Misogyny is one of those words, like homophobia and racism, whose meaning has been stretched to the point where its misuse is now routine.
Strictly speaking it means hatred of women (from the Greek misos, meaning hatred, and gunē, for woman – no room for ambiguity there).
Genuine hatred of women is extreme and, I would guess, relatively rare. A man who literally hates women would surely be classified as borderline psychotic. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone who fitted the description.
But this hasn’t saved the word from being co-opted in the furtherance of the culture wars. As used by feminists – and increasingly by journalists who are either ignorant of, or have no concern for, the accurate use of language – “misogyny” has become a synonym for any sentiment or opinion that happens to be at odds with feminist dogma.
This is explicit in Wikipedia’s definition of misogyny as “a form of sexism that keeps women at a lower social status than men, thus maintaining the societal roles of patriarchy”, which makes it clear that the meaning of the word has been bent to suit woke ideology.
Just as the word homophobia has been stretched far beyond its original meaning (that is, a hatred or fear of homosexuals) and the accusation of racism is routinely hurled at anyone who challenges the cult of identity politics, so the claim of misogyny is frequently used as a smear against people who refuse to bow to feminist orthodoxy.
Just how casually the word has been subverted was evident on Morning Report this morning. In an item on the swearing-in of new Labour list MP Soraya Peke-Mason, who replaces Trevor Mallard, reporter Anneke Smith noted that for the first time, women will occupy more seats than men in the New Zealand Parliament.
That goes some way, although admittedly not very far, toward redressing an historical imbalance. But rather than celebrate this milestone, Smith soured the tone of her report by recalling that at the time of feminist MP Marilyn Waring’s election in 1975, “misogyny was part of the fabric” of Parliament (although how Smith would know that, when I suspect she wasn’t even born then, is a moot point).
What was the evidence for this extravagant statement? Bearing in mind misogyny’s definition, one might assume Waring’s parliamentary colleagues subjected her to hateful abuse and harassment. In fact the former renegade National MP cited the traumatic experience of attending meetings – presumably of caucus – where those present were addressed as “gentlemen”.
All this tells us is that MPs were unaccustomed to having a woman present. Call it archaic, call it ignorant, call it insensitive, call it bigoted … but misogynistic? Hardly. I can't imagine it left Waring emotionally scarred. It simply reflected the ingrained habits of a time when women didn’t feature much in public life. That falls far short of hatred.
Waring went on to recall that an MP once objected to Ruth Richardson breast-feeding her baby in an ante room adjacent to the debating chamber. The MP’s point of order motion drew attention to the fact that there was "a stranger in the House".
“A stranger?” asked Smith incredulously. “Yeah, the baby,” Waring explained.
The implication was that this epitomised Parliament’s oppressive sexism. Waring highlighted the use of the peculiar word “stranger” as if to demonstrate how bizarrely out of touch and anti-woman Parliament was. But as a former MP she should know that in the arcane language of Parliament, a “stranger” was anyone who was not either an MP or an officer of Parliament.
As the distinguished law professor John Burrows once pointed out, Parliament had the right to exclude “strangers” (including, in theory, press gallery journalists). “Any Member of Parliament can move that strangers be ordered to withdraw, and if the motion is carried they must leave.”
So the MP in question was acting in accordance with the rules, possibly in an attempt to clarify whether they applied to Members’ babies. (It wasn’t until 2017 that people sitting in the public gallery officially became known as visitors rather than strangers, though I understand the latter term still applies to anyone entering the debating chamber or lobbies.)
All this tells us is that Parliament is slow to adjust to the times. It may have seemed quaint, but it was hardly misogynistic.
Footnote: Anneke Smith also noted in her report that Jacinda Ardern was “the first female prime minister to have a baby while in office”. No one should hold their breath waiting for the first male PM to do the same, but I suppose anything’s possible.