After my rant on Herge, the author of Tintin, a commenter sent me a link to a post by New York Times opinion writer Nicholas Kristof called “Misogyny Vs. Sexism.” As you may know, Kristof is a huge feminist. With his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, he wrote the excellent book Half the Sky which argues that establishing equal rights and equal status for women worldwide is the central struggle of the our time.
In his NYT column, Kristof writes that he used to think misogyny was the force holding women back. Now he wonders if its sexism. Here’s an excerpt from his column about what the difference may be:
Then in the reporting for this column, I spoke to evolutionary psychologists who emphasized the distinct origins of racism and misogyny/sexism. Racism seems based in a hard-wired tendency of ancient humans to divide into groups to improve odds of survival, and it was an evolutionary advantage to be able to identify strongly with your own tribe and to fear or kill members of other tribes. That may be why even very small children — even infants — draw racial distinctions or other in-group/out-group distinctions.
In contrast, the evolutionary origins of attitudes toward women were based presumably less on hatred and more on desire to control them and impregnate them, so as to pass on one’s genes. Acquiring and enforcing a harem, so as to improve the odds of one’s own genes being passed on, might involve ruthlessness, enslavement and brutal beatings, but there was no evolutionary incentive for gender hatred as there was for hatred of different tribes. And of course much of the anti-women behavior around the world, from genital cutting to bride burnings to sex trafficking, is typically overseen by women themselves, and it’s easier to see their behavior as opportunism or deeply-embedded sexism than as hatred of fellow women. So that’s why I wonder if sexism, in the sense of discriminatory attitudes toward males and females, isn’t a better way of thinking about the issue than misogyny, in the sense of hatred toward women.
Other anthropologists I spoke to also noted that the most discriminatory restrictions against women tend to come not from those who profess to hate women, but from those who profess to honor and protect them. Think of Afghan society, for example. After interviewing many men who beat and lock up women and threaten to kill them if they take a false step, I’d say that their attitudes for females are a mix of bizarre honor and contempt, but not usually hatred.
I can’t say I’m fully convinced of the argument I’m making. There are still the acid attacks and similar behavior, which I find hard to explain short of misogyny…”
It’s fascinating to think about, but I guess I’m wondering how much it matters. It all comes down to this: women need power– political and financial, in order to change the world.
How do we get it?
As far as the issues I write about in this blog (and back to Herge) for me, it comes down to this: women need to write more stories. Women need to grow their financial resources so that they can amplify their voices, opinions, and views to influence the world. Women need to create books, films, television series, and products.
This is not the fastest way to influence people. Of course, a law against burning women would be much better.
Obviously, people need to be working hard simultaneously in politics, finance, and all professions as well. The resistance to change is enormous. I was in the nonprofit world for a long time, but it’s hard to help women get power when you don’t have much yourself.
So I’m kind of tired asking why. I understand it’s important to figure it out: knowing how situations got to be the way they are helps to change them. But I only have so many brain cells and so much time. Sometimes when I focus on why things are so fucked up, I get stuck there. I will say that, as I’ve written many times, I don’t think that men are evil or have some conspiracy going on. I think men are self-centered like all humans are. They’re telling stories from their point of view. Because they dominate the narratives, women live in the warped experience of existing through other peoples eyes. But we can’t expect men to tell our stories, not even Steven Spielberg. We have to tell our own.
Of course, that would be much easier to do if there were Sandra Spielbergs out there. Many of them. It would help if Steven committed to helping women directors. It would help a lot if we had thousands of years of narratives written by women to draw from including something like the Bible.
But I guess we have blogging. I am working on a Middle Grade book, and I think its going to be really good. I hope all the women reading this blog are writing as well.
Meanwhile, please give money to support nonprofits that are working worldwide to change the status of women. Please support politicians who are committed to this as well.