Misogyny is the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls. It enforces sexism by punishing those who reject an inferior status for women and rewarding those who accept it. Misogyny manifests in numerous ways, including social exclusion, sex discrimination, hostility, androcentrism, patriarchy, male privilege, belittling of women, disenfranchisement of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification.
Misogyny has existed throughout history. It was noted as a disease in Classical Greece. It became a common term in the English language in 2012. Misogyny can be found within sacred texts of religions, mythologies, and Western philosophy and Eastern philosophy. Many misogynstic ideas have also been documented through the work of different western thinkers, such as Aristotle.
Misogyny can lead to both physical and psychological violence. Physical violence instances include misogynist terrorism and domestic violence, as well as a relationship between misogyny and white supremacy. Misogyny on the Internet has also increased over time, often in the form of coordinated attacks. There is also a trend in similar, stereotyping language being used in this online misogyny. Psychological violence, such as internalized misogyny, abuse, and harassment, also correlate with misogyny. Misogyny has been criticized in various ways, such as the interpretation of misogyny in second-wave feminism, and the idea that men fear women instead of hating them. It is the opposite of philogyny.
Feminist theory touches on different aspects of misogyny, such as the notion of “good” versus “bad” women, the patriarchal bargain, and contempt for the feminine. “Good” versus “bad” women is a concept used to control women and further the misogyny they experience by categorizing women based on their response to their own oppression.
According to sociologist Allan G. Johnson, “misogyny is a cultural attitude of hatred for females because they are female”. Johnson argues that:
Misogyny …. is a central part of sexist prejudice and ideology and, as such, is an important basis for the oppression of females in male-dominated societies. Misogyny is manifested in many different ways, from jokes to pornography to violence to the self-contempt women may be taught to feel toward their own bodies.
Sociologist Michael Flood at the University of Wollongong defines misogyny as the hatred of women, and notes:
Though most common in men, misogyny also exists in and is practiced by women against other women or even themselves. Misogyny functions as an ideology or belief system that has accompanied patriarchal, or male-dominated societies for thousands of years and continues to place women in subordinate positions with limited access to power and decision making. […] Aristotle contended that women exist as natural deformities or imperfect males […] Ever since, women in Western cultures have internalised their role as societal scapegoats, influenced in the twenty-first century by multimedia objectification of women with its culturally sanctioned self-loathing and fixations on plastic surgery, anorexia and bulimia.
Philosopher Kate Manne of Cornell University defines misogyny as the attempt to control and punish women who challenge male dominance. Manne finds the traditional “hatred of women” definition of misogyny too simplistic, noting it does not account for how perpetrators of misogynistic violence may love certain women; for example, their mothers. Instead, misogyny rewards women who uphold the status quo and punishes those who reject women’s subordinate status. Manne distinguishes sexism, which she says seeks to rationalize and justify patriarchy, from misogyny, which she calls the “law enforcement” branch of patriarchy:
[S]exist ideology will tend to discriminate between men and women, typically by alleging sex differences beyond what is known or could be known, and sometimes counter to our best current scientific evidence. Misogyny will typically differentiate between good women and bad ones, and punishes the latter. […] Sexism wears a lab coat; misogyny goes on witch hunts.
Dictionaries define misogyny as “hatred of women” and as “hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women”. In 2012, primarily in response to events occurring in the Australian Parliament, the Macquarie Dictionary (which documents Australian English and New Zealand English) expanded the definition to include not only hatred of women but also “entrenched prejudices against women”. The counterpart of misogyny is misandry, the hatred or dislike of men; the antonym of misogyny is philogyny, the love or fondness of women.
Misogynous can be used as an adjectival form of the word.
In his book City of Sokrates: An Introduction to Classical Athens, J.W. Roberts argues that older than tragedy and comedy was a misogynistic tradition in Greek literature, reaching back at least as far as Hesiod. The term misogyny itself comes directly into English from the Ancient Greek word misogunia (μισογυνία), which survives in several passages.
The earlier, longer, and more complete passage comes from a moral tract known as On Marriage (c. 150 BC) by the stoic philosopher Antipater of Tarsus. Antipater argues that marriage is the foundation of the state, and considers it to be based on divine (polytheistic) decree. He uses misogunia to describe the sort of writing the tragedian Euripides eschews, stating that he “reject[s] the hatred of women in his writing” (ἀποθέμενος τὴν ἐν τῷ γράφειν μισογυνίαν). He then offers an example of this, quoting from a lost play of Euripides in which the merits of a dutiful wife are praised.
The other surviving use of the original Greek word is by Chrysippus, in a fragment from On affections, quoted by Galen in Hippocrates on Affections. Here, misogyny is the first in a short list of three “disaffections”—women (misogunia), wine (misoinia, μισοινία) and humanity (misanthrōpia, μισανθρωπία). Chrysippus’ point is more abstract than Antipater’s, and Galen quotes the passage as an example of an opinion contrary to his own. What is clear, however, is that he groups hatred of women with hatred of humanity generally, and even hatred of wine. “It was the prevailing medical opinion of his day that wine strengthens body and soul alike.” So Chrysippus, like his fellow stoic Antipater, views misogyny negatively, as a disease; a dislike of something that is good. It is this issue of conflicted or alternating emotions that was philosophically contentious to the ancient writers. Ricardo Salles suggests that the general stoic view was that “[a] man may not only alternate between philogyny and misogyny, philanthropy and misanthropy, but be prompted to each by the other.”
Aristotle has also been accused of being a misogynist; he has written that women were inferior to men. According to Cynthia Freeland (1994):
Aristotle says that the courage of a man lies in commanding, a woman’s lies in obeying; that ‘matter yearns for form, as the female for the male and the ugly for the beautiful’; that women have fewer teeth than men; that a female is an incomplete male or ‘as it were, a deformity’: which contributes only matter and not form to the generation of offspring; that in general ‘a woman is perhaps an inferior being’; that female characters in a tragedy will be inappropriate if they are too brave or too clever[.]
In the Routledge philosophy guidebook to Plato and the Republic, Nickolas Pappas describes the “problem of misogyny” and states:
In the Apology, Socrates calls those who plead for their lives in court “no better than women” (35b)… The Timaeus warns men that if they live immorally they will be reincarnated as women (42b-c; cf. 75d-e). The Republic contains a number of comments in the same spirit (387e, 395d-e, 398e, 431b-c, 469d), evidence of nothing so much as of contempt toward women. Even Socrates’ words for his bold new proposal about marriage… suggest that the women are to be “held in common” by men. He never says that the men might be held in common by the women… We also have to acknowledge Socrates’ insistence that men surpass women at any task that both sexes attempt (455c, 456a), and his remark in Book 8 that one sign of democracy’s moral failure is the sexual equality it promotes (563b).
Misogynist is also found in the Greek—misogunēs (μισογύνης)—in Deipnosophistae (above) and in Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, where it is used as the title of Heracles in the history of Phocion. It was the title of a play by Menander, which we know of from book seven (concerning Alexandria) of Strabo’s 17 volume Geography, and quotations of Menander by Clement of Alexandria and Stobaeus that relate to marriage. A Greek play with a similar name, Misogunos (Μισόγυνος) or Woman-hater, is reported by Marcus Tullius Cicero (in Latin) and attributed to the poet Marcus Atilius.
Cicero reports that Greek philosophers considered misogyny to be caused by gynophobia, a fear of women.
It is the same with other diseases; as the desire of glory, a passion for women, to which the Greeks give the name of philogyneia: and thus all other diseases and sicknesses are generated. But those feelings which are the contrary of these are supposed to have fear for their foundation, as a hatred of women, such as is displayed in the Woman-hater of Atilius; or the hatred of the whole human species, as Timon is reported to have done, whom they call the Misanthrope. Of the same kind is inhospitality. And all these diseases proceed from a certain dread of such things as they hate and avoid.— Cicero, Tusculanae Quaestiones, 1st century BC.
In summary, Greek literature considered misogyny to be a disease—an anti-social condition—in that it ran contrary to their perceptions of the value of women as wives and of the family as the foundation of society. These points are widely noted in the secondary literature.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word entered English because of an anonymous proto-feminist play, Swetnam the Woman-Hater, published in 1620 in England. The play is a criticism of anti-woman writer Joseph Swetnam, who it represents with the pseudonym Misogynos. The character of Misogynos is the origin of the term misogynist in English.
The term was fairly rare until the mid-1970s. The publication of feminist Andrea Dworkin’s 1974 critique Woman Hating popularized the idea. The term misogyny entered the lexicon of second-wave feminism. Dworkin and her contemporaries used the term to include not only a hatred or contempt of women, but the practice of controlling women with violence and punishing women who reject subordination.
Misogyny was discussed worldwide in 2012 because of a viral video of a speech by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Her parliamentary address is known as the Misogyny Speech. In the speech, Gillard powerfully criticized her opponents for holding her policies to a different standard than those of male politicians, and for speaking about her in crudely sexual terms.
Gillard’s usage of the word “misogyny” promoted re-evaluations of the word’s published definitions. The Macquarie Dictionary revised its definition in 2012 to better match the way the word has been used over the prior 30 years. The book Down Girl, which reconsidered the definition using the tools of analytic philosophy, was inspired in part by Gillard.
In Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice, Jack Holland argues that there is evidence of misogyny in the mythology of the ancient world. In Greek mythology according to Hesiod, the human race had already experienced a peaceful, autonomous existence as a companion to the gods before the creation of women. When Prometheus decides to steal the secret of fire from the gods, Zeus becomes infuriated and decides to punish humankind with an “evil thing for their delight”. This “evil thing” is Pandora, the first woman, who carried a jar (usually described—incorrectly—as a box) which she was told to never open. Epimetheus (the brother of Prometheus) is overwhelmed by her beauty, disregards Prometheus’ warnings about her, and marries her. Pandora cannot resist peeking into the jar, and by opening it she unleashes into the world all evil; labour, sickness, old age, and death.
Main article: Women in Buddhism
In his book The Power of Denial: Buddhism, Purity, and Gender, professor Bernard Faure of Columbia University argued generally that “Buddhism is paradoxically neither as sexist nor as egalitarian as is usually thought.” He remarked, “Many feminist scholars have emphasized the misogynistic (or at least androcentric) nature of Buddhism” and stated that Buddhism morally exalts its male monks while the mothers and wives of the monks also have important roles. Additionally, he wrote:
While some scholars see Buddhism as part of a movement of emancipation, others see it as a source of oppression. Perhaps this is only a distinction between optimists and pessimists, if not between idealists and realists… As we begin to realize, the term “Buddhism” does not designate a monolithic entity, but covers a number of doctrines, ideologies, and practices–some of which seem to invite, tolerate, and even cultivate “otherness” on their margins.
Differences in tradition and interpretations of scripture have caused sects of Christianity to differ in their beliefs with regard to their treatment of women.
In The Troublesome Helpmate, Katharine M. Rogers argues that Christianity is misogynistic, and she lists what she says are specific examples of misogyny in the Pauline epistles. She states:
The foundations of early Christian misogyny — its guilt about sex, its insistence on female subjection, its dread of female seduction — are all in St. Paul’s epistles.
In K. K. Ruthven’s Feminist Literary Studies: An Introduction, Ruthven makes reference to Rogers’ book and argues that the “legacy of Christian misogyny was consolidated by the so-called ‘Fathers’ of the Church, like Tertullian, who thought a woman was not only ‘the gateway of the devil’ but also ‘a temple built over a sewer’.”
However, some other scholars have argued that Christianity does not include misogynistic principles, or at least that a proper interpretation of Christianity would not include misogynistic principles. David M. Scholer, a biblical scholar at Fuller Theological Seminary, stated that the verse Galatians 3:28 (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”) is “the fundamental Pauline theological basis for the inclusion of women and men as equal and mutual partners in all of the ministries of the church.” In his book Equality in Christ? Galatians 3:28 and the Gender Dispute, Richard Hove argues that—while Galatians 3:28 does mean that one’s sex does not affect salvation—”there remains a pattern in which the wife is to emulate the church’s submission to Christ (Eph 5:21–33) and the husband is to emulate Christ’s love for the church.”
In Christian Men Who Hate Women, clinical psychologist Margaret J. Rinck has written that Christian social culture often allows a misogynist “misuse of the biblical ideal of submission”. However, she argues that this a distortion of the “healthy relationship of mutual submission” which is actually specified in Christian doctrine, where “[l]ove is based on a deep, mutual respect as the guiding principle behind all decisions, actions, and plans”. Similarly, Catholic scholar Christopher West argues that “male domination violates God’s plan and is the specific result of sin”.
The fourth chapter (or sura) of the Quran is called “Women” (An-Nisa). The 34th verse is a key verse in feminist criticism of Islam. The verse reads: “Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.”
In his book Popular Islam and Misogyny: A Case Study of Bangladesh, Taj Hashmi discusses misogyny in relation to Muslim culture (and to Bangladesh in particular), writing:
[T]hanks to the subjective interpretations of the Quran (almost exclusively by men), the preponderance of the misogynic mullahs and the regressive Shariah law in most “Muslim” countries, Islam is synonymously known as a promoter of misogyny in its worst form. Although there is no way of defending the so-called “great” traditions of Islam as libertarian and egalitarian with regard to women, we may draw a line between the Quranic texts and the corpus of avowedly misogynic writing and spoken words by the mullah having very little or no relevance to the Quran.
In his book No god but God, University of Southern California professor Reza Aslan wrote that “misogynistic interpretation” has been persistently attached to An-Nisa, 34 because commentary on the Quran “has been the exclusive domain of Muslim men”.
See also: Women in Sikhism
Scholars William M. Reynolds and Julie A. Webber have written that Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith tradition, was a “fighter for women’s rights” that was “in no way misogynistic” in contrast to some of his contemporaries.
In his book Scientology: A New Slant on Life, L. Ron Hubbard wrote the following passage:
A society in which women are taught anything but the management of a family, the care of men, and the creation of the future generation is a society which is on its way out.
In the same book, he also wrote:
The historian can peg the point where a society begins its sharpest decline at the instant when women begin to take part, on an equal footing with men, in political and business affairs, since this means that the men are decadent and the women are no longer women. This is not a sermon on the role or position of women; it is a statement of bald and basic fact.
These passages, along with other ones of a similar nature from Hubbard, have been criticised by Alan Scherstuhl of The Village Voice as expressions of hatred towards women. However, Baylor University professor J. Gordon Melton has written that Hubbard later disregarded and abrogated much of his earlier views about women, which Melton views as merely echoes of common prejudices at the time. Melton has also stated that the Church of Scientology welcomes both genders equally at all levels—from leadership positions to auditing and so on—since Scientologists view people as spiritual beings.
Misogynistic ideas among prominent western thinkers
Numerous influential Western philosophers have been expressed ideas that can be characterized as misogynistic, including Aristotle, René Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, G. W. F. Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Otto Weininger, Oswald Spengler, and John Lucas. Because of the influence of these thinkers, feminist scholars trace misogyny in western culture to these philosophers and their ideas.
Main article: Aristotle’s views on women
Aristotle believed women were inferior and described them as “deformed males”. In his work Politics, he states
as regards the sexes, the male is by nature superior and the female inferior, the male ruler and the female subject 4 (1254b13-14).
Another example is Cynthia’s catalog where Cynthia states “Aristotle says that the courage of a man lies in commanding, a woman’s lies in obeying; that ‘matter yearns for form, as the female for the male and the ugly for the beautiful’; that women have fewer teeth than men; that a female is an incomplete male or ‘as it were, a deformity’. Aristotle believed that men and women naturally differed both physically and mentally. He claimed that women are “more mischievous, less simple, more impulsive … more compassionate[,] … more easily moved to tears[,] … more jealous, more querulous, more apt to scold and to strike[,] … more prone to despondency and less hopeful[,] … more void of shame or self-respect, more false of speech, more deceptive, of more retentive memory [and] … also more wakeful; more shrinking [and] more difficult to rouse to action” than men.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau is well known for his views against equal rights for women for example in his treatise Emile, he writes: “Always justify the burdens you impose upon girls but impose them anyway… . They must be thwarted from an early age… . They must be exercised to constraint, so that it costs them nothing to stifle all their fantasies to submit them to the will of others.” Other quotes consist of “closed up in their houses”, “must receive the decisions of fathers and husbands like that of the church”.
Arthur Schopenhauer has been noted as a misogynist by many such as the philosopher, critic, and author Tom Grimwood. In a 2008 article published in the philosophical journal of Kritique, Grimwood argues that Schopenhauer’s misogynistic works have largely escaped attention despite being more noticeable than those of other philosophers such as Nietzsche. For example, he noted Schopenhauer’s works where the latter had argued women only have “meagre” reason comparable that of “the animal” “who lives in the present”. Other works he noted consisted of Schopenhauer’s argument that women’s only role in nature is to further the species through childbirth and hence is equipped with the power to seduce and “capture” men. He goes on to state that women’s cheerfulness is chaotic and disruptive which is why it is crucial to exercise obedience to those with rationality. For her to function beyond her rational subjugator is a threat against men as well as other women, he notes. Schopenhauer also thought women’s cheerfulness is an expression of her lack of morality and incapability to understand abstract or objective meaning such as art. This is followed up by his quote “have never been able to produce a single, really great, genuine and original achievement in the fine arts, or bring to anywhere into the world a work of permanent value”. Arthur Schopenhauer also blamed women for the fall of King Louis XIII and triggering the French Revolution, in which he was later quoted as saying:
“At all events, a false position of the female sex, such as has its most acute symptom in our lady-business, is a fundamental defect of the state of society. Proceeding from the heart of this, it is bound to spread its noxious influence to all parts.”
Schopenhauer has also been accused of misogyny for his essay “On Women” (Über die Weiber), in which he expressed his opposition to what he called “Teutonico-Christian stupidity” on female affairs. He argued that women are “by nature meant to obey” as they are “childish, frivolous, and short sighted”. He claimed that no woman had ever produced great art or “any work of permanent value”. He also argued that women did not possess any real beauty:
It is only a man whose intellect is clouded by his sexual impulse that could give the name of the fair sex to that under-sized, narrow-shouldered, broad-hipped, and short-legged race; for the whole beauty of the sex is bound up with this impulse. Instead of calling them beautiful there would be more warrant for describing women as the unaesthetic sex.
Main article: Friedrich Nietzsche’s views on women
In Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche stated that stricter controls on women was a condition of “every elevation of culture”. In his Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he has a female character say “You are going to women? Do not forget the whip!” In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche writes “Women are considered profound. Why? Because we never fathom their depths. But women aren’t even shallow.” There is controversy over the questions of whether or not this amounts to misogyny, whether his polemic against women is meant to be taken literally, and the exact nature of his opinions of women.
Hegel’s view of women can be characterized as misogynistic. Passages from Hegel’s Elements of the Philosophy of Right illustrate the criticism:
Women are capable of education, but they are not made for activities which demand a universal faculty such as the more advanced sciences, philosophy and certain forms of artistic production… Women regulate their actions not by the demands of universality, but by arbitrary inclinations and opinions.
Misogynist terrorism is an extreme form of misogynist violence. Certain mass murderers, often identifying as incels, have explained their killings as anti-feminist acts, describing an attitude of entitlement to sex with attractive women, a desire to seek vengeance for the perception of being rejected, and a drive to put women “in their place.” (Misogyny is common among mass killers, even when it is not the primary motivation.)
As is typical of terrorism, these acts are intended to cause widespread fear. Any woman may reasonably be unsettled about the potential of being targeted, notes Kate Manne, because often victims of these killings are treated as interchangeable. Women are targeted merely because they fit a certain type rather than because they have any particular relationship to the killer.
Since 2018 counter-terrorism professionals such as ICCT and START describe this form of terrorism as a “rising threat” and include misogyny or male supremacy among the ideologies they track. Feminist Jessica Valenti was influential in recognizing these acts as misogynist terrorism.
The ADL reports that “a deep-seated loathing of women acts as a connective tissue between many white supremacists, especially those in the alt-right, and their lesser-known brothers in hate like incels, MRAs, and PUAs.”
Andrew Anglin uses the white supremacist website The Daily Stormer as a platform to promote misogynistic conspiracy theories, claiming that politically active “[w]hite women across the Western world” are pushing for liberal immigration policies “to ensure an endless supply of Black and Arab men to satisfy their depraved sexual desires.” In July 2018, Anglin summarized his misogynistic views, writing: “Look, I hate women. I think they deserve to be beaten, raped and locked in cages.”
The majority of Domestic violence and Intimate partner violence targets women and is committed by men. In particular, men with a rigid, narrow view of how to be a man are more likely to commit or tolerate this form of violence. The belief that men should be forceful and dominant in relationships and households makes a man more likely to hit, abuse, coerce, and sexually harass a woman. On the other hand, flexible and egalitarian ideas about manhood typically lead to less violence.
Misogynistic rhetoric is prevalent online and has grown more aggressive over time. Online misogyny includes both individual attempts to intimidate and denigrate women, and also coordinated, collective attempts such as vote brigading and the Gamergate antifeminist harassment campaign. In a paper written for the Journal of International Affairs, the authors discuss how online misogyny can lead to women facing obstacles when trying to engage in the public and political spheres of the internet due to the abusive nature of these spaces. These scholars also suggest regulations and shut downs of online misogyny through both governmental and non-governmental means.
The most likely targets for misogynistic attacks by coordinated groups are women who are visible in the public sphere, women who speak out about the threats they receive, and women who are perceived to be associated with feminism or feminist gains. Authors of misogynistic messages are usually anonymous or otherwise difficult to identify. Their rhetoric involves misogynistic epithets and graphic or sexualized imagery. It centers on the women’s physical appearance, and prescribes sexual violence as a corrective for the targeted women. Examples of famous women who spoke out about misogynistic attacks are Anita Sarkeesian, Laurie Penny, Caroline Criado Perez, Stella Creasy, and Lindy West.
These attacks do not always remain online only. The government of Brazil makes misogynistic attacks against Patrícia Campos Mello and other female journalists in conjunction with street-level threats and violence. Swatting was used to bring Gamergate attacks into the physical world.
The insults and threats directed at different women tend to be very similar. Sady Doyle who has been the target of online threats noted the “overwhelmingly impersonal, repetitive, stereotyped quality” of the abuse, the fact that “all of us are being called the same things, in the same tone”.
A 2016 study conducted by the think tank Demos found that the majority of Twitter messages containing the words “whore” or “slut” were advertisements for pornography. Of those that are not, a majority used the terms in a non-aggressive way, such a discussion of slut-shaming. Of those that used the terms “whore” or “slut” in an aggressive, insulting way, about half were women and half were men. Twitter users most frequently targeted by women with aggressive insults were celebrities, such as Beyoncé Knowles.
A 2020 study published in the journal New Media & Society also discusses how language on the internet can contribute to online misogyny. The authors specifically criticize Urban Dictionary, claiming the language used in the definitions are misogynistic and anti-feminist, rather than simply being a collaborative dictionary.
Main article: Internalized sexism
Internalized sexism is when an individual enacts sexist actions and attitudes towards themselves and people of their own sex. On a larger scale, internalized sexism falls under the broad topic of internalized oppression, which “consists of oppressive practices that continue to make the rounds even when members of the oppressor group are not present”. Women who experience internalized misogyny may express it through minimizing the value of women, mistrusting women, and believing gender bias in favor of men. Women, after hearing men demean the value and skills of women repeatedly, eventually internalize their beliefs and apply the misogynistic beliefs to themselves and other women. A common manifestation of internalized misogyny is lateral violence. In the United States, a study of young women showed that internalized misogyny also corresponded to political affiliation. Of the women interviewed, Democrats and Independents tended to have lower levels of internalized misogyny than Republicans and Not Affiliated women.
Abuse and harassment
Misogyny causes sexual harassment. Harassment is associated with decreased psychological well-being, including diminished self-confidence and greater risk of anxiety and depression.
Misogynist attitudes lead to the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse of gender nonconforming boys in childhood.
“Good” versus “bad” women
Many feminists have written that the notions of “good” women and “bad” women are imposed upon women in order to control them. Women who are easy to control, or who advocate for their own oppression, may be told they are good. The categories of bad and good also cause fighting among women; Helen Lewis identifies this “long tradition of regulating female behavior by defining women in opposition to one another” as the architecture of misogyny.
The Madonna–whore dichotomy or virgin/whore dichotomy is the perception of women as either good and chaste or as bad and promiscuous. Belief in this dichotomy leads to misogyny, according to the feminist perspective, because the dichotomy appears to justify policing women’s behavior. Misogynists seek to punish “bad” women for their sexuality. Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie observes that when women describe being harassed or assaulted (as in the #MeToo movement) they are viewed as deserving sympathy only if they are “good” women — nonsexual, and perhaps helpless.
In her 1974 book Woman Hating, Andrea Dworkin uses traditional fairy tales to illustrate misogyny. Fairy tales designate certain women as “good”, for example Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, who are inert, passive characters. Dworkin observed that these characters “never think, act, initiate, confront, resist, challenge, feel, care, or question. Sometimes they are forced to do housework.” In contrast, the “evil” women who populate fairy tales are queens, witches, and other women with power. Further, men in fairy tales are said to be good kings and good husbands irrespective of their actions. For Dworkin, this illustrates that under misogyny only powerless women are allowed to be seen as good. No similar judgement is applied to men.
In her book Right-Wing Women, Dworkin adds that powerful women are tolerated by misogynists provided women use their power to reenforce the power of men and to oppose feminism. Dworkin gives Phyllis Schlafly and Anita Bryant as examples of powerful women tolerated by antifeminists only because they advocated for their own oppression. Women may even be worshiped or called superior to men if they are sufficiently “good”, meaning obedient or inert.
Philosopher Kate Manne argues that the word “misogyny” as used by modern feminists denotes not a generalized hatred of women, but instead the system of distinguishing good from bad women. Misogyny is like a police force, Manne writes, that rewards or punishes women based on these judgements.
The patriarchal bargain
In the late 20th century, second-wave feminist theorists argued that misogyny is both a cause and a result of patriarchal social structures.
Economist Deniz Kandiyoti has written that colonizers of the Middle East, Africa, and Asia kept conquered armies of men under control by offering them complete power over women. She calls this the “patriarchal bargain.” Men who were interested in accepting the bargain were promoted to leadership by colonial powers, causing the colonized societies to become more misogynistic.
Sociologist Michael Flood has argued that “misandry lacks the systemic, trans-historic, institutionalized, and legislated antipathy of misogyny”.
Contempt for the feminine
Julia Serano defines misogyny as not only hatred of women per se, but the “tendency to dismiss and deride femaleness and femininity.” In this view, misogyny also causes homophobia against gay men because gay men are stereotyped as feminine and weak; misogyny likewise causes anxiety among straight men that they will be seen as unmanly. Serano’s book Whipping Girl argues that most anti-trans sentiment directed at trans women should be understood as misogyny. By embracing femininity, the book argues, trans women cast doubt on the superiority of masculinity.
British legal situation
In recent years, there has been increasing discussion in the UK of misogyny being added to the list of aggravating factors that are commonly referred to by the media as “hate crimes”. Aggravating factors in criminal sentencing currently include hostility to a victim due to characteristics such as sexuality, race or disability.
In 2016, Nottinghamshire Police began a pilot project to record misogynistic behaviour as either hate crime or hate incidents, depending on whether the action was a criminal offence. Over two years (April 2016-March 2018) there were 174 reports made, of which 73 were classified as crimes and 101 as incidents.
In September 2018, it was announced that the Law Commission would conduct a review into whether misogynistic conduct, as well as hostility due to ageism, misandry or towards groups such as goths, should be treated as a hate crime.
In October 2018, two senior police officers, Sara Thornton, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, and Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, stated that police forces should focus on more serious crimes such as burglary and violent offences, and not on recording incidents which are not crimes. Thornton said that “treating misogyny as a hate crime is a concern for some well-organised campaigning organisations”, but that police forces “do not have the resources to do everything”.
In September 2020 the Law Commission proposed that sex or gender be added to the list of protected characteristics. At the time of the Law Commission’s proposals seven police forces in England and Wales classed misogyny as a hate crime, but that definition had not been adopted across the board. The commission plans to make its official recommendations to the government in 2021.
Criticism of the concept
Camille Paglia, a self-described “dissident feminist” who has often been at odds with other academic feminists, argues that there are serious flaws in the Marxism-inspired interpretation of misogyny that is prevalent in second-wave feminism. In contrast, Paglia argues that a close reading of historical texts reveals that men do not hate women but fear them. Christian Groes-Green has argued that misogyny must be seen in relation to its opposite which he terms philogyny. Criticizing R. W. Connell’s theory of hegemonic masculinities, he shows how philogynous masculinities play out among youth in Maputo, Mozambique.
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Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia