It seems that the latest overused word in the broadcast media and cyberspace is misogyny. The problem is that by extending its literal definition we will lose sight of the what is really going on in the gender cultural war. The dictionary definition of misogyny is “a hatred of women.” However, so often the word is applied to any man who behaves badly around women. It would be extremely helpful to break down these incidents of bad behavior and differentiate insensitivity or boorishness from behaviors which are intended to maliciously harm women. For example, the allegations against former senator Franken for his actions towards women while campaigning is certainly, if true, unacceptable but not misogynistic.
By putting all male inappropriate behavior in the verbal basket of misogyny the defensive reaction by men can lead to true misogyny like the “incel” fringe responsible for the tragedy in Toronto and the toxic manosphere bloggers, or on the other extreme, a sense of gender isolation and confusion further contaminating the routine social interactions between men and women.
I recall that at the beginning of the modern feminist movement bad behavior by men that was insensitive or sexist without malice was labeled as male chauvinism. The worst offenders were called “male chauvinist pigs.” Chauvinism , defined as “an attitude of superiority toward members of the opposite sex,” is learned and therefore can be unlearned. However, a true hatred of women is far more pathological and far more difficult to reverse. If one lets a man know that he has made a behavioral choice or has an attitude that is perceived as chauvinistic he is more likely to engage in introspection and subsequent change than if he is simply called a women hater. Most of us can respond non-defensively to feedback about a particular incidence of bad behavior but will react with complete denial to being accused of a major character flaw. Calling a male chauvinist a misogynist will simple lead to a reply, “I don’t hate women,” eliminating a honest appraisal of his biases and behaviors and preventing a change in attitude and behavior.
When we fail to differentiate between chauvinism and truly misogynistic behaviors we inhibit the power of bringing about the needed societal changes about gender equality. If we focus on helping men and women renegotiate the gender social contract by focusing on biases, attitudes and behaviors instead of simple name calling there is hope for transforming the gender narrative from war to respectful dialogue.