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Misogyny is the hatred of women. Misogyny also refers to contempt for the qualities that are associated with femininity, whether exhibited by women or by men. Misogyny is synonymous with sexism. It is relevant to interpersonal violence because antipathy toward women shapes the forms, meanings, and motives for violence as well as the responses to it. Misogyny also influences the dynamics of interpersonal relationships and the structure of social institutions in patriarchal cultures. Although the relevance of misogyny may be most readily apparent in the dynamics of woman abuse, it has also been linked by the research to additional forms of violence.
By men’s own accounts, misogyny is an important ingredient in much of their violence. The dehumanization of victims is one part of the perpetration of violence, and misogyny contributes to the dehumanization of women and gay men, increasing their risk of experiencing particular types of violence. Likewise, misogyny is one of the motives for violence for many men, shaping the forms of the violence they choose as well as their selection of targets.
The Cultural Context of Misogyny
Misogyny exists in the context of patriarchal cultures that place men’s experiences, power, and values at the center of community and family life. In addition to contributing to men’s power in the family and society, patriarchy establishes masculinity as the normative gender. Masculine characteristics are considered to be universal and natural under patriarchy. Conversely, femininity is defined in opposition to masculinity. Accordingly, femininity is often considered unnatural, perverse, weak, derivative, or inferior in comparison to masculinity. Each masculine characteristic is the antithesis of a feminine characteristic. Misogyny ensures that these opposites are not equal but are instead differently valued in polarized dichotomies of masculine and feminine.
Misogyny, Gender, and Violence
As a result of the binary and oppositional nature of gender construction, men are encouraged to establish and perform their masculinity as antagonistic to femininity. Masculinity is established by demonstrating that one is not feminine and not gay. This demonstration is not necessarily an intentional process. Just as racism and heterosexism may appear to some to be just how things are or a logical response to real differences between groups, misogyny is often internalized and taken for granted, although sometimes it is blatant and articulated. As with other forms of prejudice, misogyny is manifested in ways of thinking that incorporate stereotypes as well as in violent behavior. The link between misogyny and violence comes from the association of masculinity with power and force. Since the ability to do violence is considered to be an important part of masculinity in many cultures, some men use violence to solidify their status when their masculinity is challenged.
Misogyny and Violence Against Women
Men’s violence against women is the most visible connection between misogyny and interpersonal violence. Serial killers, rapists, and men who batter women in intimate relationships frequently use their contempt for women to account for their violence. In recounting their perpetration of violence, some men refer to their prerogative to control and discipline the women with whom they are associated. Other violent men talk about a generalized hatred of all women that motivates their violence. Some violent perpetrators describe their violence against women as justified by mistreatment by one woman in their past.
Feminist scholars identify the virgin-whore dichotomy as one manifestation of misogyny. The virgin-whore dualism divides women into good and bad categories based on their adherence to normative gender roles. Women who are perceived to transgress gender roles, especially the sexual double standard, are placed in the bad category. When this happens, they are often considered to be “bad victims” in court. For example, women who are sexually active outside of marriage may be seen as unrapeable since violating the gender order destroys their virtue. Women sometimes face a higher standard of credibility in the courts because it is assumed that women are dishonest and likely to make false reports against men.
Misogyny and Violence Against Children
Violence against female and male children is also shaped by misogyny. In addition to child rape and murder by people outside the family, some men use violence against children as part of the abuse they inflict on their wives, ex-wives, or girlfriends. Battered women report that abusers’ threats to take or harm the children are a factor in their fear of leaving abusive relationships.
Even when the perpetrator of violence is another child, as in the Jonesboro, Arkansas, middle school shooting, misogyny may be a factor. Although media reports of the Jonesboro shooting talked about the violence in sex-neutral terms, the older shooter told classmates he was out for revenge against a girl who rejected him. The students and teacher who were killed in the Jonesboro shooting were all female, and the girl who broke up with the older shooter was one of the students he shot and injured. Other perpetrators of school shootings have commented that their violence was a way to prove their masculinity and gain some power in a social world that derided them as inadequately masculine, citing homophobic and sexist taunts as part of their motivation.
Misogyny and Violence Against Men
Research on violent men has also found misogyny to be a significant factor in the etiology of violence against other men. Most often cited by perpetrators are challenges to their masculinity or the perception that they are at risk of rape or another form of feminization. Perpetrators of violence in prison, violence against strangers, and violence against acquaintances and intimates have all been linked to this manifestation of misogyny.
- Brownmiller, S. (1975). Against our will: Men, women and rape. New York: Bantam Books.
- Frye, M. (1983). The politics of reality: Essays in feminist theory. Berkeley, CA: The Crossing Press.
- Gilligan, J. (2001). Preventing violence. New York: Thames and Hudson.
- Johnson, A. G. (1997). The gender knot: Unraveling our patriarchal legacy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
- Walby, S. (1990). Theorizing patriarchy. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
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