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Wednesday, May 31, 2000

Misogyny (n) 1. hatred of women
Donna Laframboise
National Post

Twice last week, I opened a newspaper to find the word "misogyny" in large print. Of all the misused words in the English language, this one's way up there. As menacing as a roll of a barbed wire, it nevertheless gets tossed around with abandon.

Misogyny, say the dictionaries, is "hatred of women." This is not the same as treating some women, some of the time, in a sex-stereotyped (sexist) manner. Yet, despite the fact that people who genuinely loathe women are exceedingly rare, a computer search reveals that both our national newspapers have employed the term dozens of times in recent months.

For reporters and editors covering the Arts, it seems, "misogyny" has become a routine way to explain boorish or troubling behaviour. This was the case last Wednesday, when a National Post headline referred to filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock's "legendary misogyny."

The accompanying article tells us Mr. Hitchcock didn't treat his leading ladies very well, spoke to his mother every day, and that "nit-picking mothers and henpecked sons" were a common theme in his work. But there's surely a difference between being a bad boss, a sexist product of one's time, or having difficulty with interpersonal relationships and hating half the human race.

More ominously, accusations of "misogyny" have become a door to be slammed in the face of people who make unpopular statements. A classic case is last Tuesday's Globe and Mail column headlined: "A message to misogynists from the fifties -- get over it."

Written by Sheldon Walker, a psychologist who responds to readers, the column's first letter was from a man who signed himself Women Are Tedious. The letter writer feels Mr. Walker has "a bias in favour of women and women's issues," one he believes is widespread in the media. In his view, Mr. Walker sees negative traits in one gender only. After complaining that he personally has lost out on workplace promotions to women he doesn't perceive to be better qualified, the letter writer says, "I think women have all the power in our society and have for a long time."

Rather than considering the possibility that some of the writer's objections might have merit, Mr. Walker's response is to hector, condescend and sputter on irrelevantly about how the couples he counsels have Fifties-style marriages and how one of his clients is being sexually harassed at work.

"I don't know why you are so angry," he says angrily. "Maybe you have sustained some emotional pain in your personal relationships and are expressing it through misogyny ... you know this isn't right. You know that women do not have full equality with men ... Write more if you like and tell me what's really bugging you."

The letter writer is, of course, exaggerating when he says women have all the power. Had Mr. Walker castigated him for overstating and oversimplifying, it would be difficult to argue. But the psychologist's professional opinion boils down to something far less appetizing: Since the problems facing women haven't all been solved yet, no man should presume to think his own difficulties with the opposite sex warrant consideration.

In truth, though, it's actually Mr. Walker who's misinformed -- not to mention stuck in a time warp. While the 1950s were a time in which women were told not to worry their pretty little heads about foreign policy, and in which it was assumed nature intended them to be mothers first and foremost, Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (researched and written primarily during the Fifties) talks not about male oppressors but about smart, frustrated housewives making their husbands' lives miserable by trying to live through them.

Paying little attention since the women's movement first put in an appearance in the 1970s, Mr. Walker hasn't noticed that gender debates have come a long way, baby. A new generation of thinkers such as Cathy Young (Ceasefire! Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality), Warren Farrell (The Myth of Male Power) and Christina Hoff Sommers (The War Against Boys) argue persuasively that our society has become obsessed with women's concerns to an alarming and unhealthy degree.

Women have dominated conversations about gender for far too long. But, this isn't going to change until people such as Mr. Walker stop silencing men who speak their minds by accusing them of hating women.

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