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misogyny

August 18, 2016

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.

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4 Comments
  1. Jean Kapcia permalink

    Very well said, Brandon!

  2. Simon Carter permalink

    Sexism has replaced Chauvinism which was also wrongly applied being different to male chauvinism.

  3. Eh? I am going to disagree with you on this on several different aspects.

    Here is how Sodha explains what she means by ‘modern day misogyny’:

    “But to assume that’s enough is to misunderstand modern-day misogyny. It’s rarely about men waking up in the morning and thinking about how they can go about undermining women. More often, it’s under the radar, manifesting itself in institutions and cultures that involve people who would be horrified to think they might be helping to perpetuate, rather than tackle, societal sexism.”

    This is from The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/14/labour-party-misogyny-former-woman-adviser-experience

    But this is well explained! And it is saying the same sort of thing you are saying… she is equating modern day misogyny to be sexism. I do not understand your interpretation at all.

    Look at how she differentiates between sexism and ‘something more’:

    “When I was younger, I thought if I were to encounter gender discrimination it would be tangible, easily discernible, the kind of thing you could sum up in 140 characters and tag #everdaysexism on the end. But often, there’s a subjectivity and subtlety to workplace misogyny that makes it hard to call out.”

    She is not describing simple sexism but prejudice.

    Have I missed something?

    – –

    Did you just tell an ‘ethnic’ woman that if she wants to learn about “misogyny” than she should look more towards culture of her ethnic background? Really?

    – –

    Germaine Greer’s famous line from the Female Eunuch:

    “Women have very little idea of how much men hate them.”

    This wasn’t about the depressingly backwards Afghanistan, but more about the Western European culture. Or are you going to deny there is a lot of violence in modern day UK aimed at women? And is that violence not borne out of misogyny?

    https://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/docs/cps_vawg_report_2014.pdf

    • Thanks for this. I am going to disagree with your disagreement, though! I was really making a semantic point: that sexism and misogyny are not the same thing. They are both bad, but misogyny is worse. Misogyny cannot be “well intentioned”! I used Afghanistan as an example of real misogyny in action (I didn’t mean all of Afghanistan, just those traditional areas of which Kargar writes – perhaps I should have made that clear!) Of course I don’t deny that misogyny exists in Britisn too, in the form of violence against women,but it is not culturally approved of. (And Sodha wasn’t writing about that anyway.) I don’t think it is tendentious to say that some cultures are more misogynistic than others – it would be a strange coincidence if all cultures were exactly equally misogynistic at this particular point in history. And by the way I was not aware that Sonia Sodha is from Afghanistan, if indeed she is. I certainly was not trying to say “look to your own culture” or anything of that sort! I took her to be a British woman writing about a British issue. As I say I agree with her argument but just think she used the wrong word. She is talking about modern-day sexism, not modern-day misogyny.

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