. I say tomato. You say to-mate-oh. I say misogyny. You say misandry. What is missing here is any analysis of patriarchy. Or, indeed, global reality.
One may argue that the construction of patriarchy is just "natural" – women are weaker and have babies – or that it is cultural, and therefore changes as technology and contraception alters what is purely natural. Either way, it produces a multi-faceted system in which men at the top are the most advantaged. The spectrum of privilege is huge. There is a world of difference between not being able to get a buggy on to a bus and being raped and then stoned to death
Having seen patriarchy described as a "conspiracy theory that blames all men, even decent men, for all women's woes", it is almost possible to believe there is a conspiracy to focus on the problems of a fewwhite middle-class women, in order to strip feminism of its global reach and significance. The cri de coeur remains: "Why bang on about gender?" Just leave it. The problem of inequality must lie elsewhere ... that place where "decent men" do not have to ask too many questions.
Not everything is reducible to gender, but it is a factor whether we are talking about the failure of working-class boys in education or the resurgence of the Taliban. Gender is inextricable in almost every discussion we have about power.
Those strange groups of men who feel so disempowered by any mention of feminism reveal themselves time and time again and indeed some of them really are not doing well at all. You see, patriarchy is a system that also oppresses men at the bottom. Or, according to Jung, keeps men unable to fully mature.
Talk of internalised privilege means nothing to them. They behave as though the country is run by Andrea Dworkin, Gideon has been ousted in favour of Angela Davis and Theresa May has been replaced by Björk. That radical feminism didn't actually happen and is nowhere near the levers of power seems to have bypassed them.
When we ask for concrete examples of misandry, we are usually given some representations in pop culture that show men as inadequate fathers or rapists and murderers. But I missed that coup when women took over the entire media. Do let me know about it.
Using feminism as a scapegoat fuels the backlash. So does this bandying about of "misandry" every time a women speaks up. Misandry will be equivalent to misogyny only when women are equal to men. There are no blurred lines here.
• This article was amended on 5 September 2013. The word "lay" was used in "must lay elsewhere" where "lie" was meant. This has now been corrected.