Misogyny and Gender Inequality

23 February 2018

This week we’re thinking about misogyny and gender inequality. All over the world, men enjoy power and privilege relative to women. It’s always been that way, and probably always will be.

But one could also have more hope, given that in some countries women have made a lot of progress. A hundred years ago, women in the US couldn’t vote. Now you find women occupying positions at the very top of the social hierarchy. There are women CEOs, women scientists, women lawyers, women senators.

Then again, one might also think the #MeToo movement shows how far we still have to go. Women are still disproportionately the victims of sexual violence. They still earn less than men. They still do the lion’s share of work in the household. There's no doubt those things are bad for women. But the gender hierarchy is bad for men too.

This is no brief for the oppressed male. Masculinity can be toxic, not just for women, but also for men, who are more likely to die at war, more likely to end up in prison, get beat up—they die earlier. And they miss out on their children’s lives. Women are also better educated. They even tend to have more friends.

None of this is to deny that women are oppressed or that men are their oppressors. It's not hard understand the ways that women are treated as second class citizens. But in our gendered world, men are losers too.

Of course, whatever disadvantages men do face, they pale in comparison to those of the oppressed women. Even if the master’s house is empty (and kind of lonely), he still owns the house. And even men who don’t own houses still dominate women who own even less. That’s because the gendered culture sets them on a path that equates masculinity with oppressing women.

But what about free will? After all, men aren’t just victims of this system, they're agents in this system too. But that view may overestimate the amount of agency that individual men have in the patriarchy. Norms and social structure dictate so much of the gender injustice.

Take the norm that women do most of the child-rearing. That feeds into the fact that women earn less than men at work, which makes it more economical for them to do the child-rearing. It’s a vicious and self-reinforcing cycle.

So how do we break the cycle? Helpful social policies like early and affordable childcare and flexible work times are a start. But perhaps that's too optimistic, since one could think that putting more women in the workplace might result in more sexual assault, more harassment—more men hating women who encroach on their “territory.”

But what if misogyny is not about hate, but about power—what if the Harvey Weinsteins of the world actually love women but just get off on their own power? Well with love like that, who needs hate? These men love women as objects, not as full human subjects—doesn't that amount to the same thing?



Comments (5)

Gerald Fnord's picture

Gerald Fnord

Sunday, February 25, 2018 -- 11:22 AM

I see misogyny as stemming

I see misogyny as stemming from residual resentment against the power exercised by the mother, by resentment against women seen as potential sex-partners unwilling to be so, and simple and explicitly misogynist and masculinist ideologies. They play well together; in particular, simple bigotry makes it easy to see sexual unavailability as being motivated by malice or artifice, an avenue pre-widened by the desire not to see oneself as undesirable, itself bolstered by a strongly-held equation of desirability with personal worth. Similarly, simple bigotry makes a mother's rule over her son seem, as he ages, illegitimate, and more worthy of resentment than his father's. (An analogy: in the Jim Crow South, a three-year-old white boy was supposed to heed his black nurse-maid, but order her about at the age of ten or so, race by then trumping age as a determiner of legitimate authority.)

Misandry certainly exists for analogous or mirror-reversed reasons, but women both less often been in unambiguously superior positions and tend have been educated into the belief that feminine power were intended to be used for good reason…whereas for many nothing says 'masculine' as well as the exercise of power, and (as Orwell and others have noted) power were most easily demonstrated in its arbitrary and selfish use.

…and we need not have resort to conspiracy theory to see how this, like all unfair and arbitrary division, assists those with greater power in society. Many a man has salved the wounds of being under a boss' thumb by being a domestic tyrant, or a Proud White Man who at least has the n-gg-rs beneath him; every moment James Damore spent considering and complaining about supposèd unfairly favourable treatment of women at Google was a moment not spent considering how men and women both at Google might be better-off with a union backing them….

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, February 25, 2018 -- 11:49 AM

Fnord seems to have covered

Fnord seems to have covered the bases. Maybe more than was needed...but, I'm not criticizing. If anyone is interested, I made some remarks on the other recent PT post on misogyny, so there is no sense in repeating them here---even though the context is slightly different.

Friendly Heretic's picture

Friendly Heretic

Tuesday, February 27, 2018 -- 1:30 PM

If women are more oppressed

If women are more oppressed than men in "developed" countries like the United States, wouldn't we expect there to be more misandry than misogyny, based on the oppressed naturally feeling more anger?

If women are more oppressed than men in "developed" countries like the United States, wouldn't we expect more women than men to be undergoing sex change operations, in order to join the group perceived as being more advantaged?

If women are more oppressed than men in "developed" countries like the United States, wouldn't we expect statistics in things such as life expectancy, education levels, incarceration rates, household assets, consumer purchasing power, etc., to reflect this?

Is it possible that we're paying too much attention to the power wielded by a relatively small number of men in high-profile positions in countries like the U.S., and not enough attention to less visible ways in which the average woman in such societies has more power and advantages than the average man?

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, February 28, 2018 -- 10:38 AM

Thoughtful assessment, FH.

Thoughtful assessment, FH. And probably more on point than many in the me-too camp might wish to admit. Women scorned are furious; women disrespected are livid; women who have been used by powerful men are ready to commit murder. Hoping not to sound too egg-headed, the history of power wielded by men is long and studded with pitfalls and pot holes (somewhat like my mid-west community, this time of year). Women are as mad as hell, and clearly, they are not going to take it anymore. This is a significant time, not only in these United States, but in the rest of the world. Having lived through several mini-epochs of social change and societal upheaval, I am worried about the 'course of human events'. One thing is most amazing to me: the more social turmoil I witness, the more resistance to change there appears to be---even when change is (or ought to be) viewed in a constructive way: the more there is push-back against egregious treatment and behaviors; the more those tend to push back against the threat of their elimination. We seem determined to maintain a 'state-of-quo', tied to traditional conservatism-if there is such a thing. Someone's grass is always greener. Out feet should be screaming in pain from all the times we have shot holes in them. Maybe men are just too bone headed to get it. I do not know...

Some of us would like to think we are rational, caring and sensible. That is difficult to sustain when so many others don't give a flip.At least we still have metaphor.

JNavas's picture


Sunday, August 16, 2020 -- 12:01 PM

My take is that misogyny like

My take is that like racism, misogyny is a strategy to divide and subjugate (conquer), and that men suffer in their own way just as women suffer. This basic idea is illustrated well in the movie The Platform. When we fight for a bigger slice of the pie, we lose sight of the real problem. We're being pitted against one another instead of joining forces against the perpetrators.

The solution is simple. It's called quotas, and it's demonized by the privileged because it threatens their privilege. For example, requiring all corporate officers and boards of directors to be at least 40% women would go a long way toward gender equality in business.