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Defining misogyny

Comment is Free held a little discussion of “what is misogyny?” the other day.

An Australian dictionary has changed its definition of misogyny to reflect the fact that it is now used to mean ‘entrenched prejudice against women’, not just hatred of them. Six feminists tell us what the term means to them.

Ok wait a minute. Is “entrenched prejudice against” really all that different from hatred of? Isn’t entrenched prejudice against one way of saying “hatred”? It’s not clear to me that the two are completely different.

I’ve been seeing people trying to claim that misogyny is hatred of all women, so that being married to a woman demonstrates freedom from misogyny. That’s not right. It’s never meant that as far as I can remember (and that’s well into the 14th century). One, married people can hate their spouses, but two, misogyny can encompass men who have one or a few exceptions.

Misogyny is contempt, dismissal, hostility, disregard. It’s not just shouting “I hate all women!”

Naomi Wolf said sexism is not misogyny and we need both words. But.

Julia Gillard used “misogyny’ perfectly accurately. She said that Tony Abbott described abortion as “the easy way out” and cited his political campaign against Gillard involving posters asking voters to “ditch the witch”. The latter, especially, is a time-honoured tradition of true misogyny – stirring up atavistic hatred of the feminine – that goes back to witch-hunts against powerful women in the New World. Her critics, for their part, are asking us to water down our awareness of real woman-hating and accept it as normal in political discourse.

“Misogyny” often surfaces in political struggles over women’s role, and you can tell because the control of women becomes personalised, intrusive and often sexualised. Misogyny has the amygdala involved – the part of the brain involved in processing emotional responses – there is contempt and violence in it. A public figure who tolerates the systemic under-prosecuting of rape is guilty of serious and unforgivable sexism; making rape jokes or explaining away the damage of rape in public as Congressman Todd Akin did recently in the US, or legislating, as over a dozen US states are now doing, transvaginal probes that are medically unnecessary, simply to sexually punish women for choosing abortion – well, that is misogyny.

Martin Pribble wrote a piece on the subject.

“Misogynist” is a term which is thrown about these days as a synonym for “sexist” or “social conservative” in many cases, and I must say, often I have found it to be used almost too freely when describing people, policy or situations…

The new “misogyny” is any act or attitude that doesn’t take into account women in their lives, in society and in cultures. The usage of the word has become so common in its new guise that it has taken on this meaning, while the linguistic pedants are waving their hands about claiming the destruction of the English language. If the new meaning has done anything, it has taken a once powerful and very succinct word and expanded the meaning to include any act against the well-being of women. It has lessened the power of the word, for what word do we now use for the real “hatred of women”, and not the ingrained sexist attitudes that pervade modern society?

I don’t think I’ve heard (or read) the word used that way. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard (and read) it used to name hatred, hostility, contempt toward women as a class. I certainly don’t think it should be used to mean “social conservative” – that would be very confusing. Maybe this is some special Australian thing that I’m not aware of.

Comments

  1. says

    Is “entrenched prejudice against” really all that different from hatred of?

    Yes, it is different (and better).

    We can directly observe acts of prejudice. We can only attribute hatred, and some people will argue about whether the attribution is correct.

    The new definition is good.

  2. Jay says

    I believe Pribble is using it analogous to how in the US, Feminism is now defaulted to be a Democrat, and Republicans are defaultly caricatured as bitter old white guys and misogynists.

    Can a Republican be a feminist without Democrats questioning his or her feminism?

    Can a Log Cabin Republican be considered pro-gay, or a pro-gay activist, or not have his gay affiliation questioned?

    Look how Ed Brayton marginalizes Log Cabin Republicans here calling their endorsement of Romney absurd http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2012/10/25/log-cabin-republicans-endorse-romney/ and demands that either they vote for Obama or be said to have fallen victim to Stockholm Syndrome.

    Can Brayton conceive of actual Republican gays with agency and rationality but that disagree with Brayton and Democrats on economic issues and feel those issues are currently more pressing than gay rights issues, or that will lead to better and quicker outcomes for gays?

    I don’t think Pribble is saying this is the real meaning of misogny, I think he is saying it is not.

  3. says

    I didn’t say Pribble is saying this is the real meaning of misogny. I said “I don’t think I’ve heard (or read) the word used that way.” He’s saying it’s used that way, and I said I don’t think I’ve heard that, and maybe it’s specific to Australia.

  4. says

    Neil – we can observe acts of prejudice, sure, but then we can observe misogynistic acts too. Hatred and prejudice are both mental attributes. I don’t think that distinction works.

  5. Rodney Nelson says

    I disagree with Pribble. He objects to changing the meaning of a word. That happens all the time. Unique used to mean one of a kind. Now in common usage it means rare or unusual.

    However my real disagreement with Pribble is that he’s set up a strawman definition of misogynist. As Ophelia notes, it doesn’t mean “social conservative.” While many social conservatives are misogynists it is possible to be a social conservative without being a misogynist (at least in theory). There are misogynists who aren’t social conservatives.

  6. Jay says

    “I didn’t say Pribble is saying this is the real meaning of misogny. I said “I don’t think I’ve heard (or read) the word used that way.” He’s saying it’s used that way, and I said I don’t think I’ve heard that, and maybe it’s specific to Australia.”

    But isn’t this how many people (usually critics of feminism, or critics of liberalism) perceive it to be used (misused) in the US as well?

  7. says

    Martin meant to say ‘as a synonym for “sexist” or “social conservative where traditional gender roles prevail” in many cases.’ I see what he means better that way.

    I think policies like mandating vaginal ultrasound are what get that description – and I think that’s because that’s what it feels like. Mandatory vaginal ultrasound is after all a form of rape – or it just is rape. Yes, that feels like misogyny.

  8. Rodney Nelson says

    I was writing my 6 when 4 was posted.

    Please disregard my comment in 6 about Ophelia. However my comments about Pribble remain unchanged. I think he is complaining about a word changing its meaning and he’s assigning a meaning to misogynist which doesn’t exist.

  9. screechymonkey says

    for what word do we now use for the real “hatred of women”

    For the “real” hatred of every single woman without exception? I’m not sure we need a term for such non-existent people.

    It’s the same reasoning I see from some people who will never agree that anything is racist. Someone can say “I hate that [insert stream of vile racist slurs and sterotypes] Obama,” but as long as they tack on, “oh, but that Herman Cain fella is ok with me!” suddenly they’re not racist because hey, they don’t hate all black people.

    What we do need a term for is the act of creating mythical people with positions more extreme than yours for the purposes of casting yourself as reasonable. As in “hey, I’m not a misogynist, that only applies to people who hate every single woman alive.” It’s not strawmanning, because you’re not ascribing those views to your opponent. It’s invoking the fallacy of the golden mean, but going a step further by inventing one of the “extremes.”

  10. adriana says

    I may be totally wrong (and English is not my mother tongue) but to me “sexist” is milder than “misogynist”. Sexist is the guy who thinks that women are worse drivers than men, for example, while a misogynist thinks that a pregnancy resulting from rape is a gift from god. For the first guy, women are somehow intrinsically inferior to men, but he doesn’t necessarily think that women should be treated horribly. He will laugh at sexist jokes putting women down, but he would find Mourdock’s comments repulsive. A misogynist not only thinks that women are inferior, but in addition he is not quite convinced that they are human. For the misogynist, women truly are “the other”, someone to demean, actively harass, put down, silence, suppress, to be submitted, etc. The word “misogyny” to me has a more virulent spin than “sexist.”

    Having said that, I think that I have seen the two words being used pretty much interchangeable, to mean “anti-feminist”, someone who doesn’t believe in equality, or who thinks he/she believes in equality but his/her behavior say otherwise.

  11. says

    I don’t think I’ve heard (or read) the word used that way. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard (and read) it used to name hatred, hostility, contempt toward women as a class. I certainly don’t think it should be used to mean “social conservative” – that would be very confusing. Maybe this is some special Australian thing that I’m not aware of.

    It’s not a special Australian thing. Pribble is conflating and obfuscating.

    Sure, many social conservatives in Australia are accused of misogyny because they say misogynistic things. It is however just a correlation, not a synonym, and it’s only those on the defensive who ever run the line Pribble is taking.

  12. Stacy says

    screechymonkey:

    What we do need a term for is the act of creating mythical people with positions more extreme than yours for the purposes of casting yourself as reasonable. As in “hey, I’m not a misogynist, that only applies to people who hate every single woman alive.” It’s not strawmanning, because you’re not ascribing those views to your opponent. It’s invoking the fallacy of the golden mean, but going a step further by inventing one of the “extremes.

    Yes. The same thing is done with the word “racism”–you can’t be racist unless you hate black people. And nobody hates black people (supposedly) except KKK guys (and if you talk to them, they’ll claim they’re not about “hate,” they’re just about white pride, or something.) Those old timey Southern slave holders didn’t hate black people. Heck, they loved them–as long as they kept their place. So practically nobody’s a racist, and what are those nigg upset people of color complaining about?

    Likewise, nobody’s a misogynist unless they’ve got a serial killer level of absolute contempt for every woman on the planet.

    It’s a way to protect themselves from criticism and show that they’re really reasonable. It’s also a mistake people make time and again: confusing prejudices with emotions. I’m sure a lot of misogynists don’t “hate” women, in the sense of responding viscerally to the presence of a woman with automatic disgust or conscious contempt. But without necessarily being aware of it, they see them as lesser beings. And far more important than that: they support social attitudes and policies that keep women in their place.

  13. says

    Adriana, I quite like your distinctions between sexism and misogyny, although I’m not sure that “milder” is the best word for how they differ when the effects of sexism are so pervasive.

    Sexism is an impersonal bias against the competence and influence of women, and impersonal is easily confused with being rational/logical/scientific/common-sense, thus impersonal sexism is easier to institutionalise in a society so that it has a huge impact on large numbers of women and girls as a class.

    Misogyny is a far more personal and emotional prejudice, resulting in contempt, scorn and dismissiveness towards women who step outside the bounds sexism lays down as appropriate. Misogynistic anger openly displayed against women who challenge their sexist preconceptions is part of their intimidatory silencing tactics arsenal, and of course they don’t display it to women who stay within the boundaries – approval is the reward for behaving appropriately. The threat of male anger and violence is the whip misogynists use to ensure women’s compliance with sexist stereotypes.

    Misogyny often wears a mask until there aren’t any witnesses, too – because that makes women look like liars. Once seen in action these misogynists are easier for individual women to avoid, but establishing plausible deniability is part of the gaslighting side of the silencing tactics, so it is difficult to convince others that the angry contemptuous threat was really there.

    Because misogynists are also sexist (although one can be sexist without being misogynist) they ride the coat-tails of the broader societal sexism and punctuate it with extremes, particularly whenever they have institutional power.

  14. says

    screechymonkey:

    What we do need a term for is the act of creating mythical people with positions more extreme than yours for the purposes of casting yourself as reasonable. As in “hey, I’m not a misogynist, that only applies to people who hate every single woman alive.” It’s not strawmanning, because you’re not ascribing those views to your opponent. It’s invoking the fallacy of the golden mean, but going a step further by inventing one of the “extremes.

    It’s almost like a Reverse No True Scotsman, isn’t it? Instead of using an unattainable standard as a way to exclude others from their in-group, they are using an unattainable standard as a way to deny their own membership of an out-group.

  15. Emily Isalwaysright says

    It seems to me that misogyny involves dehumanisation, where sexism is just plain old discrimination. Both suck.

  16. LeftSidePositive says

    @Jay: The Republican platform insists on stripping women of their reproductive rights by force of law, thus taking medical advantage of women to make them second class citizens. Anyone who supports or indeed tolerates such an assault on women’s rights cannot, by definition, possibly be a feminist.

    (Now, being gay is a sexual orientation not a philosophical or political position, so one can do all kinds of stupid things against one’s own civil rights and against the best interests of one’s peer group and that won’t change what kind of person one is attracted to, but while such a person may still be gay, ze cannot by definition be a gay equality advocate. Oh, and Republican economic policies are just batshit fucking crazy, so it makes perfect sense to mock someone who holds such nonsensical reality-adverse views, and it is especially pitiable and ridiculous that someone would trade zir own civil rights for a ticket to voodoo economics la-la-land.)

    @tigtog, #16: excellent comment. If this were Pharyngula I’d nominate you for a Molly for that!

  17. mildlymagnificent says

    although one can be sexist without being misogynist

    That’s a really important distinction that many people don’t get. It comes from thinking that people act on the basis of having thought things through or from deep feelings. It certainly wasn’t true of a lot of men I had to deal with in the 70s and 80s.

    They were thoroughly nice people. Easy to talk to, helpful to subordinates and other people they worked with. Would never dream of swearing in the presence of a woman, far less at her. But any suggestion that a woman could have a career for decades without marriage or menstruation causing any problems was deeply mystifying, beyond their comprehension.

    And they never saw the problems in their own reactions. If a bloke got himself a job elsewhere, all was cheery goodwill and best wishes for the future outside the organisation. “He’ll go far. I always thought we were lucky to have him.” A woman of the same age and career standing would be scorned as unreliable yada yada yada, despite the fact that she was only having time off and would be coming back to work.

    Sexist, yes. Prejudiced, yes, unthinkingly. But misogynist, only rarely.

    My tentative reading at the moment is that a lot of misogyny arises from people trying to justify or rationalise their sexism. Instead of thinking, “Whoops, that’s based on prejudice. Just because I know (of) a woman who did that or is like that, doesn’t mean I should say all women are in that category. Just because I prefer women to behave in certain ways, it doesn’t mean that all women should behave that way. Both of those things would be prejudice.” and rethinking the basis for their previously assumed attitudes – they go all out to justify the assumption or the attitude.

    When that happens, nastiness can easily arise to bolster the attitude. And then we get the self-reinforcing nastier, bolder, more extreme claims and behaviour. Full blown misogyny of this particular sub-species has been displayed and delineated quite clearly in Australia recently.

    This pretty well describes how people like Tony Abbott, or Alan Jones, get to feel justified in spitting poison at the Julia Gillards of the world.

  18. screechymonkey says

    Stacy@15 and tigtog@17, in honor of both your comments I propose to call this phenomenon the No True Klansman fallacy.

  19. mildlymagnificent says

    Oh dear. Missed out that a woman having time off might be for any one of a number of reasons, study, family, pregnancy or anything – but she’d be “unreliable” for having time off and returning to work, whereas a man leaving forever was regarded as a bit of a champion.

  20. LeftSidePositive says

    Stacy@15 and tigtog@17, in honor of both your comments I propose to call this phenomenon the No True Klansman fallacy.

    I second this so hard.

  21. says

    Unfortunately for the newly-named fallacy, I encountered someone years ago who gave every impression of being a “true” misogynist.

    She went so far as to use masculine online pseudonyms and male pronouns when talking about herself in the third person.

    She was so openly contemptuous of women that, for example, even when in agreement with an article’s substance, she’d unnecessarily add comments like, “it’s a pity the author is a woman.”

    I never thought to try to suss out whether there was even a single woman she didn’t hate for being a woman, but her hatred that she was herself a woman was obvious, and she rarely failed to say something denigrating about women when the opportunity presented. And if I remember correctly, she was even disgusted by the fact that her own mother was a woman.

  22. xmaseveeve says

    Superb thread.

    The person who steps over the line into misogyny, sidestepping coherence and rationality in order to justify sexism, is simply getting in touch with his inner feelings. He already was a misogynist, and from that, sprang the sexism.

    Was the female misogynist a famous poetry editor, by any chance? Come to think of it, there were two – one attacked me in print, and it was ludicrously gendered! (In an introduction to a book of women’s poetry, I had criticised poetry editors in general, and given the ratios of women to men, in each magazine.) Ironically enough, they were the only two women doing it in a major literary magazine at the time, but couldn’t see that I was right. It’s doing a Thatcher – kicking the ladder away after you climb it.

    The verbal attack was even better. Just before she stormed away from me, at a conference, she said, ‘I am totally unaware of being a woman’! I must have dared to point out that she is. (I turned to the hushed crowd and said, ‘What? She doesn’t menstruate?’ A nasty troll, Dr24hours, has just blocked me on Twitter, after replying to a retweeted tweet! I haven’t a clue what his problem was!

    Comment 16, tigtog, Absolutely brilliant. Please write more. I’m sure some serial killers love their mums. Even Fred West didn’t murder Rose. No true clansman would not do that. (nice one, screechymonkey.) Goodnight all.

  23. Bruce Gorton says

    Ok wait a minute. Is “entrenched prejudice against” really all that different from hatred of? Isn’t entrenched prejudice against one way of saying “hatred”? It’s not clear to me that the two are completely different.

    I think there is a difference. If I may illustrate it with an example?

    Take that study that found, in the sciences, that a female name on the CV tends to lower the assessors view of the job applicant’s qualifications and the amount the applicant should be paid.

    That wasn’t hatred of women precisely, it wasn’t quite conscious enough of it and female assessors were, if anything, more biased in that manner then the males, but I think it was basically “entrenched prejudice against”.

  24. Stacy says

    That wasn’t hatred of women precisely, it wasn’t quite conscious enough

    That’s the distinction in a nutshell, perhaps–how conscious it is.

    Which is why defining it can be so damn tricky. We can’t read people’s minds; we don’t always know how conscious their contempt is. Whether they’re thinking/acting in bad faith or just responding based on ubiquitous unconscious bias.

    From the point of view of an outsider who is the victim of prejudice, does it really matter? There are times when we can know, and then it is worthwhile to be precise and make the distinction, I suppose. But much of the time the semantics don’t really matter–especially when you’re on the receiving end.

  25. Timon for Tea says

    I think that ‘misogynist’ has pretty much gone the way of ‘fascist’ and so hardly ever use it. I get accused of misogyny (and fascism) but only ever by unserious people. Generally speaking it means little more than ‘someone who I disagree with on gender issues’. It is a pity because there are actual misogynists out there (as opposed to mere sexists)and the word was useful, but there does seem to be a law about the trivialisation of strong terms in very polarised arguments over time. Someone should do a thesis.

  26. Bjarte Foshaug says

    You may be a misogynist if…

    …you behave towards women in ways you would never behave towards a man.
    …you think a man’s desire to ever get laid counts for anything at all the moment it comes into conflict with a woman’s interest in having her boundaries respected.
    …you don’t care enough about a woman’s desires to bother trying to find out what she wants before hitting on her.
    …you interpret anything other than “yes” as yes.
    …you think it’s ever acceptable to interpret “no” as anything other than no in every possible universe.
    …whenever you have a quarrel with a woman, you reflexively fall back on gender-specific insults (“bitch”, “slut”, “cunt” etc.).
    …you think it’s ever appropriate to bring up a woman’s level of attractiveness or “fuckability” in response to her ideas, her arguments, or her work.
    …you think it’s ever appropriate to bring up what a woman was wearing, how drunk she was or whom she had previously slept with before being raped.
    …you expect every woman on the planet to behave in ways that would in fact increase her own chances of getting raped in order to give you the benefit of the doubt.
    …despite the latter being true, you still blame the victim for behaving that way if she actually ends up getting raped.

  27. Beatrice, anti-imperialist anti-racist Islamophobiaphobic leftist says

    I think that ‘misogynist’ has pretty much gone the way of ‘fascist’ and so hardly ever use it. I get accused of misogyny (and fascism) but only ever by unserious people.

    That’s really funny coming from a man who, seemingly seriously*, accused me of misogyny during one of our discussions here.

    *I know you were baiting me, but it’s really amusing to read you in this context and remember that. Fun times

  28. Timon for Tea says

    If I remember Beatrice, I was objecting to your use of violently sexist language. I hardly ever use the word, but I do think it is relevant sometimes (as with ‘fascist’), and I think some terms strongly imply misogyny in some contexts.

  29. Bruce Gorton says

    Bjarte Foshaug

    To continue the list:

    You may be a misogynist if…

    … You stand up and defend a man’s right to free speech, where free speech means him posting upskirt shots he got from unconsenting women, not all of whom were even over 18.

    … You believe that a woman politely asking not to be hit on is censorship, but threatening a woman with rape for posting something you disagree with on the Internet is “free speech.”

    … When a group of women who share many of the same goals as you split off from your group following repeated sexual harrassment, you call them divisive because they don’t want to be sexually harassed.

    … You believe if it acceptable to trade a woman’s right to control over her own bodily functions for a slight tax cut for people who have plenty of money already.

  30. briane says

    (Drinks too many beers. Logs in. Flexes fingers. Shifts in seat and contributes to the greenhouse effect.)

    Since we’re tangentially discussing words. Why does nobody seem to care that actually didn’t mean really, but meant presently (in the act)?

    Why aren’t all the keepers of words up in arms about that change?
    When they say, exemplia gratia, ‘actually, Caesar was bald, despite his hirsute bust’ they mean ‘really (or as far was are justified in believing), Caesar was bald….’.

    Nary a word from the mountebanks mounted or even dismounted from their benches about that.

    But then why then the hoo-ha over the changing or non-changing of the meaning of the word misogynist? Do we have to find one person who hates all women, before we can conclusively use the word? Is it a noun like God, one that has no referent? Did it really mean that? Or is this ruckus about the changing of meaning, and attendant furore, just pickeled fish reflecting light of wavelength between 630 and 700 nm from the North Sea, whose smell, would lead the hounds away from the prey?

  31. Beatrice, anti-imperialist anti-racist Islamophobiaphobic leftist says

    You use polite words, but the sexism behind them is usually pretty obvious. I wasn’t the only one who pointed it out on more than just that one thread. I just shone a light on the dirt hiding behind politeness. You might prettify your sexist positions by not using sexist slurs, but it is I think useful to show what exactly your words imply.

  32. Bjarte Foshaug says

    Good ones, Bruce :)

    I made #YouMayBeAMisogynistIf a hashtag on Twitter as well. Here are my latest two additions:

    You may be a misogynist if…

    …you talk about women in ways that would be deemed racist if you talked that way about an ethnic group.
    …you attack other men by comparing them to women.

  33. Timon for Tea says

    “You use polite words, but the sexism behind them is usually pretty obvious.”

    It’s not, Beatrice, because it isn’t there. You should ask yourself why you find it impossible to point out the ‘sexism’ that you think is so obvious and then you might recognise the fallacy in your position and be able to change. But let’s not have another row about all that.

  34. Timon for Tea says

    “But then why then the hoo-ha over the changing or non-changing of the meaning of the word misogynist? Do we have to find one person who hates all women, before we can conclusively use the word?”

    The problem is that when a word destabilises like this, we can never be sure, while it is under transition (and even sometimes when the majority use has changed) what is under discussion when it is invoked. That’s why I think it is better to not use it except in carefully limited ways. And also what Neil Rickert said, acts can be analysed much more satisfactorily than motives, so it is probably more useful to focus on what is done than what we imagine people ‘really think’ when they do things.

  35. Beatrice, anti-imperialist anti-racist Islamophobiaphobic leftist says

    Timon,

    In this thread, no, you weren’t sexist, but in (possibly) every other conversation we have had, your troubling attitudes have been pointed out to you and explained. I didn’t want to rehash everything here.

    I couldn’t resist commenting on your statement about the word misogyny, considering your past uses of it. It’s just too precious.

  36. Timon for Tea says

    “In this thread, no, you weren’t sexist, but in (possibly) every other conversation we have had, your troubling attitudes have been pointed out to you and explained.”

    You are right Beatrice that we shouldn’t derail this discussion with personal antipathies, but you should not lie like this. I have never made a sexist comment or argument and you know that probably better than anyone. I irritated you for pointing out your tendency to use aggressive sexist language to describe other women, a tendency that I don’t think you had noticed. I think you benefited from that criticism because you seem to have dropped the habit. I don’t ask for thanks, but please stop the smears.

  37. Beatrice, anti-imperialist anti-racist Islamophobiaphobic leftist says

    I think you benefited from that criticism because you seem to have dropped the habit. I don’t ask for thanks, but please stop the smears.

    I do thank you for the laugh.

    …just precious

  38. Timon for Tea says

    I am glad I have cheered you up Beatrice. You are a better person when you stop the swaggering.

  39. amm says

    I see the distinction between misogyny and sexism somewhat differently.

    Sexism is a system or culture (set of beliefs and behaviors) which disadvantage women. It need not involve actual disrespectful behavior or contempt. For example, saying that women should restrict their sphere to the home and family is sexist — because it is arbitrarily based on sex and disadvantages her by leaving her dependent on others to provide for her — but not necessarily misogynistic. I don’t see it as being “prejudice”, neither in the sense of “prejudiced against” nor in the sense of “prejudging.” I see this non-misogynistic sexism as being sort of like how people treat a pet bird or a favorite horse. You may think it’s wonderful, but you keep it in the role _you_ want it to stay in, and in the case of the horse, at least, you keep it there for _your_ benefit.

    It becomes misogyny when it treats womanhood as something bad or contemptible and encourages mistreatment of women (as a class.) Rape culture is an obvious example, but another one that I (being male) am familiar with is the way boys are trained to be “masculine” by bullying and deriding them as “sissies” or “girls” whenever they display un-masculine behaviors.

    You don’t have to intend to mistreat women to be misogynist — whenever you treat being like a woman or girl as a put-down, you are being misogynistic. A co-worker of mine once kept saying that a football team played “like a bunch of girls.” I couldn’t get him to see how that was disrespectful of women.

    One thing that confuses things is that our society is both sexist and misogynistic. It uses misogyny to maintain sexist structures. Men’s misogynistic attitudes prevent them from noticing or caring how sexism hurts the women they know. Misogynistic violence (and the threat of it) forces women into subservient — sexist — roles for protection. Etc.

  40. Maureen Brian says

    Timon,

    If the word ‘misogyny’ has not changed in all this time – earliest still provable use in English was in the 1650s – then it will be the only word in the language which has not shifted its meaning or acquired a secondary one in all that time.

    You remember the English language? That’s the one which draws its vocabulary (and its grammar, and its orthography, etc) from several other languages? The one which constantlty absorbs new vocabulary and has survived several more or less misguided attempts to organise and control it? The one where very few words have a single meaning and almost every term in common use has up to a dozen synonyms?

    Yep! That’s the one and, fortunately, the human brain is able to cope with, to revel in such complexity.

    Unless that brain would prefer to stage a tantrum and act the patronising git rather than let a fellow human choose how she uses a word. Also, you’re going to be mighty busy controlling the word choices of over a billion people. If it’s only this usage and this place you want to contol then you’re hoist with your own petard.

    There’s one rule and one rule only in the many varieties of English. If the other person can understand you, you are doing it right. Now stop wanking, please.

    (Choice of vocabulary in this comment is a test!)

  41. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    You are a better person when you stop the swaggering.

    Digusting. But typical.

  42. Bjarte Foshaug says

    It need not involve actual disrespectful behavior or contempt. For example, saying that women should restrict their sphere to the home and family is sexist — because it is arbitrarily based on sex and disadvantages her by leaving her dependent on others to provide for her — but not necessarily misogynistic. I don’t see it as being “prejudice”, neither in the sense of “prejudiced against” nor in the sense of “prejudging.” I see this non-misogynistic sexism as being sort of like how people treat a pet bird or a favorite horse. You may think it’s wonderful, but you keep it in the role _you_ want it to stay in, and in the case of the horse, at least, you keep it there for _your_ benefit.

    If it’s not disrespectful/a sign of contempt for me to decide that I am the best judge of what “spheres” women should restrict themselves to without taking the women’s own preferences into account, then I don’t know what words like “(dis)respect” or “contempt” could possibly mean.

  43. Beatrice, anti-imperialist anti-racist Islamophobiaphobic leftist says

    I see this non-misogynistic sexism as being sort of like how people treat a pet bird or a favorite horse. You may think it’s wonderful, but you keep it in the role _you_ want it to stay in, and in the case of the horse, at least, you keep it there for _your_ benefit.

    Which is pretty disrespectful.

    The mere fact that you can compare it to how one would treat a pet should indicate how very disrespectful it is.

  44. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    If it’s not disrespectful/a sign of contempt for me to decide that I am the best judge of what “spheres” women should restrict themselves to without taking the women’s own preferences into account, then I don’t know what words like “(dis)respect” or “contempt” could possibly mean.

    Excellently put.

    While I tend to agree with the distinction between ‘sexist’ and ‘misogynist’, I’m having trouble getting on board with the idea that one is milder than the other.

    While adriana has a point, imo, that a sexist person is likely less . . . . militant (for lack of a better word) in their low opinion of women, I don’t think it’s any less damaging.

    A sexist boss, for example, can hamper my earnings over the course of my employment – paying me less because I’m female, etc. A misogynistic senator can make laws affecting my right to control my own medical “destiny”.

    I don’t see much difference in affect. Both are affecting my life in negative ways. I can’t decide if one is objectively worse than the other.

    Does that make sense?

  45. mildlymagnificent says

    Absolutely, it makes sense.

    It really doesn’t change anything if someone harms your career or your life with kind words and a smile or with scorn and insults. With malice aforethought or thinking they’re doing ‘the right thing’. With one sort of person you become frustrated dealing with the blindness to your concerns and irritated with the kind, but wrong, intentions. With the other you’re fending off their nastiness and their bad language as well as your own temper.

    They’re still causing harm no matter how they go about it.

  46. says

    Yeah. Treating women like birds or horses, i.e. as livestock, sounds pretty disrespectful and contemptuous to me.

    For me, the distinction between sexism and misogyny often comes down to sexism being systemic, cultural, or unconscious mistreatment and/or discrimination, whereas misogyny is willful and deliberate. If you call people bitches because that was what you’ve learned to do and no one’s ever told you that it’s a sexist slur, that’s sexist. If it’s pointed out to you that it’s sexist to call either women or men bitches and you decide that you don’t give a shit, well, that’s misogyny. Your disrespect and contempt for women is plain. It’s also misogyny to shoot girls who want to go to school.

  47. briane says

    In the interests of supporting Ophelia, and supporting the fee-fee hurting, ball breaking, not eternally male-worshipping majority of humanity, I’ll just say: you rock ladies.

  48. Timon for Tea says

    Eek, apologies for the mistyping!

    One of the strange things that thinking about the sexism/misogyny difference throws up is, it seems to me, that misogyny does not necessarily imply sexism. It should be possible to be a misogynist but not a sexist at all (I know it is unlikely to happen in the real world). You could even be a misogynist and a feminist, that is someone who is disgusted by women and hates them but believes they should have equal rights and opportunities because personal feelings should not take precedence over rationality in making policy. And non-sexist misogynists would be better for women from the point of view of outcomes than non-misogynistic sexists.

  49. briane says

    You could even be a misogynist and a feminist, that is someone who is disgusted by women and hates them but believes they should have equal rights and opportunities because personal feelings should not take precedence over rationality in making policy.

    No. No you could not. You could not hate or prejudice women and at the same time esteem them. Assuming the law of non-contradiction. And a perfunctory; I hate women, but blagh, they have equal rights is just Orwellian (all animals equal, some more equal.)

  50. Timon for Tea says

    “There’s one rule and one rule only in the many varieties of English. If the other person can understand you, you are doing it right.”

    Maureen, this is, sadly, not true. And if you are labouring under this misapprehension, it is quite likely you are doing it wrong.

    Think about when you are learning foreign languages. Is it reasonable for your teacher to tell you that you are doing it wrong even if you are making yourself understood? Well, the same goes for English.

  51. Timon for Tea says

    “No. No you could not. You could not hate or prejudice women and at the same time esteem them.”

    But you don’t have to esteem them to afford them equal rights, so there is no necessary contradiction. You just need to believe that the rational case for equality should trump your instinctive antipathies and have the strength of character to act on that. In fact, we have seen examples of this in history, people who were personally offended or disgusted contact with groups such as working men, or slaves, but who nevertheless fought for their emancipation. Shelley was like that and even Orwell a bit.

  52. briane says

    Bugger. I was with I hate women, but blagh, they have equal rights I was aiming for What a shrill barren trollop, but I’m not sexist because I married a women at age 18, who loves me and am the father of x girls. Ergo, I’m a female emancipist.

  53. Timon for Tea says

    I can’t quite make you out there Briane, but I am not suggesting that loving any particular woman inoculates you against charges of sexism, I am saying that it is not necessarily sexist to hate women (although it is misogynistic) so long as you genuinely support women’s full rights of equality. And I guess that is why we have two words instead of one.

  54. briane says

    But you don’t have to esteem them to afford them equal rights, so there is no necessary contradiction.
    I don’t get that. If you don’t think someone at your level, don’t esteeem, value them, how can equal rights flow?

  55. Bjarte Foshaug says

    @Illuminata. Makes sense to me. My general attitude toward semantic arguments is that there are no “facts” about the meanings of words (Words don’t mean anything in themselves but get their meanings from us). As long as it’s reasonably clear what a person is trying to communicate, I don’t really care what they call things. I don’t see how any major point raised by feminists hinges on whether or not a person accused of “misogyny” literally “hate all women”, just like no major point raised by atheists hinges on whether or not it’s actually possible to disprove the existence of God.

    I agree that much of misogyny/sexism probably has more to do with disrespect than actual hatred (although I don’t hesitate to use the word “hate”, or for that matter “evil”, to describe the insanely malevolent harassment campaigns, cyber-stalking, bullying and threats we have seen against Ophelia, Rebecca, Jen etc.). It could even be argued that some misogynists are guilty of liking women too much, only for the wrong reasons (as a living sex-doll rather than as a person with preferences on her own), and now they are just bitter and resentful that the women didn’t want to be “liked” in that particular way by sleazy, boorish vermin who would be far more valuable as worm-food. (Note to self: That was probably strident). Anyway, I agree that disrespect can be every bit as harmful as hate and arguably even more.

  56. briane says

    I can’t quite make you out there Briane, but I am not suggesting that loving any particular woman inoculates you against charges of sexism
    Apologies. In Australia. The obviously misogynist and medieval thinking leader of the Queen’s opposition trotted out his dutiful wife (no offence to her, her only pecadillo is loving him), as proof that he wasn’t a misogynist and his daughter’s loving him further proof. The same man, among many misogynistic acts stood next to sign declaring the democratically elected PM someone’s witch, other times declaring her inexperienced about children and barren so not understanding families. Etc, and so on…..
    My bad. I’ll bugger off now.

  57. Timon for Tea says

    “I don’t get that. If you don’t think someone at your level, don’t esteem, value them, how can equal rights flow?”

    Because you can think that your personal feelings are less reliable than your ideas.Think of someone who is phobic about bats, but still campaigns to protect them from extinction.

  58. Maureen Brian says

    What is the purpose of language? To get an idea or fact from one brain into another.

    So if I say something and you understand it – MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

    Textual analysis, literary criticism and hermeneutics, even, are secondary.

  59. 'dirigible says

    “Think of someone who is phobic about bats, but still campaigns to protect them from extinction.”

    How do they talk to the bats, exactly?

  60. yahweh says

    @Maureen

    I know what you mean, and agree, but this is a hopeless ideal.

    Language also serves the purposes of self expression and affecting other people’s feelings.

    A great deal of effort in the blogosphere (and elsewhere) is directed at making the author feel good by making the target feel bad.

    Textual analysis, redefining and conflating terms, etc. at the tools of both trades.

  61. dshetty says

    @adriana
    Having said that, I think that I have seen the two words being used pretty much interchangeable,
    I guess I’m one of those people – though I take your distinction of sexist being milder as true. I don’t quite see how someone who believes women are inferior/unequal (sometimes trivially oh they dont drive well to a more serious they dont make good engineers/scientist) – wont also translate that into actual discriminatory behavior (wont hire/promote women for e.g.) – that’s why I think the new definition works better than using hatred.

    @Ophelia
    we can observe acts of prejudice, sure, but then we can observe misogynistic acts too. Hatred and prejudice are both mental attributes. I don’t think that distinction works.
    The distinction works for me. For e.g. prejudice against women in the workplace can easily be observed and to me is an example of misogyny. But its not quite clear that a manager who for e.g. doesn’t promote a woman employee because (shock, horror) she might get pregnant actually hates her or women in general.

  62. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    Beatrice – to clarify, #44 was not directed toward you. (apologies for not being clear)

  63. Beatrice, anti-imperialist anti-racist Islamophobiaphobic leftist says

    Illuminata,

    Oh, I didn’t think so. I considered it obvious who you were talking about. ;)

  64. patterson says

    “Think of someone who is phobic about bats, but still campaigns to protect them from extinction.”

    And lives and works among bats, yet never allows his phobia to show, as he has attained an incredible level of self discipline through years of meditation and kung-fu practice at a Buddhist monastery.

  65. Martha says

    This discussion has it all: thought-provoking post, Naomi Wolf making perfect sense, particularly insightful comments, especially from Tigtog and Maureen Brian. Thanks, all!

    Well, almost all. Timon for Tea, it really is better to do your wanking in private.

  66. adriana says

    @Tigtog and Illuminata: yes, perhaps the word “milder” was not the best choice but I’m at a loss for comparative words here. what I meant to say is that it’s the difference between “cancer” and “metastatic cancer,” both are horrible, but sometimes cancer can be caught early enough to be curable, while metastatic cancer is never (or almost never) curable. It’s a matter of degrees of “horrible” and damaging, in my view. Sexism is very pervasive and even when “mild”, it has very serious effects on girls, women and the society at large.

    And I agree, Tigtog, your comment 16 is very, very good. Nicely put.

  67. xmaseveeve says

    Bjarte, marry me? (If you’re a woman, I’ll turn.) There is no material variation in meaning between ‘sexist’ and ‘misogynist’. The difference is in tone, and especially in register.

    I like the cancer analogy. Politically, you can’t always call a spade a spade. To say ‘misogynist’ suggests the prejudice is inoperable. It means you’re giving up, because you know that it often means the person will take offence, meaning the conversation is over. So you use the polite form, to try to show the person the lack of logic (not to mention humanity) in a sexist position.

    I think the more shocking form, ‘misogynist’ (as a noun) can also be a valuable jolt for men (and a few women) who’ve not really thought it through. Sexism is not logical and it harms everyone, men included. I like to think they may work this out later, when they’ve finished shooting you down and raging against the rise of women. I like to think some will burn it off and start thinking clearly. I don’t think this is a question of disagreement, but of ‘common sense’.

  68. says

    There *is* a distinction to be made between words. By definition.

    However there needn’t follow any *ought* from noticing word misuse.

    We have a word for those who conflate “mistaken” with “immoral” !!

    We moralizing laypeople can be clearer when berating “someone who you disagree with on gender issues“. Are they in fact mistaken? Or Worse?

    With thanks to @Neil, @Bruce, @Timon for their comments #1, 26, 28 & 37.

  69. Feminism isn't a dirty word says

    Ultimately I think your objection is irrelevant.

    I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen men justify misogyny by saying “But I LOVE women.” Or “I LOVE women, especially my wife. And she’s no feminist either.”

    In other words, I have no problem clarifying what misogyny is to the morons who perpetrate it.

    I’d also note this happens with homophobia as well. I’ve seen people indicate they don’t fear gay people, they just think they don’t deserve rights or recognition as decent people.

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