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I am grateful for the comments, some of which highlight issues requiring further attention on my part. Others suggest I should have been clearer originally. So let me begin by laying out the key points in the background, and briefly stating how they come together to yield an analysis of misogyny.
• A patriarchal order is a system of gendered domination/subordination relations.
• The system is sustained by women (and men) playing certain norm-governed social roles (dutiful wife, loving mother, cool girlfriend, etc.), plus general social norms of authority and deference (in casual conversation, public discourse, etc.).
• Sometimes women appear to be conforming to a patriarchal order—either because they in fact are (for more or less problematic reasons), or because they are not caught transgressing.
• At other times women are caught (or suspected of) transgressing against patriarchal norms and expectations, in eschewing the relevant roles, or performing them with “an attitude.”
• Misogyny is a way women are kept in (patriarchal) order, by imposing social costs for those breaking role or rank, and warning others not to.
• Misogyny comes in many forms, including direct forms, which enact or restore patriarchal order (e.g., Trump’s crude verbal put-downs and domineering behavior); and moralistic forms (along with forms which put women down relative to epistemic and social hierarchies—topics for other occasions).
• Moralistic misogyny in turn takes a punitive, high-minded, ostensibly impartial form (as in much, though not all, conservative anti-abortion discourse); a downcast, aggrieved, wounded form (as in Rush Limbaugh’s Sandra Fluke narrative); and a hot-tempered and accusatory form (as was arguably evinced by a small but vocal subset of Sanders’s supporters).
Whether or not you agree with the specific examples I chose, my main aims were to lay out this structure, and to reveal misogyny in its moralistic garb. I will now turn to specific points raised in the commentaries (without being remotely able to do them justice).
Doug Henwood thinks I am depriving readers of a sufficiently rich intellectual meal by focusing on Trump’s misogyny initially. “Your could say that easy cases make for bad think pieces.” I agree that Trump is an easy case, though, I would add, not a typical one: most misogynists are more complex. And that is why Trump’s misogyny makes a suitable opening repast. It is the theoretical equivalent of a bowl of goldfish crackers put out before dinner. Few will find the Trump cases difficult to swallow, or remotely controversial, as examples of misogyny. Nor are they all that interesting. But they bring out misogyny’s characteristic triggers and function in as plain a way as possible. We can then move on to bigger and better things—or rather, in the case of misogyny, worse and more systematic ones. Their shared underlying logic will then, hopefully, be perspicuous. Hard cases may make for bad law. But easy cases at the outset help make powerful theories.
Imani Perry observes that patriarchy is maintained in ways other than misogyny. Of course I agree, and think of misogyny as just one way (as outlined above). There are others, including forms involving legal regulation, and global policing by the United States, as Perry illuminates in her commentary. It is worth adding that state power is also a branch of the patriarchy insofar as it aids and abets crimes against women of a misogynistic nature (e.g., sexual assault and intimate partner violence). State power works to exonerate patriarchs.
Misogyny is a way women are kept in (patriarchal) order, by imposing social costs for those breaking role or rank.
Tali Mendelberg argues, congenially, that misogyny shares a structure with many other forms of prejudice, which are similarly a matter of policing social hierarchies. I fully agree, and argue elsewhere that misogyny and racism are less about seeing women and non-whites as less than fully human than it is about resenting and punishing “uppity” members of these groups for not knowing their place. Misogyny and racism hence have high comorbidity. As Mendelberg shows, its practitioners tend to be social dominants generally. But just as we recognize Hitler was an anti-Semite and also a homophobe, Trump can be, and is, both a misogynist and anti-Islam.
So I take Mendelberg to be pointing to resources that will help to sharpen my picture. There is one difference between misogyny and some racist prejudice worth briefly flagging though: certain racial groups are marginalized and excluded en masse from society—and, in the most egregious cases, subject to genocidal violence. The need for women’s emotional and service labor tends to obviate this option. Exploitation, control, punishment, and subjugation are more common.
Amber A’Lee Frost disagrees with my definition of misogyny and proposes her own alternative. As Christina Hoff Sommers observes, though, my aim was less to provide an account of how we do think about misogyny than to explore how we ought to think about it—what philosopher Sally Haslanger calls an “ameliorative analysis.” The proof of such an analysis lies in its political value, as well as its capturing of the most important cases the term is used to refer to. And different analyses can be more or less useful for different political purposes. Frost’s may be a case in point.
Susan Brison insightfully brings out an important lacuna in my analysis. If misogyny is about patriarchal norm enforcement, then why are women who don’t step out of line liable to be punished? Part of my answer is that women who actually toe the line may not be perceived as doing so. Women are often regarded as interchangeable and representative of a certain “type” of woman. (Brison’s own groundbreaking work has taught me much about this connection.) Hence the women who enjoy the benefits of feminist progress and the women who bear the brunt of the subsequent resentment may not be identical. Misogyny is prone to burn the bodies of less privileged women, who serve as effigies for the women who have bodyguards—sometimes literally. Some women may also be burned as a warning to others.
Hence my fretting more than most leftists about the misogyny leveled against Hillary Clinton. I see no deep conflict (as opposed to local, discursive ones) between condemning Clinton’s foreign policy record—as Perry does, in drawing salutary attention to the plight of Berta Caceres—and objecting when such crucial moral concerns are exploited and used as fuel for a misogynistic fire. A vote against the misogyny directed at Clinton is not a vote for her. And I fear that misogynistic wildfires rage out of control, and spread to other women, all too easily. By being permissive about likely instances of misogyny, even that which is leveled against less-than-stellar feminists, we signal—and in effect practice—loyalty to the patriarchy. As feminists we ought to be traitors if we can afford to be. Of course, this attracts misogyny. And it is good to know what to expect in the way of backlash.
This stops well short of a solution to misogyny, which, as Henwood points out, I don’t provide. Nor, I confess, do I have one in my back pocket. But my account may help to forearm, by way of forewarning, some of the women continuing the slow, painful work of dismantling the patriarchy. As Vivian Gornick affectingly writes, this can be lonely work; it seems to her unending. I hear and I feel her, despite my relative inexperience and deep gratitude to my forebears, as well as my contemporaries, for storming many bastions. But knowing one is not alone—and might not be quite as guilty, immoral, faithless, graceless, undeserving, toxic, stupid, dirty, ugly, crazy, broken, warped, and hollow as misogyny would have you believe—can help us all keep going. Or so I hope, anyway. The success or failure of my account lies in its uptake—here, in its conveying a “not guilty” verdict to the women breaking patriarchal laws that should be shattered.
Sarah Maple, Maggie and Mollie. Courtesy of the artist.
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