What does misogyny mean - and why do so many people want to know?

·6 min read
A member of the public walks past a mural by Irish artist Emmalene Blake in Dublin's city centre, relating to violence against women in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard. (Getty)
A member of the public walks past a mural by Irish artist Emmalene Blake in Dublin's city centre, relating to violence against women in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard. (Getty)

‘What does misogyny mean’ was one of the most commonly asked questions this year based on millions of searches on Yahoo. 

Here’s why it was such a common question in 2021 - and why the search term peaked between 5- 7 October.

What does it mean?

Misogyny is defined as a hatred or contempt for women. The word was formed in the 17th century from the Greek words misein ("to hate”) and gynē (“woman”).

It differs from sexism, which is defined as prejudice or discrimination towards someone based on their sex or gender, though it primarily affects women and girls. 

In recent years, misogyny has spread online through the growth of incel networks. 

An incel is someone who views themselves as 'involuntarily celibate' - unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite wanting to find one.

They often rant about their negative experiences with women using online forums such as Reddit, and many advocate for the use of violence against women. 

People are able to spread their misogyny online through forums on websites such as Reddit and incel networks are also popular on the Dark Web. (Getty Images)
People are able to spread misogyny online through forums on websites such as Reddit and incel networks are also popular on the Dark Web. (Getty Images)

Read more: What is an 'incel'? The dark subculture linked to Plymouth gunman Jake Davison

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Woman sexually assaulted on bus for 10 minutes in middle of the afternoon

Dr Charlotte Proudman, an award-winning human rights lawyer who specialises in gender-based violence, argues that incel culture should be classified as a form terrorism. 

In an interview with The Independent, she said that the ideology sees men “assert their “right to sex”, while claiming that women are "withholding it” from them and deserve to be punished. 

She added: “If someone were to use this type of language and they were from an ethnic minority background or had so-called religious views, then they would be seen as terrorists.

“Then why is it not the same for misogynists? Why is it not the same for men who are holding these radical views of hatred of women, which have become a glamorous subculture?"

The Commission for Countering Extremism says that incel beliefs have resulted in at least 47 deaths globally since 2014. 

Plymouth shooter Jake Davison had spoken about being an incel in some of the videos he posted before carrying out the killings. (YouTube)
Plymouth shooter Jake Davison had spoken about being an incel in some of the videos he posted before carrying out the killings. (YouTube)

Californian killer Elliot Rodger was the first to gain notoriety for an incel-motivated attack in 2014, in which he killed six people and injured more than 22 others before taking his own life. 

In the UK, Plymouth shooter Jake Davison had spoken about incel culture in YouTube videos he posted shortly before shooting and killing five people, including his own mother, in August. 

Despite these cases of men using their hatred of women to commit unlawful acts, it is yet to be characterised as a form of terrorism in its own right. 

Why has misogyny been in the news in 2021?

There are growing calls for misogyny to become a hate crime in England and Wales following a number of high-profile killings where the victims were women, including Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa

After the murder of Sarah Everard in March, these calls were pushed onto a national stage.

33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard was walking home in Clapham, South London when she was kidnapped by police officer Wayne Couzens. (PA Images)
33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard was walking home in Clapham, South London when she was kidnapped by police officer Wayne Couzens. (PA Images)

Everard was kidnapped, raped and murdered by serving Met police officer Wayne Couzens who abused his position to falsely arrest the 33-year-old when she was walking home in Clapham, South London. 

He was also found to have exchanged racist and misogynistic texts with other officers. 

There was further outrage at the police's handling of a vigil to remember Everard, with female attendees complaining that they were manhandled by officers. 

These events have re-ignited calls for misogyny to be classified as a "hate crime", which is defined as "a range of criminal behaviour that a victim or other person perceives to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards a person’s disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity."

Wayne Couzens used his police powers to falsely arrest Sarah Everard, before raping and murdering her. (PA Images)
Wayne Couzens used his police powers to falsely arrest Sarah Everard, before raping and murdering her. (PA Images)

However, activists were disappointed with the government's response to this plea. 

Justice secretary and deputy prime minister Dominic Raab was criticised for claiming that men can be victims of misogyny during an interview with BBC Breakfast on 5 October. 

He said: “I think we have often seen, in the criminal justice system over decades, people trying to legislate away what is an enforcement problem."

He added that misogyny is “absolutely wrong whether it’s a man against a woman or a woman against a man."

Watch: Dominic Raab mocked for railing against ‘misogyny against men’

"I don’t think that criminalising those sorts of things will deal with the problem that we have got at the heart of the Sarah Everard case."

The Women's Equality Party responded, saying: “It’s no wonder our government won’t initiate an independent inquiry specifically into police misogyny – they don’t even know what the word means.”

Boris Johnson was also criticised for opposing the introduction of a new law, claiming that there is already enough legislation targeted towards preventing violence against women and girls. 

This is despite the fact that just 1.6% of reported rape cases in England and Wales result in charges.

Images of victims of male violence, including Sarah Everard, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, during a vigil to mark the International Day For The Elimination Of Violence Against Women on 25 November. (Getty Images)
Images of victims of male violence, including Sarah Everard, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, during a vigil to mark the International Day For The Elimination Of Violence Against Women on 25 November. (Getty Images)

In December, the Law Commission, an independent body that keeps England and Wales' laws under review, decided that criminalising misogyny would be ineffective at protecting women and girls and suggested it could even be counterproductive in some cases. 

It said: "If applied in the context of rape and domestic abuse it could make it more difficult to secure convictions and create unhelpful hierarchies of victims. However, if these contexts were excluded, it would make misogyny very much the poor relation of hate crime laws, applicable only in certain, limited contexts."

Instead, the commission drew up other recommendations for protecting women and girls. 

It recommends "extending the offences of stirring up hatred to cover stirring up hatred on the grounds of sex or gender"and claims that this would help tackle the "growing threat" of incel ideology. 

Watch: Met launch review into standards to rebuild trust

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