In last Sunday’s Observer, there was a piece by Sonia Sodha about sexism in the Labour Party. I don’t take issue with her central theme: viz, that there’s a lot of it about. (Parenthetically, I might note that I was a member of the Labour Party in Camberwell in the late 80s/early 90s, and I recall one meeting where a woman who had been consistently interrupted, ignored or contradicted throughout threatened to bring a motion of censure for sexism; the threat was met by a loud, ironical groan from nearly all the male members (not me, of course).) What I do take issue with is Sodha’s casual use of the word misogyny. She says that the “modern-day misogyny” in the Labour Party is not overt or even necessarily intentional. It is “under the radar” and consists largely in well-intentioned men not realising that there are systemic reasons for the under-representation of women in senior posts in the party. I have to say that this does not sound like misogyny at all to me. Misogyny is hatred of women. Read descriptions of the lives of women in truly misogynistic cultures – such as Zarghuna Kargar’s stories from Afghanistan, Dear Zari, where women are oppressed, controlled, and subject to swift and severe physical violence if they don’t do what’s expected of them – and you’ll see what true misogyny is. Sodha is talking about something different. She is talking about sexism. That is, a system of attitudes and preferences which might be quite unconscious but which operate to the disadvantage of women. There’s no actual hatred, loathing or contempt of women: rather there’s complacency, myopia and insensitivity.
I’ve noted before that there is a tendency to use the more impressive-sounding word where two words occupy adjacent or overlapping semantic areas; and misogyny does sound more impressive than sexism. But they are not the same, and I think we should keep a clear demarcation between the two.