“For the female is, as it were, a mutilated male, Aristotle concludes.” – Jack Holland in A Brief History of Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice
Did you know Aristotle believed women were mutilated males in the womb and thus inferior to men? Pretty crazy, huh? He also believed women were put on Earth to be obedient, that obedience was their natural state and their purpose in life. He ascertained that woman’s inferiority to her ruler (her husband) is permanent and unchanging. (After reading this book, I have lost respect for Aristotle).
What is misogyny? According to Dictionary.com, misogyny is “hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women manifested in various forms such as physical intimidation and abuse, sexual harassment and rape, social shunning, and ostracism.” Or, the “ingrained and institutionalized prejudice against women; sexism.”
In A Brief History of Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice, author Jack Holland claims misogyny dates back to ancient Greece. Aristotle, as you know a respected philosopher of his time, had a substantial influence not only in Greece but also in the surrounding cultures. With Aristotle’s unscientific and superstitious philosophy of women, who would be surprised by the unfolding rejection, subjugation, violence, and elimination of women that was to come in the following centuries?
Holland outlines the history of misogyny from ancient Greece to present day. He covers how men tried to control women’s sexuality as a means to achieve dominion of its citizens, the rise of misogyny and Christianity, the burning and hanging of witches from 1450 to 1750, misogyny in literature, body politics, modern misogyny and women’s issues, and much more. His book is eye-opening and well-researched.
What touched me the most about Holland’s book was how prevalent the fear of women was over the centuries. In the greater part of the middle ages, men believed women were essentially evil (But not evil enough not to have sex with, right?). The Roman Catholic Church, especially (and later the protestant churches), believed sex was evil and women were to be blamed for man’s thoughts, behaviors, and inabilities to control themselves. Superstition ruled for centuries at a cost to the freedom and lives of hundreds of thousands of women.
Over the centuries, women were barred from public gatherings in many locations and made second-class citizens. Even after the modern establishment of the democratic republic of the United States, women were not allowed to own property, open a bank account in their name, or vote. Children that only women could bear were the property of their husbands. Even today, we see misogyny at play in business, government, religion, and in the home worldwide, and women are still fighting for equal pay for equal work and for the right to choose what to do with their bodies.
Although a lot has improved for women, misogyny is still a problem, and rape, murder, and rage against women are still prevalent. As a woman, I have experienced misogyny, have been attacked several times, and disrespected countless times. My hope with this book review is to encourage you to read this book so we, people of civilized society, can work to eradicate misogyny and improve our institutions.
I highly recommend A Brief History of Misogyny by Jack Holland to anyone interested in learning the history behind all the violence women experience. We are far from eradicating the belief that women are inferior to men. The goal of establishing a more egalitarian society, although we are making some strides, sometimes feels like light-years away. Anyone who is a student of feminism, patriarchy, religion and violence, world history, or how cultural beliefs shape socio-economic policy needs to read this book. I could not rave more about it!
A bit about the author, Jack Holland
Jack Holland was an Irish author and journalist known in particular for his exemplary and balanced commentary on Northern Ireland politics.
Born in Belfast, Holland cared about what was occurring in his home country and made it a point to educate the public about Ireland’s violence and strife. Among his books are Hope Against History: The Course of the Conflict in Northern Ireland and Phoenix: Policing the Shadows. Mr. Holland also wrote a column for the Irish Echo in New York when he lived in the United States.
Writing about religious violence and prejudice spurred him to study the oldest known prejudice – misogyny, and thus in 2002, began writing his last book.
Jack Holland died of cancer in 2014 right after completing his manuscript of Misogyny. His daughter, Jenny Holland, took it upon herself to publish her father’s timely and excellent work.
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