Misogyny Defined

men belittling woman

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Misogyny is a pervasive problem across the United States and in many other parts of the world. We’ve seen the consequences and manifestations of people belittling and disrespecting women and believing in their inferiority—which in and of itself is, of course, a problem: sexual harassment, discrimination, and other inappropriate behavior that impacts women’s careers, safety, and personal lives.

So, why, when, and how is misogyny a problem? What can you do about it if you’re the victim of someone’s misogynistic remarks or behavior?

Definition of Misogyny

Misogyny is a hatred of women. More specifically, a misogynist holds specific opinions about how women should act and be and hate them because they don’t conform to their rigid standards. These standards often include women filling specific roles and duties, such as being wives and mothers and believing that they themselves are inferior to men.

Sometimes confused with sexism, misogyny is a distinct term that describes an attitude rather than a behavior. In other words, misogynists are sexist, but not all sexist people are misogynists.

For example, someone who exhibits violent rage toward women, whether or not he has actually physically or psychologically attacked anyone, is a misogynist. Meanwhile, someone who makes a sexist joke or reference, such as asking a woman when she’s going to quit her job to be a mother, is not necessarily a misogynist.

Misogyny also reflects a deeper and angrier attitude regarding women and a belief that they are inherently beneath men.

What Is a Misogynist?

A misogynist is someone who holds the belief that women are lesser than men and despises women for this reason. Misogynists generally display sexist behavior and attitudes that go beyond unintended slights and unconscious biases.

For instance, while expressing a belief that a woman isn’t equipped to be president is sexist, a misogynist might further espouse views that a female candidate deserves physical punishment or denigrate her looks using crude or insulting language, thus implying that a woman’s appearance is the sum total of what she has to offer.

Common Traits of Misogynists

Sometimes misogyny is easy to spot, but other times, particularly when the person in question is someone close to you, the telltale signs are more subtle. Here some common behaviors misogynists exhibit. While each individual behavior does not necessarily signify that the person exhibiting it is a misogynist, it does warrant a woman being on her guard. If a man displays several of these behaviors, you can consider them red flags—and assume that the man in question is probably a misogynist.

1. Mansplaining

A man who assumes a patronizing tone when explaining a concept—often something about which you’re more versed or familiar than he is—to you is an indication that he believes a) he is more knowledgeable than you and b) you need educating.

2. Criticizing women for behaviors tolerated in men

In an office setting or otherwise, someone who criticizes a woman for behavior he accepts or even lauds in men is a sign that he is unfairly biased against women.

3. Possessiveness in relationships

Men who are misogynistic may display a strong need for control in relationships with women, romantic and otherwise. He puts himself at the center of the relationship, which focuses on his needs and not those of the other person.

4. Displaying a competitive streak

Misogynistic individuals can be competitive with men but are even more so with women. These individuals are don’t just have a bruised ego when women who outperform them—they can be downright furious.

5. Disparaging measures that promote equality

A misogynist frequently espouses negative reactions to and true anger about legislation and other measures taken to promote equality, such as affirmative action and the women’s rights movement, with no bearing on whether they actually affect him. In fact, he may blame his own circumstances on his belief that women receive rewards they don’t deserve.

6. Entitlement

Specifically, misogynists believe they are entitled to certain “things” from women. They may, for example, believe that women owe them sex or loyalty.

7. Dismissing a woman’s—or all women’s—opinions

A misogynist might value other people’s opinions, just not those of women. He does not place any value in what a woman has to say and generally views her beliefs as irrelevant. Meanwhile, he may well put stock in what other men have to say.

Misogyny in the Workplace

In August 2017, James Damore, a senior software engineer at Google wrote a 3,300-word memo criticizing Google’s diversity initiatives, referring to “biological causes” as one reason why women aren’t equally represented in the tech industry and leadership positions, NPR.org reported. Damore also critiqued Google’s “left bias” and “politically correct monoculture,” calling it an “ideological echo chamber.”

Damore was fired after the memo—or “manifesto,” as many readers deemed it—was leaked and outraged protestors shared it on social media.

This is just one example of misogyny in the workplace. Casual, everyday sexism in a work environment—those probing questions about whether you’ll get married and the belittling jokes—is never justified, but when people exhibit misogyny in the workplace—cruel, harassing, or even violent behavior toward women—they are turning your space into an intolerable and potentially unsafe environment.

Examples of misogyny in the workplace include:

• Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment occurs when people make unwanted sexual advances against colleagues or subordinates, vocalize inappropriate sexual comments, or make offensive comments about a person’s gender.

Institutional sexism

Workplaces in which sexism is deeply embedded in the office culture, where one gender is favored over another, receives different or special treatment and is implicitly (or explicitly) acknowledged as superior are examples of misogynistic work environments.

There are, of course, many other instances in which misogyny can occur in the workplace. Hiring managers may choose to hire a man with the equivalent or even lesser qualifications than a woman simply because they believe in the superiority of male workers. A boss might blame a female employee for a mistake that was clearly her male colleague’s fault. Certain employees might make disparaging comments about women in general.

All of these circumstances can make a work environment difficult, if not intolerable, for female employees.

How to Deal with a Misogynist at Work

Dealing with misogyny at work can be a challenge. When the people with whom you work aren’t treating you with respect, your work environment can feel downright hostile. So, how can you shut down disrespectful attitudes and conduct?

When It’s Your Boss

When a boss makes a misogynistic remark or behaves inappropriately, he is harming your working relationship and, in some cases, your ability to do your job.

• Address it head-on.

If your boss makes a blatantly misogynistic remark—whether aimed at you, a colleague, or women in general—addressing it when it occurs is the best way to make sure he takes note and knows it was wrong and hurtful.

You might say, for example, repeat what he said back to him and ask, “Do you realize you just said that?” or “Do you understand why that’s hurtful?”

Of course, if there are many other people in the room, you might feel uncomfortable addressing him directly. In this case, you might prefer to be more discreet and speak to him privately.

• Pull him aside.

Pull your boss aside as soon after the event occurs as possible, so it’s still fresh in both of your minds. Explain why the comment was hurtful and offensive. If need be, remind him what he said and how it affects people.

If you’re addressing a pattern of behavior, you might want to request a more formal meeting. Be very clear about the purpose and what you want to gain from the meeting; for the most part, you’ll want him to own his behavior and apologize.

• Go to HR.

If your efforts to get through to your boss aren’t working, or if you’re uncomfortable speaking to your boss, your HR representative is your next stop. Make sure to bring any documentation of your manager’s offenses and specific examples of when his behavior occurred and made you uncomfortable.

Make sure to take some notes about what you want to say and bring them with you, because chances are, you’ll be nervous and may forget certain points. This is normal; just make sure you write everything down so you get everything out in the open. It’s a good idea to write down the incidents when they occur, too, so the details stay fresh in your mind.

When It’s a Colleague

• Address it at the time or in private.

As with a boss who behaves inappropriately, you should make an effort to discuss the situation with the perpetrator either when the incident occurs or privately as close to the time the incident occurred as possible.

• Talk to your boss.

Whether or not you and the employee in question report to the same manager, it’s your boss’s job to be your advocate and support system. Schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss the colleague’s behavior, referring to specific examples of the inappropriate behavior occurs.

• Go to HR.

Your boss may be required to report this type of incident to HR on your behalf. Unless you’ve resolved the conflict with the colleague or through mediation with your boss, HR is your next stop. Again, bring examples and documentation of your colleague’s misogynistic behavior or remarks in writing.

When It’s a Client

A misogynistic client can put you in a particularly awkward situation. On the one hand, you don’t want to upset him and risk losing his business, but on the other, you need to stand up for yourself and take care of your own needs. Here are some tips on handling misogynistic behavior on the part of a client.

• Address it.

In some cases, it may be appropriate to speak to the client about his behavior or comment. If you do, be polite but firm. You might simply say, “That comment makes me feel uncomfortable.”

Of course, you may be uncomfortable speaking to a high-stakes client about his behavior for fear that it will cost the company his business. If this is the case for you, address it with a supervisor or HR as soon as possible following the incident.

• Document it.

There are likely procedures in place for this type of incident. Make sure you have a paper trail by recording everything that happened as soon as possible after an incident occurs. When you bring this to your employer’s attention, she will want to know the details and have evidence that bolsters the complaint.

• Avoid working with the client in the future.

If a client makes you uncomfortable due to misogynistic or other inappropriate behavior, tell your supervisor that you don’t want to work with him in the future.

If you depend on the client’s business personally, or yours is a workplace where avoiding interactions with a specific client is impossible, request that a colleague or supervisor be present whenever you must interact with the client.

In All Instances

There are some steps you can take to create a more supportive work environment for yourself no matter who is exhibiting misogynistic behavior.

• Build a support system.

It’s very likely that the person in question is bothering other employees as well. Gaining support from colleagues can help you both in terms of getting through a challenging situation at work and bolstering your case should you choose to take further action against the perpetrator.

For example, a colleague who has also been the victim of your manager’s misogynistic behavior may be willing to come forward with a complaint once she sees that you’ve taken the first step.

• Follow workplace procedures.

Most likely, your employer has specific procedures for how to handle discrimination or misconduct in the workplace. Consult your employee handbook or the policy on reporting discriminatory behavior or misconduct and follow the actions outlined. Often, this will involve documenting the behavior with HR and an investigation into the incident or incidents that occurred.

• File a complaint.

Keep in mind that it is illegal to fire someone for reporting sex discrimination. If you reported an incident and believe you are the victim of retaliation because of your report, you should file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 300 days of when the incident occurred.

You may also file a complaint about any kind of sex discrimination or retaliation that occurs within your workplace. This is the first step toward initiating a lawsuit, should you choose to take that course of action.

Visit the EEOC website to find your local office. To learn more about sex discrimination in the workplace and what options are available to you, read Discrimination in the Workplace—Everything You Need to Know.