Misogyny: What is it, and why won't it die?
Writing and podcasts by Julie Bindel
I‘m Julie Bindel, welcome to my Substack! This medium being what it is, most of you will be here because you already know my work, but for those of you who don’t, let me tell you a bit about my background.
I have been involved in feminism since 1979, when I was seventeen, and moved to Leeds. I had left home in the north-east of England because of the lack of opportunities for working class, poorly educated girls. My options were to either find work in a factory, or to get married young to a man from my council estate and have a brace of kids.
Let’s just say that neither option was for me; I was an out lesbian and I didn’t want to do any of that. I wanted to meet other women like me. Leeds, at that time, was the centre of a vibrant Women's Liberation Movement, and in those days, where there were feminists, there were lesbians. So off to Leeds I went.
At the time I arrived a serial killer of women the press dubbed the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ had murdered 11 women in and around the north of England, including five in Leeds. I joined the group Women against Violence against Women (WAVAW), set up to protest male violence, including the normalisation and increase in consumption of violent and sadistic pornography. These feminists were the real deal: outspoken, courageous, uncompromising. The atmosphere in Leeds at the time was a mixture of fear and resilience and tackling the police and press head on was exhilarating. One day, a group of us stormed the HQ of the Yorkshire Post newspaper and found our way to the editor’s office. WAVAW had written to him on several occasion, requesting a meeting to discuss the appalling coverage of the murders, such as the headline following the murder of Jayne MacDonald, described as a “tragic mistake”: she was 16 and described as “respectable and innocent”.
We were angry that victims were divided into deserving and undeserving victims; as far as the police and much of the press were concerned, anyone involved in prostitution, or who had simply been out drinking in pubs on their own prior to being targeted, “had it coming.” The feminists were angry, and I was soon submerged in campaigning to end the misogyny that fuelled rape, domestic violence and femicide.
I have remained an active campaigner against male violence since 1979.
Towards the late 1990s through until 2004 I worked in universities as a researcher on the sex trade, rape, and domestic violence. Having written regular comment pieces for newspapers to highlight my campaigning work, I realised I would be far happier doing it full time and became a journalist.
So, what about the misogyny question?
Throughout all the years of writing and campaigning, my adult life has been defined by a deceptively simple question: what is misogyny and why won’t it die? The Cambridge dictionary defines misogyny as ‘feelings of hating women, or the belief that men are much better than women’. But is this hatred by men, or can women be misogynists, also? Is anti-gay prejudice, or 'homophobia' underpinned by misogyny, or an entirely different phenomenon?
There are other questions I want to explore on this substack. Should misogyny be introduced as a hate crime in law? Should misogyny be classed as a hate crime? Is hatred of women situated on the Left or the Right, politically? What about class? Does social status in Britain alter the way misogyny is understood and played out? I will be going to an elite private members club to ask this question, as well as the housing estate on which I was raised. Is it just a matter of different accents and education? Or is it something more fundamental than that?
There are those that argue that misogyny is more-or-less a thing of the past, or that it exists primarily online. Why, then, has the femicide rate in England and Wales risen, albeit slightly, since the 1980s? Social attitudes might change, but the morgues don’t lie. In the face of the evidence, what difference has decades of feminism made in the quest to end deadly male violence? Can we claim any victories?
In an attempt to answer these questions, I have a really great line up of guests for you. I will be interviewing the world-renowned feminist linguist scholar, Professor Deborah Cameron. We will talk about origins of the word misogyny, and how its meaning has changed over time. Cameron will take a critical approach to the overuse and misuse of the term, and we will look at how it is often conflated with sexism or just plain bad manners.
Joan Smith, author of the book ‘Misogynies,’ will be a guest on my podcast, telling me about the context in which she wrote the book, back in1989, and how it is different and the same today. Joan was a young reporter during the time of the so-called Yorkshire Ripper murders and saw and heard some terrible examples of woman heating from colleagues and police officers, as well as the general (mostly male) public.
And hold on to your hats, because I will be interviewing a key figure in the anti-feminist men’s rights movement in order to explore whether he and his fellow activists actively hate women, or are they simply dyed in the wool old-fashioned sexists?
What about lesbians? Where does the hatred towards us come from? Well, you might be thinking “what about lipstick lesbian/lesbian chic?” Lesbians are very popular you might say, and no-one really bothers anymore about two women holding hands in the street. If this is the case, what about the prevalence of punishment rape? What about the view that rejecting a person with a penis who identifies as a woman is akin to being a “sexual racist” and analogous with upholding the system of apartheid in South Africa? I will be exploring all these issues over the coming months.
Do men that pay for sex hate women? Or is it a fair commercial transaction between buyer and seller?
Prostitution is a topic I have long researched and campaigned to end. I’ve been called a misogynist for wishing to eradicate the sex trade, because I’m apparently taking the choices away from “sex workers” and telling women what they can and can’t do with their bodies. But who are the real misogynists in this debate, feminists like me, or the pimps, punters and brothel owners? And why does prostitution exist?
Often, when I talk about it to well-meaning, liberal people they will tell me that I’m mad for thinking it could ever be eradicated because “it’s the oldest profession,” and “there will always be women that want to sell sex, and men who want to pay for it.“ But why is it seen as inevitable? What underpins it? Is it reliant on the hatred of women? Can women be commodified only if they have been dehumanised first? Surely that’s misogyny? Or is it? In a podcast entitled, ‘The oldest profession, or the oldest oppression?’ I will be interviewing opposing voices in the debate, such as Rachel Moran, an Irish sex trade survivor and author of the best-selling political memoir, Paid For: My journey through prostitution, and Nichi Hodgson, author of Bound To You, described as a BDSM memoir.
And what about porn? Is it merely prostitution behind a camera? Is it, as many feminists claim, both a cause and a consequence of woman-hatred?
I will be speaking with Gail Dines, the world’s leading feminist expert in pornography and its effects. Is all porn misogynistic? If misogyny became a thing of the past, would porn still exist? Does porn drive misogyny, or is it at least in part misogyny that drives men to consume porn? Joining us will be Robert Jenson, author of several books on feminism and the harms of pornography.
I’ve visited Ukraine on many an occasion. It is a country I love. In fact I have familial roots there. One of the tragedies of this country is how so many of its women and girls have been reduced in status until they have no more intrinsic worth than any other merchandise. Prostitution, the mail order bride industry, the human hair trade, and, more recently, the global surrogacy trade all thrive in Ukraine’s cities, towns and villages. Expect my written and audio report on this issue in the next few weeks.
A visit to Hooters fast food restaurant/sports bar in Nottingham, England, where the female waiters are required to wear next to nothing while serving groups of leering men, should give me a sense of what the attraction is. How do women feel about eating there with their boyfriends? Could there ever be such a place with male waiters tripping around in loin cloths serving female customers? Spoiler alert: based on my experience of visiting a lap dance club aimed at female customers (it closed after a few weeks), I think not.
In conversation with Yagmur Uygarkizi, a feminist activist living in Paris and member of the Radical Girlsss collective, I will explore a story we have both been investigating on and off for some time: thousands of women in prostitution in Africa and Asia have been used in trials of HIV prevention medications, leaving some infected with the virus. The trials may still be going on today.
My interviews with Kurdish women, including one that survived one of Saddam Hussein's prison, will focus on femicide: the killing of women and girls by men because they are women and girls.
I will be travelling a fair bit, and reporting from the US, mainland Europe, East Africa, South America and elsewhere. As with all good journeys, I may go slightly off the beaten track, and take a few interesting detours, although in my view, all roads lead either to misogyny or the campaign to end it. Certainly, there is a feminist context for everything, including food, wine, hip hop and opera, so I don’t intend to limit my choice of topics too much.
Sometimes I will report on crazy things I see and hear during my travels and work, such as when Gian, a middle-aged Italian man who saw me on TV during my book launch in Italy, contacted me to suggest that if I'm so against prostitution why not simply encourage some women to offer sex totally free of charge to men like him who can't get a real date because he has, in his own words, “a terrible personality”.
Or the time I managed to get locked in a chest freezer in Kosovo whilst researching criminal trafficking gangs.
And when I had a gun waved in my face whilst in a legal brothel in Nevada by a female pimp so cold and vicious she made many of her male counterparts seem tame in comparison.
I will publish one written piece each week (more if the mood takes me) and audio content every 3 to 4 weeks. I will also post weekly snippets of audio, including a taster of what is to come further down the line.
My content will be free for at least the first three months, after which I will put the occasional post behind a pay wall. I will evaluate further down the line and offer as much free content as is practical and possible. I want to encourage subscribers, and particularly enjoy interaction with my readers and listeners. So jump in the comment section, you might just find me there.