NY Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof muses on the differences between misogyny and sexism. And I’d be really grateful if someone could honestly tell me that this is some kind of bizarre parody and he can’t be fucking serious. Instead, we do get to play the ironic game of determining which category Kristof falls into! Emphasis mine, and try to control your blood pressure:
Then in the reporting for this column, I spoke to evolutionary psychologists who emphasized the distinct origins of racism and misogyny/sexism. Racism seems based in a hard-wired tendency of ancient humans to divide into groups to improve odds of survival, and it was an evolutionary advantage to be able to identify strongly with your own tribe and to fear or kill members of other tribes. That may be why even very small children — even infants — draw racial distinctions or other in-group/out-group distinctions.
In contrast, the evolutionary origins of attitudes toward women were based presumably less on hatred and more on desire to control them and impregnate them, so as to pass on one’s genes. Acquiring and enforcing a harem, so as to improve the odds of one’s own genes being passed on, might involve ruthlessness, enslavement and brutal beatings, but there was no evolutionary incentive for gender hatred as there was for hatred of different tribes. And of course much of the anti-women behavior around the world, from genital cutting to bride burnings to sex trafficking, is typically overseen by women themselves, and it’s easier to see their behavior as opportunism or deeply-embedded sexism than as hatred of fellow women. So that’s why I wonder if sexism, in the sense of discriminatory attitudes toward males and females, isn’t a better way of thinking about the issue than misogyny, in the sense of hatred toward women.
Other anthropologists I spoke to also noted that the most discriminatory restrictions against women tend to come not from those who profess to hate women, but from those who profess to honor and protect them. Think of Afghan society, for example. After interviewing many men who beat and lock up women and threaten to kill them if they take a false step, I’d say that their attitudes for females are a mix of bizarre honor and contempt, but not usually hatred.
My head hurts.
Let’s get this right: men don’t hate women, their genes just tell them to beat the shit out of, rape, enslave and kill women. Beating, raping, enslaving and killing women just because they’re women isn’t misogyny, it’s just inequality. By contrast, genes that tell us to beat, rape, enslave and kill members of another race do constitute hatred.
Would someone like to explain that to me? Because unless Kristof is just having a grand old time trying to give bait to the “RACISM IS LESS ACCEPTABLE THAN MISOGYNY” wing of feminism (with which I’ve already said I want no part), I haven’t got the slightest fucking clue what’s going through his head.
Of course, the ironic thing in his professing that racism is very real and misogyny is not is how he engages in racism, or at the very least xenophobia, in his analysis. Read the full blog post (it’s not hugely longer than what I’ve posted here). Notice something? Like that every example of misogyny that he can think of happened a.) a long, long time ago before white Western men learned the error of their ways (evidenced by their arguing that killing women for being women isn’t misogyny) or b.) committed in cultures that are predominantly non-white and “third world”? He manages to list FGM, honor killings, the rape crisis in the Congo — all of course important and dire issues, but distinctly leaving the impression that misogyny is something that only those people do. No need to mention American or European domestic violence, rape culture that actively promotes sexual assault and allows it to thrive, the way that we as nations treat immigrant women and women of color, the rape and killing of sex workers, rape and cover up by police, rape cover up by universities, hate-crimes against lesbians who end up in prison for defending themselves, the utter inability to bring justice against a (not so) nice white rapist who has admitted to his crime, Christian fundamentalists, not to mention the way that our soldiers often treat the women they are stationed with, work with, or are supposed to be protecting . . . eh, fuck that. The overseas examples are far more splashy and let us feel better about ourselves. Nice job using “evolutionary advantage to be able to identify strongly with your own tribe,” jackass.
And no, Kristof does not get a pass with “the circumstances he listed are far more dire than those in the U.S. and therefore comparisons would be inappropriate.” There is a difference between saying “Let’s talk about these issues facing women in other nations, which are often ignored,” where discussing American circumstances as comparable would be highly offensive and saying “Hey folks, let’s have a general conversation about the concepts of misogyny and sexism” and failing to specifically call out any aspect of your own culture while criticizing many others. So can we please not go there? I’m not demanding more attention for Western women; I’m demanding more accountability for Western misogynist culture.
I’m really sick of men sitting around with a desire to say something vile about women and thinking “I know, I’ll consult an evolutionary psychologist who will tell me that my views are science, not prejudice!” I honestly haven’t got the slightest clue what point he could possibly be trying to make other than “come on now, treating women isn’t really so horrible, is it? It’s in our genes! Let’s not use ugly words.” I don’t know, maybe I’m just dense. But the idea that having no “evolutionary basis” for misogyny means it doesn’t exist is absurd to me. And seems similarly absurd to say that there is no evolutionary basis for misogyny while arguing that men are driven by evolution to enact violence against women for the purposes of procreation. If any of this were true (and I’m about as skeptical as skeptical gets), I’d say that’s a pretty fucking strong evolutionary basis — you know, the survival of humankind — wouldn’t you?
But don’t worry, ladies. He at least attempts to backpeddle.
I can’t say I’m fully convinced of the argument I’m making. There are still the acid attacks and similar behavior, which I find hard to explain short of misogyny. And maybe the distinction between sexism and misogyny is artificial. Wife-beating may be rooted in the male desire to control a mate and ensure that she passes on his genes and no one else’s, and such behavior isn’t driven by hatred of women in the way that lynchings were driven by racism or that attacks on gays were driven by homophobia. But for the woman with multiple broken arms, that may seem a meaningless distinction.
Aw, gee, really? Well thanks for your consideration.
Story via Bean, where there are some interesting comments. Also, as I finish writing this I see that Amanda has a rather different take; clearly, I disagree with significant parts of it, though there are interesting comments there, too. (Note: although I agree with most of what she has said up to this point, the Cara posting in comments there is not me.)