(Some of this post is derived from comments I wrote in the “nice guys” thread. This is a “feminists and pro-feminists only” thread.)
It’s common, when feminists and non-feminists talk, to see a great deal of mix-up over the terms “misogyny” and “woman-hating.” Many people, feminist and non-, tend to treat the two terms as if they’re interchangeable — but they shouldn’t be, because it’s not useful to have two words with the same meaning.
Wikipedia does a good job describing how feminists use the word misogyny:
Misogyny is hatred or strong prejudice against women. The word comes from the Greek words μίσος (misos, “hatred”) + γυνη (gunê, “woman”). Compared with anti-woman sexism or misandry (hatred, strong prejudice against men), misogyny is termed by most feminist theories as a political ideology like racism and antisemitism that justifies and maintains the subordination of women to men.
“Hatred or strong prejudice,” not just hatred.
Hatred, in contrast, means “Intense animosity or hostility” (according to the American Heritage dictionary). But it’s possible to be strongly prejudiced against someone without feeling intense animosity. Think of a father, for example, who loves his science-minded daughters, but at the same time feels that women are intrinsically incapable of being great scientists or mathematicians. We don’t have to doubt his love for his daughters, or suppose that he feels intense animosity towards them, to recognize that his beliefs are strongly prejudiced against women (including his daughters).
This brings me to rape. Many feminists believe that most rapists act out of hate — that is to say, out of “intense animosity or hostility” towards women. I think that these feminists are mistaken. There are some rapists who are motivated by hatred of women, but my belief is that they’re a minority.
When a shoplifter robs a store, he’s not doing it because he feels animosity towards the shopkeeper. He’s doing it because he wants something, and he’s doesn’t care what the shopkeeper wants. It’s not hate, because it’s not that personal.
A rapist wants sex, for whatever reason — maybe he’s horny, maybe he’s hypermasculine and so is driven to “prove” his masculinity over and over, maybe he’s being pressured by his male friends. But the important thing is that he feels so much entitlement to have what he wants (or what he imagines he “needs”), combined with so little empathy for women. For him, what he wants is a matter of great importance, while what a woman wants doesn’t matter.
Rapists are not, unfortunately, a species apart from ordinary heterosexual men. They’re towards the end of the spectrum, but their attitudes are not abnormal.
Consider a young man who is, as our legal system defines the term, not a rapist. Maybe he competes with his guy friends to see who can “hit” the most women. (The slang phrase “I hit that,” meaning “I had sex with that woman,” is amazing for it’s ultra-concise equation of sex with violence and women with objects). Or maybe he’s just desperate to have “done it” with one woman, just so he can feel like he’s a man. Or maybe he feels deprived because he has had sex, but not lately, and not as much as he thinks others are having.
He doesn’t use physical force or threats to have sex with women. But he manipulates. He plots with his friends, or in his mind. He makes sure her drink is never empty. He contrives to separate her from her friends so he can be alone with her.1. He says “if you really liked me you’d do it with me.” He wonders if she’s a prude. He accuses her of leading him on.
He’s acting like a safecracker trying trick after trick to get into a safe. And that’s wrong, because a safecracker doesn’t give a damn about whether or not the safe is enjoying the interaction. A safecracker doesn’t care if the safe is left with permanent damage. All the safecracker cares about is getting what he wants.
His approach to sex is based in manipulation, and coercion, not about mutual flirting and seduction and fun.2 Maybe he’ll luck out and not hurt whoever he has sex with; maybe she’ll have wanted it just as much as him, maybe she’ll tell her friends “I hit that.” But maybe not. Maybe she didn’t want it, maybe she was manipulated, and maybe she’ll be left emotionally hurt and appalled by the whole relationship.
He’s a misogynist because he was willing to take that chance. He didn’t care enough to make sure it was the former, not the latter — and in that utter indifference to what the woman wants, he’s on common ground with rapists.
It’s not “intense animosity or hostility,” but it sure as hell is misogyny. And it’s not how every guy acts all the time — but it’s how many guys in our culture have acted, at least some of the time. It’s ordinary male behavior. And that’s why I think our culture’s entire dominant conception of masculinity, especially in regards to sex, needs to be reformed.
- None of this is new. In the 1950s and 1960s, this same guy would have contrived to “accidentally” have his car run out of gas with her in some remote spot [↩]
- Just for the record, I’m all in favor of casual sex that’s based in mutual flirting and seduction and fun. But the word “mutual” is essential. [↩]