Misandry alive and well

I'm caught short by the return of the word "misogynist", thanks to Australian PM Julia Gillard tagging the term on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. I'd thought it was a quaint old word replaced in common usage 40 years ago by "male chauvinist pig".

After all, why use one word when we can waste three?

It's true the two terms are not strict synonyms, but male chauvinist pig devoured the other's usage because its meaning was very similar, it was stroppier, and it was part of the enraged language of early Women's Lib. To its more extreme first users, male chauvinist pig was a satisfying phrase, made entirely from swear words.

And it rolled redolently from the tongue with an oink-oink here, and a P plosive there.

Pig's plosive, it may be noted, is a consonant which can't be uttered without ejecting a puff of hot air.

Perhaps Ms Gillard thought MCP was no longer strong enough for Mr Abbott. But nor was he merely a sexist. Dear me no, sexists are piffle beside Mr Abbott. This fellow, said Ms Gillard, was the full monty - an old fashioned, satanic, misogynist.

It gave Ms Gillard an opinion polls blip, because her parliamentary diatribe caused much editorial debate, and the video of her spray was a top ranker on that Mass Curiosity Shoppe we know as YouTube. To be fair, a troupe of lycra clad poodles taking a step class was also doing nicely.

All this drove me to Dictionary.com which assured me sexism is still defined as "attitudes or behaviour based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles," while misogyny remains "hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women". This gives me an immediate problem with PM Gillard. On the one hand I can't grasp how an elected prime minister could still see herself as a victim of sexual stereotyping.

On the other, I do indeed dislike and mistrust her. But then the majority of Australians appear to feel the same way. They're a sensitive race.

The computer robots which place the advertising beside specific words at Dictionary.com had their own issues interpreting misogyny.

The advert they displayed with misogynist read: "Meet Chinese Lady. www.chinese-lady.com. Seek a loyal Chinese girl to warm up your soul." Come one, come all, misogynists humoured.

Distinctive terms like MCP tire when they are over-used or changing times undermine them. I suspect that if Ms Gillard had been haranguing Mr Abbott across the dispatch box in 1978, she would have thought MCP cool and fresh. It was around that time I was assigned the young misogynist for a fortnight of "work experience" with The Australian. In today's language Mr Abbott would be called an "intern" - but back then at News Ltd we'd have arrested any interns and stuck them on the front page, presuming an intern not in shackles must have legged it from the nearest jail or transit camp.

I showed intern Abbott the newspaper ropes as responsibly as I could, taking him to the pub and teaching him how to change a typewriter ribbon.

I detected no whiff of male chauvinism in the recent president of the University of Sydney's Students' Union, just an opinionated 21-year-old whose confidence then exceeded his capabilities. We should have hired him while he still knew everything, but we didn't, and he landed up in politics.

Many men have been guilty of a failure of the imagination when confronted by Women's Lib. We had difficulty comprehending how our smoothly oiled corporations could make a female exec feel like a Jew who'd been discreetly blackballed by some second rate Gentlemen's Club.

But sexism, like racism, is a dangerous dog to whistle up in today's politics. We deride the politician who tempts our dark side by playing the race card. We should be just as dismissive of a woman who, from the highest position in the land, plays the sex card against a male whose party is leading her in the polls, and is guilty of no more than being a bit blokey. This was an insult to both men and women, and a silent whistle towards misandry.

Misandry is misogyny's antonym - it's the hatred or dislike of men. It's astonishing we don't hear this word more because after nearly half a century of feminist activism there's far more misandry than misogyny in public language. Maybe misandry is a word whose time has come. It's time for placards protesting the tyranny of the dastardly misandrists.

• John Lapsley is an Arrowtown writer.

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