The Logic of Misogyny
With Responses From
Jul 11, 2016
26 Min read time
Moralistic or not, misogyny is not about hating women. It is about controlling them.
Sarah Maple, Belle the Football Manager. Courtesy of the artist.
If you were ever tempted by the thought that gender politics is over in America, the 2016 election campaign must have come as a rude awakening. Brazen displays of misogyny have prompted renewed interest in the subject. In a New York Times column from late March, for example, David Brooks claimed to have discovered in Donald Trump a new strain of misogyny, which has evolved beyond moralism. Whereas old-school misogynists condemn and punish women for their sexual powers and transgressions, this new kind of misogynist competes with other men for heterosexual dominance—and for the ladies.
Trump’s misogyny is not the historical moralistic misogyny. Traditional misogyny blames women for the lustful, licentious and powerful urges that men sometimes feel in their presence. In this misogyny, women are the powerful, disgusting corrupters—the vixens, sirens and monsters.
Brooks is right that Trump does not blame women for making him feel lustful. His misogyny manifests mainly as sexual harassment, along with grade-school put-downs, of women who cross or challenge him. (This may not seem very new, but set that aside for the moment.) Rosie O’Donnell mocked Trump’s show of munificence in pardoning Miss Universe for indulging in underage drinking, so he called O’Donnell a pig and a dog, among other epithets. Carly Fiorina competed with Trump for the Republican nomination; he implied that her face was not attractive enough for a president. When Fox News’s Megyn Kelly pressed Trump about his history of insulting women, he fumed that she had blood coming out of her eyes and her “wherever,” coining a new euphemism by way of a word-finding problem. Hillary Clinton’s bathroom break at a debate was “disgusting”; Elizabeth Warren is “Pocahontas,” Hillary’s “goofy friend.”
Trump’s blunt kind of misogyny is a good place to start in understanding the general phenomenon. It is so crude, shameless, and unapologetic that we run little risk of getting lost in its nuances. But we must ask the natural next question: What happens to misogyny when it acquires a little subtlety or goes underground and manages more by way of plausible deniability?
The answer, all too often, is that it is transformed into moralistic forms—which are not, as Brooks seems to imply, historical artifacts. What unites these varieties of misogyny, past and present, and moralistic and non-moralistic alike, is that they enforce the patriarchal order by lifting men up and taking down women.
Trump’s remarks about O’Donnell, Fiorina, and Kelly vividly illustrate misogyny’s underlying logic. Such hateful and hostile reactions are frequently directed either at women who challenge men’s power and authority, or at women who decline to serve men, flatter them, or hold their gaze admiringly. When women challenge male dominance, they are liable to be written off as greedy, grasping, and domineering. When they are perceived as insufficiently oriented to men’s interests, they are perceived as cold, selfish, and negligent.
These two characteristic triggers for misogynist hostility can be traced to the nature of a patriarchal order. In an entrenched patriarchy, most men will be dominant over some woman or women. (This has generally held regardless of class, though not race, in America.) But patriarchies are not formless gender hierarchies. Specific social roles give women’s subordination its content and character. These roles typically require women to support men in dominant social positions—giving them love and affection, care and loyalty, along with sex and children. Within a patriarchal order, women are in effect born into an unofficial service industry.
‘I have many executives that are women. They make money for me.’
Patriarchies thus depend on loving mothers, good wives, cool girlfriends, loyal secretaries, and so on. Even in more loosely scripted social contexts—from casual conversation to public discussion—gender shapes norms and expectations about authority and deference. Who speaks? Who listens? Who is expected to pay attention? Who gets to interrupt whom without risk of consternation? When there is a conflict, who concedes the point?
Of course, gender alone does not determine the answer to these questions. Race, age, disability, sexuality, institutional affiliation, and the markers of social class interact in complex ways with expectations based on gender.
Because of women’s service position, their subordination often has a masked quality about it: it is supposed to look amicable and seamless, rather than coerced. Service with a smile, not a grimace, is the watchword.
Misogyny is what happens when women break ranks or roles and disrupt the patriarchal order: they tend to be perceived as uppity, unruly, out of line, or insubordinate. Misogyny is not an undifferentiated hatred of women—which, in light of women’s social roles, would make little sense on men’s part. Why would a man disparage the women looking up at him admiringly, or bite the hands that soothe and serve him? Misogyny isn’t simply hateful; it imposes social costs on noncompliant women, who are liable to be labeled witches, bitches, sluts, and “feminazis,” among other things.
Think of misogyny, then, as the law enforcement branch of a patriarchal order. This makes for a useful if rough contrast between misogyny and sexism. Whereas misogyny upholds the social norms of patriarchies by patrolling and policing them, sexism serves to justify these norms, largely via an ideology of supposedly natural differences between men and women with respect to their talents, interests, proclivities, and appetites.
Sexism is bookish; misogyny is combative. Sexism is complacent; misogyny is anxious. Sexism has a theory; misogyny wields a cudgel.
Sexists subscribe to sexist ideology (albeit often unconsciously). Misogynists engage in misogynist behavior (again, often unwittingly). A sexist believes in men’s superiority over women in masculine-coded domains—such as intellectual endeavors, sports, business, and politics—or that men are less suited to feminine-coded activities, such as domestic work, emotional labor, and caring for children and other dependents. Misogynists may hope that sexists are right, while fearing just the opposite.
So sexism and misogyny have a different quality and flavor. Combating them successfully requires different strategies.
Of course, in practice, sexism and misogyny often go hand in hand—but not always. Brooks is right that Trump is not a 1950s-style sexist, as his former rival for the Republican nomination, John Kasich, might well be. When Kasich was questioned about his sexist statements, he remained sanguine if baffled, rather than getting hostile. In Trump’s case, misogyny is clearly the primary defect. This is reflected in the fact that Trump is happy to employ women in high-powered positions in his companies, so long as they remain loyal and deferential. Trump doesn’t underestimate women’s talents and abilities; he recognizes those talents when he can use them to his advantage. In his words, “I have many executives that are women. They are doing a phenomenal job. I pay them a tremendous amount of money. They make money for me.”
When Trump does make superficially sexist comments—that Hillary Clinton’s gender, or “woman card,” is all she has to play with—it plausibly stems from a desire to belittle. Misogyny often involves moves which put women down or raise men up, thus maintaining their relative positions within the gendered hierarchy. If this cannot be achieved in reality, soothing fantasies may be substituted, as when a Florida GOP official recently remarked that, when Trump debates Clinton, she will “go down like Monica Lewinsky.” This is not a prediction but rather, more plausibly, wishful thinking. He wouldn’t bet on it with the confidence intimated by such crassness.
Trump’s behavior confirms that misogyny need not involve hostility to all women. Misogynists can love their mothers. And misogyny sometimes gets itself up as paternalism, as when Trump insisted, “I respect women. I love women, I cherish women. . . . I will take care of women.” Trump also has high praise for some of the women who love and revere him, such as his daughter Ivanka, who defended him against charges of misogyny in a way few people found convincing. By saying that her father supported her career ambitions, as well as those of his women executives, Ivanka missed the point that she and they represent no threat to her father and are thus unlikely to come under fire. It is primarily women who challenge Trump’s power and preeminence who suffer his comebacks.
Misogyny can afford to be selective because its fundamental goal is enforcement. Women who know their place do not need to be put in it.
A final lesson from Trump is that misogyny is not best understood in psychological terms. You can be justified in holding that Trump is a misogynist without having a view about his innermost thoughts, feelings, and motivations. Maybe Trump has been acting all along—maybe his domineering displays are simply part of his “brand.” Maybe Trump hates the women he bullies, maybe he doesn’t; it hardly matters. Misogyny is what misogyny does to women. Think of it from the point of view of its targets or victims rather than that of its perpetrators. Misogyny is the hostility women are prone to face in navigating a social environment because they are women in a man’s world—a more or less entrenched patriarchy.
Misogyny imposes social costs on noncompliant women.
True, we are witnessing the crumbling of patriarchal social structures in the United States, among other parts of the world sometimes alleged to be post-patriarchal. Social progress for women has been rapid and impressive. But progress and resentment are natural, if awkward, bedfellows. Patriarchal structures do not just disappear overnight, nor do the norms and expectations upholding them dissipate instantaneously. The former are dismantled in dribs and drabs, while the latter remain ingrained, internalized by many.
This makes for a lot of openings for misogynist enforcement. Trump is clearly an overacheiver in this regard. It also follows from this view that women may be misogynists without being self-hating, although elements of internalized misogyny are sadly not uncommon. But women may also be prone to police other women’s bodies and behavior, elevating themselves in the terms of patriarchal values or signaling their loyalty to patriarchal figures.
Whoever the enforcers are, women who transgress are liable to be punished for any number of spurious reasons. Or they may simply be subject to crude insults, mockery, and derision.
Trump’s misogyny has given us vivid examples of the phenomenon at its crudest. Trump is in many ways the American id—especially for the white men who comprise the majority of his voter base. He has won millions of supporters, partly by holding up a mirror to a certain segment of the population, reflecting its anxieties, hopes, fantasies, and narcissism. To make American white men feel great again is Trump’s implicit promise. This will involve casting others down the relevant social hierarchies.
But his misogyny is, for better or worse, strictly limited. This is because of a striking and alarming limitation of Trump generally: he seems to lack a superego, or even the ability to mimic one. This explains both his remarkable shamelessness and the non-moralistic quality of his misogyny. It isn’t moralistic because Trump isn’t either. His normative words are simplistic and aesthetic terms of praise: “best,” “beautiful,” “great,” and “winning,” are some of his favorites. When he tries to engage in moral talk, he becomes uncharacteristically flummoxed.
This was evident in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, which aired the day after Brooks’s column was published. Matthews pressed Trump on whether a woman would be punished for having an abortion, should the candidate get his way and criminalize abortion. After much verbal evasion, Trump finally told Matthews, “There has to be some form of punishment” for the woman. The invocation of punishment was a striking departure from Trump’s usual “great,” “beautiful,” and “strong,” a stumble into moralism by someone who lacks moral fluency.
But Trump’s clumsy gesture is an invitation to investigate what happens when a misogynist id of the kind he manifests is tempered by conscience or superego. Here are displayed the dark and creative machinations transforming the ressentiment of the domineering (though not the noble, as Nietzsche envisioned) from spontaneous outbursts into something moralistic. Such moralism takes at least two distinct forms: one that is ostensibly impartial, high-minded, and punitive, and a second that is aggrieved, wounded, and downcast. I will consider each in turn, in relation to conservatives’ so-called war on women. I will also reflect on what may be a third form: a more hot-headed, explosive kind of misogyny illustrated by the behavior of some on the left at present. This third form of moralistic misogyny targets women for being rule-breakers.
Sarah Maple, Ariel Conducts a Business Meeting. Courtesy of the artist.
High-Minded, Punitive Misogyny
The high-minded and punitive tenor of much of the misogyny in the United States today is exemplified by the rhetoric of the anti-abortion movement. Its political roots and lack of a close historical relationship with mainstream Christianity have been documented by legal scholar Reva B. Siegel and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Linda Greenhouse. Siegel and Greenhouse show how the religious position on abortion once held only by strict Catholics was coupled with the secular “family values” of the “silent majority” to help Richard Nixon win the 1972 election, the year before Roe v. Wade. In a 1972 New York Times Magazine article entitled “How Nixon Will Win,” Kevin Phillips, one of the chief engineers of the Southern Strategy, explained the “Acid, Amnesty, and Abortion” attack on Democratic candidate George McGovern. The idea was to create a moral panic over the latter’s support for legalizing marijuana, leniency for draft dodgers, and liberalism on abortion. As Greenhouse and Siegel explain, the aim in connecting the three issues was to give voters a sense that abortion “validated a breakdown of traditional roles that required men to be prepared to kill and die in war and women to save themselves for marriage and . . . motherhood.”
The cultural conflagration over abortion did not begin at the grassroots level; nor did it have an organic religious or moral basis. It was deliberately lit by political leaders, who intended that it be fueled by anxieties concerning women’s role within the family.
The plan has worked well enough to encourage conservatives who, in recent years, have been ratcheting up punitive anti-abortion measures. Abortion clinics around the country have been shuttered by restrictions—for example, requiring abortion providers to have hospital-admitting privileges and forcing clinics to conform to exacting hospital standards—lacking any valid medical rationale. As a result, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming are down to a single abortion provider apiece. Other states may soon follow.
Additional barriers to access—including arbitrary waiting periods, requirements of multiple appointments prior to the procedure, and tight restrictions on abortions after twenty weeks—exacerbate the problem, leading some women to undergo illegal, dangerous, and self-induced abortions. This has led to life-threatening experiences and, for some women, jail time. New laws against so-called feticide mean that, in many states, it is not only difficult but sometimes impossible to have an abortion legally after twenty weeks. Since last March, at least seventeen women have been arrested on feticide charges.
Among them is Purvi Patel, who was reported to the police by a doctor in South Bend, Indiana, after she sought emergency-room care for vaginal bleeding. Patel was eventually convicted of self-inducing an abortion and of child neglect for abandoning the fetus. Patel’s lawyers argued that the fetus was stillborn at 23 to 24 weeks, an age at which abortion is still legal in many states. In court, Indiana’s expert witness disputed the facts of the case, using discredited scientific evidence to argue that the fetus was a week or two older and had drawn breath. According to Deepa Iyer, an activist and scholar, “Patel’s conviction amounts to punishment for having a miscarriage and then seeking medical care, something that no woman should worry would lead to jail time.” Patel is currently serving twenty years in prison, pending an appeal, which the Indiana Supreme Court will hear shortly.
Patel, like Bei Bei Shuai, the first woman arrested on feticide charges in Indiana, is Asian American. (Unlike Patel, Shuai went free after pleading guilty to a lesser charge.) Racialized bodies are often more vulnerable to misogynistic attacks and erasure than the bodies of white women, who are somewhat insulated by white privilege, as has been illuminated by the work of Kimberlé Crenshaw, Kristie Dotson, and Marita Gilbert, among others. Attention to the intersections between gender and race, as well as other forms of oppression, is crucial here. Patriarchy and hence misogyny in the United States cannot be understood apart from white supremacy. Neither can misogyny be understood in isolation from anti-trans bigotry, as Julia Serano’s treatment of transmisogyny in Whipping Girl (2007) makes apparent. The point generalizes, indicating much theoretical ground to explore.
Despite the rapid upswing in the number and extremity of punitive anti-abortion laws, Republicans maintain that punishment is not their purpose. “Love them both” is a favorite aphorism of the anti-abortion crowd, referring to both the pregnant woman and the embryo or fetus in utero. But it is a strange kind of love that would force the victim of rape or incest to bear a pregnancy to term—or indeed to enforce any pregnancy whatsoever, as Ann Cudd’s work has demonstrated.
And it is a strange kind of love that takes a third of American women to be guilty of murder and, collectively, genocide. Such is the view of Troy Newman, an Evangelical Christian who endorsed Ted Cruz for president last November. Newman’s organization, Operation Rescue, is known for its radical tactics. Scott Roeder, who murdered Kansas abortion provider George Tiller, is among its supporters. Cruz touted Newman’s endorsement proudly, saying that America needed more leaders like him. In his book Their Blood Cries Out (2000), Newman writes:
By comparing abortion directly to any other act of premeditated contract killing, it is easy to see that there is no difference in principle. However, in our society, a mother of an aborted baby is considered untouchable whereas any other mother, killing any other family member, would be called what she is: a murderer.
In the chapter “Moms Who Murder,” Newman elaborates:
In our current social climate, it is acceptable to lay blame for abortion at the feet of the abortionists, the social liberals who encourage the abortions, and the law-makers who allow and even pay for them. But the mother is the one person we are not allowed to call guilty. Ironically, she is the one who needs most to see what she has done. . . . By confronting the woman with her sin, our objective is to get her to see the evil that has resulted from her actions. By withholding truthful confrontation from her, we prevent her from being brought to repentance and ultimate restoration.
In January, Cruz appointed Newman one of the co-chairs of his group Pro-Lifers for Cruz. Cruz called each co-chair “a true inspiration.”
The misogynist's bullying can feel like a moral crusade, not a witch-hunt.
Following Trump’s disastrous interview with Matthews and subsequent backtracking, many commentators, including MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Gail Collins of the New York Times, have argued that Cruz is at least as bad as Trump on these issues, despite what he leaves unsaid about punishing women for having abortions. In light of the above, one might think that Cruz is considerably worse—not in spite of the fact that he remains eerily silent on the subject but precisely because of this. Trump readily acknowledged that women will continue to have abortions if they are banned: “well, you know, you’ll go back to a position like they had where people will perhaps go to illegal places.” By contrast, Cruz and some of his “inspirations” effectively erase these women from the discourse. Perhaps the thought is that such women would simply cease to exist in their envisaged America—that when abortion providers are shut down, and pro-choice ideologues are no longer leading women astray, women will stop seeking abortions. Women who would have abortions in the absence of propaganda are deemed an abomination. Worse than immoral, they are profoundly unnatural. Such thinking proceeds by way of a potent mix of misogyny and sexism.
Wounded, Downcast Misogyny
Women are being punished. But what are they being punished for, exactly? There is a common assumption on the left that social conservatives seek to punish women for having sex outside of marriage and that the fight against abortion is, therefore, largely intended to police women’s bodies and control their sexuality. These motives are doubtless part of the murky mix. But why prohibit access to abortion for women who are the victims of rape and incest? Republican presidential nominees in recent elections have all been anti-abortion but favored a “rape and incest” exception—as does Trump, taking his moral cues from Ronald Reagan. But both Cruz and Marco Rubio opposed the exception.
According to a recent Gallup poll, their stance is not especially extreme. Nearly one in five Americans would go further, wishing to criminalize abortion under any circumstances, ruling out even “life of the mother” exceptions that many hard-line anti-abortion activists reluctantly accede to. So it is hard to credit the idea that the most uncompromising abortion opponents truly seek to save lives either. And if the goal is to prevent abortions per se, then why have social conservatives been increasingly hostile—as in the debate about Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014)—to the many and often cheap forms of birth control that prevent fertilization?
So there is the puzzle: What are women held to be guilty of doing or being?
Selfish, I think; cold, callous, and heartless, neglecting their obligations and refusing to nurture. Rush Limbaugh described Hillary Clinton as “totally controlling, not soft and cuddly. Not sympathetic. Not patient. Not understanding.” The complaint alleges that women who abort withhold care and feminine safe haven—ostensibly from the fetus but also, one suspects, from some of the men projecting their own sense of abandonment onto it.
The same locus of aggression plausibly lay behind Rush Limbaugh’s 2012 attack on Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke. Limbaugh repeatedly called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” on his radio show after she argued before House Democrats that religious institutions ought to be required to provide health insurance that covers contraception. In a strikingly moralistic screed, Limbaugh railed against her as a “typical liberal” and “feminazi.” He chastised Fluke for being “a woman who is happily presenting herself as an immoral, baseless, no-purpose-to-her-life woman.” One might have thought that the problem was too much purpose and direction in her life, not too little.
Limbaugh is an expert at channeling a sense of confusion, loss, and sadness common in his target audience—primarily white men—and transforming it into anger, partly by furnishing them with suitable moral narratives in which they are cast as victims. According to Limbaugh, Fluke was taking his own and his listeners’ tax dollars to finance her morally lax lifestyle because her birth control was covered by her health insurance. Fluke was thus presented as an outlet for aggression toward feckless, blasé women who expect something from men but give them nothing in return. The point of the prostitution metaphor—with Limbaugh and his audience cast by turns as Fluke’s client or pimp—was that Fluke was reneging on her end of the bargain. What is worse, she felt entitled. She expected the men’s money but would not supply the goods or services they had coming. So they were getting screwed by Fluke, even though—or, indeed, because—she was a total stranger.
This case illustrates the tendency to portray women’s independence as a personal affront to men. And, in a way, it is. Patriarchy promises goods and services in increasingly short supply: women’s love, loyalty, emotional labor, and deference. When the promise is broken, some men experience a sense of humiliation, even betrayal, not simply loss. But it is hard to be outraged about a sin of omission committed by no one in particular. This may explain Limbaugh’s recourse to the taxpayer narrative, which depicts a social relationship between his listeners and Fluke on the thinnest basis imaginable: they are paying their taxes and so she, the lazy harlot, is committing highway robbery.
It took quite a story to get from the premise to the conclusion. But, to his artistic if not moral credit, Limbaugh managed it.
Such misogyny does not share the high-minded moralism of much anti-abortion discourse. The tone here is aggrieved, wounded, resentful, and bitter. Whereas Trump’s misogyny is domineering, Limbaugh’s speaks to the disappointed. Members of his target audience are not alphas, nor those who antecedently see themselves as occupants of the moral high ground. Rather his audience comprises primarily those who feel like underdogs, stepped upon and victimized. Misogyny of this kind stems from a position of perceived weakness among those who see themselves as the little guy, who have chips on their shoulders. This perception is often inaccurate, at least in relation to the women they bully, blame, and victimize. But it illustrates how easily even a mild loss of privilege can be experienced as disadvantage relative to—or even oppression by—historically subordinated people. This explains, for example, the channeling of anti-feminist sentiment into the men’s rights movement, which portrays men as an oppressed group in relation to radicalized women, among others.
Sarah Maple, Snow White the Scientist. Courtesy of the artist.
Hot-Tempered, Accusatory Misogyny
The right is not the only place to find self-perceived little guys liable to channel and give vent to misogynist anxieties and hostilities. They can be found on the left as well. Some of the people who currently fit this description support not Donald Trump but, rather, Bernie Sanders. I am referring here to the controversial “Bernie bros” phenomenon.
It is difficult to tell how common—as opposed to salient—misogyny is among ardent Sanders supporters. Some maintain that Bernie bros are not real, that they are the Bigfoots of American politics. Exaggerated, perhaps. But completely mythical? Not likely.
Much of the media discussion of Bernie bros has focused on the misogyny they allegedly level at Hillary Clinton. I have argued elsewhere, by comparison to the treatment of Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, that Clinton has plausibly come in for misogynistic attacks from every political direction during her current campaign. But the matter is complicated by the fact that Clinton has a long history of being attacked for all sorts of reasons, only some of them based on gender. (After all, Bill Clinton is also a target for what is aptly known as Clinton Derangement Syndrome.) Moreover, it is clear that Clinton is a legitimate target of moral criticisms, especially on foreign policy. And although I believe that there are plausibly gendered double standards at play here, one can disagree about their severity while still recognizing the reality of misogyny among a subset of Sanders’s supporters.
Consider the Nevada Democratic Party convention in mid-May, where Chairperson Roberta Lange administered proceedings in a way that was perceived by some as unfair to Sanders, costing him perhaps as many as four delegates. Whatever one thinks about the propriety of Lange’s conduct, the reactions were overblown, and some had a markedly misogynistic character. Here are some of the phone messages left for Lange afterward, as reported by journalist Jon Ralston:
MAN A: I don’t know what kind of money they are paying to you, but I don’t know how you sleep at night. You are a sick, twisted piece of shit and I hope you’ll burn for this! . . . You cowardly bitch, running off the stage! I hope people find you.
MAN B: Oh Roberta, Roberta, Roberta, you old, old hag. Oh, we watched the whole thing in Nevada. You’re really kinda screwed, lady.
MAN C: Fuck you, bitch!
MAN D: You’re a cunt. Fuck you!
MAN E: You fucking stupid bitch! What the hell are you doing? You’re a fucking corrupt bitch! That is so fucking wrong. You should be ashamed and disgraced. You need to step down from that position because you are bad for America and bad for the Democratic Party.
Not all of the messages were misogynistic, and some of those that were came from women. Perhaps anyone would have gotten some blowback as the result of the controversy. Still, one suspects that a Robert Lange would have been spared much of this.
Misogyny of this kind is clearly moralistic, but it has nothing to do with policing sexual behavior. And it is arguably fixated less on women who break specific gendered norms and expectations than on those who are held to be rule-breakers generally. Hence the fixation on a woman’s perceived lack of fairness and violation of her obligations. And, at least in this and similar cases, this kind of misogyny is a tightly packed powder keg of aggression waiting to be ignited. It alights on women held to be corrupt or unprincipled, untrustworthy or liars, and burns them as scapegoats, witches, and effigies. It is often directed toward a crude composite image pasted over the face of its target. But when your effigy is your body, you go up in flames along with it.
Those caught up in such moralistic misogyny may praise and idolize certain women—the Elizabeth Warrens of the world—as heroines and angels. But as defenses against charges of misogyny go, this is not persuasive. Misogyny generally has no truck with women like these, who are fighting the genuinely good fight in Washington for the little guy and his family.
From the inside, such bullying doesn’t feel like it looks, evidently. It doesn’t feel like unleashing one’s inner Trump in mixed company. Rather it feels as though one is simply standing up for oneself, or for morality, or for the downtrodden—like a moral crusade, not a witch-hunt. And it often feels as if one’s hatred has nothing to do with gender—just this “old, old hag” or “fucking corrupt bitch” in particular.
In social and moral reality, such behavior is indefensible. But indefensibility is not the same thing as unintelligibility. It is not difficult to see why misogynistic aggression might coexist with progressive commitments. Many white men, including those who espouse egalitarian and progressive values—even those who pride themselves on being good feminists—have recently experienced a loss of power and status relative to nonwhites and white women. Some are in denial. And some are angry. Some are lashing out in grief cloaked in outrage.
The strength of these forces will become clearer in November. I confess that I am not optimistic about the outcome. Electing Trump would strike a major blow for patriarchal restoration. Misogynistic social forces are hence pushing in this direction. And if Clinton does win, she will have to govern in the face of a revanchism intensified by Trump’s defeat. Another fear is that the least privileged and most vulnerable women will bear the brunt of the trickle-down aggression.
We will see soon enough. But insofar as there is a distinctively modern strain of misogyny, it is this: the backlash to women’s social progress and to feminism.
About the artist: The photographs in this forum are by Sarah Maple, a British visual artist whose works address sexism, gendered violence, and religious oppression. Her works have been exhibited widely, including at Tate Britain. These photographs are from her Disney Princess series. For more, visit sarahmaple.com.
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July 11, 2016
26 Min read time