Content Block

Society 21/11/2016

Why 'misogyny' is my word of the year

Hatred of women has never been so mainstream

When the Oxford English Dictionary announced its word of the year was ‘post-truth’, I did a double take: ‘That’s not how you spell “misogyny”.’ For of all the words that describe this year this one tops my list.

I chose ‘misogyny’ because, not only has this been the year in which a man who was recorded boasting about grabbing women’s bodies by their reproductive organs and rights was voted president of the United States, it has also been a year in which women who speak out on anything but the most anodyne subjects are told to shut up.

Usually a couple of rape and death threats are thrown in so they get the message clearly.

I won’t list all my other reasons for choosing this word, but the whooping that greeted Ched Evans’s acquittal – sending the message that his treatment of women is acceptable as well as legal – and the news that refugee women in Calais have almost all been sexually assaulted, underlines how far sunk is the status of women.

In my adult life, hatred of women has never been so mainstream. I won’t use the word “normalised” because not only is it ugly, it legitimises misogyny as a mere cultural shift, an evolution in values. It is not. Like hypocrisy and tax avoidance, misogyny has always been with us.

What is different now is its open expression.

"Hard Left men are happy to accommodate misogyny while declaring liberal principles"

Its most vociferous practitioners hide behind sex-pest-Iron-John pseudonyms on Twitter and Facebook. When dragged into the open almost all are bedroom warriors better at one-handed typing than relating to women in the physical world. A few find courage in “alt-right” companions, creating personas as original and shallow as a 1980s shock jock.

But what interests me is Hard Left men happy to accommodate misogyny while declaring liberal principles.

I don’t just mean their willingness to kow-tow to “cultural” misogyny – a racist act if ever there was one – I mean their default to insult and condescension when faced with a woman who disagrees with them and has a better argument.

I thought this the other day when a Momentum supporter posted a column by the Guardian’s Suzanne Moore on Facebook. Her piece was about why women voted for Trump and the assumption that women would vote for Clinton because she is a woman. It was also about blaming women for his election (based on the claim that 53 per cent of white women voted for Trump. Fifty-three per cent of what? Of white women who voted? Of all white women, including those who didn’t vote? The more I look at that stat, the more troubled I am at its use to shift blame onto women).

What followed were smart arse quotes by men who probably label themselves feminist as well as Hard Left. All happily attacked Moore (“she’s an imbecile”, wrote one Chomsky-wannabe). No one acknowledged her argument. In fact the only cliché they failed to use was “it must be her period”.

I am not saying the right are not sexist. Far from it: Milo Yiannopoulos and his friends seem unable to open their mouths without spurting sexism.

My problem, like many other women on the Left, is that I expect male comrades to have higher standards. I expect them to know women are equal.

But their treatment of women belies the contrary: in the past two years we have seen women MPs like Liz Kendall subjected to comments like: “What would really get the electorate going is if that Liz Kendall just flashed her tits.”

The Left’s opposition to BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg had more arguments about her gender than alleged political bias, which is why 38 Degrees dropped its petition to have her sacked.

In Labour, only the refusal of MPs to take up shadow cabinet places brought greater parity among roles withheld when Corbyn was first elected.

A glance down the list of Labour candidates for city mayors reveals it is yet another resolutely male members’ club.

This is all at a time when the Left has lost its grip on its traditional heartlands – Scotland, the North, the working and lower middle classes.  Everyone agrees new thinking is needed. But while our leaders remain in a boys’ brigade that protects and perpetuates male privilege and while they fail to disable the misogyny of their most vehement followers, is it any wonder the Left seems more out of touch with women voters than ever?

Does it matter? Yes, not just because having those outside the status quo enables fresh thinking, but because women make up 52% of the UK electorate. Women, according to the pollsters, are also least likely to be swayed by tribal loyalty, and are twice as likely to be undecided before an election (YouGov, March 2015).

That means women’s votes are up for grabs.

Priorities for women voters are not pink buses but health and education, two areas in which Labour should lead.

But women voters overall are more likely to vote Tory than Labour.

Women are choosing to vote Tory though they have the most to lose from a Tory government: they make up 65 per cent of the public payroll and are disproportionately affected by public service cuts (source: The Labour Force Survey); female voters are up to 10 per cent more resistant to cuts than male voters. They are also the losers in the big pension shake up.

The misogyny of the Left is not why women vote Tory. But it is, I believe, why the Left fails to engage women and persuade them to turn out for Labour in enough numbers to win elections.

What am I saying? I doubt men on the Hard Left will listen. No, I expect they’ll shout or mansplain at me, because from where I stand they would rather women stayed bare foot, pregnant and in the kitchen than expressed an opinion that challenges their automatic “right” to rule the rest of us.

And that is why ‘misogyny’ is my word of the year.

A version of this article was published on Danuta Kean's blog "A View From The Edge"

Danuta Kean is a writer and publishing analyst. She edited Writing the Future, about diversity in book publishing, and is currently working on Centre Stage, a report on diversity in the UK theatre for the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, due out later this year. She is also books editor of Mslexia, the feminist magazine for women writers.