Misogyny Musings

The word misogyny has become quite popular in our lexicon, especially on the social media, and competing with the word ‘selfie’ in frequency of usage generally. Women use it more than men. The word itself originated in the mid 17th century, from the Greek words misos ‘hatred’ and gunē ‘woman’.

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines misogyny as a “hatred of women that is felt by some men. Casual misogyny is all around us.”

I would venture to say that ‘some’ is the operative word here,

if one agrees with the definition itself. Hatred is a strong emotion and hatred of women (by men mostly, as women like to think) would be unnatural for

the vast majority of men. Logically one hates something that has caused you or can cause you grievous harm. Or something that is gross and unacceptable to your values. Like corruption or child-labour. But how many men (or women – we will come to this in a minute) hate women, all women, just because they are women?

So here comes the new definition of misogyny, which is what I presume people today believe it to be. Misogyny, as women especially understand it to be, is a deep dislike or even contempt of, or an ingrained prejudice against, women.

Sociologist Michael Flood, at the University of Wollongong, while still defining misogyny as the hatred of women, 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.”

So in effect, misogyny has evolved from it being a pathological condition (presumably affecting few in society) into an allegedly widespread contempt for womankind. Can we then say that misogyny in practical terms has today come about to be another term for gender discrimination, or exploitation of women? If yes, then misogyny has been around forever. Aristotle for instance contended that “women exist as natural deformities or imperfect males.” I guess a lot of women will stop quoting Aristotle now!

Perhaps Aristotle can be excused as he lived a long time ago, when societal beliefs were quite different from what these are now. But fast forward to our times and you had Nietzche once stating in an article that stricter controls on women is a condition of every elevation of culture.

Ironically I have observed many people, women included, sharing Nietzche quotes on social media from time to time, and frankly it always appeared to me that these people have never read Nietzche really, but just picked up random quotes from the Internet which they thought to be profound, and shared these to appear to be intellectual! I guess women at least, reading this writing, will now think twice about quoting Nietzche now!

Yes, there has been discrimination against women historically, and it is prevalent even today, even in advanced Western societies where the women’s liberation movement of say 50 or more years ago, has evolved into what is now called women empowerment. But I would tend to argue that you cannot sweepingly equate discrimination with misogyny. In our world today, discrimination takes many forms – racial, religious, class and caste, to name the major ones, and not just n the basis of gender.

All forms of discrimination are manifestations of how human society and history have evolved over eons. Discrimination against women too is much more a cultural phenomenon with a very long historical background, than some sort of global conspiracy of practicing hatred for women which it is being portrayed to be, by all and sundry blowing the misogyny trumpet.

If you consider that the history of ‘civilized’ homo sapiens is some ten thousand years old (when humans evolved from being hunter-gatherers to agriculturists), and that until only about a 100 years ago, global society readily accepted women to be inferior to men, then it is actually quite remarkable how much progress has been made against discrimination of women. But why at all is there still this prejudice against women, ranging from insouciance to outright contempt?

There is no one simple answer. As mentioned earlier, the historical aspect going back several thousands of years is a key factor that is not easily overcome totally. But there have to be other factors that provide sustenance to misogyny, as expressed through verbal or physical abuse, general belittling, sexual objectification, overt creation of impediments to the growth of professional women and so forth.

Sometimes I feel that some women, perhaps as a defensive measure, tend to label any criticism or acerbic observation as being misogynistic. The cutting remark of a male person may well be directed at a particular woman as a person, but if it is portrayed by the woman as a missive directed at the whole of womankind, then the ‘crime’ of the male person concerned becomes so much more unforgivable. I hope some ladies have not started bristling at this thought I have expressed, for come on, let’s face it, hollering misogyny every now and then has become a source of self-assurance for some women, hoping for the attention which otherwise they may not be getting.

Now, for the above paragraph I too may be labeled a misogynist, but let’s be fair – I said ‘some women’, not all. And I plead the First Amendment here.

Since this blog is tag-lined as Food for Thought, let me end by first assuring all that I am personally all for respect for women and women empowerment. But I do not believe that men are equal to women, or vice versa. Not designed to be equal by Creation. Not equal physically, physiologically, temperamentally, emotionally, psychologically and in a dozen other ways. Both genders have their respective strengths and weaknesses. The whole women empowerment movement and the war against misogyny will be much better served if this simple truth is accepted instead of being fought against. Women need to build on this reality and plan for their rights in light of this.

And as far as ending misogyny is concerned, perhaps women should work more on their own kind, dispelling the common belief even amongst women in societies across the world, especially in our own low literacy society, that women were created to be vassals for males.

Are you a woman who wants to make a real difference beyond expressing outrage on social media? Go ahead and sponsor the education of a girl-child. If you are reading this, you can afford it. There is enough research to support the fact that educated girls will marry later, have fewer pregnancies, tend to take up some means of livelihood giving them some degree at least of financial independence, and will tend not to join the in-laws in expressing deep grief if they themselves give birth to a female child.

I am a great believer in the work The Citizens Foundation has been doing for the last 16+ years in providing quality education to the less privileged, and especially to girls. So do your bit for changing mindsets and educating girls by supporting TCF. How? See http://www.tcf.org.pk/Donate.aspx


One Response to Misogyny Musings

  1. hunaid says:

    The timing of your post could not be better. Earlier in the day, a Shahnaz from Lahore posted this on her listserv and since it picks up on your last paragraph, I will take the liberty to post it here.

    Let me make an audacious statement: Motherhood is not enough to be the sole satisfying and fulfilling factor for women. And I am talking about all women–those who know it and admit it, those who know it but are afraid to admit it and even those who don’t even yet know it. They want more–more personal achievement that is theirs alone; more opportunites to explore what they want in life; more action, more adventure which comes with challenging the world; more options than they have been offered by society. And when they find it, there is no going back. The problem is that women in general are socialized to think and believe that if they are mothers, they don’t, won’t and possibly counldn’t want anything else. They are afraid to even admit to themselves, so they go on living with what is expected of them– a life of suppressed desires and ambitions; a life empty and dull; a life full of boring routines and purposeless talks; trying to find happiness in clothes and jewelry, shopping and coffee parties. I do admit that majority of women have not yet developed consciousness about this situation. And till that happens, they will go on accpeting and submitting to their fate. And the world will continue to be deprived of its full potential.

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