One of the sticking points in the last few months of discussions about the role of women in the skeptical and atheist movements is the resistance to the use of the word “misogyny.” In its general form, the argument goes: “Hey! There’s no evidence that this person actually hates women. Using that word is an exaggeration/hyperbole/an unwarranted attack!” Then all other discussion must grind to a halt while this argument happens. Again.
There’s a little problem with that. “Hatred of women” is not a definition of “misogyny”. It’s a translation. To have an actual working definition of the word, we’re going to have to do a little more work.
Misogyny is a special case of misanthropy. It is a special case in that it is applied only to women rather than to humanity as a whole. And while “misanthropy” translates as “hatred of humans,” that isn’t actually how we use the word.
Wikipedia currently has a pretty good working definition of “misanthropy“:
Hatred is a subset of misanthropy under this definition, but it isn’t the entirety of the phenomenon. A misanthrope may be someone who doesn’t believe there is a minimum standard of treatment to which we all have a right. They may be someone who is annoyed or on their guard when other people are around. Or they may be, as in the classic Tartuffe play, someone who is constantly disappointed by the people around them.
Understanding that misogyny is a special case of this phenomenon makes it much easier to understand the usage to which the word has been put recently. Someone who doesn’t want women around unless the women abandon their “feminine” qualities is a misogynist. Someone who believes women generally lie about things for attention or “use” men for some kind of personal gain or think women are generally bad at this, that, or the other is a misogynist. Someone who doesn’t believe that women have a right to the same minimum standards of treatment as men is a misogynist. Putting misogyny is concrete terms isn’t difficult.
Nor is “misogynist” some kind of epithet. It’s a description of the views of the person in question. That people frequently disagree and disapprove of those views doesn’t change that.
Of course, this isn’t the definition you’ll see in most dictionaries. They will include the translation, not a definition that has real-world application. However, this doesn’t reflect how we actually use the word. It does reflect political pressure to minimize the perception of misogyny, but that’s a lousy basis for defining words. Definitions are supposed to reflect how we actually use words, and this is how we use “misogyny.”