Friday, August 08, 2014

Guest Blogger: Why Racism and Misogyny Go Hand-in-Hand

While many well-intentioned people are concerned about both racism and misogyny, not all are aware that the two are frequently connected. It’s noteworthy that many racists, particularly white supremacists such as Ontario’s shame, Tomasz Winnicki, also display misogynistic traits. As documented previously, Winnicki’s comments about women’s “place” in the world are as disturbing as his white supremacist screeds. It’s not just Winnicki, of course. Despite two centuries of real progress, both racism and misogyny still weave an ugly thread throughout all aspects of modern life. Though arguably under control in the workplace, at least in developed nations such as Canada and the U.S., misogyny and racism pop up in sometimes shocking, newsworthy ways in politics, education, the entertainment world, and of course sports.

In the U.S. in spring of 2014, for instance, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was taken to task for a blatantly racist remark he made to his (now-ex) girlfriend. But as one observer pointed out on the site, the event was not unique in the sports world, and racism wasn’t the only issue. Wrote Travis Waldron in April 2014, “That’s not to say the racism present in Sterling’s words and history should take a backseat to the sexism that’s there too. But both issues need to be addressed, because the structural problems that allowed Racist Donald Sterling to remain in power aren’t much different from the forces that helped Sexist Donald Sterling stay there too…” Of course Canadian sports are not immune to sexism either, as the Don Cherry incident showed in 2013.

It could be argued that these incidents are mild compared to the vitriol regularly spewed by Winnicki and his ilk. Moreover, whether all instances of sexism can rightfully be called misogyny is a matter for debate, though it is reasonable to say that in a society that embraces egalitarian ideals, sexism at best is a mild form of misogyny. In any case, misogyny and racism are often intimately related. (For example, Elliot Rodger, the infamous Santa Barbara, California shooter, had a history of posting both racist and misogynist screeds on online forums.) Here are three factors that link racism and misogyny and may help shed some light on why so many racists are also misogynists.

1.     An exaggerated fear of “the other.” In her classic book The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir framed sexism as men’s objectification of women, their definition of women as “the other.” She argued that the very concept of “woman” is a male construct: “woman is always ‘other’ because the male is the ‘seer’: he is the subject and she the object.” In other words, men are the default gender – “the” sex – and women are “the other” sex. Racism works in much the same way; in the eyes of racists, everyone who doesn’t belong to their race is “the other.” To some extent all humans have a fear or mistrust of those who are “different” in some way. In racist/sexists, however, the fear is greatly exaggerated for a variety of reasons, some of which have to do with innate personality traits (see next item) and some of which are related to family, religious, cultural, or historical influences.
2.     Belief in authoritarianism and hierarchies. According to a 2011 study at the University of the Basque Country in Spain that found a personality link between sexism and racism, sexist/racist people are those who are more likely than most people to approve of strict hierarchies. Study researcher and psychologist Maite Garaigordobil said, “Sexism is linked to authoritarianism and a leaning towards social dominance. In other words, sexist people accept hierarchies and social inequality…they believe that different social groups have a status that they deserve, and they feel that the social class to which they belong is the best.”
3.     Distorted self-image. One might be tempted to assume that racists/sexists display obvious signs of low self-esteem, since low-self esteem can cause people to act more aggressively and to attempt or at least desire dominance. But the Spanish study cited above found almost no relationship between obvious low self-esteem and anti-egalitarian attitudes. Even so, their type of sexism did influence how the sexist people saw themselves, the researchers reported. Study researcher Garaigordobil said, “Men with higher levels of hostile sexism describe themselves using adjectives associated with masculinity, i.e. physically strong, brave, sure of themselves, determined, admirable, etc. Women who display hostile sexism described themselves using characteristics that go against femininity, such as not very cooperative, not very tolerant, not very compassionate and not very sensitive or sentimental.” For the purpose of the study, “hostile sexism” was defined as a dislike of women, whereas benevolent sexism described the view that women are weak and in need of male protection. Study subjects of both genders who scored highly in benevolent sexism described themselves using adjectives associated with femininity, such as “warm” or “friendly.” The point is that even though the misogynists of both genders (and yes, there are female misogynists) didn’t seem – at least on the surface – to have low self-esteem, nevertheless they almost certainly harbored a distorted self-image. One has to wonder how these sexist subjects’ friends and colleagues viewed them, but apparently that wasn’t part of the Spanish study.

If racists are often sexists, conversely many (though not all) people who have historically fought against racism have also been feminists. The abolitionist movement of the nineteenth century gave rise to the first wave of feminism, which focused on basic issues such as women’s right to vote. And in the mid twentieth century the civil rights movement helped spawn the so-called second wave of feminism, which fostered major progress in gender equality.

Unfortunately there will probably always be individuals and organized groups who harbor an irrational hatred for a given group of people – non-whites, women, LGBT people, or people of a given religious faith. But as long as there are those who battle such hatred, there is hope for human progress.


Daphne Holmes contributed this guest post. She is a writer from and you can reach her at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While I agree that racism and misogyny could be related I would debate the implication that the opposite is true.

Wasn't there a prominent leader of women's suffrage who was also an advocate of eugenics? More to the point, one of the criticisms of early feminist writing is that it focuses mostly on white middle class women (in many cases just British women), while ignoring the plight of those different to them. Now, things have changed quite a bit, but that doesn't mean that women with disabilities, who are older, lgbt or who are non-white feel necessarily included in the discussion. They had to fight to be acknowledged and included.