Friday 25 October 2013

Gynophobia and misogyny

The American playwright Bonnie Greer, speaking in a recent interview about the enduring malignities of racism and sexism, and the relative tolerance that seems to surround the latter, used the term 'gynophobia'. This, she unnecessarily explained, means 'a fear of women'. This fear, she insisted,  underlies sexism in all its ghastly manifestations.

Fear? If only. It was Germaine Greer (no relation) who, in The Female Eunuch, memorably wrote: 'Women have very little idea of how much men hate them.'

Bonnie Greer combines such intelligence and eloquence that I was surprised by the uncharacteristically lazy thinking behind her use of the term (and the fact that she found it necessary to gloss its meaning shows how inappropriate it was in the context).

What she labels gynophobia is misogyny. The prefix 'miso-' (as in 'misanthrope') is what's needed to imply hatred, not the suffix '-phobia'. I like to think that hatred is expressed as a prefix because it pre-empts the subject (or rather the object of the hatred) while fear is a suffix because it follows exposure to the thing that's feared - but let's not get too fancy.

Pursuing this theme - use of the phobia suffix is exemplified in the hair-trigger use of the term 'Islamophobia', applied to almost any criticism of certain extreme and unrepresentative aspects of Muslim thinking.

I am not Islamophobic because fear forms no part of my thinking about Islamism (which I know is unrepresentative of the mainstream faith). Not fear, no, but a profound loathing of the misogynistic convictions held by certain religious leaders (invariably male, invariably uneducated), convictions that have no place in any liberal democracy or among true Muslims living within a liberal democracy. My views naturally reflect my belief in secular, democratic and enlightenment values and in equality. I loathe bigotry, and I see it everywhere I look - in politics (and not only among the loons of UKIP), in religion of course, in the media (and not least in the way the Daily Mail treats the Muslim community). I do not fear bigotry. I hate it, but that won't make it go away. Fear (which is to a greater or lesser degree the basis for all religious belief) is not something I do. That (to take one example) woman are forbidden to drive a car in Saudi Arabia, and are severely punished if they dare to do so, tells me a lot about Saudi society and something about the perversion of Islam by misogynist zealots. What I feel about that is not fear, but anger.

Speaking as a fully-paid up bien-pensant I'd hypocritically like to see a little less tolerance afforded those - whatever their background or status - who express views incompatible with the hard-won equalities that underlie our liberal democracy. This applies as much to EDL thugs attacking Islamism as it does to adherents and apologists of this warped and hateful form of the Muslim faith. It applies as much to Paul Dacre (the very nasty editor of the Daily Mail) as it does to the very nasty Abu Qatada. Fear and loathing (when the latter is expressed as a principled opposition to unreason) should not be conflated. One may lead to the other, of course, but that's another blog for another time.

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