Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Misogyny, Sexism and some (rambling) thoughts on language.

Odysseus - the hated one, the accursed one.

As a note, I have used in various Greek words the convention of
writing omega (big or long O) as a w. Also I have used the
uncontracted version of the verbs, making it that little bit easier to
find in dictionary.

Many of us, including myself, were thrilled to see Julia Gillard stand
up and confront the rabid sexism and misogyny coming from the leader
of the Opposition Tony Abbott. This is reflected in the youtube video
of the speech having garnered over 1 500 000 hits. Not bad for a
speech in parliament. Usually one of the last place you tubers like to
go to, with cute cats and children falling down generally getting the
lions share of hits.

Many people have been stunned by the consistent media refrain that
this was a bad speech and shows Gillard at her shrewish, hysterical,
fish wife, school marm, or what other sexist remark you want to fill
in best. Some have even hinted that she was somehow responsible for
the text massages of a (at the time) sitting LNP member. Putting aside
the obvious sexism and attempts to muddy the waters of these sorts of
comments, I want to focus on one point of the 'counter-speech.'

It seems to me that, in an attempt to side step the issue and confuse
things among the people, the reactionaries, in their usual legalistic,
language perverting manner have fixated on the question of
hatred. Tony Abbott does not hate women, he has a wife and three
daughters, they scream red faced back at the PM. Leaving us with the
more than farcical idea that Tony Abbott is such a supporter of women
that his sperm can bring forth nothing but more women. I will leave it
to others to explain this ludicrous bit of science.

But let us use some dictionaries and some understanding of Greek
language to investigate this point further. Working in a book shop I
have access to numerous dictionaries. Some of them define misogyny as
hatred of women, while others extend the definition to include
contempt for, or dislike of women. Since the draft of this it has been
reported that the Maquarie Dictionary will extend (not soften as some
say) the definition of misogyny to include 'entrenched prejudice
against women.'

To fixate on the one word 'misew' the reactionaries and their running
dog media lackeys fail to see that the language has evolved (of course
evolution and reactionaries are not the best of friends) over the
years, and that there can be various levels of hatred. Indeed if I was
to say that I hate Collingwood; for example, does that mean that I am
unable to admit that some players are very good, could I not also say
that they are a very good team who have been a fixture in the league
for over a century? Only the most narrow and useless understanding of
language would force me into a position where I must hate without
reservation every single player who put on the black and white across
their entire history of the club. Most of us use words like hate in a
more elastic sense, and see that it is does not have to be a universal
principle held with no regard for nuance and changing circumstances.

So let us now turn to the Greeks. It did not take much research to see
that the ancients, like us, had many different words for hate. Misew
being only one of these words. And even this word had subtlety. For
example in one section of the Iliad (17.272) the verb is used when the
poet has Zeus say that he would hate to see the Achaeans be made a
feast for dogs and vultures. One can easily translate this word as
hate. But most people can see that Samuel Butler makes a better point
in his translation when he makes this line say, Zeus would not suffer
for the Achaeans to be made a feast for dogs and vultures. So with
almost no effort on my part I discovered a 'lesser' connotation of the
word. Does Tony Abbott and the LNP not suffer women to take their full
place in society? One can argue this point, but from my point of view
I would have to say yes. One only has to listen to quiet bubbling up
of opposition to the idea of no fault divorce within LNP to see this.

More research led me find other words used to mean hatred. Oddussw
(the possible root of the name Odysseus) also means to hate, or to be
incensed. In the case of our wandering hero he could seen as having
been named 'the accursed one.' Indeed our hero says in book five, "For
I know that the glorious Earth-shaker is filled with wrath against
me." This would seem sensible as he was cursed and tormented by the

Misew as we have seen means to hate, as in seen in this Aristophanes
quote. 'I hate the rough (brazen) women, I hate the prudish ones.'
Besides the apparent confusion of the character who spoke these lines,
does this not imply a more light hearted, more frivolous usage of word
hate? One may think so. The wrath of Poseidon towards Odysseus, based
on blinding of his son Polyphemus by Odysseus seems to be much
stronger than the confused hatred of Aristophanes comic creation.

Some other words used by the Greeks to describe hatred include;
Bdelugmia, loathing, disgust, nausea; Fthonew, bear ill-will, envious,
grudge, malice; Stugew, abominate, loathe, hate, this is used by
Sophocles in his tragedy Ajax 'the gods hate the evil ones'; and
finally echthairw, to hate or detest. This can be found in the phrase
used by Sophocles, echthos echtheras mega - hating with a great

So here we find a continuum of words which mean hate, with misew being
at the bottom end, while loathing, disgust and nausea being on the top
end of hatred. This is true in English too, I can say I hate my
landlord, but I really may not, as I have never met him. But if I was
to say my landlord fills me with disgust and makes me nauseous, I
think we may be talking about real deep down in ones bones hatred.

Of course I could be wrong, as I have never met Tony Abbott. He may
very well love his wife and family. This absurd line that having a
wife makes on immune to accusations of misogyny can be seen in the
fact that (and I am not saying Abbott is a wife beater) one must have
a wife before one can be a wife beater. Surely a great deal of
misogyny is hidden behind closed suburban doors. But I see no reason
to dispute the PM's comments on his misogyny, as it is something we
see everyday. From his support for people like Alan Jones, to his
opposition to HPV vaccine, to his opposition to RU486 contraception, to
his life long support of one of the great pillars of womens oppression
the Catholic Church. This includes his statements like the lovely one
about women not being fit for command. Coming back to the Greeks this
seems to echo the ancient idea that a woman was a deformed man, this
deformity is echoed in the Pythagorean idea that if a man was immoral
in this life he would be reincarnated as a woman.

This next quote comes from The Geography of Strabo, in which he
describes Misogynists as complaining about their wives spending too much
money. Is this not an idea which is still current in our society? Is
this still not the punchline of many lame jokes on many lame situation
comedies? And is it an idea that comes back to the idea that women
are deformed men? Not as able as men to handle command and fiance?
And are this not similar words to the words used by Abbott and many
other LNP hacks? (To be fair I am sure there are many men in the ALP,
or even the Greens party, who hold similar views.)

And again attend to the words of the same poet when he speaks in one
of his characters, bringing in a man disgusted with the expenses of
the sacrifices of the women. ‘The gods weary us indeed, but
especially our married men, who are always obliged to celebrate some
feast.’ And his Misogynes, complaining of the same things, exclaims,
‘We sacrificed five times a day, while seven female slaves ranged in
a circle played on the cymbals, and others raised their suppliant
cries.’ (the poet mentioned being Meandear.)

More than enough ink has been spilt in the last week or so on this
subject, so I will leave with a quote from the delightfully absurd
'Philosopher's Dinner Party' by Athenaeus.

Euripides the poet, also, was much addicted to women: at all events
Hieronymus in his Historical Commentaries speaks as follows,—"When
some one told Sophocles that Euripides was a woman-hater, 'He may be,'
said he, 'in his tragedies, but in his bed he is very fond of women.'"

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