Untimely Observations

Misogyny or Reasonable Preference?


Andrew Brown at The Guardianrecently suggested that folks overstate things when they call church leaders and others “misogynists” for refusing to allow female clergy and so forth. Misogyny, much like the word “racism,” is almost always meant to be an accusation of backwards irrationality and hatred.  The dictionary definition, “hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women,” leaves a wide enough berth that almost any reasonable preference for men over women in any situation could be regarded as misogyny. However, there is a huge range between a level-headed concern about the abilities or motivations of a group of people and “hatred” for them. Self-proclaimed feminists, like Amazonian Al Sharptons, frequently leverage the hateful, oppressive and presumably violent connotations of the word misogyny to back their opponents into a corner where all they can do is mutter something apologetic like, “umm…that’s not exactly what I meant to say.”

Brown is sensible in noting that there is a language problem here, because countless men who love women, men who go out of their way to make certain the women around them are being treated fairly -- even many moderate, progressive and liberal men -- still maintain a preference for men in certain roles and situations. While the official line might be that men and women are more or less exchangeable, no heterosexual man really believes that as far as I can tell. I have to wonder if heterosexual sex would even be possible or pleasurable for the parties involved if men didn’t see women as being significantly different from them. Still, Brown takes the official route when he seems to agree with a commenter who wrote that:

“…much of what looks like, or is denounced as, misogyny is not so much an undervaluation or hatred of women as an over-valuation of men.”

“Over-valuation” implies that men are wrong when they express a preference for men -- that they have made a biased miscalculation. But isn’t it reasonable for men to feel more comfortable with placing other men in certain roles?

When it comes to religion, I don't know if it is so much a question of men "over-valuing" themselves as a question of integrity. This is really where you have to give the Catholics and fundamentalists credit. You either follow a religion started a couple thousand years ago or you don't. To the sincere believer, Truth is Truth. And Truth doesn't change with fashion or "the times."

When it comes to other matters, isn’t the commonplace belief that men have no idea what women are thinking often true? Isn’t the exotic mystery of woman’s otherness what keeps men entranced by them? Men and women buy books and tapes and go to seminars to try to figure each other out. Anyone who dares to be honest will admit that men and women experience the world differently.

The men of my own stock,

Bitter bad they may be,

But, at least, they hear the things I hear,

And see the things I see;

And whatever I think of them and their likes

They think of the likes of me.

--  from Rudyard Kipling’s “The Stranger

Supreme Court justice Sotomayor famously bragged that her experiences as a “wise Latina” would inevitably help her reach different conclusions than a white male might. I suspect many white males would agree. If, like any normal human being, you are concerned about your own interests, doesn’t it make sense that you would want to deal with someone who hears the things you hear and sees the things you see? Another man may be “bitter bad,” but at least you have a better shot at figuring him out. And while the perspectives of others can be helpful and informative, only a fool would want to be ruled primarily by people who experience the world differently. This is, one would presume, why minority groups and special interest groups feel it is so important to see themselves represented in the halls of power.

Questions of religion and who should rule aside, it is also fairly reasonable for men to prefer the judgment of other men in a variety of everyday situations. While I don’t share the desire of feminists to create “equality” by pushing girls to become mathematicians and engineers, in theory this is an area where a person’s sex shouldn’t matter at all. If you can do the math, you can do the math.

However, there are areas where a shared experience and tacit knowledge matter -- most obviously in dealing with the body or something involving psychology. If I were to hire a personal trainer, for instance, while I know they study the same material as the men do -- because I’ve studied it myself -- I don’t want a 125 pound girl telling me to “push” when I have 225 pounds over my chest. I don’t want to hear her theories about what my goals should be or what I should be doing to get there. There’s enough of a disparity in understanding between me and my lifting buddy, who is a beast and needs 2,000 more calories a day than I do. Even so, he and I are speaking the same language and are motivated by some of the same factors. Neither of us is trying to squeeze into a new bikini.

For the same basic reasons I would prefer a man as a doctor, a coach --  and frankly -- a boss. They may end up being jerks, but I suspect they’ll have a better sense of where I am coming from and I’ll have a better sense of what sort of mischief they might be up to. Negotiations will be absent that extra barrier to mutual understanding inherent in negotiations with the opposite sex.

Not every form of understanding can be taught in a class. Not everything is quantifiable. Dealing with men on an everyday basis isn’t the same as being one.

Women, for the most part, seem to agree. They often seek out “women’s wisdom” and if you visit any community center you can see piles and piles of programs and groups and classes and get-togethers created specifically by and for women. Some women go to all-female gyms because they feel more comfortable when men are not present. Few seem to mind that there are stacks of women’s magazines or special television channels for women. Is it somehow worse to be "androcentric" than it is to be so clearly and openly "gynocentric?"

If acknowledging privately or publicly that men and women are different is “misogyny” then everyone with eyes and a brain is a misogynist who ostensibly hates women. Serious thinkers would do well to avoid the language traps of feminist extremists and make a distinction between a man who harbors some sort of pathological, seething hatred for women and a man who prefers to deal with men in certain situations.

However, Brown’s suggestion – androphilia --  is probably not the right word to use when speaking about men who exhibit a reasonable preference for men. The suffix philia means “the love of” and while we know what we mean when we talk about cinephiles or audiophiles, when dealing with human relations, philia is going to carry a sexual connotation which I don’t think straight men are going to find agreeable.  Homosexuality and homosociality are not the same thing. Quite the opposite, in fact -- homosexual men frequently have difficulty socializing with other (non-homosexual) men and seek out the company and friendship of women. For the same reasons, phallocentric, a favorite on the left, is also problematic.

The best solution is to recognize that “misogyny” is a loaded word, and avoid using it except in the most extreme circumstances. Charges of misogyny should generally be recognized as over-the-top, and those who level them carelessly and incessantly should be corrected or dismissed as hysterics.

And at any rate, women can hardly blame men if we value masculinity highly. By and large we are a marvelous sex!

(Hey, Mark Steyn gets away with it.)