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7 July 2017updated 09 Sep 2021 5:44pm

How to spot an intellectual misogynist (and what to do with one)

They come in all shapes and sizes.

By Polly Evans

Have you ever had somebody try to explain logically why your feminist views are misdirected? Perhaps you’ve had to watch them draw you a graph, or even a pie chart, delineating why feminism should be replaced with the word “humanism”.

Maybe you’ve tried to contribute to a conversation about sexual violence against women, only to have your opinion drowned out by the booming sound of a man’s voice citing statistics about male rape victims. If, like me, you have, then you have encountered the grim, bespectacled face of intellectualised misogyny.

To increase your chances of spotting a member of this species you might want to head to a university campus – being well-educated is a key aspect of their character. Considering themselves to be an intelligent and progressive member of our society is crucial, as is their often identifying (theoretically, of course) as a feminist. In fact, they might well know more about feminist theory than you do.

Often, this kind of individual is so well-versed in the principles of feminism, so familiar with feminist theory, that the whole thing has started to get a little boring, even jarring. Of course, to them, feminism makes sense logically, but when it comes to the gritty unavoidable matter of everyday feminism – the impassioned debates and irrational outbursts, their patience wears thin. They might tell you loftily how it’s such a shame that a small few keep ruining it for the many – like those rampant feminazis who run around free-bleeding all over everything.

You can spot an intellectual misogynist by where they are not. They probably weren’t at the women’s march, and they might not have attended that lecture series or debate on gender politics; because for them, it didn’t feel like an obligation.

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They might have been one of those people who staged a walkout from the compulsory consent workshops at their university, or simply didn’t attend at all, because they found them to be patronising. I wonder whether, if later, some of those same people were accused of engaging in non-consensual sexual activity, it was because they thought it would be too patronising to make absolutely sure that their partner was consenting.

You can find this kind of individual behind closed doors, cracking the sort of jokes that they wouldn’t feel comfortable telling in public – racist or sexist jokes that are supposed to be (and sometimes are) funny because they are controversial. What do you do when your dishwasher stops working? You beat her. But if, when you look around the room, you can’t see anybody present from the demographic that the joke is directed at, then you probably shouldn’t be telling it. And if, even for a moment, the actions of the person telling the joke even slightly reflect the lack of respect for women that it implies, then they cease to be ironic.

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An intellectual misogynist puts you in a bit of a bind when they tell a sexist joke like this, because if you don’t laugh, then you are likely to come across as lacking a sense of humour. Yet interestingly, these individuals are often the most lacking in humour when jokes are directed at them. You can often spot an intellectual misogynist at a feminist or BME comedy night by their expression of slight discomfort. They can take themselves fairly seriously, you see.

It’s going to be tricky to list every place in which you might spot an intellectual misogynist, because they are so prolific. They come in all shapes and sizes, and their intellectualised misogyny manifests itself in varying degrees of subtlety. They could be in the corner of a party lecturing somebody on all of the many pitfalls of third wave feminism, or by the bar explaining to someone why Nicki is a bad feminist (most of them really hate Nicki Minaj).

They could be in the queue for the bathroom censoriously arguing that it’s only worth listening to Burial on vinyl, or relentlessly banging on about Bukowski. They could be in the living room having a heated debate about politics, directing a little too much aggression at Diane Abbott. Or perhaps they’re on the loo upstairs flicking through Dan Bilzerian’s Instagram feed, or outside in the garden, becoming a little awkward as the conversation turns to sexual assault.  

And now I’ve told you how to spot an intellectual misogynist, I should probably offer some advice on what to do with them. A very important thing to keep in mind is that an intellectual misogynist can smell fear and uncertainty. Hold your ground when you are conversing with them – never back down and never apologise, even if you think you aren’t expressing yourself clearly.

Have faith in the fact that your opinion matters as much as theirs, and try to hold on to what you believe is right. Remember that you might not have had access to the same kind of resources as them, but as long as you try to keep yourself informed and engaged, you will be able to say something that matters.

Don’t let them bring up statistics in an argument if they can’t back them up – they’re probably just making them up. (Or alternatively, you could make up your own – 99.8 per cent of books were written by female authors under male pseudonyms is always a safe bet). Don’t let your voice be drowned out, and don’t allow yourself to feel undermined.

And if you think that you might be an intellectual misogynist, here are a few tips on how to stop being one. Next time you’re having a debate with someone about gender, try not to dominate the conversation if you don’t feel like you are in the oppressed minority – make a concerted effort to listen rather than lecture.

If you are an academic, remember you have a responsibility to lend an ear to the voices of the past and present that may have gone unheard, as well as those that are the loudest. Remember that your presence is vital at all kinds of debates, protests and discussions.

Even if you don’t feel as though a particular movement represents your demographic, don’t allow yourself to be absent. Be supportive, and show a quiet solidarity. Remember that there are certain topics that are particularly sensitive to certain people, and that those people can’t always be expected to be on top form in an argument – never dismiss them as hysterical.

Don’t play devil’s advocate with people’s emotions. Be patient, and think about the implications of everything you say. Keep in mind that there are times that it is appropriate to take the lead on something, and there are times that it isn’t, even if you think you know best.

And finally, if your dishwasher stops working – go and buy a new one.