What Does Misogyny Look Like?

Misogyny is everywhere. Or at least “misogyny” is everywhere. The word, which conventionally means hatred of women, was once a radical accusation. But recently, it seems to have eclipsed the gentler “sexism” and “chauvinism” in popular use. It’s now unremarkable to find “misogyny” in a headline, much less a tweet.

On one end of the spectrum, the term is used to describe societal inequity, evidenced by things such as the gendered wage gap in the United States, the difficulties women have in finding adequate medical care and the career-destroying prerogatives of men like Les Moonves.

“Unfortunately, violent misogyny is nothing new in politics,” ran a 2018 CNN headline. “Women’s self-harm is being fueled by misogyny,” read a Guardian story last August. A New York Times Op-Ed from December explored “The Special Misogyny Reserved for Mothers.” Kim Schrier, a pediatrician running for Congress (now a Democratic congresswoman), flatly called Donald Trump “misogynist in chief” in a tweet last year.

A look at archival photographs, including those from The New York Times, shows how, as the term came into popular use, misogyny has also been a part of our visual landscape, from headline news to everyday experience.

This understanding of misogyny became a commonly held idea among feminists: the issue was structural. Society was organized in a misogynistic way, even if its individual members didn’t see themselves as woman-haters. As the writer and activist Audre Lorde wrote in 1980, there is a “piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us.” Susan Faludi, author of the 1991 book “Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women,” echoed this idea, arguing that efforts against equality “are encoded and internalized, diffuse and chameleonic.”

Much like “racist” — which was once mostly used to describe certain sheriffs, politicians or neighbors — misogynist is now as often applied to the system of institutions that creates an unequal America as it is to individuals. In this broadened meaning, happily married men, men with daughters and women themselves can be implicated. The way the word is now used, you don’t have to hate women to be a misogynist, despite what Webster’s dictionary still says today.

But can that one word do all this work? Can it describe some of the worst, most violent impulses in our world and everyday acts of gender bias? Should we use the same term to describe marital rape and the dearth of strong female leads on TV? It turns out, it already is, and we already are.

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