misogyny (politics) The control and hatred of women, as part of men’s expectation to have private personal, public social and lawful dominance over women, this dominance being enacted through public and private conventions and social etiquette, and often enforceable or supported through civil and criminal law. In all, men dictating the social roles that women should occupy, how women should conduct themselves in personal relations, and the laws and legalities that women are expected to comply to.
Misogyny as a term recognises that the claim of men to being righteous and therefore superior and entitled to control, judge and punish women is an action of power, with violence against women being an implicit, explicit and enacted power to compel obedience and enforce subjugation. In this context the issue for narrative and storytelling is the function of narrative film and other forms of drama and writing in propagating and maintaining misogyny with the argument being made that contemporary film narrative as an economic and social practice is intrinsically normative and therefore repressive and misogynistic.
Narrative film depicts men’s and women’s roles and articulates misogyny through guile and through fear. The traditional role given to the male is the hero, the saviour, the defender, and this glorified and righteous status is viewed as necessary because, according to these heroic narratives and the beliefs they represent, women are more vulnerable and they need to be saved protected, rescued, cared for, because, women are unable to do this for themselves. This is guile because the primary threat to women is men.
The male hero, as presented, is a selfless sacrificing supporter and defender of women, a good and rightful protagonist, and then, opposing the hero, is the figure of the violent and women-hating male, the antagonist: a figure that is devoted to harm, and this duality, of hero/villain in the narrative representation of male roles is a process of guile: the stories told warn women of the violent exploitative masculinity they will face if they do not accept the protection of a noble and heroic male. The king offers protection if his rule is obeyed, the husband offers a home if the rules of his house are followed, the pimp protects the prostitute as long as she turns over all of the money she is forced to earn and exploited to make.
In contemporary film and print the serial killer is the most common and hateful incarnation of the misogynistic and destroying male. While actual violence to women comes from their partners and from their patriarchal family in the forms of domestic violence, abuse, rape, stalking, all are committed in the vast majority of cases by someone known to the woman, while the male serial killer, in narratives form separated from the family, and they are presented as an outsider and a psychologically damaged figure, often scarred by the failure of their early life and failed family, so a monster, made when family and maternal love failed.
Sexual depravity, shame, hate, loneliness and exclusion mark the monster that is the serial killer and through misogyny women are blamed for this figure: at one time this man, when a child was not unlovable, but they were abused, so that their hatred for women began. In the ideology of misogyny women are to blame: the mantra is that women get what they deserve for the harm they have done, for the love they have refused. The father suffers far less from the serial killer and the number of narrative where the damaged child pursues the father is effectively none, which makes little sense if the shame and anger of the male child is because of the failure of a family. Harsh fathers do exist in narrative, abusing their child, but then the killer still turns to attack women, which is an illogical plotting unless the aim of the narrative is to have the killer hate women. The blame placed on women is one of the justifications for controlling them: according to men women will do wrong if not controlled. If the serial killer is a male figure with a wide social mythology, then the woman who won’t be obedient to patriarchal rules, who then pays the price for this, is a recurring and repeating image of the female figure.
The serial killer in narrative pursues women almost exclusively and in The Lust To Kill: A Feminist Investigation of Sexual Murder (1987) Cameron and Frazer set out how the serial killer emerges as a response to feminism in the 60’s and 70’s, and that essential to this figure is sexual violence: the entitlement, understanding, claim to the right to sexual violence is granted to men by themselves, and is understood as a crucial to the concept of masculinity, because men, as beasts have violence and rape in their nature. In this ideological formulation men are constructed as inherently dangerous, with any, in their interpretation, transgressive women as their rightful victim. By contrast women who have been abused in life actual and in film narratives do not commit sexual violence against their partners, if women act in revenge there can be violence, but not sexual violence: rape, sexual torture and dismemberment, being forms of degradation that enacts the worthlessness, and destruction of the self hood of the woman, which is not visited on men: misogynistic narratives destroy women as an oppression, with both personal private shame and guilt, and public shame and public suspicion following rape and assault: mysogynistycally configuring the rape and assault as a provocation from the woman and the rape, torture and killing denigrating a women’s self hood and right to dignity and esteem within a misogynistic society.
There is also another type of serial killer, not a brute and damaged torturer, and this is the cool sadist, a figure that represents a transcendental masculinity, killing on a whim, with the authority and cruelty of a nobleman, a man who by right of birth, who by understanding of their worth above others, can do as they wish. These educated serial killers are depicted as men with refined tastes, and superior intellects who believe that they can act like a God. What makes this serial killer distinct from the depraved and desperate sex killer, the villain who will be brought down by the hero, is that the transcendental sadist has no lust, they are not sexually motivated, but instead they are motivated by their right to kill, they use killing as a sport, something to entertain them to relieve their intellectual ennui and sometimes killing someone who has simply annoyed them or tarnished their pride. The cool male sadist presents themselves as above society, above morality. In contrast to find such a figure as a woman in narrative fiction or narrative film may well be impossible: when women are vampires they do prey on men, but as predators, like animals or as partners to the noble male, Count Dracula. There are narratives of noble women killing, but this is shown to be narcissistic and desperate: ageing women killing younger women for their rejuvenating blood because it will keep the noblewoman young, or women, acting as a partner to a man, killing other women out of an essential spite and hate. Narratives of women killing men do not show the sexualisation and degradation of male murders or the cool killing of the superior-minded cool sadist.
The transcendental sadist in their killing will be ritualistic, rendering their violence supposedly impersonal and priestly and it will reveal the baseness of their victims: women will be displayed as meat, as carcasses who serve a higher purpose only by being killed. This sadist is a fantasy of misogyny and to cover this intention, making their hatred less overt, the nobleman killer will also kill men and children, but coldly, without emotion or sorrow. However, their principal savagery will be directed at women, and for this sadistic figure, succumbing to a woman is impossible for them, and a woman will only be allowed into their domain if a woman presents themselves as a completely loyal and a compliant servant: one of the acts that proves compliance is that they will accept being killed by their male controller whenever the man desires this, which is a fantasy of absolute male power. The cool sadist who claims superiority sets themselves outside of the domestic sphere: outside of any common morality. This is the misogynist as super-male, they may claim this through a lineage to the past, or because of their claim to intellectual superiority: they are supposedly so superior that their actions can never be understood and they will never be caught.
The selfless rescuing hero is a figure of guile and the serial killer is a figure of fear, and within this dynamic women are protected by a male and they are the prey to a male. These narratives are dramatisations of misogyny, elaborations and extremes. In real life the bind of misogyny is enforced by violence, and in day to day living it is less overt. Patriarchal society has the family, based on the property relationship of marriage. This is presented as a partnership, a sharing with its basis in fealty and romantic love. Misogyny is successful when women want and accept this relationship, but in life and in narrative the mechanisms of control and hatred emerge when a woman does not accept this contract. In narrative fiction the sexualised woman who is not satisfied with one man is killed, the isolated woman on the street is killed, and this is because they have not accepted a patriarchal partnership and they have not stayed in the home.
The mythology of Jack The Ripper is established, beginning in 1888, through the killing of women who are understood to be isolated, alone, supposedly prostitutes, and Jack The Ripper is the foundation for the serial killer mythology in societies where women might leave the home for work and in doing so separate themselves from a protective man. The serial killer is the social realist killer who in earlier narratives might and still often is depicted as a beast or a foreign, alien male: the vampire, Svengali, the slavers, the bestial invaders.
In the Jack the Ripper myth, single women, fallen women are killed. If however one looks at the records for all of the hangings in England that ever took place, then it is young men who have killed their fiances who form a consistent thread: men who killed when their finance would not marry them. There is no line of actual serial killers in England dating from 1888 to the present day. These mythologies of repeated killing of women surge in narrative creation and actuality in the 1960’s and 1970’s, primarily in the USA, and this continues and expands into a mythology in narrative form with mythic serial killer after serial killer created in countries which have developed within traditions of patriarchy. In present day the actual killing of women continues with domestic murder, stalking and acid attacks on going, but it is the few serial killers who have their stories told again and again and again.
Of course contemporary narrative film is not exclusively concerned with serial killers, but within patriarchal structures the underpinnings of misogyny are present in all forms of narrative. Children’s films, family films can show the happy family, the ideal patriarchal unit and if things are wrong with the family and they need to be brought back to go order, then it may be because the accepted roles are disturbed, the family is out of kilter, the mother is dead, the father has faced failure, the child is out of control. But as a remedy to this fault, in the family-friendly film, the narrative offers a cured and reconstituted family: the idea of the family and its social function is never inherently challenged or shown to at fault: one family may have a problem, but this is not a problem with the family as an ideal, which is the model for the idyllic childhood: the happy wife with the happy husband raise happy children.
The fairy tale, allegorical tales considered suitable for children, marks the initiation of misogynistic fears and fantasies: what it means to stray outside the home, what a girl needs to be wary of and how things can be made right again, the princess is safe only when the prince turns up to offer marriage: the prince being able to ensure safety and domestic security, according to the fairy tale. Often the girl child provokes this danger by separating from the family, or by being in a family where the family has failed. Cinderella lives with her ugly sisters who are jealous of her, Snow White has a wicked stepmother and leaves the home.
Like the fairytale but with overt violence the teen, adult horror genre has its male beasts and monsters and its victimised women, the innocent young woman who has strayed, and the seductive and sexualised female figure, both can be attacked, killed, or the innocent can brought back to the family. One repeated narrative structure of the horror film is to have everyday male and female figures step outside of accepted situations and relationships and in doing this, making this social mistake, they face an ordeal of violence as a consequence.
A second, familiar form of horror narrative has the family move into the unfamiliar home, the haunted house, and then they face intimidation and violence from an uncanny figure who is usually from a damaged family. Female ghosts or spirits, a lost and forlorn women or an abandoned and abused child who has remained after death to do harm to the incoming family. The desperation here, the arc of the plot is for the family to come together to survive. The uncanny figure, the member of wronged and failed family will become so invasive and threatening that this forces the good family to act with a care and support for each other that might be seem to be weakened as the start of the narrative as they move into the house: by the end of the story, the husband has taken action and the family cling on to their male saviour in love and gratitude.
In the 70’s and 80’s the supernatural figure combined with realist serial killer in the genre of the slasher film, and this is a sub-genre which has spawned killers who have survived and killed in sequels and prequels for over fifty years, but the slasher film has not created any enduring or recognisable female serial killers. The slasher film is the shifting from allegorical horror fantasy carrying misogyny to a misogyny that represents and exploits actual violence: the hateful threats and violence being made more real in these narrative as political as social changes in actual society empower women.
Comic narratives, the comedy genre does show up the weaknesses of masculinity, does present the failure of male performance, but then the comic figures is by definition not a fully real man, and often the inept comic man will act like real men in the end and still win the girl. In the comic film the narrative will often begin with the female character being made to suffer by the supposed ineptness of the male: making the woman foolish, shaming her, undermining her authority, and the male-female relationship develops after the woman has faced this ordeal and shaming and accepted it. The comedy film is a slapstick version of misogyny.
Romance is where the male and female partnership is seen to work, and a pair, through the narrative development of the story, come to understand themselves as suitable for each other and the couple is formed, but also, there will often be the rejected woman, the harpy, the harridan, the female bully, the bossy woman, who will not find a partner. In this rhetoric only some women can ever find a man, and to do this they need to be loving, loyal and wanting above all else a good man, a good home and a good family. The romance presents the meeting and courtship, but this is only cemented on certain terms: as an agreement to enter into a long term partnership. The marriage is what the woman supposedly wanted and needed all along and what the man knew he had to succumb to someday as this was his social responsibility; to protect/control a woman. The marriage ceremony or their agreed pairing in the narrative, joins and isolates the pair as a couple, and this is given social sanction by the approval of their wedding guests or the spectators of this particular moment: the wedding is formation of an exclusive contract where one person belongs to another: the ceremony of the wedding showing social obedience for the approval of the onlookers.
What is exceptional and very rare in narrative film is the rejection of marriage, the couple or the family model at the end of the story, of women succeeding without them being the survivors of a misogynistic ordeal: if a woman escapes and succeeds then they are the one that got away. The reason for this is that misogyny is the grand narrative that has a reality and realism that carries across patriarchal societies because men expect and demand to control women. Within this social and historical context other narratives are hard to configure as they lack realism: a narrative can offer an alternative to heteronormativity but then it will seem inauthentic, fanciful or even distasteful, this distaste coming from the sense that alternative endings are odd, incorrect, immoral. In the feminist, post-feminist, post-millennial era this can be understood to be changing or change, but these changed narratives are still a limited selection compared to the tradition-based narratives, and there is a sectioning of narratives by sub-genre to indicate their separateness: Women’s film, LGBT+ film, Gay film, Lesbian film, Feminist film.
Western society has had dramatic social change in the last fifty years, the lives of women changing, divergent sexualities and identities being socially validated, accepted, and the legal sanctions against these difference being reduced, but there is no announcement or recognition of the beginning or establishment of a post-misogynistic era: rather, misogyny that was once accepted and embedded is now challenged, and by tracing out the social changes, and the possibilities for alternative narratives in terms of diversity outside of the family and the monogamous couple indicates how society has shifted, changed, but not transformed.
In the 1960’s with economic growth in post-war societies, with women working outside the home, at least until marriage, and with legal contraception to enable sexual relations with reduced risk to pregnancy, and the diminishment of the virgin as a necessary and enforced female virtue, two social changes emerged: the counter-culture of free love, and political, campaigning feminism with radical feminism as an active vocal force. For a time marriage was not seen as essential and society might have a profound change in social and sexual relations.
The narratives of free love, of happiness and safety outside of marriage were short-lived and limited, and any alternative lifestyle narratives have now been segregated into the fanciful, the foolish, the economically unworkable and they are presented as comic unstable social groupings, or alternatively as a sinister and dangerous groupings, with the abusive cult being the dire warning of the dangers of breaking the traditional family. In this environment any individual or group that wants to separate from societal norms can be, and often is depicted as racist, ethno-nationalist, fascistic, fanatical, economically unviable, coercive, brain washing, imprisoning, devil worshipping, incestuous, abusing and murderous, and the majority of cult narratives have a demonic male figure, a false god, a sadist, and this is the male villain that women need to flee from: the message of these narratives is that women need to escape from the cults and alternative lifestyles and get back to decent society where the monogomous partnership is the moral ideal.
Some small scale community groupings segregated by sex are shown to have piety and some goodness, but a female only groupings may be a coven of witches, so that female only societies are shown to be malicious, with the in-fighting and a competition to rule that makes witches a representation of treachery and female malice. In actual life there are small co-operative societies, some single gender, some mixed, and they offer shared ownership of property, and they aim to be economically viable, eco friendly, but these communal successes are not offered as any familiar form of Utopian narrative where the person who has lost faith in the dominant society comes to the group and finds peace. The cult narrative, as an implicitly malicious and destructive entity is part of the horror or true crime genre and the alternative lifestyle narrative is usually comic, the successful Utopian group is not shown. It is not given any social integrity.
Historically, the Manson Family, with an irony embedded in the use of the word ‘family’, had Charles Manson as the false prophet, failed male and racist killer, who through his ‘evil charm’ turned good men and women turned into heartless killers with the help of drugs and the degradation of promiscuous sex, and these depraved children then attacked family homes to slaughter a loving couple and to murder a pregnant women and her child. The end of the free love era, and of the possibilities of non-patriarchal structures is marked by the Manson’s, the evil cult, with a narrative that is still widely circulated and known fifty years after the events. Trying to locate a positive alternative lifestyle narrative using the hippy free-love era’s sensibilities, one might look to an innocent comedy, but in these there will be the attempt to step outside of social conventions only for the characters to realise and comically portray how necessary the social conventions of the couple and the family are. The festival of Woodstock might be a point where there is a community without the family dominating, but this is a festival, a moment, a time where people can let their hair down, rather than fundamentally change social structures.
Feminism in the 1960’s accelerated as the lives and expectations of women, to have income, to participate in public life grew and began to be realised. This was engendered earlier in the century with the campaigns for emancipation: rights for women, to vote, to take public office and to change existing laws that privileged only men. The difference between the earlier period and the post-war sixties being that feminism was articulated in the sixties through very widely circulated academic and intellectual discourse, and through social and political polemics with misogyny being revealed and dissected in an ongoing and active public debate.
Radical feminism argued, or was understood to argue, not for equality but for social changes that recognised that men were at fault, that men needed to be judged and punished. And rather than this happening, and like the depictions of cults and alternative lifestyle in the media and film, radical feminism was represented as ludicrous, or dangerous with positive radical feminist narratives, representation of a feminist society only coming into the public forum with limited circulation: it is hard, perhaps impossible to identify a radical feminist film narrative with any wide cultural currency that was a sincere support for this reinvention of society. A narrative this has grown may be to show that society is misogynistic, but then there is no narrative which offers progression: the partner-family model is not subject to radical change.
In response to the feminism of the sixties and seventies and for a very short period, the early seventies, in music culture, not film, there was an attempt to offer a changed masculinity, a feminised or androgynous male/female identity, a male-like figure outside of a misogynistic heteronormativity but no recurring film narratives of gender fluid identities emerged from this or shifted into narrative form. Masculinity remained confined to suits, the business man, and to jeans and T-shirt the casual, natural man, but from the seventies until the second decade of the millennium, any cross-dressing might only be comic, or covertly coded. There were camp, butch and transgressive films, but these had minimal social currency and when this did occur they were identified as narratives of exceptionality, not changes to heteronormative expectations and demands. Films did signal that there were differences in identity and gender, but only very carefully and discretely: a star portraying a gender role that might otherwise remain invisible and marginalised.
This ‘gender-bending’ which had a minor flurry in the seventies is now having a social impact and creating change as transgender politics with laws and social practices openly re-configuring the concept of binary sex and gender identities. This initial start then stop to the re-configuring of male identities outside of heteronormativity was supported by the surge in homophobia in the 1980’s and 1990’s with the illness of Aids being used as a stigmatising force, and creating separated communities, the gay and the straight with cross-gender, fluid gender having little politically active and vocal community at that time. In this period there were what is termed transgressive narratives, which did represent cross-gender stories and so validate diverse identities, but at the same time there was often a voyeurism implicit in the sensationalism of these stories, in how they were presented and narrated: the normal world looking in on a part of society that they understood to be populated by ‘freaks’: aberrations that do occur but which it was assumed then will always be sub-cultural and separate. The popular appeal of drag and cross dressing, enabling male/female re-configurations, which could be enjoyed, rather than rejected in the dominant culture, because what they present was ‘just dressing up’. At the time of writing it is too soon to tell how society will develop, if gender identities would be recognised as fluid with the law and human rights, not only supporting this in principle, but in practice.
What is recognised as emerging in the seventies and is still current is patriarchal and masculine nostalgia in narrative film. There is the nostalgic setting that recreates a past ideal where there was a clear differences in male and female roles and these are shown to offer an effective and just morality through their social and often class-based values. Narratives of past history can engage with stories where there were challenges to existing social structures, presenting key moments of historical change, but these are often understood as revisionist historical narratives, not nostalgia, which is a fondness for the past and a social stability that was never actually realised in the places and at the times depicted. Nostalgia as a form encapsulates and makes things safe, so change is always what needs to be beaten back: polite misogyny dominates in historical nostalgia.
The second form of nostalgia is in a contemporary setting, and this is masculine nostalgia, a sense that the traditional roles of real men are faded or fading, and ‘real men’ are being set aside by contemporary society, and this change is either quietly and gracefully mourned or bitterly railed against. It’s a heroic masculinity in a modern world where this identity has lost or is losing effective power. Nostalgic masculinity is the polite or begrudging form of contemporary misogyny, and masculinity that is supposedly meant to appeal as a romantic ideal to a women who understands that the traditional male and female roles should still and still need to be valued. In these narratives the nostalgic male can come to the city or be found in the rural community, and they will be in working man’s attire and not a constrictive business suit. These men supposedly avoid being misogynistic by being more passive than a male who wants to dominate women, refusing to control and demand power, unlike the destructive masculinity. This keeping to the old ways is portrayed as a positive resistance to change, but its is a resistance.
From the seventies through to the present day, changes to legislation, all effectively working to end social discrimination based on race, gender and sexuality have been put in place: race relation acts, employment rights, abortion rights, the criminalising of rape in marriage, the right to divorce, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the legalising of same sex partnerships have all contributed to an economic and social equality for women, across genders, but each of these legislative changes are not universal across different societies and they are not without present day public censure: equality remains contested by large social groups and by vocal minorities, voicing support for past traditions and patriarchal morality.
What has remained within all these legal and social changes is the virtue of the monogamous couple, the marriage, the civil partnership, the contracted property relationship as the model for social morality: the changes in marriage laws being very carefully drafted to enable same sex partners, but not allowing for bisexuality, polygamy, or ensuring the lone individual a fully coherent identity or economic stability outside of the legally bound couple, with law and the courts, the social agencies of family and child protection, all being brought to bear if the model of the couple is not maintained. There are no parental rights for communal or co-operative living or for multiple partnerships. The narrative of the single mother being heavily stigmatised in the 80’s and 90’s was an open hostility to women who might want to be live and raise children outside of marriage and now the young single mother has little visible currency as a positive social role model in contemporary narrative. The role of the working mother is presented as a stress, a demand, but there is no equivalent narrative for men, and the ex-husband is often present as a good man, abused by an over-demanding and over-controlling woman. There are positive narratives for women living in contemporary, but there is still a preference for monogamy of any other form of life-choice and the depiction of a successful woman is one who has given up or lost their family, or they can no longer care for their family.
In contemporary film narratives, there are changes to support the changed society, but at the same time their appear to be few if any utopian narratives. Fantasy stories of the future are dystopian, post-apocalyptic zombie worlds, computer-machine worlds, totalitarian data and surveillance controlled societies. There are floods, famine, disaster, but no nirvana. Many of these narratives show the need for the traditional family to survive, and if there is an equality between men and women to fight for survival, there are women warriors, then they may mourn the family as a lost hope or fight for it again. Often survival narratives will present a work-like environment group, a mixed grouping of male and female characters, with a diversity in ethnicity, age and sometimes in sexuality, but this group is understood to be brought together by exigency, their past secure life has failed, the present is in chaos, and this disparate non-intimate group moves forward as best it can. In actual society there is a de-gendering of social roles, but the fact that these current narratives focus on the prediction of a non-function dystopian society indicate that the present day society is not achieving any sustainable outcome, except perhaps as a return to the pre-feminist era of a non-industrial, non-cosmopolitan world.
At the start of the millennium the comic book narratives began to move into film narrative and these now, as successful franchises have a global circulation. In these there are male heroes and a few female heroes. These figures have a public role and duty to protect the society, but their private lives are often lost, or set aside. The villains are destructive males who want to destroy the world. This is familiar as the misogynist rhetoric, but set in this case, within the allegorical form of the comic book story, and the comic book world means that the narratives can set aside any examination of actual social relations or they touch upon these only momentary before its necessary to fly off again to save the planet. The encouragement of these films is for the children to buy the merchandise and identify with this social picture: men can still be heroic and also some women. If one counts the number of male heroes to females the dominance is far in favour of males as the figures who are the guardians of society. If a woman is president they need the help of superheroes to save them.
The change of narrative in film has been and is slower than actual social change. Narrative itself is not intrinsically misogynistic, but the institutions that control the financing, distribution and promotion of narrative film are reactionary with a particular problem being the aim to construct narratives that are acceptable globally with many or most countries still socially and legally enforcing misogyny and limiting the roles of women. When public campaigns are raised to demand diversity in film and television, the industry response is positive, stating a desire to change and then the narratives of misogyny are repeated. The present day practice to produce remakes of films from the 1970’s and also to continue with sequels, prequels and reboots from the 1970’s or to present newly conceived TV shows and films in this period or earlier evidences the slowness of moving on in terms of gender and sexual representation. The sexual politics of a film made in the sixties, seventies, eighties or nineties is clearly different and out of line in relation to contemporary narratives, but misogyny is still empowered, and the mythology of masculinity, what a man should be is still represented and repeated. If there is to be a distinct change in mythology, then old mythologies need to be dropped, this is a change in narrative, and in the experience and teaching of narratives. There needs to be a new mythology to match the present.
Copyright: Eugene Doyen 2019