I’m going to confess my ignorance to the fact that I only just learned that there is a difference between misogyny and sexism. I, like many people, thought these two words could be used interchangeably but it turns out there is a slight and important distinction between the two. Misogyny is defined as a hatred of women, while sexism is prejudice or discrimination based on sex as well as behavior, conditions or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex. A subtle difference but crucial nonetheless.
With the popularity of the video of Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard publicly admonishing her leader of opposition regarding his “misogyny” (I use the quotation marks only because several people have pointed out that her speech was really more about sexism), The Guardian reports that the Macquarie Dictionary is going to change the definition of misogyny to imply an entrenched prejudice against women instead of a pathological hatred . Anyone whose been a victim of prejudice or discrimination will likely tell you that it felt pretty hate filled, and far be it from me to tell them any differently. With that being said, I don’t think the conflation of the two definitions is in women’s best interest. Really, in the best interest of anyone who believes in and works for the promotion of the equality of women and men.
Misogyny runs rampant in our society. And when I use the word misogyny, I mean misogyny, the pathological hatred of women. There’s been a story going around the Internet lately, in which a reporter from Gawker magazine outed a well known Reddit contributor and sub-editor responsible for some of the most abhorrent sections of Reddit that thrive off anti-woman sentiment. This isn’t just sexism, there is a deep and underlying hatred of women and young girls that is thriving because of the belief that the targeted women and girls are “dirty whores who get what’s coming to them.” This article from Salon discusses this further.
But this type of thinking isn’t just represented by a section of creeps that gather together in the shadows of the Internet, hatred of women is so entrenched in our society that it’s seeped its way into our social institutions. A rape survivor recounts her reasons why, given the chance again, she would never prosecute her rapist. When she went to go meet with the Assistant District Attorney he told her that she stood no chance of winning her case, this despite clear physical evidence, because her rapist’s attorney was going to use the “slut defense”. A lawyer at the District Attorney’s office, turned to a victim of a violent crime and told her that she was going to lose because his lawyers were going to defend their client by having the jury believe that she was a slut. An occurrence so popular, the man chose to use that specific terminology rather than explain that her sexual history was going to be on trial (bad enough without using the term). Scrolling down into the comments section of that article opens up many more stories of similar occurrences – defense lawyers specifically choosing male jurors to gain support for their client and drawing attention to the type of underwear the woman was wearing on the night of her rape in order to draw attention to the fact that in essence, she was asking for it.
These are just two examples that I’ve come across in the past two days. If I had been collecting stories for the past week, the past month, I could go on and on and on. The depth of the vitriol faced by women and girls today moves beyond a prejudice or behavior based on stereotypes of social roles. This is a learned hatred, that has become so deeply entrenched in society that we also learn to accept it. No longer are we so shocked to hear that the number one cause of death among women around the world is gender based violence, or that 1 in 3 women will be beaten, coerced in sex or otherwise abused in their lifetime*, or that around 300,000 women die every year during childbirth due to entirely preventable causes. These are not just symptoms of discrimination, the fact that these conditions are allowed to continue and worsen is the result of hatred. We need to begin to identify what allows for this type of hatred to become engendered and flourish within individuals, institutions and communities. And if we are ever going to be able to cure the disease, we need to be able to diagnose the cause not just treat the symptom.
* statistics from this pdf from CARE