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Sexism vs. misogyny

Understanding the difference

Many mislabel misogyny as sexism.

It’s not a particularly uncommon thing to hear, “Yeah that professor is so sexist,” or “Wow, that guy is really misogynistic.” The problem is that most people have difficulty distinguishing between the principles of sexism and misogyny, and the systematic barriers put in place by both ideologies. 

Some of this has to do with how sexism and misogyny are recognized. Sexism is easy to point out, it’s the uncomfortable comments from classmates and obvious favoritism practiced by leaders or bosses. Misogyny is more systematic and more generalized towards the female population as a whole. Understanding how these words differentiate is key to recognizing when a situation is representative of unfair bias against a gender or when it is representative of a dislike of a gender as a whole (often times it can be both).

An example of sexism would be when a classmate of mine insisted that feminism was unnecessary because men and women are fundamentally unequal. Stating that women can be “mentally inferior to men,” and therefore absolute equality is illogical. This is both fundamentally ignorant of the true definition of feminism and sexist. However, had that same classmate instead all women represented a threat to men and don’t deserve basic human rights, that would be closer to misogyny.

Misogyny is when someone has an internalized hatred of the female sex. In the same way that someone can make a racist comment and not see themselves or generally act like a racist, someone can make a sexist comment without necessarily being misogynistic.

Often sexism goes unnoticed, in fact, sexism is often called chivalry. Allowing a woman to cut in line or have a man’s seat on a packed bus is sexism. There may be no inherent ill-will involved in these acts. Most often, these acts are encouraged and appreciated by society at large. 

Misogyny is more spiteful and visceral. Misogyny is acted out with the intent of enacting damage or expressed distaste. Sexism is Donald Trump calling women “horseface,” “bimbo” and commenting on their figures and body types instead of their jobs or politics. Misogyny is Donald Trump saying, “There’s nothing I love more than women, but they’re really a lot different than portrayed. They are far worse than men, far more aggressive, and boy, can they be smart,” in regards to all women. The first example is a single-act representative of providing one woman an insult due to her sex, the second is a misgiving provided to the entire female population.

This is not to say that people cannot be misogynistic and sexist at the same time. However, words are the best tools against sexism and misogyny, just as they are often the best weapons. A professor who makes off-handed sexist remarks may hold a deeper misogynistic attitude toward women, or they might not. The distinction is important because sexist attitudes can often be mended through education and compassion, whereas misogynistic attitudes root themselves deeper in the individual to the point of possible corruption.

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