One of the real bones of contention in recent times has been the extension in definition of the term misogyny. What I hope to achieve here is to try and outline the position of both sides.
-Perhaps a good place to start will be to look at the traditional definition of the word and then look at how the definition has been broadened, so as to apply to a substantially larger number of individuals, their actions and (perceived) motives.
-Subsequently I will attempt, to the best of my abilities, to refine and lay out the defence for this, on the basis of the arguments that I have heard.
-Finally, I aim to give my own thoughts on why I hold that such redefining of terms amounts to political smearing. No more, no less.
So right off the bat let us examine the dictionary definition of the word. Here are a selection of dictionary definitions quickly found online:
Dictionary.com - hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women
Merriam-Webster.com - a hatred of women
Thefreedictionary.com - a hatred of women
an extreme dislike of females, frequently based upon unhappy experience or upbringing
It must also be pointed out that after the Australian Prime Minister had labelled her opposite number a misogynist back in October the Australian Macquarie dictionary said that it was expanding its definition to include "entrenched prejudice against women" as misogyny had taken on wider meaning, particularly in feminist discourse and that with changed usage should come a changed definition.
This is only to be expected. Dictionaries have, in modern times, become entirely descriptive and so are compelled to mirror (and inevitably lag behind) changes in usage across society.
The Expanded Definition: The Issue
However, the discourse that has taken place online, in recent times (especially amongst a number of blogs and their commenters at Freethought Blogs and Skepchick), seem to have taken a definition of misogyny that is far more free ranging and liberally applied than even the expanded entry in the Australian dictionary.
Whilst it is difficult to exactly state the scope of how it is being applied, here are some examples of things which could potentially earn you the label:
1) Equity Feminism - for some this simply does not go far enough and is misogynistic because it doesn't take accounts of womens special requirements.
2) Positive discrimination/ Affirmative action - an opposition to measures that fall into these categories such as quotas or all-women shortlists, seemingly on whatever grounds, are signs of misogynistic thinking for some.
3) Evolutionary Psychology - with evo psych comes the possibility that not all (statistical) behavioural or preference differences between males and females are entirely cultural in origin which leads to the truly terrifying and misogynistic idea that men and women might actually have some tiny residual statistical differences, cognitively speaking, aside from the influence of culture.
4) Patriarchy theory/ Rape culture - question any aspect of either of these two mantras and, in the eyes of some, your status as a dyed-in-the-wool misogynist is set.
5) Disagreements/ Attacks on female bloggers - Seemingly, taking issue with female bloggers can be construed as misogynistic even if you have demonstrably been at least as tough with their male counterparts either at the time or in the past.
6) Equality of opportunity - A subset of thinkers seemingly exist who assume equality of outcome as a given, thus any outcome other than an outcome that exactly matches demographics is necessarily a result of discrimination, in some form. Therefore, advocates of equality of opportunity are assumed to be misogynistic (I can only assume myself) because if they were not up to some mischief they would obviously be advocating equality of outcome instead.
7) Being male - Whilst not a sufficient condition in itself it is largely a necessary one. Even those who throw around the misogyny label most liberally clearly realise how magnificently wrong-headed it sounds to apply the label to women. Consequently, many things that attract the misogyny accusation only do so when perpetrated or espoused by men.
8) Sexism - As often as not it seems misogyny is simply being used as a synonym for sexism.
The Expanded Definition: The Defence
Before considering exactly why this expanded definition is so problematic it may be worth first outlining the line of defence of those who are using these expanded definitions of misogyny.
The first thing they point out, absolutely correctly, is that definitions change. This is a doubly reasonable point, on its face, because allied to it is this idea that dictionaries reflect usage and so simply retorting what the precise dictionary definition is, at any given moment in time, ignores the descriptive nature of modern dictionaries and the inevitable lag, with respect to rapidly changing definitions, mentioned earlier in this blog entry.
The second point they make is that we (and I say we having been labelled a misogynist, in the last six months, on more occasions than I care to remember - that after 40 years of never having attracted the label) are making much too much of a fuss over the term. Their point is that what counts is what THEY mean by the word, not what WE understand by it. Thus, as their usage of the term is of something substantially less than a blanket hatred or dislike of womankind generally, we ought not get too het up or worried by its usage and application.
There are some real problems with this and I suspect that they are all too aware of them. What is happening is what you could call smearing via equivocation by proxy.
Where The Problem Lies
So whilst it is true that definitions change, the majority of the time this is not as the result of a determined effort but simply societal creep in usage patterns. Some of that may be at work here but there seems a more determined effort to apply this term as far and wide as possible.
So one question that must be asked is that if the definition is being expanded in a conscious way - that is, if the definition of a really nasty derogatory label that no reasonable minded person would wish to have associated with them is being expanded to include as many people as possible - what reasons could lie behind this?*
I freely admit, as it stands, I fail to envisage any reasons that are not wholly objectionable and/or mean-spirited.
To explain why this is all just such an issue let us consider the second point of defence, that we really do not need to show quite such consternation.
Recall: the line is that the definition of misogyny that counts is their definitions, as they are the ones applying the label, and NOT dictionary definitions of hatred or dislike of women. But here is the issue. It is all well and good to redefine words and phrases to meet new sets of circumstances but you have to tread very carefully when you are talking about terms which are actually slurs, or the equivalent of slurs, when applied to individuals.
Imagine, by way of example, I asked you if you loved children.
You tell me that you do and, in fact, have had several children of your own which you truly cherish.
What would you feel like if I then announced you were a paedophile?
I suggest you would not be best pleased....... to put it mildly!
But then I tell you that my usage of the term merely refers to affection for children generally, nothing whatsoever to imply anything sexual or improper: so there, you have nothing whatsoever to worry about!
Can you see the issue here? Whilst strictly within my definition there is no issue to warrant your concern, what we both know is that the rest of the world operates to another definition. Further, when I boldly announce that you are a paedophile, to all who will listen, the specifics of my redefinition will be stripped away: all the world will see, as a result of this equivocation of the term by proxy, is a smearing accusation that you are sexually attracted to children! Do we have an issue now? You bet we fucking do!
So this seems a pretty shit trick to play. When we throw around smears like misogynist, regardless of what we would like the word to mean, what really counts, in terms of the smearing potential of the word, is what the wider world understands the term to mean. Many of the individuals who are using this word so much more loosely and then proclaiming - innocent and doe-eyed to the last - that words change meanings and not to worry, know full well what they are doing here.
It also makes misogynist a much meaner and two-faced slur than words like feminazi that get thrown back in their direction. Whilst feminazi is a word I neither use nor approve of, it is at least an up-front slur. Any third party overhearing an accusation that someone is a feminazi is not likely to suspect anything much different to what is being claimed. Consequently, their feelings towards the accused party will likely depend more on their feelings towards outspoken feminists generally, whether positive or negative, than anything above and beyond that.
So anyone over at Freethought Blogs tells you that they are the side playing by the rules, that it is all the other side, that is not quite the true picture. What IS the picture is that they are the side boxing clever here, using tried and tested underhand political techniques to forward an agenda that appears to involve more than is claimed. I give them credit for that, it impresses me, but I am also not fooled by it for one moment.
-No mistake: smearing in this way is a shit political trick.
-Attempting to conflate atheism itself with their own personal socio-political ideology with the ambiguously and misleadingly titled atheism+ (which sounds for all the world to any third party, again not in the know, as some kind of new term for strident atheists or strong atheism) is a shit political trick.
-Legitimately campaigning for an harassment policy but then telling others who campaign against one (not me in this case, on balance my view was to have such a policy and be done with it) to 'run their own conventions if they don't like the rules' is a really really shit and entitled trick.
-Spinning the amount of incidents and danger at conventions until any sound-minded person would sooner take a job as a pork-chop salesman in Kabul marketplace when the mosques kick out rather than attend - yes madam, we have another shit trick!
It is to the eternal discredit of some, ashamedly largely from the side I represent, that some really nasty missives have been sent across the divide. Whether fuelled by anger or genuine prejudice it is ugly and unacceptable and benefits noone. But be in no doubt: both sides have their little games. Here I have presented a sly little game, the misogyny game: smearing via equivocation by proxy.
Thank you for reading, bye for now.
* An aside: I think this is a question we should ask generally whenever such redefinitions come up.
example, in the last six months I have learnt that the feminist
definition of sexism is prejudice plus power. The end result is that,
under this redefinition, any conversation that takes place is
immediately shaped in advance. So they have made it impossible here, by dint of
definition, for half the population to ever be recognised as victims of
sexism no matter what treatment they encounter (especially coupled with
the simultaneous failure to recognise that societies are a complex
patchwork and 'male power' really only represents a summation of the
peaks and troughs throughout society). Indeed, we end up with the grotesque asymmetry of a man and woman both pronouncing
that the other sex are all universally a bunch of assholes but only one of them would be
branded a sexist as a result.
So when we see a redefinition such as this, I think
it behooves us to consider the motives of those who are championing the
redefinition. Just as one would if I announced that, from now on, high
intelligence was to be redefined as high levels of mental acuity in a
man, thus precluding any woman, by definition, from claiming to be
intelligent! I suggest that most people would have some concern over my
motives were I to attempt such a stunt and that we should likewise be sceptical of peoples motives when they engage in such conversationally manipulative jiggery-pokery!