Political Animal


March 11, 2012 8:56 PM ***The New Misogyny

By Kathleen Geier

Recent events — particularly Rush Limbaugh’s “slutgate” scandal, the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s controversial decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood (which they later reversed), and harsh new anti-abortion legislation in the states, particularly the notorious provisions requiring ultrasound transvaginal probes — have brought women’s issues to forefront of the national conversation once again. These “where the women at?” conversations seem to pop up every couple of years, then fade away into the background, where uncomfortable questions about women’s still distinctly inferior economic and social status can be safely ignored once again.

This time it feels different, though, and feminist women’s voices sound more passionate, and more urgent.. Maybe it’s because the stakes are higher, especially where reproductive justice is concerned, because intrusive state laws have been dramatically whittling away at Roe v. Wade, to the point where it seems a mere shadow of its former self. Our maybe it’s because, for years, women’s frustrations — at the backlash against feminism, about our stalled progress toward gender equality — have been mounting for years now, and at last the floodgates are open.

In recent weeks, I’ve been participating in many earnest conversations about these issues, online and off, with other feminists. One issue we’ve discussed is whether women are still making progress toward equality, or whether that progress has halted, or even reversed itself. For a lot of reasons, this is a difficult question to answer. For one thing, to come up with an empirically grounded answer, it would take a thorough analysis of a wide range of data, which to my knowledge, no one has done yet. But my argument, which thus far is more impressionistic than data-driven, is that women’s progress has indeed stalled. Are women better off now than they were 50 years ago, in the bad old retrograde, Mad Men days? Absolutely. But have we progressed much in the past 20 years? It’s my contention that we haven’t.

Clearly, some things are better than 20 years ago. Women are becoming increasingly better educated, and have continued to advance, albeit at a glacial pace, in business life and the professions. Rates of sexual violence have declined significantly. RU-486 and the morning after pill are widely available, and very soon free contraception will be part of nearly every woman’s health care package.

But we’ve also seen little or no progress in some areas (e.g., child care and family leave policies) and outright backlash in others (most notably concerning abortion rights). Eating disorders among women are epidemic, and it seems like women are judged more harshly than ever on the basis of physical appearance. (One recent survey, for example, shows that men today rank “good looks” as a more important quality in a prospective wife than men did over 70 years ago). Female bylines are still grossly underrepresented in major magazines. Vanishingly few Hollywood films are directed by women. Yes, a woman did make a very credible run for the White House recently, but women are still only 17% of the U.S. Congress. In an excellent recent piece on the status of women in the Daily Beast, Leslie Bennetts wrote about women and “the leadership gap”:

“Women remain hugely underrepresented at positions of power in every single sector across this country,” said Barnard College president Debora Spar at a White House conference on urban economic development last month.

“We have fallen into what I call the 16 percent ghetto, which is that if you look at any sector, be it aerospace engineering, Hollywood films, higher education, or Fortune 500 leading positions, women max out at roughly 16 percent,” Spar said. “That is a crime, and it is a waste of incredible talent.”

One way in which things are much, much worse for women these days than 20 years ago is the sheer amount of virulent misogyny that is openly expressed, and tolerated, in our society. It feels to me that, in many ways, our culture is much more openly sexist now that it was then. Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke are only the most recent and notorious example of this new misogyny. You see it online; women bloggers, for example, report they are frequently the target of vicious verbal abuse, up to and including rape threats and death threats. Female political leaders of both parties are held to a double standard and subjected to much humiliatingly sexist treatment. Many movies and TV shows,and reality shows especially, traffic in extremely sexist stereotypes; TV commercials sometimes seem to go out their way to be offensive to women. Tabloids obsessively police the bodies of female celebrities and cruelly ridicule any famous woman who dares to go out in public looking less than perfect.

There’s an extremely nasty edge to much of this running media commentary about women. It’s not just garden variety sexism, because it’s very conscious of itself and a lot of it is clearly driven by pure hatred. Here are some examples of what I mean:

— When I was growing up, there was certainly a lot of sexism in television shows, but misogyny is something different. Sexism was Archie Bunker calling his wife Edith a dingbat; annoying and insulting, certainly; sexist, definitely; but not violent or hateful. An example of misogyny is, for example, the way the character of the daughter, Meg, is portrayed in the popular cartoon sitcom, The Family Guy. Meg is frequently the subject of rape “jokes” and cruel jibes about her supposed ugliness; a frequent theme is that she is worthless and beneath contempt because she is not “hot.”

— Well-known men have publicly referred to women using terms that they never would have thrown around openly, say, 25 years ago. Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank calls Hillary Clinton a “mad bitch”; Bill Maher calls Sarah Palin a “c—-“; Ed Schultz calls Laura Ingraham a “slut.” This kind of viciously sexist insult is thrown around casually by many men in public life, who almost never suffer negative career consequences for it. (That Rush Limbaugh’s advertisers are deserting him en masse for his comments about Sandra Fluke is a striking anomaly).

— Lest you think it’s just a bunch of cranky old men like Limbaugh spewing this kind of misogynist bile, I would like to direct your attention to a current controversy that’s raging over at Columbia University. Male Columbia students, jealous that Barack Obama has chosen to speak at the graduation at Barnard College, the women’s college that is affiliated with Columbia, have taken to the internets, denouncing Barnard Women in comments on Columbia’s student-run blog. Some sample comments: “Moral of the story is that ugly, feeble Barnard women need to shut their jizz holes and just be happy that Columbia let Barnyard pretend it was affiliated for this long,” “this is why we hate you cum dumpsters,” etc. And there’s more along those lines — much, much more. Read the entire post, if you can stomach it.

I could go on and on in this vein, but let me close with two anecdotal examples from my own life.

About two years ago, my parents took my two 12-year old nieces, their granddaughters, to a football game at Giants Stadium. During the course of the game, drunken fans started chanting and demanding “Show us your t—-!” to two young women seated nearby. My parents were understandably outraged. I must say, by the time I was 12 I’d been to a few ball games and witnessed some obnoxious behavior by fans, but never anything that disgusting. What a horrible message for a young girl to receive about how women are valued in our society.

Just the other week, while riding the campus bus in the University of Chicago neighborhood where I live, I overheard a conversation between two young women. One of them said she’d attended a birthday over the weekend, where as special “surprise,” the boyfriend of the birthday girl had hired a stripper to perform! The woman telling the story indicated that she thought this was extremely gross, but didn’t want to leave early, for fear of offending her hosts. Listening to this depressing story, I wondered how in the world we could have gotten to the point where a person smart enough to get into a school like the University of Chicago could possibly assume that a (female) stripper was appropriate entertainment for a mixed gender party.

And if you’re a woman, you’ve definitely been in the same situation that young women was in. You hear or witness something that’s completely sexist and offensive, but you just sit there with a pasted on smile on your face and don’t object. Because God forbid anyone think you were one of those annoying, trouble-making feminists, taking offense at every little thing. Many women have found it’s far easier on their social and professional lives if they just keep the peace and make it a practice to ignore these kinds of insults.

I really don’t have any idea why there appears to be so much more openly sexist behavior now than there was 20 or 30 years ago. The internet allows many people to be extremely nasty anonymously, with impunity — that’s certainly part of it. Pop culture has become more vulgar, and porn has become more widely available, and thus more influential, I think. The proliferation of everything from home video to cell phone cameras to the internet has caused us to become a more visual culture, which partly explains why women today are judged much more harshly on the basis of their looks. We’ve become a much more conservative country, politically, and the Christian right, which is explicitly anti-feminist, has become more powerful. But that can’t be the whole thing.

Sometimes I think the new misogyny is actually a sign of feminism’s success, and that most of the sexism is perpetrated by old white guys bitter about using the patriarchal power they once had, yet refuse to go gentle into that good night. But plenty of young men engage in this kind of behavior as well — witness the ugly behavior of those male students at Columbia University. Perhaps the horrible economy and the increasingly stressful lives and economic insecurity of the 99% have made people in general a lot meaner, and specifically made men more likely to scapegoat women for the problems in their lives, financial and otherwise. Who knows.

What I do know is that the women I talk to and the women writers I read seem to be getting increasingly fed up. And it’s not only self-described feminists who are angry and frustrated; a lot of women with more moderate political views are every bit as disgusted. You know things have really gotten bad when you read that the venerable Southern Poverty Law Center is now including misogynists as one of the “hate groups” it monitors.

Writers like Linda Hirshmann are calling for a feminist revival. And certainly, a strong and revitalized women’s movement is sorely needed. It is not, after all, inevitably ordained that women will continue to make progress until we are equal to men. Contrary to what a great man once said, I’m not sure I believe that the arc of the universe bends toward justice. Certainly, in our own time, in countries like Iran and Afghanistan, we’ve seen societies where women’s rights taken away and women’s status dramatically inclined. Even in our own history, we’ve seen periods where women’s progress stalled or reversed itself. For example, as the historian Alice Kessler-Harris documents in her book Out to Work, in the 1920s, after women got the vote, their rate of increase into the professions began to slow; in some professions, such as medicine, science, and even teaching, the proportion of women began to decline outright. And in the 1930s, laws were passed that made it easier to fire married female teachers and civil service workers.

How women can organize themselves most effectively to combat the onslaught of the new misogyny is a complex problem. Making it clear that misogynist speech is completely unacceptable and that a sexist insult against one women is an attack on the dignity of all women is a great place to start. Perhaps the apparent success of the protests against the once invincible-seeming Rush Limbaugh (he’s lost an astonishing 98 advertisers) is the beginning of something, after all.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee


  • Bonnie on March 12, 2012 2:26 AM:

    Maybe we need to look at the men--not the women. Why do the young men dress so horribly and don't seem to notice that they look like hell? The men wear lots of clothes, baggy clothes. What is it about their bodies that they are so ashamed to show it off? What are they hiding? You can't even tell if they have legs let alone if they have sexy long legs. The unshaven look started with Don Johnson in Miami Vice. That was the 1970s. I am a bit tired of it and it's way past its time. Only a few men can do a buzz cut or the bald head look very well. The rest look absolutely awful. There are few men under the age of 50 who could make me turn my head and take a second look. Maybe the new misogyny has more to do with the men than the women. . .

    Captcha is horrible and impossible

  • Amusing Alias on March 12, 2012 3:11 AM:

    For several years pro-choice activists have been reluctant to challenge state infringement on Roe v Wade for fear the current Supreme Court will overturn it altogether. However, this seems like an ideal time to take an issue to the Court. Any attack on Roe would be seen as a Republican attack on women, something this very political court would be reluctant to do.

  • PQuincy on March 12, 2012 7:55 AM:

    I share your perception that movement towards everyday public and economic equality for women has stalled. But unlike the period up to the 1970s, when overt and unashamed sexism played a major part in the difference, two new trends shape the position of many social groups.

    The first is the shift from old-fashioned sexism to the 'sexuality wars.' For various reasons, the cultural debate has shifted from gender ('men are superior to their complements, women') to sexuality, which plays out in more complex and emotionally-laden ways for both men and women. Sexuality has become terrain for contention, assertions of superiority, and demands to control others (reproduction, partner choice, etc.) Sexuality can be exploited for advertising and manipulation at the very same moment that political demands are expressed for its control and suppression -- often by the same people.

    The second is that the divide between the (more-or-less) 1% and everyone else plays a bigger role in framing other forms of discrimination. A small oligarchy -- which is, for historical and cultural reasons primarily white and patriarchal -- is increasing its extraction of rents from and its shifting of burdens to almost everyone else. Those shifts are particularly disadvantageous to anyone already experiencing even modest discrimination, including African Americans, women, and the poor and lower-middle class. The American obsession with sexuality helps confuse and divide the 99%, and supports the (motivated) portrayal of women as objects of sexual control (whether through restrictions on their reproductive freedom or through misogynistic popular culture) rather than as autonomous citizens.

    In short, we're living through a multiple transition, and the mobilization of sexual anxiety (both commercially and politically) and the rise of new form of oligarchy are both helping to stall the further emancipation not only of women, but also of others who are structurally or culturally discriminated against.

  • Bob on March 12, 2012 7:57 AM:

    "For one thing, to come up with an empirically grounded answer" (No, it's not)

    "...it would take a thorough analysis of a wide range of data" (sure - but that's a fairly trite comment),

    "...which to my knowledge, no one has done yet" (keep looking).

    "But my argument, which thus far is more impressionistic than data-driven (Why? The data are available)"

    "...is that women’s progress has indeed stalled. Are women better off now than they were 50 years ago, in the bad old retrograde, Mad Men days? Absolutely.

    "But have we progressed much in the past 20 years? It’s my contention that we haven’t" (Then look at the Data)

    While I'm not saying the situation is perfect, women are better off than they were in the 1970s and even the 2000s. If progress has "stalled," in some cases like educational attainment and degree attainment it's because women have surpassed men. There just isn't that much farther to go. But don't trust me, look at the data:

    Women have higher HS grad and completion rates. They represent a higher overall percentage of degree completions at the the AS (62%), BS (57%), MS (60%), and PhD (51%)levels. Women still lag in Engineering areas but that's about the only area where men still dominate. Interestingly, this is where much of the programming is focused in increasing the number of female engineers. There are myriad programs for attracting girls to STEM certainly as compared with helping boys to graduate from HS at all.

    Women lag in earnings but that in itself is a complicated matter and progress has been made - certainly since 1979(20+ years after the Mad Men era) when women earned 62 percent of what men earned (compared 81% in 2010). While progress has slowed in recent years, wage growth for most below the very top has more-or-less ground to a halt - since 2002 with men actually losing ground (albeit very slightly). Note also that much of the disparity in female earnings is built in to the age distribution (past discrimination and other factors).

    Women 16 to 24 years old make 95.3% of what their male counterparts make and women 25 to 34 make 90.8%. More work needs to be done to identify the composition of likely discrimination to other factors such as absences from the workforce and differences in jobs.

    These are not narrow measures - like the "gap" in female computer scientists. These are basic measures of well being. If you think I'm cherry picking, find better measures but don't just go by your gut feeling. Show us the data.


    Educational Attainment of Young Women
    In the October when they were 23 years old, 23.4 percent of young women held a bachelor's degree (or higher), compared with 14.3 percent of young men. Overall, young women were more likely to have graduated from high school and to have attended college. Once enrolled in college, women were less likely than men to leave college between school years without graduating.

    Earnings 2010

    16+ = 81.2%
    16 to 24 years = 95.3%
    25+ = 80.5%
    25 to 34 = 90.8%

    BLS: Highlights of Women’s Earnings in 2010

    Male Female Female %
    2002 $683 $540 79.06%
    2011 $841 $685 81.45%

    2002-2011 123% 127%

    2002 376 298 79.26%
    2011 371 302 81.40%

    2002-2011 99% 101%


    High School Completion

    Status completion rates by sex: Females ages 18–24 who were not enrolled in high school in 2008 had a higher status completion rate (90.5 percent) than their male

  • Bob on March 12, 2012 8:01 AM:


    High School Completion

    Status completion rates by sex: Females ages 18–24 who were not enrolled in high school in 2008 had a higher status completion rate (90.5 percent) than their male counterparts (89.3 percent)

    Status dropout rates by sex: Males ages 16–24 had higher status dropout rates than females in 2008 (8.5 percent vs. 7.5 percent) (table 6).

    NCES: Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972–2008

    College Degrees Awarded
    All fields 2001/2009 60% / 62%
    S&E 2001/2009 45% / 40%
    Non-S&E 2001/2009 61% / 64%


    All Fields 2001/2009 57.4 / 57.3
    S&E 2001/2009 50.6 / 50.4
    Non-S&E 2001/2009 60.5 / 60.4

    All Fields 2001/2009 58.6 / 60.4
    S&E 2001/2009 43.9 / 45.4
    Non-S&E 2001/2009 62.5 / 64.2

    All Fields 2001/2009 45.0 / 50.6
    S&E 2001/2009 37.7 / 41.1
    Non-S&E 2001/2009 54.4 / 61.6

    NSF Science and Engineering Indicators

    Educational Attainment of Young Women
    In the October when they were 23 years old, 23.4 percent of young women held a bachelor's degree (or higher), compared with 14.3 percent of young men. Overall, young women were more likely to have graduated from high school and to have attended college. Once enrolled in college, women were less likely than men to leave college between school years without graduating.

    BLS National Longitudinal Surveys 1998-2008

  • Anonymous on March 12, 2012 8:21 AM:

    There used to be a distinction between polite and impolite forms of sexism, racism, antisemitism, and other prejudice. Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley and others helped to highlight the hypocrisy and to open a discussion of how language was used in the service of discrimination.

    Comedians, especially African-American and women, continue to use profanity as a way of highlighting the continuing problems of discrimination in this country.

    However, this has also led to the acceptable use of what was once considered profanity in everyday discourse. Chris Rock points out that many comedians use profanity simply to use profanity, not as a way of highlighting ongoing social issues.

    At one time a man like Limbaugh (think Father Coughlin,
    Oval Faubus, Strom Thurman) would spew hatred in more "acceptable language". Nothing appears to be unacceptable these days.

    So like Ms. Geier, I am also surprised by the response to Limbaugh's recent behavior, and harbor the hope that it will lead to a serious examination of current use of language in the service of political ends.

  • Ron Byers on March 12, 2012 8:37 AM:

    Thanks Kathleen for your passion. Thanks Bob for your data.

    The data about college graduation rates is particularly troubling because while I applaud that young women are doing much better the numbers also demostrate the failure of our country to educate and absorb young men.

    The focus on "show me your t--ts" drunks isn't nearly as important as the Republican attack on higher education for the children of the 99% generally and the failure of our society to generate entry level professional jobs.

    Last fall I was visiting with my neice the young doctor. We were talking about the high cost of education. I was struck with the size of her college debt. I remember leaving law school back in the early 70s with what I thought a hugh 4 figure debt I had to repay. In retrospect I was literally able to work my way through school. My neice, who is currently a housewife in Baltimore as her husband completes his training at Johns Hopkins (somebody has to take care of the kids before she starts her residency) faces a six figure debt load, more than double when you toss in her husband's debt. I know, she and her husband will be high income earners, but the debt they face is both routine and appalling for a country that claims it wants to be the best in the world.

    The kind of ugly behavior at the football game reflects the kind of resentment of the relative success of women you should expect when young men are abandoned by the society without being told why. That resentment is the stock and trade of Rush Limbaugh and hate radio. It is also behind the attack on Bernard Collage by the Columbia students. Unjustified in either case but understandable in a world where a major Presidential Candidate can get away attacking education in general as being overrated.

  • Golem Heart on March 12, 2012 8:41 AM:

    "The unshaven look started with Don Johnson in Miami Vice. That was the 1970s. I am a bit tired of it and it's way past its time."--Bonnie

    The unshaven look started in prehistory. It's natural for men to have beards (if their genes say so). You just have a cultural bias, like mine for women who shave their legs.

    I wouldn't go back to the days of mandatory shaving for a million bucks. It's stupid. I shave when I want.

    In general, though, I don't mind your questions about men these days.

  • DAY on March 12, 2012 9:14 AM:

    Wee Willie Keeler said "Hit 'em where they ain't".
    He was speaking about baseball, but the remark is equally applicable to the "Women's Issue" of today.
    Men are bigger and stronger than women, always have been, and Might makes Right.
    Except the era of "Might" is over, and the day of Information Technology is replacing it.
    Women can't compete on the rhetorical football gridiron, but- as bob's stats show- they sure can (and are!) compete in the classroom.

    But, for real change we still need that classic bumper sticker: A Woman's Place is in the House- and the Senate.

  • Varecia on March 12, 2012 9:22 AM:

    As most women well realize, reproductive issues ARE economic! Women cannot fully participate in the U.S. workforce without access to safe, reliable and affordable birth control. Any jobs coming out of the economic recovery will be beyond reach to women if they experience multiple pregnancies, medical bills from delivery and the erosion of health insurance reform, and increased child care costs that come with a larger family when access to access to birth control is restricted. If these reproductive issues remove women from the workforce, if families are reduced to one income rather than two, there will be an impact on families and the nation's economy. All of this is why women must keep the birth control-economy connection in the forefront.

  • Rich on March 12, 2012 9:44 AM:

    A really muddled, yet self-satisfied analysis. The easy answer is that advocates for women's health have been run by the same people for years and they have settled into a defensive posture that keeps their K Street HQs running with nice salaries at the top, but which creates little real advocacy. In addition, the feminist orgs have been cutoff from their grassroots for decades--young women have shunned the term "feminist" since at least the 80s. Turnover is beginning to happen at the top and perhaps, these orgs can start coming back to life in much the same way as unions.

  • Anonymous on March 12, 2012 9:58 AM:

    As a 50 yo woman, I think women have progressed a great deal over the past 30-40 years, (I know that you acknowledge that in your piece) but the attacks on abortion and now on contraception have got to hit women especially hard. I think for a long time we've been able to take quite a bit of the progress for granted and now maybe we need to look at all this with a new perspective.

    Thanks for this discussion.

  • Midland on March 12, 2012 10:00 AM:

    I really don’t have any idea why there appears to be so much more openly sexist behavior now than there was 20 or 30 years ago. The internet allows many people to be extremely nasty anonymously, with impunity — that’s certainly part of it. Pop culture has become more vulgar . . .

    You don't really have to go farther than this for a startiing point. Our popular culture, from mass entertainment down to personal conversation, has shifted desicively towards self-indulgence. The older standards of manners and restraint tended to enforce social hierarchy, but we haven't replaced it by a standard that rewards freedom of expression and action for all, we've replaced it with a standard that enforces personal hierarchy through constant bullying and petty cruelty. We've rid ourselves of an ideal of patriarchal manhood but we've replaced it with an ideal of males living in a life-long juvenile sulk, resenting anyone who expects them to behave positively in public and swearing and spitting on anyone who angers them. Eventually women may well wind up running everything, as the mysogynists claim, but only because we are raising generations of socially retarded male children.

  • Greytdog on March 12, 2012 10:15 AM:

    For the last two decades, I've heard young women disparage and dismiss the women's movement. Why? because they grew up with the right to vote, they grew up with the expectation of equal pay for equal work, they grew up with the expectation that they would be judged by their abilities, not their gender. And now, it seems that the GOP is reminding women of all ages - that just ain't so. My mother's generation and my generation fought hard for those rights - we will continue to fight for those rights. But if rights of women in a participatory democracy are to be enshrined as both law and attitude, then THIS generation of women need to step up, speak out, and take it to the voting booth.

  • am3386 on March 12, 2012 10:18 AM:

    A really well written and thought-provoking article, Kathleen. With all due respect to the Washington Monthly, in many ways this deserves a larger platform.

    I think that your speculations in your diagnoses (the paragraph beginning "I really don’t have any idea...") are, despite your initial disclaimer, almost certainly spot on. In fact, I would actually combine them with some of the statistics commenter Bob posted above. As women garner a larger and larger share of college degrees and middle management positions, many men see themselves at being displaced by women. This economic anxiety is occurring at a time where, as you perceptively say, there is a simultaneous amplification of misogyny in the media, an amplification that's partially linked to and partially independent of that anxiety. I think those two ingredients are mixing in a rather toxic stew at the current cultural moment.

    Anyway, a terrific piece.

  • Diane Rodriguez on March 12, 2012 10:39 AM:

    Thoughtful analysis. Social issues are highly complex. I believe that the current vitriol toward women and minorities is a reflection of the size of the pie available to us. Unfortunately, groups don't usually hold the perpetrators of their economic pain accountable. Instead they get into bloody competition with people who are more alike than different for the crumbs, i.e socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity. The shrinking world and the utter ignorance and greed of the media contributes a lot to the tone of the conversation. Although it is hopeful to see the pressure on Limbaugh advertisers make some difference, I wonder how long they will stay away.
    I am nearly 60, retired from a manager's position in law enforcement. I was characterized as a "B" and favoring non-white employees almost daily. If I had been a white male I would have been considered "taking care of business" and "fair". Parity in the culture will likely be a function of demographics and education; increasing numbers of educated minorities and women. Or as that breathtaking ignorant misogynist Santorum says - "indoctrination".

  • chopin on March 12, 2012 11:10 AM:

    Thank you Kathleen for this positive and provocative post. And thanks to the comment contributors as well. I am a better person for having read both.

  • FC on March 12, 2012 12:21 PM:

    I think what is different this time is the degree to which the social contract has eroded. A debate has been going on as to what kind of country/society/civilization should we be. Are we all in it together or is it every man for himself? (The latter usually cloaked in a call for increased individual liberty and freedom.)

    Fundamentals such as the economy, education, health care, the environment have become ideological battlegrounds. I think most people feel that if we have to have this debate, well, it's a democracy, so OK. Let's get it over with. May the best ideas win.

    What is *not (never!) up for debate is the power and autonomy of women. Attempts to curtail, restrict or get involved in a women's private lives, especially their health care, have crossed a boundary. And guess what? On the other side of that line is a land mine.

    Blocking progress on critical issues while ripping gaping holes in safety nets, forcing those who can find work to work harder and longer for less, is bad enough. But turning a woman's body into an ideological battleground? This takes the dehumanization to a whole other level. It must stop, and it *will stop, when we women make it stop.

  • Fang on March 12, 2012 12:30 PM:

    I've been wondering about this virulence myself - and actually have some theories.

    First, though sexism has always been there, I think there has been some loss in what is considered accepted civility. In other words, sexism could be at least restrained by some sense of propriety.

    Second, our media culture's increasingly sensationalistic approach has encouraged sensationalist behavior. This exacerbates existing problems, and normalizes uncivil behavior.

    Third, there's a Sense Of Enemy in sexism that makes me feel like we're reading "The Screwfly Solution". Our political discourse, polluted by decades of racial resentment politics has internalized the concept of the enemy - in an age of femminist games, women are now made into enemies with all the viciousness that's the habit of other divisive political approaches.

    Fourth, I think the commercialized approach we have to life has been diminishing. People are taught to want the big house, the sexy wife (sexy within certain parameters), the title, etc. What they're not taught is to look for things that matter - we're racking up things in life like video game achievements with no grounding.

    It's a weirdly toxic confluence. Manners and civility are gone, sexism is jacked up by pathological politics and a sensationalist media. Worst of all it's hard for people to climb down - the talkers can't shut up as it pays the bills, the average poseur can't stop being sexist or he'll be mocked, etc.

  • exlibra on March 12, 2012 12:33 PM:

    [...] the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s controversial decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood (which they later reversed), -- Kathleen Geier

    They did *not* reverse the decision, or only partially. What their final word was is "we'll let them reapply". That's a polite way of saying "we'll never grant them another penny, but we need some time for the spotlight to be taken off of us".

    Yes, a woman did make a very credible run for the White House recently, but women are still only 17% of the U.S. Congress. -- Kathleen Geier

    17% of Congress, but 33.3% of the Supreme Court. Still not quite enough for my liking (I'd have no objection to the "monstrous regimen of women" that so many men seem to fear), but unprecedented.

  • Lucia on March 12, 2012 12:57 PM:

    I think a lot of 50-and-older women have felt that the major battles have been won and that younger feminists should quit kvetching about rape culture and late-term abortion (which, let's face it, makes a lot of us queasy even if we know it's not the way pro-lifers paint it) and appreciate everything we fought for and won for you. And now along come Rush and the bishops trying to take away contraception, which my health plan covered 35 years ago (not free, but affordable on babysitting money) and YIKES-where-the hell-did-that-come-from-holy-cow-the-far-right-really-does-want-to-punish-us-for-having-sex. It's been quite a wake-up call.

  • bigtuna on March 12, 2012 1:06 PM:

    Lots to digest here! As an anecdote ... our 18 yr old daughter is trying to decide on colleges, and this weekend, my wife and I gave her two "scholarships" to encourage her to get the hell out of this conservative hellhole. Each "scholarship" is triggered by whatever dumbass anti women bills are passed. This years examples?

    a. 72 hr waiting period to have an abortion.

    b. a new state law mandating the only sex ed in the state be abstinence only.

    She is seriously thinking of going to Canada for college [which is cheaper than going out of state in the US]. A friend has already done so, and is getting her Mapleleaf card.

    let the brain drain begin.

  • bdop4 on March 12, 2012 1:18 PM:

    Fang makes some very good points.

    It seems that as women begin to make inroads towards equality, a lot of men have come to think that any prior requirements of civility (or what used to be term chivalry) have been rescinded and they are now free to insult women as they would to another man they didn't like. The easiest, most simple-minded means is through crude, sexual innuendo.

    The MSM and the lack of negative repurcussions is amplifying this behavior. I can only hope the Limbaugh incident will serve as a watershed moment and that future expressions will begin to receive the stigmatization it deserves.

  • emjayay on March 12, 2012 1:19 PM:

    Great discussion.

    It strikes me that the combination of gender, racial, and class (and who knows what else) resentments discussed here plus the erosion of expectations of civility has resulted in one particular example: the vilification of Michelle Obama by the right.

    To sum it up, "Who does that big assed black bitch think she is, saying I'm fat and sending her Big Government minions to force feed me brocolli? (sorry about that)

  • HazelStone on March 12, 2012 1:38 PM:

    "“Moral of the story is that ugly, feeble Barnard women need to shut their jizz holes and just be happy that Columbia let Barnyard pretend it was affiliated for this long,” “this is why we hate you cum dumpsters,” etc. And there’s more along those lines — much, much more. Read the entire post, if you can stomach it."

    This language comes directly from the violent, degrading and misogynist world of porn.

  • stinger on March 12, 2012 1:52 PM:

    I think the pinkification of American women has contributed its share -- adding to the infantilization of adult women and the sexualization of young girls. Everything "feminine" must be pink or purple, which ghettoizes female activity and continues to set women apart as The Other.

    I appreciate Fang's comments @12:30, above, but can't help noticing that *people* "are taught to want...the sexy wife...." The subliminal message -- unintended by Fang, I believe -- is that "people" are men.

  • JS on March 12, 2012 3:36 PM:

    First, what exlibra said about Komen. You shouldn't toss out statements like "Komen reversed their decision" until we confirm that Planned Parenthood is again receiving funding from Komen, and that the organization is back to funding breast cancer organizations without regard for partisan affiliations.

    Second, I'd suggest you avoid using personal anecdotes in your arguments, you don't do it particularly well, IMO. Maybe you brushed past actually hearing the pertinent detail, but apparently you've assumed that the boyfriend hired a female 'stripper' for his girlfriend's birthday party. Since it was *her day, why wouldn't he get her a male dancer?

  • Mimikatz on March 12, 2012 4:02 PM:

    Good article, many thoughtful responses. The statistics on education, earnings, employment etc are a major factor in the resentments of young men, also the self-indulgence that Midland talked about. There are many highly motivated young people of both sexes and all races, but there are also a lot of young men who either don't understand how the world has changed around them or see it and just react in a very childish way and even self-destructive way.

    At the same time, as women ascend the ladder in education, employment and prestige occupations (except for the top sliver at remains almost all male), the men available to them look less and less attractive. Women are realizing that they can get along on their own with the help of friends, and don't need to settle for economic or even maternal reasons. This in turn exacerbates the plight of young men who aren't in the top 25%. This is a very unstablizing situation, having so many unattached young men, and may lead to more than just an increase in incivility. At the moment much resentment seems to be channeled toward women and not the men at the top who have caused the economic inequality and insecurity that they feel. Rush is their avatar.

  • Robert Waldmann on March 12, 2012 5:02 PM:

    This is a long and detailed post and I am going to type a long boring comment. I stress my complete ignorance. I was born and bred in the USA, but I've lived in Italy for the past 23 years.

    I find the post completely unconvincing.

    The stated topic is the change in misogyny in the past 20 years, but there it largely focuses on the existence of sexism and misogyny in the present. With the exception of laws restricting abortion, the quantitative data do not indicate regress but rather stagnation, disappintingly slow progress or just progress. I quote with ellipses

    "But ... little or no progress in some areas ... and outright backlash in others (most notably concerning abortion rights [and ? ...])...are ... it seems like ... still ... are ... Yes, ... but .. still

    'Women remain ... women max out ...'"

    All of this is presenting slow progress as regress.

    One exception which I didn't flag is the survey of what men say they want in prospective wives. Appearance was far down on both lists (that is from memory). Checking I see that, in the recent survey it ranks 8th after "education intelligence" (4) (was 11th) and way behind "mutual attraction, love" (now 1st was 4th !!!). The men in the survey claim they care more about intelligence than looks (I suspect they are really saying they think they should care more about intelligence). The (claimed) interest in education & intelligence has skyrocketed. The other really dramatic change is that "chastity" went from 10th to 18th and last. I guess that shows markedly declining acceptance of women's sexual autonomy and the legitimacy of non reproductive sex.

    You have picked the one datum you don't like out of the results and ignored the rest.

    Also the older data are from 1939 -- the data just don't contain information on what has happened in the past 20 years, the ostensible subject of the post. Uh don't you remember that an earlier blogger here told us to "always click the link."

    Then there is the anecdotal evidence. I note that female bloggers did not suffer abuse 20 years ago for an obvious reason. The web makes it possible for people to be jerks anonymously. It doesn't mean they weren't jerks.

    You claim that misogyny via electronic media is common and suggest it is rarely punished. You present four examples. One you consider an exception. Of the other three one (Schultz) lead to a week long suspension and another (Milbank) cased the offending web feature to be cancelled. The case of Limbaugh isn't an exception (yes Schultz and Milbank have jobs -- so does Limbaugh). Your standard of adequate punishment is "career consequences" (for using an offensive word and using it with misogynistic intent once). You present no evidence at all that 20 years ago there would have been career consequences.

    I note that Limbaugh was on the air 20 years ago. He might have become a super media star a bit fewer than 20 years ago, but the striking news is that he is in trouble as he hasn't been before.

    In the whole section following the claim that there is more misogyny, you present no comparative evidence at all -- oh except for Archie Bunker. You define Norman Lear as the epitome of sexism 20 years ago (and Archie Bunker was created about 40 years ago -- I recall meathead saying "it's 1984" and Archie replying "no stupid it's 1974". The possibility that the founder of "People for the American Way" wasn't quite the cutting edge of sexism is not worthy of your consideration. Do you really assert that 20 years ago Tabloids did not " obsessively police the bodies of female celebrities" ? What tabloids did you glance at in the checkout line 20 years ago (I liked the Weekly World News, the National Enquirer wasn't absurd enough) ?

    The whole post is based on conflation of "bad" and "getting worse." These are not similar concepts. Furthermore, you don't have to prove that someth

  • Robert Waldmann on March 12, 2012 5:14 PM:

    Ah I see I hit publish. Uh oops. Now I reread

    "have we progressed much in the past 20 years? It’s my contention that we haven’t. Ah I see the claim is not that we have regressed as I assert at length.

    Never mind.

    Well some of the above comment might still be interesting. In particular the LA Times survey doesn't at all show what you suggest it shows. The cases of unpunished electronically transmitted misogyny are all cases of careers not being ended (oh you forgot Imus).

    Also I might add that much evidence of the allegedly new misogyny is on the web. There is no evidence that men said such things less 20 years ago. The striking change is true freedom of speech due to the web. Now people can make public statements and can make them anonymously. Some use that freedom to express misogyny, but neither you nor I know what people say, rather than write, when we aren't around.

  • FC on March 12, 2012 5:32 PM:

    Doesn't all of the the bullying, intimidation, humiliation and attempts to control women's bodies really boil down to fear? Fear of The Other, fear of what women will do with power?

    Fundamentally, birth control gives women power and freedom. A welcome change if it is your body, your life, your destiny at stake. But we should also recognize that this power shift is upending centuries of tradition - a deeply disturbing and very frightening thing to some.

    We need to dispel the fear with education, education in the literal sense of being, bearing and bringing a light into darkness.

  • Eclectic on March 12, 2012 6:32 PM:

    I think I have mixed feelings about the article. It is certainly true that women have yet to acheive equality in politics and the workplace. And it is true that conservative politics have gone off the rails in many areas, including women's rights. But so some degree the article confuses sexuality and sexualization of society with misogyny. We live in a society where sex is much more in the open than before. For some women, this is uncomfortable and for some it is degrading. For other people, especially males, it is liberating. In my opinion, sex is overall a good thing. It is pleasurable, promotes intimacy and caring, and is good excercise. Even the crudity of society is part of the growing process of accepting sex as a valid part of existence that need not be hidden behind plain brown wrappers and polite entendre. Sex sells for a reason.

    Another part of the problem is caused by the pie being increasingly eaten by the top 1%. When the pie is small, people will fight over the scraps. As Bob said, men are being left behind in education, yet are still seen by themselves and by society as being the providers. Men's self image is in part set by their ability to work and be successful. So while it's a shame, it's not surprising that men are fighting to maintain their ability to meet those goals. The real problem is the pie hasn't grown enough so that everyone gets a slice. Instead we're self-immolating with states fighting to the bottom on workers rights and incomes to attract overly powerful corporations. Some of the problems with women in the workplace are actually worker's problems rather than women's problems.

  • ceva on March 13, 2012 12:10 AM:

    Maybe its time for women of 2010 to revisit the black militant "fight the power" 1970s tactics. No one expects or suspects women of getting militant on those who would demean them. But, like the 1960s "I have a Dream" activists gave way to the 1970s "Black Panthers" and the like, perhaps its time women get seriously scary.

    That means taking matters in hand that might go beyond normal civl discourse. Such as guns, ammo, grenades, etc. I know how crazy this sounds but consider the audience whose attention women need to gain. It appears civil discourse and appealing to logic goes largely ignored. What if. AND THAT is a big what if, women got seriously militant beyond beliefs and discussions and took up arms and took potshots at highly paid misogynists like Rush Limbaugh who find it perfectly acceptable to slander women who stand up for their rights and needs? Imagine if Rush dropped the "N" word instead of "slut" and "prostitute?"

    Recall that the idiot Don Imus got canned for calling the black members of the UConn women's basketball team "Nappy headed hoes" and Rush should get the same treatment. Apparently, if you pick on white women, its normal and goes unchallenged. Remember the hell Hillary Clinton underwent? The respect for female candidates is unbelievably low. Lets fire people like Bill Maher, Rush Limbaugh and any other talking head that believes their 1st amendment rights protect their rights to incite disrespect, ill-will, misogyn and harm to women which is now de rigeur. This once was the case with african americans until AA rose up and demanded respect and better treatment.

    Women, take heed and take a hint! Get that gun permit, practice that target shooting and demand men who run things (like the airwaves) start paying attention to the potential repercussions their hateful words can cause.

    So,can we stop kicking women in the face. Perhaps, like in my lifetime? If not, expect some of us to just "go off" as we get older. I'll call it Alzeheimers, aim for my "3 hots and cot" jail sentence and delete pieces of sh*t from the gene pool if they don't self-edit their misogystic ways.

    Seriously. FYI....this lovely comment is protected by the 1st amendment, much like the slanderous crap public figure Rush limbaugh inflicted on private citizen Susan Fluke. Sucks when it comes back attcha, don't it, Rush!

  • FreakyBeaky on March 13, 2012 12:41 AM:

    A good and necessary topic, but I've got one pet peeve. It's men and women, people, not males and females. This is real life and real people, not some goddamned biology experiment.

  • Redheaded Stepchild on March 13, 2012 5:43 PM:

    Last year a few heated discussions erupted on our hyperlocal news site. I privately expressed to some of my 'neighbors' that while I agreed with the spirit of their comments, they were out of line. Suddenly I was treated to all sorts of on-line abuse. After seeking editorial assistance with the tone of the more nasty comments, and finding none, I finally expressed my full outrage and anger. Which seemed to offend those who tout feminist views but felt I needed to let others malign me with impunity because "we all know who they are". Perhaps, but the conversation was occurring on-line and not over the backyard fence...

    Yes, when women take a public stand for something they are opening themselves up for all sorts of abuse, from both sexes. I would find it curious if it wasn't so pathetic.