Decoding Misogyny

EminemDeclaring yourself as pro feminist can provoke some interesting reactions. Making a declaration that you are campaigning to address the unequal treatment of women, which in worst case scenarios can lead to sexual or physical violence, raises even more eyebrows. Of course there are those who hold back from engaging in the debate with someone so opinionated. I get that, but I know others will step forward to debate. I welcome it.

For the purpose of this article I define misogyny as a systematic prejudice, bias or hatred towards women.

It’s so easy to read what women (and other men) say about misogyny and patriarchy and it’s effect on culture and dismiss it. It’s just as easy for people to react to misogyny by talking about misandry. Misogyny runs deep in our culture, indeed around the world, and as a man it involves having to decode and defrag just how much it has shaped my own life especially on a subconscious level. That realisation can be tough.

Through the Lens
I want to look at misogyny through a few lenses, that of language, faith, entertainment and media. How these influences amongst a host of others have resulted in a world where “the fairer sex” are effectively treated rather unfairly with often rather tragic consequences. I raise this as I don’t think that the inequality in the treatment of women will ever be quelled by female activism on its own. It also requires men being able to see where the inequalities lie and dealing with them. It goes deep, very deep and to be honest we cannot defrag or radically change what has been shaped culturally over millenia in a short time. However, all journeys have to start somewhere.

OK. Off the top of your head if I said golddigger, would you think male or female? I can guarantee that most readers would define this specifically to a woman. (I recently learnt that cocklodger is the male equivalent!)What about slag, slut or whore? Again these terms are gender specific. Bitch? Mofo has more weight somewhat than DaFo. MILF vs DILF? I think you get the point. OK so these terms are derogatory but why is it that epithets like this carry such a demeaning tone in their female form. Does this mean that we should all go changing our language now? That would be silly to start censoring language but it’s interesting to note that much of this will be dismissed purely as banter, but projects like Everyday Sexismreally highlight how widespread sexist language is and how it feeds into the misogyny in our community.

From Judaism to Scientology, Islam to Christianity, many of the larger world faiths have at their core a misogynist thread. Yes we can laud some exceptions to the rule but the superiority of men is echoed through most of the scripture and dogma of these faiths and religions. It is hard to argue in favour of women bishops, for example, when Christian scripture defines bishoprick  as the domain of men. It is hard for some to truly decry the rape in India when figures of faith such as Asaram Bapu and indeed Ghandi felt women were in part to blame for abuse they received. Islamic dress code places the onus on women to cover themselves so men may not be tempted. Indeed Sura 4:34 gives ‘divine’ guidance of how a man should treat an arrogant wife. Step three of the code is to hit them!

Given the widespread impact of religion across the world, one does not have to look to far. I don’t think those who don’t have a faith should be jumping up and down too much though. Much has been written about the misogyny of atheist Christopher Hitchens, the social commentator Amazing Atheist and also philosophers such as Kant, Aristotle and Plato.

I am a fan of rap and in hip hop as a whole. The genre includes amazing wordsmiths such as Nas, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Jay Z and the pictured Eminem. It doesn’t take long for one to scratch the surface to find a deep vein of misogyny in rap. This is not limited to just so called hardcore or gangsta rap, even in the less commercial style of backpapers references to women as bitches, hoes, ratchets or other such demeaning terms are just as common. The absolute worst a man would probably get referenced to is faggott or pussy. The inference for both terms is that they are weak and such effeminacy is shaped in the context of being a female. How long does it take for those messages, whether as a passing phrase or contained in some incredibly dark sexual violent lyrics, to become part of the psyche of the listener. As a father I know it has forced my hand to think about widening the repertoire of hip hop I listen to, knowing my that daughters often follow my lead.

I mentioned rap as it is one of my favourite music genres but Nick Cave (he has too songs many to mention), The Stranglers (Sometimes) and Rolling Stones (Brown Sugar) also promote violence against women. They are seen as cultural icons with clever word play. Yet we also see the likes of rock bands, some would say a huge influence in paving the way for rap, continuing the legacy of lyrics and songs which demean women and reinforce a message of male sexual superiority. Korn – Beat it Upright, Slayer – Sex Murder Art, Nickelback – Figured You Out, ACDC – Giving the Dog a Bone or the gentle Stripped, Raped and Strangled by Cannibal Corpse.

In addition to this there is the increasing link between porn and popular music, indeed popular culture. Whilst one could argue ad infinitum that porn in and of itself is not an issue, a generation who once had to make the extra effort to sneak in a magazine or video, now have instant access to this ‘entertainment’ which, in many cases, is less regulated. For many young men and women sexual expectations are informed by porn and as the lines between what is deemed as storytelling and what is influential gets blurrier. How does a man or woman, old or young, honestly decode the constant stream of misogynistic messages? Do we ever stop to think about what we are singing when we repeat 99 problems by Jay Z?

The final lens is that of media. From the newspaper sidebar of shame to lads mags to the ideals we form of female TV presenters. We are constantly fed an image of expectations. The imagery of women, with few exceptions, in video games provides another sexual image of women. Social media has perpetuated memes such as Cool Story Bro to outright visual memes such as those targeted at the gamer anita Saarkeensi. These behaviours do not just come from a vacuum, they are endemic in our society. Newspapers for decades have proudly carried pictures of naked young women many in their teens and have vehemently defended their right to show them as harmless fun.

Granted that the lenses I have provided have looked at some of the more extreme cases of misogyny. Yet when these are constant and are promulgated from many of our social pillars and forms of communication having to decode this information in our subconscious takes a lot. I readily admit this post is anecdotal, but as a man I realise that every day I am bombarded with so much to support a default position of seeing women as less than and not equal to men when so much is done to demean women.

As a husband and a father having to challenge these messages is a constant concern as I look to reaffirm and empower the important women in my life. As an educator and activist there is a duty of care to highlight and educate those who will, probably, not see any harm in what may be considered playful banter. Our role as men is to  take an honest look at those things which prevent us from treating our women as equals, examine them and take positive strides to correcting them.Today and every day.


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