Misogyny vs. Misandry: One Has Historically Defined the Structural, One Has Not
Refusing to discuss the systems and structures that underpin what language means is an intentionally political act.
Before we begin: Abusive and violent behavior is not limited to men, especially in intimate relationships. The US Centers for Disease Control estimates that about 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 10 men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime and reported some form of IPV-related impact. Over 43 million women and 38 million men have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime. You can learn more about the CDC’s intimate partner violence data here.
According to the Webster Dictionary, some people hate women and some people hate men. Taken simply in terms of their definitions, misogyny and misandry can appear to be equal and opposite ideas. “Both sides are doing this,” and so on. But when we look at these terms through the lens of systems and structures, we see the context and history in which each idea has emerged. It’s an important to understand the power of so called “systems thinking” as there are well-funded, well organized efforts afoot to restrict us from examining systems and structures across a range of social issues.
Refusing to acknowledge or discuss how systems and structures impact our lives is an intentionally political act. This insulates those systems and structures from change. Out of sight is, in fact, very much out of mind. Discursive processes, that is, the conversations that make up our social relationships, have the power to shift the systemic and structural. Open and robust conversations about systems and structures can shift them in positive ways.
This is why the Republican Party is so focused on silencing the teaching of the racism, or sexism or sexual identity. They are actively demonizing so-called Critical Race Theory because conversations about race are one way to put a spotlight on the long standing systems (the felt but often invisible larger processes) and structures (codified systems which have become sedimented into institutional practices) that are sustaining economic and physical violence against women, BIPOC, LGBTQI+ people, immigrants, people of non-Christian faiths and more.
Acknowledging systems and structures represents a powerful tool for locating where power resides. It can illuminate the where, how and why of confusing or contentious issues. It can help us see who is leveraging conflict and for what purpose. We can apply exactly this systems thinking frame to misogyny and misandry.
Misogyny (hatred of women) is demonstrated in the most explicit ways by male supremacists, members of a clearly visible social movement with leaders, literature, and beliefs. In this article titled Male Supremacy from the Southern Poverty Law Center, we see that male supremacists and white supremacists have clear overlap in their memberships and share recruitment with each other. Like white supremacy, male supremacy is a product of our dominance-based culture of masculinity, a system which enforces longstanding structural advantages embedded in legal, religious and institutional advantages to keep white men at the top of its strict hierarchy. Another term for this system of power and advantages for men is patriarchy.
Women and non binary people are fighting back against men’s systemic advantages, demanding equity in the workplace, seeking legal redress in the courts, and calling for physical safety and autonomy. While this is increasing power for women, there is no historic female equivalent of patriarchy which created generations of systemic and structural legal oppression against men by women. That never happened and isn’t happening now. (White) men have always had the right to own property, vote, and engage in financial transactions. Women have not.
For example: Until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974, women needed their husbands signature to get a credit card. It wasn’t until the signing of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988, that federal law put an end to state laws that required women to have male relatives sign business loans.
To this day, fundamentalist Christian churches as well as other faiths define women as subservient to men. There has never been a major world religion that defines men as subservient to women.
In the US, long standing systemic, coordinated subjugation of women by fundamentalist Christian extremists is playing out right now with the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Laws have already been passed in Texas and other states, forcing underage girls and women to take pregnancies to term, even in the case of rape, incest or medically dangerous pregnancies. Collectively, men’s failure to stop this systemic attack on women’s rights and autonomy speaks volumes to our collective indifference to the impact we have on women’s lives. It’s happening because collectively men are passively letting it happen or actively encouraging it to happen.
Men’s Rights Activists and other male extremists point to our family courts as equivalent levels of systemic or structural disadvantages for men. Such supposed disadvantages are born out generations of neglect and abuse by fathers. Prior to our current family court system, men walked away from their families at a time when women were also kept out of the workplace, leaving mothers to fend for themselves and their children with no resources.
My own grandfather, walked out on my father’s family. In the 1930’s depression era Richmond, Virginia, there was no family court to require he pay child support, and so, my grandfather went his own way, starting another family a few counties away. The resulting impact on the life of my three year old father, his mother and his younger sister was catastrophic.
What takes place in the family courts is legal redress for long histories of wrong doing by men against mothers and children. I have been through that system myself, having been divorced from the mother of my then four year old child. It was not fun, but what it required of me on behalf of my son was easy enough to understand.
From child marriage across the US, to acid attacks in India, to epidemic levels of domestic violence, rape and femicide against women globally, to ongoing efforts to block women from leadership roles in business and politics, the list of inequities against women is global, generational and ongoing. If there is widespread anger and resentment against men by women and non binary people, it is born out of generations of ongoing systemic violence and oppression directed by men against those populations. Put simply, no one likes their abuser.
Which begs the question, what then is misogyny, the hatred of women, born out of? In the absence of an equal and opposite history of systemic and structural inequities leveraged by women against men, what is the source of men’s anger toward women? Using a systemic/structural lens which can be applied to track power in hierarchies, misandry and misogyny are both seen to be rooted in a single source: in how we train boys into our dominance-based culture of masculinity.
In dominance-based masculinity, otherwise known as Man Box culture, we bully boys beginning in infancy out of emotional expression and connection. When a boy shows emotion or too much need for connection, he is bullied back into the Man Box by questioning his masculinity. (What are you a sissy? What are you a girl?) In this way, we train our young sons out of universal human relational capacities such as empathy, care-giving, compassion, and connection across difference, slotting them instead into our dominance-based hierarchical culture of masculinity in which we must dominate those around us in order to maintain our status and validate our masuclinity. If we fail to do so, we lose status. The result is a culture of ongoing policing, bullying and violence. Those boys and men who stray too far from the strict rules of Man Box culture are murdered.
Boys are systemically bullied into lifetimes of loneliness and disconnection via the ongoing denigration of the feminine. In this way, we are also taught daily, even hourly, that girls and women are less. Most of this anti-female conditioning is cemented in place before we are even old enough to know what is happening.
For boys and men, misogyny isn’t a reaction to systemic oppression by women, it is the result of Man Box culture which requires we denigrate girls and women daily in order to validate our masculinity. In Man Box culture we are expected to display power over women and girls.
The ongoing oppression of women is enshrined in religious, legal, political, educational, and employment systems and structures. An equivalent level of systemic and structural oppression has not been experienced by the current generation of white men in America. Meanwhile, women’s healthcare and bodily autonomy are under renewed attack with the reversal of Roe v. Wade. In this we can see the ongoing systemic and structural assault against women’s rights playing out in real time. There is no equivalent loss of rights for men.
Misandry then, is women’s anger against their oppressors. Misogyny is men’s anger against those they oppress.
MRAs, Incels and other male supremacists seek to give the word misandry parity with misogyny, declaring their own victimhood as part of a fundamental strategy common to extremists of all stripes. It can be defined in its most brutal terms as “the act of stabbing someone while loudly declaring they are stabbing you.” When white and male supremacists amplify victimhood frames, IE: “we are being erased,” they grant themselves permission to do violence. “Look what you made me do.”
Violence up to and including genocide against underrepresented groups becomes widespread and normalized in cultures and societies where the critical examination of the systems and structures which control our lives has been silenced. In the US, look for the Republican Party to continue to shut down all teaching and discussion of race, gender, sexual identity, and religious bigotry.
False equivalencies and weaponized victimhood are effectively countered by discussions of systems and structures. The discursive, the process of discussing the systems and structures that impact our lives gives us the power to shift those structures to make a better world.