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What Is Misogyny, Anyway?

“As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.” ― V. Woolf

Michal Bednarek/Shutterstock
Source: Michal Bednarek/Shutterstock

“When a man gives his opinion, he's a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she's a bitch.”—Bette Davis

There seems to be a lot of confusion about what exactly misogyny is (see comment section here). Is it simply hatred toward women? Or is it something different altogether?

No, misogyny is not simply hatred toward women. Imagine a society in which there are only 10 women. The 10 women gang rape Mr. Smith. As a result Mr. Smith justifiably comes to hate the 10 women. But they are all the women there are. So, Mr. Smith hates all women. But he is not thereby a misogynist.

Misogyny involves hatred toward women or a type of woman for a particular reason. The reason is that the women the hatred is directed toward don't act in accordance with beliefs the misogynist has about how women should think and behave.

What are those beliefs? They are beliefs relating to the alleged inferiority of women compared to men; for example, beliefs that women should be sexually available on demand and that they ought to dote on men and be loving mothers and wives.

Since most women don't conform to those standards, at least in the U.S., the misogynist develops hatred towards them—in some cases, it's hatred toward all women, but in most cases, it's hatred only toward women who don't act as the misogynist wants them to: as if they are inferior to men. This is why you will hear misogynists defend themselves with bad excuses, such as "I don't hate women. I love my mom and my sister. They do everything for me."

But can you be a misogynist without hating women? The answer is "yes." Imagine a society in which all women are subordinate, doting wives, much like in the movie The Stepford Wives. In this society, men don't hate women. They love them! They love them because the women behave like the "wives" of the 1950s commercials. They cook, bake, scrub, dress like 1950s Barbie dolls and dote on their men.

But now let's assume that, if the wives were to begin to object to their subordination, then the men would start hating the women and perhaps even come to hate all women as a result. Although the men don't actually hate any women in our envisaged scenario, they would if the women behaved differently. It's clear that the men are still misogynists in this scenario, despite having no actual hatred toward women.

My initial question was "Is misogyny simply hatred toward women?" The answer is a loud and clear "no." A misogynist is not simply a person who hates women. It's a person who does, or would, hate women who are not subordinate—women with power and status, who can stand up for themselves and make their own decisions.

Berit Brogaard is the author of On Romantic Love.

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