LOUD WHISPERS: Misogyny and Gynophobia

Recently I have come across a lot of information that scares me. Is it my imagination, or do we have a generation that is more invested in the oppression and humiliation of women than we have ever seen before? There has always been a backlash against calls for social change, but do we now live in an age when agents of change will become endangered species? From homes to communities to the workplace to places of worship to market places and schools, women are not safe. I wrote this essay last year and I would like to share it again, though this is an abridged version.

‘A hatred of women’, ‘Strong dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women’, ‘A form of sexism that is used to keep women at a lower social status than men’. These are some of the definitions of the word Misogyny that can be found in dictionaries. The origins of the word are from Greek ‘Misein’ (to hate) and Gyne (Women). Misogyny also has what I call a ‘twin sister’ known as Gynophobia – the fear of women. The etymological roots are the same, Greek ‘Gyne’ (women) and ‘Phobos’ (fear). These are not words most people use in their day-to-day vocabulary, probably because it might sound ‘too extreme’. If people want to talk about the low status of women in society, compared to that of men, they are more likely to use words such as ‘discrimination’, ‘inequality’, ‘lack of inclusion’ or ‘sexism’.

Some might ask, why would women be hated or feared, what do women do/have done that would warrant this? Millenia of fabrications, distortions, suspicion, propaganda, manipulation and other tactics, have ensured that men control all institutions of human engagement, knowledge and learning, have power and control over almost all resources, and women feature on terms dictated by men. Those who refuse to toe the line are to be hated or feared. Any attempt to change this script is met with stiff resistance. According to the Australian Feminist Philosopher, Kate Manne in her 2017 book, ‘Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny’, ‘Misogyny is the law enforcement branch of patriarchy. It’s the law that polices and punishes women who transgress or threaten dominant men’. 

Wherever the soul of late Henry Asekhame of Ivioghe, Agenebode, Etsako East Local Government of Edo State is, before he fully rests in peace, he needs to get justice for his mother. The poor soul of Henry would not have expected his mother to be accused of killing him with ‘witchcraft’. Henry died in a tragic motor accident, he was his mother’s only son. It is a terrible thing when a promising young person dies in their prime, but to accuse a grieving mother of witchcraft because her child pre-deceased her under tragic circumstances is bizarre and heart-breaking. There is a video in circulation showing the frail old woman lying on the ground, being beaten and yelled at by local youth, led by a man prodding her with a cutlass. It is similar to scenes from Omuo-Ekiti in May 2012 when some youth in the town tortured 70-year-old Rebecca Adewumi to death. Madam Rebecca was accused of poisoning her nephew, who from all medical evidence available, died of a terminal illness.

 I have not come across examples of old men being dragged out of their homes and murdered on accusations of witchcraft or wizardry. It seems that it is only women who are capable of these kinds of atrocities. I remember when my father went missing twenty years ago. One of the many people who were trying to be helpful with the search came up with the theory that he had been disposed of by his senior sister, who they claimed might have been jealous of him. My elderly Aunt, who we fondly called ‘Mama Mushin’ said something that has always stayed with me, ‘Why would I do anything to the person who covers my nakedness? Who is going to bury me when I die?’. I made sure that I took up whatever obligations would have been expected of my father had he been around, and when she died, I did my best to ensure she had befitting final rites.  Why would anyone in their right minds accuse Mama Asekhame of killing the one person who would ensure that she does not live a miserable life in her old age?. Mama Asekhame’s ordeal is what prompts some women to ask, ‘is it a crime to be a woman?’ That is what misogyny and gynophobia looks like.

No one will open their mouths and declare ‘I hate women’, or ‘I am afraid of women’. It certainly does not work that way. It works through our socialization, norms, cultural beliefs, discrimination, harmful traditional practices, double standards, the list is endless. It is seen through the misery of many little girls and young women who lose their clitoris because gatekeepers are afraid that they will enjoy sex. It is seen through the value placed on a boy child as being more important than a girl-child. The number of boys we have in school versus the number of girls who either do not get to go to school in the first place because poor families have to choose their investments, or who do get a chance but have to drop out due to various forms of sexual exploitation. It is obvious through the endless pandemic of sexual and gender-based violence.

Misogyny and gynophobia can also be tracked through how much space women are allowed to become leaders and decision-makers. In the 2023 National Assembly, we have 3 female Senators out of 109 and 14 female members of the House of Representatives out of 360. In the 9th Assembly (2019-2023) we had 5% of women in the National Assembly, as if this abysmal figure was not bad enough, it has now dropped to 3.5%. There are currently 56 women out of 993 members of the State Houses of Assembly, with up to fourteen States where there is no female member at all. Out of these fourteen States, five of them have NEVER had a female representative since 1999. No, no one will come out and say ‘We hate women’. Our patriarchal societies just do the needful.

In order for misogyny to thrive as the enforcer of Patriarchy, it needs a full complement of soldiers, armed with weapons. These weapons make it possible for us to be afraid of educating girls, afraid of accomplished women, afraid of economically empowered women, afraid to elect or appoint women, afraid of vocal women, afraid of widows and afraid of lonely old women in our communities. It is not men alone who are the enforcers, Female Misogynists make it possible for the goals of patriarchy to be met and sustained. Who is a female misogynist? A woman who hates other women.

We are familiar with the stupid saying, ‘Women are their own worst enemy’. No, women are not their own worst enemy. No one goes around saying ‘Men are their own worst enemy’. Patriarchy is women’s worst enemy. Women do not wake up one morning and decide to hate other women, like men, they learn the negative values and practices that reward those who enforce patriarchal norms and punish those who refuse to comply. For every old woman who is tortured and killed for ‘witchcraft’, there are women in the audience as participants or observers. Every time a story is in circulation about a woman’s reputation, there will be women to amplify the narrative. Thanks to the current obsessions with behaving badly on social media, we now have a rabid breed of misogynists and gynophobes, male and female alike who continue to spew hatred and bile, with a worrisome number of sympathizers and enablers.

Every girl who is denied an education, every woman who is raped, tortured or killed, every woman who is denied a seat at the table, every woman who is vilified and humiliated in public and private takes us further away from the development, peace and sanity we deserve as a nation. No one will say ‘I hate women’. You don’t need to tell us how much you love your mother, daughter, wife, sister.  You don’t need to tell us you are not afraid of them. It is not necessary. There are many out there who will do the hating and fearing of your beloved females in thought, word and deed and for only one reason – they are women. Let us break the cycle.

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

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