Misogyny: dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women. mid-17th century origin with Greek roots, though the definition was expanded to include ingrained prejudice against women in the 21st century by non-American English dictionaries. Original usage was rooted in the hatred or suspicion of women.
Sexism: prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex. mid-20th century origin, as the gendered counterpart to the concept of racism. Prejudice and discrimination are more emphasized rather than hatred.
Chauvinism: excessive or prejudiced loyalty or support for one’s own cause, group, or gender. late 19th century origin, named after Nicolas Chauvin, a Napoleonic veteran noted for his extreme patriotism, popularized as a character by the Cogniard brothers in Cocarde Tricolore (1831). I specifically intend male chauvinism (idea held by men that they are superior to women) when I place chauvinism here.
I have no intention to be completely thorough in my investigation into these terms in a single post, because systemic prejudice against against any gender is much too complex to possibly explore in a single blog post. However, this past week I had a very interesting conversation about the changed definition of misogyny in the last decade, specifically by dictionaries outside of the United States. Words matter and so do their definitions. Language is fluid, it could be classified as alive, because languages change very often. Words take on new meaning, some fall out of fashion, they flow between languages, they exist in a space that directly reflects and creates culture, identity, humanity.
It would seem that these three terms could almost be looked upon as synonymous, but they do play very specific roles. Chauvinism is an identity. When applied to place of origin, it is an extreme form of nationalism which often exists with some level of xenophobia. When applied to gender, it is usually an aggressive expression of one gender’s superiority over the other. Sexism and misogyny would rarely be considered identities, though it is possible to deem a person a “sexist” or a “misogynist”. I think the important thing to note here is that, as I presented the definitions here, sexism and misogyny look very similar. One is focused on an ingrained hatred of women, while the other is focused on prejudice against them, which are different levels of oppression, but still oppression. With “ingrained prejudice” being added to the term misogyny, it begs the question, what’s the point of separating them as terms? There is still a difference between them. Sexism, like racism, is rooted in an action or a system (the suffix -ism invokes a distinctive practice, system, or philosophy, typically a political ideology or an artistic movement). It is larger than a single individual, it is rooted in a society at large. Misogyny, on the other hand, is focused on the feelings of individuals. It is about the personal hatred, suspicion, and prejudice that individuals have towards women. So while both terms involved prejudice, they exist on different levels, one personal, the other societal.
I want to end this by recognizing that these terms are limited in their scope because they tend to focus on a binary gender system, which focuses on biological sex, rather than gender. Because of that, that is how I have chosen to discuss them, because that is currently how those terms are defined and used in the mainstream.
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