A note on naming (homophobia, misogny etc)

Carrol Cox cbcox at SPAMilstu.edu
Wed Dec 6 11:46:09 MST 2000

Macdonald Stainsby wrote:

> The term many activists around Vancouver use is "heterosexism". I think it works.

Yoshie and I had a debate on this two or three years ago. I
opposed "heterosexism" mostly on the basis of not liking the
proliferation of "isms," and in part out of a corollary of same
principles that Yoshie and Phil have been arguing -- I thought
that even now the category of "homosexual" was not sufficiently
established to be the basis for an independent ism. Yoshie
convinced me for several reasons. One of them is that "homophobia"
distorts by making anti-gay attitudes an illness rather than an
ideological error. It is clearly not an illness, and should not be
so labelled.

Misogyny, which has been brought up, is a separate matter. It is
*certainly* not the correct designation for any of the other terms
used (male supremacy, patriarchy, sexism, male chauvinism). It
*probably* can only exist within a social framework in which
women are subordinated, but one does not need to be very
deeply acquainted with pre-modern literature to know that
woman-hating is not new. For a bad analysis but good journalism
see Joan Smith, *Misognynies*.

That some sophistication in naming is needed comes out in studies
of early modern authors -- it makes a great deal of difference in
studying a given author whether one seems him as misogynist,
'merely' reflecting patriarchal assumptions, or manifesting a sort
of embryonic sexism. (I use this term to designate the ideology
which reflects the [non-patriarchal] subordination of women
under modern capitalism. Patriarchal does not, for example, describe
Milton too well, and to call him misogynist would be to engage in
mind-reading or psychobabble. But he very definitely assumes and
aggressively asserts the subordination of women -- even though
that assertion is incoherent enough to allow a flimsy platform for
asserting his non-sexism by some of his modern worshippers who
want to see him as a fount of truth But then sexism and racism
are utterly incoherent, because the preconception that grounds
them (and makes them 'necessary') is the existence of inequality
in a social order which is *ideally* egalitarian. (Such rationales
were not needed in social orders which were non-egalitarian *in
principle* and not merely in practice.) Milton was probably the
first great Sexist.


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