“For every Harvey Weinstein, there’s a hundred more men in the neighborhood who are doing the exact same thing”.
– Tarana J. Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement
Tarana Burke was right!
Misogynist men mistreating women is not just limited to men in power like Harvey Weinstein, who, in his office asked a 22 year old model if her “breasts are real” before groping her; Justin Forsyth, former CEO of Save the Children who sent inappropriate texts to three of his female staff, commenting on how they looked and what they were wearing; or Stanley Johnson (Boris Johnson’s father), who at a party conference smacked a former Senior Tory MP on her backside and said “you’ve got a lovely seat” and so many more. Women’s lives are barraged with indecent acts and sexual misconduct committed by men in their neighborhoods, streets, offices, cabs and every other place, regardless of their social, economic or political standing.
What’s common about all such men though, is that they are drilled with the idea that they are privileged and entitled by virtue of being cis het men to certain things for their own pleasure or power (trip), and they must have it even if it comes at the cost of violation of women’s peace, integrity, safety or life.
I am appalled at the average number of times any given woman, including myself, suffers sexist or misogynistic treatment by women-hating-men over her lifetime (for no fault of hers), something which no official statistics can ever truly capture. Therefore, I advocate for such misconduct to be called out. Whilst calling out might not always be easy, it is important to challenge the male ideology of entitlement in our everyday/routine settings to let them know that “We don’t owe it to them!”.
What is Misogyny?
Misogyny has Greek origins – “misein,” meaning “to hate,” and gynē, meaning “woman.” It was popularized after Andrea Dworkin’s 1974 book Woman Hating, where she described misogyny as not only dislike, hatred or contempt of women, but controlling women who refuse to submit to patriarchal supremacy. Philosopher Kate Manne of Cornell University mirrors this idea and adds that men hold hostility towards women who “aren’t serving male interests in ways they’re expected to”. This is why, Manne explains, misogynist men may still love certain women, like their mothers. In words of Jill Stoddard, author of the book Be Mighty: A Woman’s Guide to Liberation from Anxiety, Worry, and Stress Using Mindfulness and Acceptance, “misogyny is hostility towards women who threaten to remove male status as superior to women”. In other words, she says, “men in patriarchy do what they want, when they want, how they want and women are expected to support and promote those entitlements”.
Since patriarchy encourages men to act on their perceived privileges and entitlements, and fosters a mistaken ideology of “what women are for” as Manne explains, men expect women to unreservedly bow down to such privileges and entitlements, and facilitate/offer those things to them, that they perceive themselves to have a righteous claim to. This can be anything from attention and praise to deferment; passive obedience; servility and subordination; to reciprocation to sexualized flirtation and unrestricted access to women’s bodies.
Misogyny thus, can be understood as the disrespectful/hostile behavior directed at women who challenge, disregard or question the validity of; and/or refuse to acknowledge, honor, resign to or accommodate male privilege and entitlement in compromise of their own privacy, priorities, autonomy, self-determination and/or dignity.
What is misogyny in practice?
At the most mundane level, misogyny takes the form of sexist or suggestive jokes, or remarks with a subtle, or blatantly demeaning undertone and unreciprocated flirting, often laughed away as ‘harmless banter’. It also includes street harassment, slurring, upskirting, stalking or intimidating women. Misogyny roars at its loudest when men talk about women and girls in an “all-boys” setting.
Since misogyny is about the exercise of entitlement and privilege, men laying authoritarian claim to women’s bodies and their lives to get what they want. It comes to be seen in acts of domestic violence and non-consensual acts against women -sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, forced marriage; and manipulating and deceiving women into consensual sex.
However, where a woman disregards male entitlement, for instance, by refusing to give a man attention, or giving attention in the way he seeks socially or in private; by being indifferent to, or declining his advances to engage with him sexually, emotionally, or both (of being in a relationship or marrying him), misogyny is about punishing women for their audacity to “refuse” or ”reject” the man (or his advances), and dissuade her and other women from exercising such audacity (again). We see this all too frequently in the form of acid attacks, revenge porn, ‘honor’ killings and rapes; and violent attacks launched on women by incels.
Further, where a woman confronts violation of her integrity, misogyny spurts its venom by breathlessly engaging in anything from deflecting blame onto the woman (about how she or something about her incited, triggered, provoked him; how the man believed that the woman were on the same page; how she did not do enough to convey her disinterest/refusal; or how the relationship sanctioned his act) to name calling, accusing the woman of falsely alleging him for other vested interest, character assassination (as in divorce and rape trials) and so forth.
Misogyny is also about pouring out contempt for women by negatively stereotyping them: for eg, as bad drivers or bad leaders; and/or, devaluing feminine traits or skills, or tasks and qualities associated with women. Many men who cringe at the thought of, or upon being told that they are acting in feminine ways; and/or those who belittle and ridicule other men who hold or display feminine traits or qualities to express their disgust for their association with anything feminine and hence inferior, are one of those. Thus, misogyny takes into its sweep men who reject traditional gender roles to take what patriarchy labeled as women’s roles, like child care or dishwashing. Lastly, as Julia Serano, author of Whipping Girl explains, it’s misogyny that breeds homophobia against gay men for their rejection of masculinity, and hence, male supremacy in favor of femininity.
Spotting a misogynist
Where misogyny rubs elbows with chauvinism or toxic masculinity, it gets easily spotted, owing to its inherent and flagrant hostile ways and means.
However, with a man who displays more benign dispositions and softer virtues of kindness, compassion, altruism, social etiquettes, love and respect for one’s mother/sister(s), fondness and care for animals, and even concern for the environment, that sense of entitlement almost always exists but in a latent form. As such, it takes a certain set of circumstances for it to precipitate and surface.
Here, misogyny raises its hood only in a typically man-woman scenario, particularly when male entitlement is thwarted– that is, when he is either rejected or confronted (as discussed above) for acts he commits under assumption of male entitlement. That is when he is blown out by feelings of inadequacy, loss of power, and/or the nullity of his patriarchal stature, which unfailingly provokes reactions that reveal the (misogynist) side of him, which under usual circumstances remains disguised. That is when he spurts out his hatred for not just that one woman, but contempt and resentment for all women in that capacity.
The extent to which we women are forced to constantly stay alert to any potential threat to our physical and emotional “safety”, or are otherwise forced to endure abuse and then cope with it, not only undermines our fundamental right to safety, it also sabotages our emotional wellbeing over time. It engenders subtle fear in the deeper recesses of our minds, breeds anger, frustration and hurt, and has a limiting effect on our lives in some ways or the other.
So, rather than dealing with abuse or mistreatment by choosing to ignore, overlook, diplomatically respond or maintain distance with the perpetrator; or, by engaging in self talk – “it’s not a big deal”, “perhaps I am over thinking”, “I have bigger battles to fight” or “he doesn’t seem to have a malicious intent”, I urge you to call misogynists out, and have other women’s backs when they do so in order to burst the bubble of impunity and contribute to making it a safer world for all of us.
Featured image source: zora.medium.com