language corner


Gender politics and their words
September 23, 2013

Spend time on Twitter or Reddit, or anywhere on the internet for that matter, and you’ll learn lots of new words, or new meanings for older ones. Often, the new words will appear in the printed equivalent of a spittle-infused diatribe, by a party using the words to make a point, or to wound. And the new words will often appear with other words that should not be uttered in polite company, which is why this post will not include a lot of links.

In recent weeks, one of those words seems to have exploded in usage: “misandry.” From the Greek “andro,” meaning “man,” “misandry” is the hatred of men and boys.

“Misandry” is being used, mostly by men, to complain about perceived advantages* given to women, much the way “affirmative action” has been criticized for giving preference to previously underrepresented minority groups. “Misandry” is, of course, the counterpart to “misogyny,” the hatred of women.

Online, “misandry” seems to come into play most often as reaction rather than action. For example, a Forbes column discussed outrage over some rather coarse performances at a recent tech show, saying that, far from the sophomoric pranks’ being misogynist, as some were claiming, they were actually misandrist.

Of the two terms, “misogyny” is the older one. The Oxford English Dictionary traces its first appearance in print to 1656, though that citation was from a dictionary, implying the word had been around enough by then to make it into a dictionary. “Misandry,” by contrast, is traced by the OED to an 1882 magazine article: “No man whom she cared for had ever proposed to marry her. She could not account for it, and it was a growing source of bitterness, of misogyny as well as misandry.” (Italics added.) Some sources trace it to 1871.

Neither term is limited to the opposite sex: Women can be “misogynists” and men can be “misandrists.” And neither term should be confused with “misogamy,” the hatred of marriage, which first appeared sometime between “misogyny” and “misandry.”

Sign up for CJR's daily email

A 2010 article in Psychology Today noted that some of the vitriol accompanying claims of misandry may come from an overreaction to claims of misogyny. “It’s Newtonian physics and the Marxist dialectic: the harder you hit your head against the wall, the harder it hits you back. Misogyny generates misandry.”

The first use of “misandry” corresponds to the early campaigns for women’s rights, and about that same time, the word “feminist” changed from meaning “feminine quality” to “proponents of women’s rights.” In the early 20th century, however, “suffragettes” was the more common label, even though proponents sought equal property and contract rights as well as voting rights. In the women’s rights movement of the 1960s, “feminists” were often called “man-haters,” but rarely “misandrists.”

While an imperfect metric, a Nexis search shows very few uses of forms of “misandry” before 2010. Between March and September 2012, about two dozen references show up; in the following six months, more than 50; and in the most recent six months, nearly 80. While many of those citations are for blog posts, “misandry” is making its way into the mainstream.

*While a robust men’s rights movement exists, by nearly every measurement of rights — sexual, financial, or social — women still lag behind men, so claims that women get more advantages than men seem somewhat specious.

Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at the New York Times, where she worked for twenty-five years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl.