So Sandeep Atwal and I have been disagreeing on the definition of misogyny.
Sandeep says that misogyny means “hatred of women,” full stop. I agree misogyny means “hatred of women,” but it additionally means (to quote the OED) “Dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.”
Well, technically we’ve been arguing over if the brilliant cartoonist Dave Sim is a misogynist – Sandeep, who is Sim’s friend, says that Sim is not; I say that Sim is.1 But it all boils down to how one defines “misogyny.” As Sandeep wrote in his reply to me:
Certainly definitions are very important and this argument is going to come down, in part, to the definition of misogyny. If you want to say that anyone who does not trust women is a misogynist, then by that definition Sim would be a misogynist. Okay, end of conversation.
Of course, distrusting a particular woman based on experience with her, or distrusting everyone without singling women out, isn’t misogyny. But someone who singles out women and says women as a group are untrustworthy, is displaying “ingrained prejudice” against women, a.k.a. misogyny.
(Also, it’s misleading for you to boil my side of the argument down to the word “distrust,” as if you’ve been arguing that misogyny only means “hate” while I’ve been arguing it only means “distrust.” That’s not the argument we’ve been having.)
So what does misogyny mean?
As I pointed out earlier in our discussion, the word “misogyny” was first used in English in the play “Swetnam the Woman-Hater,” published in 1820 but performed as early as 1818. (They spelled it “misogynos.”) Later uses of the word derived from this play. The play, a satirical farce, was written as a response to Joseph Swetnam’s hugely popular 1815 pamphlet The arraignment of lewd, idle, froward, and unconstant women. At the play’s climax, a women’s court finds the Swetnam stand-in character guilty of “Woman-slander, and defamation.”
So according to the word’s coiners, misogyny is not a narrow concept referring only to hatred, but a broader concept referring to to slander and defamation of women (and as I read it, sexism against women in general).
Of course, possibly the meaning of the word has evolved since 1818. But most current dictionary definitions seem to agree that “misogyny” refers to more than just blind hatred. (Dictionary definitions aren’t everything, but a definition from a well-done descriptive dictionary does indicate how researchers have found English speakers are actually using a word).
Certainly definitions are very important and this argument is going to come down, in part, to the definition of misogyny. If you want to say that anyone who does not trust women is a misogynist, then by that definition Sim would be a misogynist. Okay, end of conversation. That doesn’t really address his points, though. But, come on, let’s be honest here, people aren’t going around saying Dave’s an asshole because…gasp!…he doesn’t trust women!
I hate “come on, let’s be honest.” In argument, what it means is “I’m going to say something I believe to be true, without presenting any evidence, and by framing it as ‘let us be honest’ I’m suggesting that if you don’t accept my unsupported statement as truth you’re not being honest.”
(Also, see my prior note about the misleading way you’re using the word “distrust,” as if I’ve been arguing that misogyny means “distrust” and nothing else.)
Why can’t people think that someone who exhibits prejudice against women2 such as distrusting women in particular – is an “asshole”? That seems to me to be an ordinary and commonplace usage of “asshole.”3
They didn’t draw him as a Nazi because they think he doesn’t trust women. They think he hates women.
For my blog readers who don’t know, Sandeep is alluding to a February 1994 Comics Journal cover, which featurd a caricature of Sim as the guard at a Nazi concentration camp, to accompany a story about Sim’s misogyny.4 I agree it was a stupid and over-the-top cover – and what we’d now call clickbait – but citing this example doesn’t help your argument, Sandeep. I’m not arguing that no one thinks Dave Sim hates women – obviously, many people think that.5
But that’s not the question. The question is, can I legitimately sign a petition saying Dave Sim isn’t a misogynist? To sign that petition, I’d have to believe Dave has never exhibited a pattern of “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.” And no, I can’t believe that, because I’ve read Dave’s writing.
But if Dave wants to start a new petition saying “Dave Sim is not a Nazi,” I’ll gladly sign that one.6
But as he once stated, he follows the maxim of his lawyer, “Trust no one.” So he doesn’t trust women and he doesn’t trust men. So Dave Sim hates men and women because he doesn’t trust them? That seems like a bit of a stretch to me.
If you were arguing against someone who said that “distrust” and “hate” mean the same thing, this would be a meaningful argument. But you are not, and it is not.
What, then, do I think qualifies as misogyny? Well, I’m going to stick to the notion of hate. I mean, it wouldn’t make any sense to say of someone, “He’s a misogynist, but he doesn’t hate women.” or “He hates women, but he’s not a misogynist.” The terms are as close to interchangeable as they can be. As such, I don’t think his statements about women demonstrate “an intense, passionate dislike”. I just don’t think hatred even enters into it.
It would make perfect sense to say of someone “he’s a misogynist, not because he personally loathes every woman he meets, but because he’s displayed dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.” This is a common way that people use the word “misogynist”; it’s the way that I’ve been using it, and I’m pretty sure it’s the way Neil Gaiman has been using it.7
A dictionary like the OED is descriptive. They don’t say what words ought to mean; they say how current English speakers and writers actually use the words. So although a dictionary definition isn’t absolute – if someone uses a word differently than how the dictionary says, that doesn’t make them necessarily wrong – a good dictionary is a researched, expert guide to how typical English speakers are using words.
So if you’re saying “Come on, let’s be honest! No one really uses ‘misogyny’ to mean ‘dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women,'” and the OED says that is how people use the word, and if in addition I tell you that I’m a person and that’s how I use the word–
Then you’re simply wrong.
It’s as if you said “no one wears grey shirts.” If I can point to a highly-regarded fashion guide that says wearing grey shirts is commonplace – and if, furthermore, I can point out that I myself am wearing a grey shirt – then that settles the matter. There are, in fact, people who wear grey shirts. That you, yourself, do not realize that some people sometimes wear grey shirts does not in any way change the fact that some people sometimes wear grey shirts.
In an email to me (which Sandeep kindly gave me permission to quote), Sandeep wrote:
However, I think you’d have to explain why, if the OED definition of misandry is “The hatred of males; hatred of men as a sex.” (I’m using OED.com) then why can’t we just use “hatred of females; hatred of women as a sex.” for misogyny? Doesn’t seem unreasonable. The etymology of both words is fairly simple, so I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be interchangeable in that sense.
The definitions of words in a dictionary aren’t about what the word ought to mean based on etymology, or based on what related words mean. That would be a “prescriptive” approach, which is not the approach actual lexicographers take. A dictionary is “descriptive” – it is based on actual usage, not on etymology, and not on what “seems reasonable.”8
Or, why not use Merriam-Webster, since that just defines it simply as “a hatred of women”? Does it have to be the OED? Does it have to be the OED’s precise definition as currently stated?
It doesn’t have to be the OED. When I first got into this discussion, the first definition I quoted was “hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women, or prejudice against women,”9 from the Random House dictionary, via dictionary.reference.com. I’m also fine with definitions like “The adjective misogynistic is good for describing a dislike or hatred of women, or a deep-rooted bias against women in particular” from vocabulary.com.
And, also, I’m fine with Merriam-Webster’s definition, “hatred of women.” That is how some people use the word, so M-W isn’t wrong. As far as I’m concerned, one way people use “misogynistic” is to mean “hatred of women.”
But it’s not the only way people use the word.
Lots of people use the word the way the OED, and Random House, and vocabulary.com, and many other sources, describe. And you haven’t given any reasonable arguments as to why I should use the M-W definition to the exclusion of all others.
I’m not the one of us trying to limit the discussion to a single, narrow definition of the word. You are.
* * *
I do apologize for taking so long to respond, after telling you (in email) that I would respond. Honestly, after saying that, I reread your long post, and decided that – despite you being admirably polite and amicable – it was probably a waste of time to attempt to discuss this with you any further. Because you wrote this:
I’m mostly discussing and explaining this to myself, so when I say “you” below, I’m generally not ascribing any claim to you personally, but to the counterpoint of the argument I’m trying to make, so I’m not trying to put any words in your mouth or set up any straw men.
Actually, Sandeep, responding to the counterpoint of the argument you want to make, rather than responding to the claims I’ve actually made, is exactly a strawman argument.
So when you write, “it doesn’t make sense to me to suggest that until fifty years ago, all men simply, ‘hated women,” that’s a strawman. I’m not making that claim; as far as I know, no one is making that claim. I’ve explicitly said I’m not using “misogynistic” to mean only “hatred of women.”
And you’ve chosen to ignore what I’ve said and respond to an argument I’ve never made. And you do this over and over and over, throughout your essay.
It takes me a lot of time and effort to make arguments like this one. If the person I’m talking to isn’t even going to bother responding to what I myself have written, preferring to respond to claims I’ve never made, then how is responding a good use of my time?
You made a lot of other arguments, but most of them are completely lacking in substance. For example:
Here’s a list of best-selling women’s magazines on Amazon. The claim that the most popular men’s magazines don’t say anything relevant about men and their interests, and that, similarly, the list of women’s magazines says nothing about women and their interests is simply not credible to me. These are going concerns, the most popular magazines in America with circulations in the millions that must appeal to the interests of their respective markets or go out of business. A significant portion of their budget is spent on finding out exactly what their readership wants, and then giving it to them.
You used Woman’s Day, a best-selling magazine, as an example. Woman’s Day has a total circulation of over three million, most of whom are women. Three million sounds big – until you consider that there are approximately 125 million women above age 16 in the USA alone.10
To be sure, a random, representative survey of American women could say a lot about 125 million women based on far fewer than 3 million data points. But the readers of a particular magazine are neither random nor representative; they’re a self-selected and wildly unrepresentative sample. The only group you can draw conclusions from, by looking at the readers of Woman’s Day – is the readers of Woman’s Day.
You can’t say anything about men-in-general by looking at men’s magazines. You can’t say anything about women-in-general by looking at women’s magazines. You’re like someone looking at a class of 100 children, noticing that two of them are wearing glasses, and spinning off a bunch of wild conclusions about how children in general wear glasses.
Another example: Having a rape fantasy, is not the same as wanting to be raped in real life.
* * *
I don’t really consider “is Dave Sim a misogynist” to be an interesting argument, because the only reasonable answer is, yes, obviously he is.
You might as well ask if Picasso was an artist; sure, “art” is a subjective term, lots of people hate Picasso’s work, blah blah blah, but in the end, the answer is “yes, he’s obviously an artist according to how nearly every single person in our society uses the word, and anyone arguing otherwise is doing rhetorical backflips and arguing an unjustifiable position.”
For example, I wrote this, quoting Dave:
“To me, taking it as a given that reason cannot prevail in any argument with emotion, there must come a point – with women and children – where verbal discipline has to be asserted, and if verbal discipline proves insufficient, that physical discipline be introduced.”
Here, Sim says that he thinks men should physically beat women (but “leave no mark which endures longer than, say, an hour or two”) if they can’t “prevail” in an argument. He also conflates women with children. Both these views are misogynistic.
I think you completely and totally mischaracterize Sim by saying he advocates that one should “physically beat women.” Men don’t beat women. Only cowards beat women. You learn that before Kindergarten.
Spanking someone so hard that a mark endures for “an hour or two” is beating, unless you’re going to use some tendentious definition of “beating” that I don’t care to argue about. More importantly, unless the hitting is consensual, it’s despicable and wrong, and I don’t care what term you prefer for it.11
Obviously, Sim believes in corporal punishment—in this case, spanking—when it comes to women (and children). If you find the idea of spanking a woman offensive on the face of it, I understand, but does advocating such a position de facto make you a misogynist?
Yes it does. First of all, equating women with children is misogynistic; such an equation is “ingrained prejudice against women.” Women are rational creatures, who can be argued with rationally, and without resorting to violence, as much as any person can be. Dave’s position is a denial that women are rational creatures, and as such, misogynistic.
Secondly – and this is so obvious that I can’t believe I’m saying it – advocating hitting women is misogynistic. That you can’t see that completely destroys your credibility on the subject of misogyny; nothing you say on this subject could possibly be taken seriously by any reasonable person, ever.12 You might as well ask if advocating hitting Jews is de facto antisemitic.13 Of course it is, and arguing with someone who can’t see that is like arguing with someone who says water isn’t wet. (And this, by the way, is the other reason I decided responding to you would not be a good use of time.)
(It’s also terribly wrong to hit children – including spanking – but arguing that is beyond the scope of this post.)
I also don’t think he is conflating women and children any more than the phrase “women and children first” conflates the two.
The phrase “women and children first” does conflate women, not in every possible way, but certainly in grouping women and children together in a category of “people who should be rescued first.”
Likewise, Dave’s argument conflates women and children, in that he groups women and children together in the category of “people who are incapable of rational argument.”
- Normally, I try to avoid saying that someone “is” a misogynist, preferring instead to criticize particular statements or arguments, rather than a person. But this all originally came up in the context of signing – or not signing – Sim’s “Dave Sim is not a misogynist” petition, so putting it that way was “baked in” to the discussion from the start. [↩]
- And in Dave’s case, an extraordinary level of prejudice against women [↩]
- Note that I myself am not calling Dave an “asshole.” But it’s not unrealistic to think people would say that. [↩]
- I searched for an image of the cover to link to, but couldn’t find one online, which implies that this cover image from 22 years ago is not actually a significant part of how people think about Dave Sim nowadays. [↩]
- Honestly, I think so, too, for many common definitions of “hatred” – for instance, Miriam-Webster defines “hatred” as “prejudiced hostility or animosity” – but the exact definition of “hated” is a bit off topic. I’m actually not very interested in the question of “is Dave Sim a misogynist,” because this is an question that matters to almost nobody in the world other than Sim himself. But the question of what “misogynistic” means comes up often enough so that it’s probably useful to set some arguments down. [↩]
- Just as I’ll gladly sign a petition saying that Dave has many good traits, that Dave has been personally kind, helpful and encouraging to both female and male cartoonists – including me, that Dave has many positive things to contribute to the comics community if he wishes to, that I think it would be appropriate for Dave to go out in public, and that Dave is one of the most brilliant cartoonists ever. But I won’t sign one saying that Dave’s not a misogynist. [↩]
- I mention Neil Gaiman because this discussion was set off by Gaiman tweeting that although he supports Dave Sim’s patreon, he will not sign the “Dave Sim is not a misogynist” petition. [↩]
- Incidentally, I bet that 20 years from now, the OED has broadened the definition of “misandry.” Because I’ve seen lots of people use “misandry” to mean something broader than just “hatred” of men, and presumably the OED dictionary researchers are likely to make the same observation. Unless, of course, the people I’ve been observing using the word “misandry” are very unrepresentative of how users of the word “misandry” are actually using the word. [↩]
- Note that it says “or,” not “and.” [↩]
- See table 2 of this pdf document from the US Census. [↩]
- I also disagree with many implications of “only cowards beat women,” but this response is already too long, and unpacking all the misogynistic and misandrist implications of those four words would be a tangent. [↩]
- I know enough about how these arguments go so I suspect someday, someone – perhaps Dave Sim – will quote this sentence to make some broad point about how feminists don’t think anyone can ever disagree with them and remain worth listening to. Obviously, that is not what I’m saying. [↩]
- I’m ignoring technically-correct-but-obviously-besides-the-point counterexamples, like “what if a boxing league forbids Jews, and I argue that Jews should be allowed to join the league?” Obviously, there are weird specific circumstances that might be exceptions; also obviously, no good-faith rebuttal of what I’m arguing here could hinge on such an example. [↩]