Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Can misogyny be eliminated?

To answer this question we must determine if misogamy can, in principle, be eliminated.  The standard (but dubious) assumption is if something is cultural based and not a feature of the universe independent of human beings, then it is within human control and can be altered. We have three options:

1) Misogyny is a feature of the natural world independent of the human being.
2) Misogyny is a fundamental feature of male-female relationships.
3) Misogamy is a social construction.

The first can be dismissed without much argument as misogyny presupposes a conscious human mind capable of hating women. I have heard feminists argue for the second option but most modern feminists consider gender a harmful social construction. If this is true, the second option can be also be dismissed because we cannot simultaneously hold gender as malleable and as having inherent features.

We are left with the final option: misogamy is a social construction.  This is interesting especially if we broaden the conversation and bring in Foucault's theory of power and knowledge.

Power according to Foucault works through establishing truths about the world which then become viewed as axiomatically obvious and self-evident.  These truths reinforce each other controlling how we think and the language we use to communicate.  Knowledge is not simply a set of facts, but a system of discourses, verbal and non-verbal ways of organizing and thinking about the world.  Knowledge is inevitability interlinked with power.

One of the ways in which power works is through the creation of categories in which we come to understand ourselves.  Foucault used the example of the homosexual category which only appeared in the late 19th century and quickly became a separate category of a human, a different type of life. So through the act of describing same-sex activity, the categories of 'homosexual' and 'heterosexual' were created out of a broader interest in sexuality and then became fixed in public discourse and individual identity. Now we cannot avoid thinking in those terms.

If  Foucault is correct that power, knowledge and categories are interlinked and largely constructed, then we are left with an interesting conclusion regarding misogyny.

Misogyny is a social construction created to foster class consciousness among women over their exploitation by the patriarchy in an inherent sexist culture. Cultural change requires the acceptance of misogyny and of it's impact. Paradoxically feminists must 'promote' misogyny as a category of thought to further their own political cause. Therefore, as long as feminism exists and has the power to influence cultural thought, misogyny will exist.

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