Newest Misogyny/Ies

A note: My use of the term women is inclusive of trans, gender-variant, queer, and nonbinary identities, across and through racial and class and national borders.  And my usage also recognizes the political construct of woman that must be reckoned with as a part of the subversive fight against misogyny. And misogyny is the political system—structures, ideologies, and practices that seek the control and exploitation of this formidable group/class. I wish to embrace the specificity and differences that clarify that we share this punishing system. We are similar but not the same.  United but not one. 

So, when I was invited to write a piece on the “varieties, or forms of misogyny today”, about how it might be changing, morphing, and updating, I thought: of course, every political structural system of power—class, sex, gender, race are always shifting and adapting.  And their laws, and ideologies, and institutions and practices are also in flux. Flux is not good for those trying to protect their power. These processes and practices are ideological, theoretical, structural, and right now are in crisis with one another. 

The present flux of misogyny is a culmination of over half-a century of global turmoil. And always remember that power becomes vicious and exposed when those who are supposed to be dominated are expressing their freedom and potential power. This is a dynamic struggle. Women as an inclusive totality always have enormous potential power—why else would there be the continual attempt to dominate them/us. Domination is never one-sided; the so-called powerless always are potentially power filled. Hence, the continual morphing of misogyny.

So, how shall I think about this question? The question itself is significant because it augurs the changes and exposures that seem more visible right now. In this time of massive upheaval of global markets and labor, given the shocking of everything due to the Covid pandemic, nothing is ordinary. And all systems of power and oppressiveness are newly exposed: racism and white supremacy, global capitalism, and its complicity with wars across the planet, sex and gender systems that are morphing and debordering themselves. Misogyny—the targeting and hate-filled exploitation of all women—cis, trans, non-binary—relocates itself to the newest sites of gender oppression.

Power and its exercise always shift to protect and mystify itself.  In these newest contestations—in Afghanistan, in Iran, in Saudi Arabia, Congo, the US, the needs of misogyny—to control all women and their gender expressions—exposes and therefore destabilizes the structures that imbibe male privilege. The hysteria of the Taliban or the right-wing Republican zealot in the US destabilizes the orderly patriarchal system that delivers a sexual division of labor and hierarchy of care.  Misogyny defines the enforcement of the burqa and the banning of abortion access and rights.

The crisis/challenge for misogyny is how it blends and supports capital, global capitalism, racism, casteism, white privilege and nationalism. Misogyny, like any systemic system of power finds new ways to extract the labor and sustenance that it needs and depends on.  For the last half century patriarchy and its traditional family structures have been undermined by global greed that recognizes no borders, familial or national.  Veils and burqas and head scarves have been thrown off by Iranian and Afghan women. Women across the globe, and especially US women are fighting hard to gain or regain control of their bodies through universal access to abortion and reproductive rights. 

Sexual and gender violence against all women—no matter their color or their class/caste—has been practiced in private realms and only recently held accountable publicly and politically because of the organized resistance by women. Early struggles to publicize sexual violence and more recently the #MeToo movement first organized by Tarana Burke in the US, changes the arrogance and practice of this violence. 

Trump is charged with rape in the US and he still runs free to possibly become President again. And he brazenly says that he will provide no defense witnesses. 

Presidents and leaders across the globe have also shown their misogynist muscle more openly and brazenly: Putin in Russia, Modi in India, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Erdogan in Turkey, then Berlusconi in Italy—they outrageously publicize their contempt for women and gays–as part of their political strategy. And, we will see if the verdict in Trump’s trial—that he is guilty of sexual abuse and defamation of character, but not guilty of rape, has any impact on who gets to rule.

Misogyny, on the state level, seems more and more exposed and visceral. It seems different so it becomes different. Maybe it is because I live in the US where women have lost the right to abortion that we had for the past 50 years. But maybe it is also because of the visibility of Afghan women’s challenge to the Taliban’s excesses, and the “woman-led revolution” in Iran, and the courageous Ukrainian women snipers, and the women activists in Chile and Brazil.  Women demanding their freedom/s are seen across the planet even if there are endless attempts to enforce our unfreedom. 

Cis and trans women of every kind are leading the revolutions for freedom in Iran, in Afghanistan, in Argentina, and Chile, and in the United States. I am wanting to further expose and make visible the power we have as we fight for our bodies, their right to be free from sexual violence, and their right to determine and choose their destiny. This mobilized human struggle is part of the political crisis of this moment for humanity and planet earth. 

Afghan Women and Girls

The struggle of Afghan women and the fight against misogyny is hardly new, and yet something might be newly happening. And newly mobilized global feminisms may be emerging. It would be wonderful if this were to fully blossom. It might just save our planet.

Afghan women ask that there be no recognition of the Taliban as a governing body, that borders must be opened to all Afghans needing/wishing to leave; and to recognize the resistance and demands of Afghan women on the ground in Afghanistan. 

In response there are many feminist global networks in place organizing on behalf of Afghan women—for those who want to stay in Afghanistan, those who need to leave, those who need safe-houses, those who are unwilling to be the pawns of political forces who have little concern for their rights, or freedoms, or liberation. This includes the fallen Afghan and US government.

The struggle of Afghan women—trans, queer, non-binary–seems all too familiar; 20 years too familiar. But there are something/s that are different that hold out new promise. First, Afghan women have been demanding and gaining new rights continuously for the last 2 decades so it may not be all that easy to abolish them now. And, also—the cis and trans women across the globe have been uniting more and more around reproductive rights for their bodies. These women in Argentina and Poland are formidable. The right-wing macho agendas in India, Brazil, Philippine’s, and US have mobilized women on their own behalf.

Put this together with how Covid has created a massive, shared catastrophe for women refugees, women workers, women domestics, waitresses, nurses, etc. everywhere, from India, to Peru, to the US and you have a new possibility for anti-imperial/anti-racist pro-feminist camaraderie. The Covid pandemic is global, effecting women everywhere—from Peru, to India, to S. Africa. When Covid hit 54 million people around the world lost their jobs; most of the 90 percent exited the labor force completely. And women were/are doing disproportionate amounts of unpaid labor before the pandemic hit, and are doing more of it, after. 

Women—trans, gender variant, queer, and non-binary– across the globe are mobilizing their support for Afghan women. As Afghanistan and especially Afghan women face the dire and complex forces of the Taliban, climate crisis and drought, a failing economy due to years of imperial wars, women—every kind of us– across the globe commit to be comrades in the struggle for our full rights and liberation. Women are disproportionately—almost 70 percent of the world’s refugees suffering houselessness, statelessness and hunger. We will face these catastrophes together across our borders. This is the underbelly of global misogyny.

Abortion, and Post-Roe Misogynoir in the US; #BlackWombsMatter

I want to connect the misogynist assault on women’s bodies, in all their variety, especially Black bodies as central to the newest assaults on the promise of democracy in the US. Misogyny always connects to other systems of power like caste, to Islamophobia, to antisemitism, etc., depending on the host country.

Racism and misogyny are at the helm of this right-wing dismantling of choice and access for people determining their lives in the US. The murder of abortion doctors and clinic health care workers and the bombing of abortion clinics is carried out by the people and forces who wish to destroy any promise of sexual, gender or racial equality. 

The right-wing assault is located both inside and outside the US state—it structures the dysfunction of our government with Republicans obstructing and denying any moves towards democracy and Democrats lacking the courage or commitment to alleviate the suffering of so many of us: houseless people, the uninsured, Covid sufferers, gun violence and climate crisis victims. 

The retraction of Roe is embedded and a spur to our present abortion chaos with its suffering. It is especially a catastrophe for Black women who die at four times the rate of white women while pregnant which makes this a full crisis for democracy.  It is a tsunami for women’s–trans, cis, non-binary, disabled, and undocumented–equality and liberation.  

Before Roe was gutted, Mississippi was already a wasteland for abortion access.  According to writer Michele Goodwin, a Black woman was 118 times more likely to die by carrying a pregnancy to term as by having an abortion. AND Black women are 2 to 3 times more likely to die than white women during pregnancy. AND about 40 percent of the women who get abortions are Black. These egregious statistics will now worsen. Black women will be at greater risk of death and increased poverty. It is long known that abortion allows women to maintain jobs and better determine their lives.  Given this, the dismantling of Roe can be said to be a potential death sentence especially for Black women. And the racist misogyny of the Supreme Court could not be clearer. Meanwhile, the US ranks highest among wealthy nations for pregnancy and childbirth deaths even before you control for race. 

Misogyny has once again become more brutalized, and especially for women of color, harkening back to the lives of enslaved women.

MISOGYNY and Its Newest Toxicity

So toxic masculinity and white supremacy connect in this historical moment different from before. I am always wondering why there is not better theory about how misogyny enables/instigates racism, and the reverse as well. Better theory means better thinking and language to see with, connecting the dots rather than severing them. 

Trump unveiled too much, like Modi and Bolsonaro. They put too much in the bold.  The secrets became truths especially with the assist of Covid—and they all hate truth.  It is up to us to see what they have gifted: The absolutist formulations of overt misogyny to enhance racial and caste privilegeThe key word here is overt, to be seen, to be named, to put in view. Successful politicians use systems of power while hiding and mystifying them. An effective politician obfuscates but today we are told outright that women are pussies to be man-handled and we are shown that Black and Brown people are to be abused, singled out, and murdered with impunity. 

And Asian women? Asian—is already a problematic generalized term of ignorance. Which Asian am I speaking of: Filipino, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese? 

National Geographic lists the following countries in Asia: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, North Korea, Oman.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a regional grouping that promotes economic, political, and security cooperation among its ten members: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. (Take note that women in these countries have been and are some of the fiercest fighters for freedom: in Vietnam, Iran, Myanmar, and so on.)

Asian racism needs no knowledge of these specificities.  In this moment it is the physicality of the face, the eyes, the nose, the hair, the body, the walk that defines a person as Asian.  The specifics are ignored because that is what racism does. Hatred does not need clarity or knowledge. I wrote in my book HATREDS that women’s bodies are overdetermined with racist misogynist meanings, they are always a site of political struggle to define the nation, and who is a part of it. Nationalism is always written with the phantasms of hatred on women’s bodies and female bodies become the battlefield.

The Iranian mullahs, the Afghan right-wing crazed Taliban, the US Supreme Court, and Putin are, each obsessed with dominating female bodies. Female bodies are always at risk as a battlefield for racist misogynist dominance.  Bodies are always re-gendered in this process. And when I write of women’s bodies, I include every variety of this expression.  And Iranian women includes their entire specificities: Turk, Arab, Kurd. Variety is encompassed in any national identity.

Feminist Struggles in Response

The desire for a self-determining body is universal—although as I have sometimes written elsewhere, I prefer the term polyversal, which considers the differences and specificities that exist within this shared human desire. From the right to access abortion to the right to choose whether to wear a hijab or not, women and those who support them embrace self-determination as part of human liberation. 

This revolutionary struggle exists in a plethora of resistance movements and pro-women’s stances. In this sense there is much in common with our differing struggles–people fighting to re-establish the right and access to abortion have much in common with those fighting to determine their choices of hijab or burqa. And these struggles located in the body for choice/s is implicitly a part of the struggle to protect our planet from climate crisis. Without a planet, there is no freedom struggle for humanity.

Female bodies were a key battlefield in the rape camps of Rwanda, and Bosnia, and Syria and the Nazi concentration camps of Germany, and the comfort stations of Japan. Conquer and disgrace the female body and supposedly the nation is ruined—its masculinist sense of self is destroyed. The one stumbling block to the unification of East and West Germany: the question of abortion—where it had been legal in the East but not the West.

The female body no matter how it is dressed, or exposed, or covered is a site of a political struggle. Every nation and every religion play a part in this structural system of misogyny. Politics is the process of molding misogyny to the newest demands of the moment.  The ayatollah in Iran attempts to enforce outdated practices that readily expose its own criminality.

Anachronistic misogyny is teetering given the demands of global capital and its reconstitution of patriarchy. At one point reform politics might have worked; but now the Iranian demands are for an end to religious dictatorship. The struggles for the control of our bodies makes perfectly clear how political sex is. Politics is about power and who gets to own it, control it, and use it. It makes clear that sex is key here. That gender is political. That the personal is always political. Then the domain of politics is no longer contained. 

Freedom leads to the desire for more freedom. And women’s struggles against misogyny define many of the newest shifts and articulations. This is a dynamic struggle where women are hardly powerless. The desire for freedom, is not containable. It is endlessly radical in its desire. It is why misogyny cannot win. Here is my/our hope.

Zillah Eisenstein is Emerita Professor of Politics at Ithaca College. Her most recent book is Abolitionist Socialist Feminism.


Latest Issue

2024: Vol. 23, No. 1

Latest Issue

2024: Vol. 23, No. 1

By Zillah Eisenstein: Newest Misogyny/Ies

By Michael Ruse: Anti-Vaxxers And The Covid Crisis: The Sorry Story Of The Pernicious Influence Of A Pseudo-Science

By Rev. Matthew V. Johnson, Jr: A Letter Of Concern To Black Clergy Regarding “Cop City”

By Firoze Manji: Amílcar Cabral And The Politics Of Culture And Identity

By Andrew Feenberg: The “New” Lukács

By Bill Fletcher, Jr: The Continued Relevance Of W.E.B. Du Bois, Sixty Years On

By Philip Green: On Liberalism

By Benjamin Shepard: On Cities Of Friends And Riots: Between Conflict, Solidarity, And Struggles For Recognition

By Sabby Sagal: REVIEW ESSAY: Dostoevsky as Political Agitator: Alex Chistofi, Dostoevsky in Love: An Intimate Life (London: Bloomsbury, 2022)

By Mario Kessler: Susan Neiman, Left Is Not Woke. New York: Polity Press, 2023

By Warren Leming: Bob Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song (New York: Simon & Schuster 2022)

By Kurt Jacobsen: John Nichols, I Got Mine: Confessions of a Midlist Writer (Albuquerque: High Road Books, 2022)

By Aidan J. Beatty: Jo Guidi, The Long Land War: The Global Struggle for Occupancy Rights (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2022)

By Sarah Kamal: Eben Kirksey, The Mutant Project: Inside the Global Race to Genetically Modify Humans Bristol: Bristol University Press, 2021.