Herge and misogyny vs sexism

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.

5 thoughts on “Herge and misogyny vs sexism

  1. I find it embrarrasing he frames this with evolutionary phychology, he should drop the evolutionary and look at the phychology. It is antithetical for the survival of the species that men kill and maim women. It doesn’t improve the health of the species or clan to abuse the female half of the populace, so there goes that arguement out the window.

    Misogyny is rooted in sexism, hating theq other. The ‘for honour’ motivation for cruelty towards women (which is clearly gendered) is still obviously an expression of resentment and anger these actions are hateful; it’s still misogyny is the hatred and comtempt of women. 

    When he talks about women as the overseers of misogyny he forgot mention that the overseers have overseers-men. patriarchy encourages women to enforce it’s standards on other women on top of male enforcement. Pitting women against each other is long standing practice of the patriarchy.

    For instance women who practice FGM their own daughters do so because it’s ‘what’s best’ she know there is grave consequence for not doing it and can be done by others anyway.

    Anne-Women are people and so are men however the world is not gender nuetral and this carries baggage but there is no need for the hate. I can’t help but sense that you wish to distance yourself from the ‘woman’ label. I find ‘snarky strong women’ if written well to be enjoyable characters. Though I find the ‘faux action girl’ types to be disappointing (wikitropes refrence). I enjoy fanfiction I don’t know what you’ve been reading but I can find while not as much but still plenty of well written fan fics of female characters. One last not “wholesome” what do you mean by the innocent, naive, virginial (I’m the one overreacting and vomiting about that one) there are ‘good girl’ or to add flaws ‘goody two shoes girls’ and ‘girl next door’ types; so I’m not exactly sure what you want from your female characters.  

    • Michiru,

      You make great points. I’ve thought similarly when people argue “survival of the prettiest” women are supposed to be obsessed with appearance an thin bodies are the most beautiful– women don’t menstruate when they’re super thin. They can’t reproduce.


      • Yes, it is extremely counterproductive.  Many men want women who
        are thin, young and anything other attribute that takes their fancy, oh don’t forget compliant. Evo phych idiots keep banging on about ‘spreading their seed’ it’s shallow. I have a couple of counterpoints to that excuse/fantasy

        1.Just because you want doesn’t mean you get.

        2. In the cases of species who mate practically indicrimanately, the father has little or no interest in their offspring. Or the mother raises them alone or communally (this is the case for chimps I believe) This suits alot of evo pych idiots, but for the ones who want to claim to their kids, well tough luck lol.  

        3. Males of many species kill the current offspring (often when it’s still breastfeeding) or cause miscarriage to ensure that the mother will be available to them.

        4. For those pedophiles (stay away from the mens rights reddit) who like young women ie under 20 but are older than that. I can’t remember the statistics but are young girl is far more likely to die childbirth along with the child or sustain horrific injury or sickness due to an underdeveloped body; doing this to girls is murder. Not to mention she’d be less likely to raise the baby to healthy or to adulthood
        even support system. (the survival of the species takes alot more than sex) 

        Sorry OT I know I just saw a evo phych inspired report on tv trying to explain why men cheat. If they actually look at it beyond the male
        fantasy the implications are horrible, anyway-end rant.

        “Survival of prettiest” that’s clever did you make that up? I’ll use that saying if you don’t mind. 

  2. Yes, a female writer here and guess what? I do not write women and I also do not wish to read women. I write people.

    I’m sick to my backteeth (and beyond) of “snarky awesome strong female characters” who can do everything entirely without males, have no interest in men and “can kick ass” (invariably male ass). Sick – sick – vomiting sick of it.

    I have yet to read a single wholesome female character written during the past decade or two by a female-oriented or feminist American writer and that includes fanfiction and YA. I wouldn’t want to spend a second in the presence of the female characters written instead.

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