Saturday, December 09, 2006

Definition of terms: Misogyny vs. Sexism


hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women.


1. attitudes or behavior based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles.
2. discrimination or devaluation based on a person's sex, as in restricted job opportunities; esp., such discrimination directed against women.

I was in a discussion at girl-wonder where the art of Rob Liefeld and Greg Land was described as misogynistic. I disagreed and said it was sexist but not actually misogynistic. Rather than sidetrack that discussion I thought I'd address the difference here.

Misogyny is hatred. A writer or artist might claim to be pro-women and even give female characters overtly empowered roles, but when those characters are forced to suffer in degrading ways that their male counterparts do not, then misogynism is apparent in the work. When women are made to suffer or die purely as a way of motivating a male character it's misogynism.

I know it's a favourite example of mine, but Kimiyo Hoshi's treatment in Green Arrow is misogynistic, pure and simple. I don't care how feminist Judd Winick thinks he is, or how empowered his female characters are in other comics, the way Kimiyo is treated is entirely misogynistic. She is attacked and beaten, symbolically raped, and left badly injured. The hero finds her and is motivated by her plight (though not enough to tend to her injuries before he chases off after the villain), and having served her purpose she is dropped from the comic, her personal story unresolved.

Sexism is more about assumptions. It's about assuming women having a lower value than men in any given situation. It's objectifying. It's making decisions based on sex rather than any relevent data. It is not about hate. Rob Liefeld doesn't hate women. He likes women. He likes drawing hot women in skimpy clothing. His art exaggerates all the hotness to a level where they appear absurdly deformed, but although it is a level of objectivism beyond stupid, it's not hate.

That's what I think, anyway.


Anonymous said...

I don't know why you worry your pretty little head about it.

Elliot said...

That is an interesting difference, one I hadn't really thought about because I have seen the two terms used interchangably. I don't see how there is any question your Winnick and Liefeld examples are right.

On the other hand, I'm not entirely sure that Land isn't displaying some misogyny in his work. Sure, he has some pretty faces in his comics. However, they are almost always highly sexualized, the "porn star face" people often mention.

This could be chaulked up to his source material if that were the only problem, but there is also the fact that he uses the same faces for different characters in different comics.

Also, he uses quite dramatically different facial types for the same character in the same book. He also wildly alters the hair style from page to page, depending I guess on the hair style of the pictures he is tracing.

At a minimum, this is a lack of respect, but I think it really does indicate a hatred of women that he thinks grossly sexualized faces of random women can be placed anywhere at will in titles he works on.

On a different point, I don't think hurting a female for the sake of the male protagonists story is always misogyny. Hurting loved ones is a very common plot in dramatic fiction, just look at 90% of every action film ever made. Someone or someones close to the hero are hurt or killed to amp up the angst. This family member is most often a wife or girlfriend (children more in movies where characters are allowed to have those little things that age). It is more readily apparent in comics due to the serialized nature, but I think many cases are just lazy writing.

Marionette said...

I didn't mention Greg Land because I think his situation is much more complicated. His lazy use of innappropriate source materials for his swipes shows contempt not only for the characters he is drawing, but the story, the writer, his fellow artists, the companies that employ him, and the reader. It would be unfair to single out a specific group.

And it's a shame because he integrates the swipes very nicely into some excellent compositions, and if he used images that were actually appropriate we'd be praising him. He seriously needs to get a digital camera and hire a model for a couple of hours.

And no, of course it's not misogyny every time a woman is hurt in a story, but when a writer takes a mixed group of characters and it's always the women that suffer and the men that get to do the big fights and have the important experiences then a certain bias becomes apparent.

Anonymous said...

I'm having one of those under-researched thoughts- was it ever thus? Golden age, The Waynes, the Els, Ma and Pa Kent- equal opportunity death. Siver Age Marvel- Uncle Ben, Bucky, Junior Juniper. Is it only in the late sixties/early seventies that the statistically unlikely killing, maiming and raping of women in comics takes off? This is all off the top of my head and would need a historian/statistician to confirm, but wouldn't it be grim if it was a response to 60s/70s feminism?

Anonymous said...

Actually, David M, I think you'd find most academic feminists would completely agree with your speculation. The more "empowered" women as characters get -- even if they're just better characterized and not background filler -- the more of a threat they somehow represent to ye olde male establishment. A woman that can best the fantasy male the fanboy identifies with or becomes herself a character the fanboy identifies with is very dangerous on a subconcious level to the ole machismo.

That's the theory anyway. I also have noticed that as female characters get more interesting, they've gotten more sexualized in their appearence. It's almost like saying, "Hey guys, they may be all three-dimensional and capable of kicking ass now, but don't worry! They're still BABES! It's ok to drool over them because that's all you ever really cared about anyway. So here ya go!" Which is an insult to male readers as much as it is objectification of women.

And lastly, who knows? Maybe the price that female characters have paid for being more aggressive and powerful is one of some men getting to tap into their latent misogyny and really give that woman what for. It's like Ah-nold gleefully interviewing how awesome it was he'd get to shove the Terminatrix's head down a toilet because what guy hasn't wanted to do that to a woman. She can take it, so let's really dish it now!

In other words, for every step forward women as characters take, there's two back to counter it. It does get a little exhausting at times. I don't know if what I just laid out is all true, but at times it sure feels that way.

-- Anun

(PS -- Here through WFA)

Anonymous said...

I once had it explained to me as "Sexism's the theory, misogyny's the practice."

Which makes a lot of sense if you're looking at sexism as a social system of oppression instead of individual acts that degrade women.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that there is a difference, and even the semantics of it, I'm not sure your examples are the best....

Sexism, to put it simply, the belief that the sexes (usually two, but that depends kind of on culture...) have inherent differences. Now, usually this is a no-brainer (given physical differences and so on) so usually the term is reserved for those who exaggerate these differences, and, most importantly, use the average as a measurement of how to treat individuals: "Men are stronger than women." is a statement, it is also (for a certain value of the word) true. It does not mean that *all* men are stronger than all women: But if one were to dismiss an (unknown) woman as weaker than an (equally unknown) man then that would be sexism.

Treating people differently *because of their gender* is sexism: Technically no matter if it is in a positive or negative way.

Sexism is not limited to men, and the various prejudices are many and varied, sexism does not *neccessarily* imply that one values one gender higher than the other, but in practice that is almost always the case.

Misogyny on the other hand is specifically *hatred against women*. Sexism is a "crime" that can be directed against either men or women, misoygyny is specifically directed against women (the reverse is called misandry) More, it is hatred *of women as a gender* notm just individual women. Flat-out misogyny is probably *a lot* less common than sexism (which is pretty much omnipresent) misogyny implies an active (as opposed to passive) hierarchy: Women are "inferior" to men, not just different. (Of course it is arguably whether the distinction is particularly useful)

Anonymous said...

Sexism = Steve Trevor

Misogyny = Lobo