October 10th, 2014

In case you didn’t know it, misogyny is hatred of women. I have always known of its existence, but only recently have I become aware of its ubiquity. In my naiveté I have always thought that the vast majority of men are decent fellows who harbor nothing but good will toward women. But lately a number of events have triggered a realization that misogyny is much more widespread than I had thought.

The first triggering event was the absurd GamerGate brouhaha that demonstrated the magnitude of misogyny in the games industry. I call it absurd because the accusations against Zoe Quinn were obviously false, yet some men gave them credence. It then triggered a great deal of discussion in the games community, which took the form of a majority of males supporting Ms. Quinn while a loud, determined, and vicious minority attacked her from every angle. The assault on Ms. Quinn is truly disgusting and demonstrates just how widespread misogyny runs.

But misogyny doesn’t end there. I have noticed that women in blog discussions are often treated with contempt by a small number of trolls. Yes, trolls are assholes and they attack everybody — but they’re not equal-opportunity assholes. They seem to rip into women with greater gusto than men.

A second triggering event was Kathy Sierra’s horrific tale of harassment by misogynistic men. I could have dismissed it as the work of a few nut cases, but her story reveals that there are a LOT of these nut cases out there, and they are energetic in their destructive efforts. 

Over the last month I’ve been doing a little informal research into misogyny. Once you start looking for it, it pops up almost everywhere. Some men on the Internet use their real names in their online activities, but very few women do so. I refuse to believe that the reticence women demonstrate is unjustified. Indeed, women seem to have a smaller online footprint than men. Women on Facebook seem to be more circumspect than men, and the older they are, the more circumspect they become. Clearly, they learn to be circumspect through cruel experience.

I also quizzed some of my female friends about verbal misogyny. I didn’t ask general questions about their experiences with men; I was more specific in asking how often they had experienced explicit verbal dismissal or contempt from men that were clearly due to their gender. I was shocked at the number of experiences my friends reported. I had thought that few men would be stupid enough to engage in such obviously unacceptable behavior. I was naive. 

Here’s another bit I ran across just yesterday: one-third of women who are murdered are killed by their male partners. Very few men are killed by their female partners. And there is little sign of any diminishment of this behavior. 

Another research angle led me to look at pornography. There’s so much of it online that a broad survey is quite easy to perform. I found three broad classes of pornography. First, there’s pinup pornography, depicting sexy women in provocative poses. Some variations on this feature women boasting anatomically impossible breasts. These are clearly a form of visual entertainment. Where one person might have a picture of a sunset on a wall, another might post a pinup.

The second broad class I’ll call the “you are there” form of pornography. This shows a huge variety of sexual practices. Copulation is shown in every possible set of positions and photographed from every possible angle. 

But the third class is the most revealing: misogynistic pornography. At the tamer end of this is bondage imagery, showing women trussed up in a range of ways. Some of this stuff really isn’t misogynistic; in some cases, the bondage is clearly intended to celebrate the beauty of the female body. In some of the tamer stuff, the woman appears to enjoy the experience. However, these constitute a small fraction of the material. In many of the images, the woman is placed in a situation ranging from unpleasant through painful to murderous. I was surprised at the number of images showing women being hanged, having their heads cut off, impaled, or otherwise savagely murdered.

This elicited a range of thoughts. First, isn’t it odd that our culture celebrates the beauty of the female body but seems to regard the male body as rather shameful? I myself share these values, but I wonder they are so prevalent. The classical world celebrated the beauty of the male body, but we don’t. Perhaps it’s because our culture is nowhere near as accepting of homosexuality as the classical world was.

Another short observation: in most of the misogynistic pornography, the woman is gagged. I suspect that this reflects a male appreciation of the social intelligence of women. A gagged woman can’t use speech to establish rapport with the man. She can’t shame him. She is deprived of her most powerful weapon.

A third observation: in many cases, the torturer is another woman. I’m sure that this has enormous psychological significance, but I cannot figure it out. Sometimes the torturer is a monster, demon, or some sort of fat ugly slob. This suggests to me that the intention is that the woman should be subjected to sexual humiliation at the hands of the most sexually disgusting creatures.

But the most important observation is obvious: many men bear a deep anger towards women. There’s a lot of rage out there, and it manifests itself in the many forms of misogyny. This anger is widespread, and it pops up everywhere. 

Why is it so common? My guess is that it arises from female control over reproduction. It’s funny, we recognize that society allots most of the power to men, but the single most important personal goal (reproduction) is under the control of women. Men use lots of schemes to compel women to copulate with them, but our civilization has moved all those schemes outside of the realm of accepted behavior. Unless you’re willing to commit a crime, the only way to get laid is to get the woman’s permission. And women don’t give that permission readily; there are plenty of men who don’t get anywhere near as much sex as they’d like. 

This, it seems, is the basic cause of all that anger. As the Rolling Stones put it:

"I can’t get no satisfaction.
Cause I try, and I try, and I try, and I try…”

Of course, explaining the cause of all that misogyny does nothing to justify it. Nor does it suggest that women have some sort of social obligation to sleep with as many men as they can. This is just one more example of the pains caused by an unfettered free market; there are always winners and losers. And just as the losers in the economic free market sometimes resort to crime to “even up the score”, males who lose out in the sex market often develop intense hatred of women, a hatred that manifests itself in a thousand ways. Rape is not a crime of sexual passion, it is a crime of revenge.

So, what can we do about all this ugliness? I am sorry to say that there is no easy answer. Our only hope is to continue to bang pans together, loudly declaring our disapproval of such behavior. Unfortunately, the worst misogynists are generally socially isolated losers who can’t get laid. Their social isolation insulates them from the civilizing influence of other people. It takes a long time for fundamental cultural mores to shift, and the only way to do so is to keep insisting, loudly, that the expression of misogyny in any form is contemptible. I doubt that we can ever prevent men from feeling such feelings, but I think that we can drive home the point that acting on such feelings is shameful.

I do have one suggestion for a technical scheme that might help somewhat. I am still working on the scheme.

[Added October 13th]
A letter from a reader revealed that I left an important point unstated. There is a huge difference between the universal male desire to dominate and misogyny. The former leads men to strive for power, dominance, or some sort of excellence. It is no accident that most of the “#1” positions are held by men. Whether it’s politics, science, music, business, cookery, or any other field, men always seem to hold most of the positions at the top. While some of this is certainly due to gender prejudice against women, the male obsession with dominance plays just as important a role. 

Male dominance behavior is crucial to sexual selection, and such behavior long predates Homo Sapiens. Many mammals use a sexual system in which one male dominates a harem of females; younger males are always challenging the dominant male, and eventually he ages and is killed and replaced by a stronger male. The degree to which this factor drives sexual selection is indicated by something called sexual dimorphism: the difference in size between males and females. Walrus males, for example, are far larger than walrus females, and the life expectancy of walrus males are short. They usually die in battles for possession of the harem.

In humans, the male drive to dominance leads to a lot of crazy behavior. The most dangerous creatures on this planet are males aged 16 to 25, because they are in their prime years for sexual activity. Women are attracted to powerful men, and so young men must ‘prove themselves’ by engaging in dangerous activities that, if successful, demonstrate their prowess. Hence gang behavior, dangerous driving, extreme sports, and all the other spectacular activities of young men. Some men lose their lives in these efforts; that’s one reason why the natural sex ratio at birth is about 107 males to 100 females; roughly 7 of those males will not live long enough to procreate. 

There are many sad consequences of this drive to dominate. Some young women are attracted to angry young men because they perceive drive and power in their anger, and hope to reform or redirect that power in a productive direction. Sometimes it works, but all too often the women becomes the victim of that anger. 

The fascination many girls have for horses is a manifestation of the female fantasy of taming the angry power of the male. A horse is much bigger and more powerful than a girl; she dreams of mastering that power, of directing and controlling it. She and the horse together form a team that can accomplish wonders; this is all a fantasy of marriage. 

Men dominate not because they are better than women, but because they push themselves harder and take greater risks in order to dominate. Imagine a society in which women were subjected to the same reproductive constraints that men suffer in this society. Imagine that women were permitted to have only as many children as their achievements justified. In such a society, I think we’d see a LOT more female presidents, CEOs, and Nobel Prize winners. We would also see more female crimes of anger directed against the system that denies them full reproductive opportunity. 

For more on this subject see “Why Men Rule”, by Stephen Goldberg