Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who had already won many of our hearts by being the first publicly atheist leader of a major English-speaking nation, really proved her mettle among those on our side of the Great Rift last week-ish when she delivered this speech in Parliament, seizing on Opposition leader Tony Abbott’s hypocritical attempts to paint HER as a misogynist.
(old link, which is region-locked: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfo3SGIiSE0 )
But then, because she’s a damned important public figure using the word “misogyny” the way it is commonly understood by feminists for at least thirty years, e.g. to mean “conscious or unconscious systematic biases or bigotries against women” rather than “tooth-gnashing caricatures of Yosemite Sam screaming ‘Ah hate those wimminz!’”, the public discussion has had an interesting side-effect. Since this discussion largely centred around the meaning of the word, and since the antifeminist quarters’ main defense against the charge is dumbfounded astonishment that anyone would ever mistake them for someone with a “hatred” of women, this has led to something practically unheard-of in recent times: a dictionary stepping in to settle the argument.
In our favour.
Pardon me if I crow a bit.
Yahoo News reports:
In response, Australia’s Macquarie Dictionary, the authority on the English language in Australia, has decided to broaden the definition of “misogyny” to better match the way the word has been used over the past 30 years.
The dictionary currently defines misogyny as “hatred of women”, but will now add a second definition to include “entrenched prejudice against women”, suggesting Abbott discriminated against women with his sexist views.
Sure, this isn’t Oxford, which still has the anachronistic “hatred of women” — which, I must note, does not parallel appropriately with misanthropy, though it does parallel appropriately with misandry. Sure, nobody’s redefining misandry to match, though systematic oppression of males is like systematic oppression of whites in America, or systematic oppression of rich folks by Socialists, or systematic hunting and killing of unicorns — they’re mythological, in other words. But I do like my parallels, so I’d recommend every dictionary get on board with this definition, and fix both misogyny and misandry to match how people are actually using the words.
Either that, or invent new words to add to our lexicons to mean the new definitions, and somehow encourage their adoption by the people talking about these things primarily. Preferably a word that parallels appropriately with “misanthropy”, since even Molière recognized that misanthropy is not necessarily hatred of humanity back in sixteen-bloody-sixty-six, and the word shares all the same Latin that has given “misogyny” and “misandry” their definitions. (Seriously, this gets to me. Why people accept “misanthropy” as anything short of “hatred of humans” but they split hairs about “misogyny” is completely beyond me.)
In short, don’t be a linguistic prescriptivist. Language evolves. Linguists and scholars and social sciences experts and feminists have all been using the word the way the redefinition frames for decades now. This definition better matches the definition of the word in common usage. So let the words’ definitions change, I say, and ignore the antifeminists and actual misogynists desperately clinging to the definition argument and the oh-so-self-evident fact that they totes love women — even though they believe and fight for things that actively harm these same women.
(Revised for grammar and clarity 5:47am AST. Yes, I’m capable of grammar and clarity at this hour. I work nights!)