Misogyny is an Escher print come into motion and then twisted so that its surface refutes any clean application of moral logic. It is power exercised in spaces devoid of rules and thus without places of sanctuary.
For some men, women are enemies or tools, subordinate subsets of humanity to either be opposed or used.
In the discordant perceptions and judgments of misogyny, if a woman resists her subordinate place, she risks becoming an enemy, a person defined by her defiance of the strict boundaries of loyalty or submission. An enemy is one who crashes out of this box, a woman who has become a threat to the exercise of power because she will say No and thus assert her resistance to control.
This threat can be nonverbal and delivered so even by a stranger to a particular man. For example, if a woman is confident in her bearing, if she meets men’s eyes impartially and frankly, and if she carries courage like a second skin and refuses to be cowed, she will make enemies of some men.
This threat can be active. If she speaks out, offers opinions, takes actions on her own, then she will make enemies of those men who will not tolerate being contradicted by a woman’s word or presence. She risks abuse and perhaps physical assault.
Not all women are included in this judgment — sometimes mothers, wives and daughters escape their place in the box because the misogynist knows them well, loves them, and thus acknowledges their humanity or because they inspire fear — the man dare not interfere with them because the consequences will be swift and certain. Imagine some wretched fellow deciding to “grab the p***y” of Ronda Rousey or Gina Carano.
Misogyny combines a contempt for some women’s physical vulnerability with an acceptance of the ugly stereotype that implies their essential nature is frivolous and lacks seriousness. It asserts a belief in the righteousness of its entitlement to sexual service. It ridicules a principled response to harassment and groping: “The problem with women is they complain, ‘It’s harassment’ — I’m sure I’ll get myself in trouble one of these days. If you can’t handle some of the basic stuff that’s become a problem in the workforce today, you don’t belong in the workforce. Like, you should go maybe teach kindergarten. I think it’s a respectable position.”*
Misogyny begins in claiming power over language and thus in the perceived right of the misogynist to name, label, direct and define the outlines of women’s lives. In the most obvious examples, women are defined by their sexual availability and by a physical standard prescribed by celebrities and models. In the misogynist’s mind, all of it seems to rest on gender, as in vagina = fate, vagina = foreknowledge — this is how you must act; this is what I may do. A misogynist may call out names and grab a woman. He may intimidate and grope. He may take advantage of weakness, of someone drunk, of someone over whom he wields power at work. His first instinct is not to protect but to exploit.
Ultimately, misogyny in its most virulent forms sidesteps all the rules of politeness and decency. It declares women to be less then human — they are chattel, to be rewarded for the quality of their submission or punished according to the degree of their audacity. Misogyny is a carcinogen whose remedy is exposure to light and air in the delivery of its stories so that the unvarnished squalor of its operations may finally provoke changes in the law and in the behavior that so tarnishes every person.
*Donald Trump Jr., from a March 2013 episode of the Opie and Anthony radio show.