Far too many people see this word and first, have no idea how to say it, let alone really understand what it means. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines misogyny quite simply as:
a hatred of women.
The short, incomplete sentence really does not capture the nature of what misogyny actually means, though. Dictionary.com does a slightly better job, expounding on the initial four words:
hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women, or prejudice against women.
While better, neither really define the true nature. The truest nature of the word in our civilization should read more like:
The desire or action to subjugate women to second class status behind men in society; making women socially and/or legally subservient to men; by usage of power, religion, physical force, slander belittling language or coercion to demean women and diminish the idea that they stand equal to men in intellect and ability. Belittling women in public or private as a means to control their ability to achieve equality socially, based solely on the fact that they are a woman and not based on any personal merits; to sexually exploit women in ways as to suggest their primary worth is limited to their sexuality and ability to attract men.
That would be better, but it still would not cover the whole of it, what it means, how it effects women all over the world, or even what it looks like. Most people think, “Oh, you know it when you see it!” But is that true? Is misogyny a boss calling his secretary ‘Darlin'” instead of by her name? Maybe. Maybe not. It could just be an innocent term of endearment and the boss is just as likely to call a young man working for him “son” or something similar. If he says it while staring at her breasts, then it probably is.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand. Men can’t help what attracts them. They are wired like that. But he can help how he reacts to his attractions. He does not have the right to make employees feel sexually uncomfortable in their work environment just because he gets a little amorous tingle up his leg when she walks by. We are an evolved species perfectly capable of controlling our desires and urges. If we weren’t then we’d never have built anything more impressive than a lean-to for all the debauchery going on. However, while this is probably the most commonly experienced interaction with misogyny outside of religion (which holds the record for brainwashing half the population of the world into believing they only exist to serve the whims and needs of their husbands), it is not the worst. The indirect effect of misogyny is felt by almost every free woman, religious or not, in the United States, and even in many other Western Civilizations. But I will stick to the U.S. because being a woman living here, I have an insider knowledge.
The United States of America has built a culture around glorifying the sexual appeal of women and denigrating women who are not sexy enough, as though their value is somehow diminished. It’s used to market anything from hamburgers to the cheerleaders of sports teams. It sells pretty much everything. A woman’s sex appeal has become her commodity. Now, there is nothing wrong with being pretty, or even enjoying looking nice. That is perfectly normal. But that is not a woman’s value.
From the onset of kindergarten we tell little boys how smart they are, how strong or athletic and how they will grow up to be brave, strong or even heroic. We tell our little girls how pretty they are. We instill in them a different self value. We perpetuate misogyny because we have been taught since toddlerhood to do so. We begin to battle this invisible enemy by first exorcising it from ourselves and refusing to continue the cycle. It is wonderful to tell your little girl she is beautiful. But tell her what really makes her beautiful, aside from how she looks, her laughter, her kindness, her spirit and happiness, her creativity, her curiosity, her intellect, her power to be herself and speak her mind, her bravery and even her fear. She is beautiful. And she will, in turn, grow up with self confidence based on who she is rather than how she looks. Encourage her to be brave, face those fears and dare to live a bright life of her own, not one in the shadow as a servant. She won’t be conceited, nor will she fear age, because age will bring more wisdom and more beauty, rather than its decline. We start here, then we take on the rest. Yes, there is more, much more, we can do to defeat this wolf in our midst, for he has mistaken us as sheep and we are not. Together, we can change everything.
We will take on another opponent to our freedom in the next installment of this blog series on misogyny. We are One Woman, One World.