The Origins of Misogyny

The Origins of Misogyny

Whenever a woman steps outside the usual bounds of expected behavior, she is shamed, humiliated, punished, beaten, raped, murdered, and otherwise made an example of. It’s important to note that the audience of violence against women is not the victim of said violence, but other women...

Let me preface this by saying this is a hypothesis that requires examination and scrutiny.  It is intended as a starting point for discussion, not a final word.

With #MeToo, which scions from earlier feminist and women’s suffrage movements of the previous century, it seems as though violence, objectification, subjugation, and abuse against women in our society is at a crossroads.  It is worth noting, however, that mistreatment of women and girls is endemic to all corners of the Earth, which begs the question: how did it come to be this way?  How did we get here, and what can we do to move forward in a manner that’s fair for all?  This hypothesis is an attempt to address these questions.

To summarize, the origins of misogyny and violence against women stem from the patriarchal society we live in, which came about through a process of natural selection.

In biology, natural selection is the process by which organisms with traits advantageous to survival within a given environment will thrive and reproduce while those with disadvantageous traits die off and/or reproduce in smaller numbers.  For example: a predator can run at 35 mph and is chasing a herd of deer.  Some of these deer can run at 30 mph, some at 35, and some at 40.  Over time, the predator will eat all the deer it can catch, so that only the deer who can run faster than 35 mph, will survive to have fawn.

This process also works within human societies.  Many elements leading to the success of civilization can be attributed to natural selection, which continues to this day.  If there are two ancient kingdoms, one washes their hands and the other does not, it’s safe to assume the latter is more likely to succumb to disease, grow weak in relation to the other, become conquered, or otherwise die off.

Now we come to how the sexes are treated.  Imagine a primitive world in which thousands upon thousands of small populations of hunter/gatherer communities existed, each with its own set of rules.  Some were patriarchal, some matriarchal.  Some had women warriors, others male warriors, others mixed.  There may have been a whole myriad of different possibilities, and this is supported by evidence.  There were the ancient Scythians (Amazons) who only allowed women to fight in battle, polyandric societies in places like Tibet and central Africa, the matriarchal societies of the Americas such as the Five Nations, and others.  In the span of nearly two-hundred-thousand years of human existence, there have been numerous societies in which women played a dominant role, up until a few thousand years ago when these societies, with few exceptions, died off.

To understand why this happened, it is important to note that the reproductive capacity of a society is directly tied to the number of healthy, young women.  Men are almost irrelevant in that regard.  Suppose you have a village with a hundred men and a hundred women.  If a plague were to sweep through the village and wipe out 99 of the women, the following generation would have at best seven or eight children.  If we flip this and say 99 of the men died instead, as long as one survived, the following generation could easily include a hundred times that number.

Therefore, any society that guards and protects women at all costs would have a major competitive advantage over those that expose women to potential dangers.

This includes war.  It’s worth noting that women warriors have existed and have been at least as effective as men.  One might even suggest that women might make more effective soldiers than men given reported traits such as discipline, compliance, and cohesion, all traits advantageous to organized military and not usually attributed to men, as a group.  One might also suggest sending both men and women into battle, effectively doubling the number of available combatants.  Both of these, however, fail to take into account that in war, some people die, and that any woman killed in battle diminishes the reproductive capacity of the society, effectively weakening that society for generations to come.  Essentially, don’t send women into battle; they’re too valuable.

Now extend this concept.  Agriculture is dangerous, too.  People get trampled by livestock, attacked by wild animals, hit on the head with farm equipment, and so on.  Don’t let women into farming, either.  Same with mining, hunting, fishing, construction, metallurgy, even politics.  Politicians get assassinated; it’s one of the things they do, so don’t let women into politics, either.  It’s too dangerous.  Cover them up, lest some raiders see them and attack you.

Don’t let them go to school, either.  Denying girls access to education has the further impact of augmenting fecundity.  It is well documented that girls denied basic education tend to have more than twice as many children as well-educated girls, on average.

Now for the connection to misogyny.  That is, honor killings, gang rapes, stoning, and other forms of violence against women which seem contradictory to this model.  However, the rules of the patriarchy are that women are to produce babies, serve their men, and otherwise look pretty.  It is not sustainable to keep such a large group of people under such oppression without some form of punitive enforcement.  In the era of slavery, this was public lashings, lynchings, and other gross examples of violence.  In the patriarchy, this is misogyny.  This article in the New Yorker sums it up plainly, defining misogyny as the ‘enforcement arm’ of the patriarchy.  Whenever a woman steps outside the usual bounds of expected behavior, she is shamed, humiliated, punished, beaten, raped, murdered, and otherwise made an example of.  It’s important to note that the audience of violence against women is not the victim of said violence, but other women who may consider similar behaviors.  Under the model of this hypothesis, the logic is that a small number of women are destroyed in order to maintain the status quo.  Circling back to education, denying girls basic education additionally limits their options and makes them more likely to adhere to the rules of the patriarchy.

It has not always been this way, and it will not be this way much longer.  Change is especially difficult given that the rules of the patriarchy are enshrined in world religions that serve a majority of human beings, but then religion is subject to natural selection, too.


Michael Patrick Lewis is a teacher, progressive, and bestselling author of Edge Of God and Preferred Rewards.  You can also find him on Twitter @fakeMikeLewis.

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