The Myth of Pervasive Misogyny

Cory Clark and Bo Winegard

Many feminists and progressives argue that the West is plagued by pervasive misogyny. In fact, this claim is made with such frequency, and is so rarely challenged, that it has become part of the Left’s catechism of victimhood, repeated by rote without a second thought. The only real question is how powerful and pernicious the misogyny is. Real-world data, however, suggest a different narrative, complicated by the fact that men have worse outcomes in many domains. For example, they are much more likely to be incarcerated, to be shot by the police, to be a victim of violent crime, to be homeless, to commit suicide, and to die on the job or in combat than women. Furthermore, they have a shorter life expectancy and are less likely to be college educated than women. Although these (and similar) data can be reconciled with the pervasive misogyny theory, they should at least give pause to the open-minded. The best data from contemporary social science tell a rather different story and suggest that the very persistence of the pervasive misogyny narrative is itself a manifestation of the opposite: society is largely biased in favor of women.

The world, of course, is a messy place and disparities between men and women may have many causes. This is why carefully controlled social science is useful for examining the extent, direction, and nature of sex-related biases. Although the details can get complicated, the basic idea behind most bias studies is pretty straightforward. Researchers present participants with identical information that has some bearing on the abilities of males or females while manipulating which sex the information is about. For example, they might ask two groups of people to evaluate identical essays, telling one group that it was written by a man and the other group that it was written by a woman. If participants who believed the essay was written by a man evaluated it as more compelling, more intelligent, more insightful, and so on than participants who believed it was written by a woman, psychologists would consider that a bias in favor of men. Similarly, if one asked two groups of people to evaluate identical scientific studies that discovered that either men or women performed better on a measure of leadership, and participants who read that men outperformed women regarded the study as higher quality than participants who read that women outperformed men, psychologists would consider this a male-favoring bias (everyday people consider such patterns to be biases as well).

Contrary to expectations from the pervasive misogyny theory, across a variety of topics, samples, and research teams, recent findings in psychology suggest that such biases often favor women. For example, a paper just published in the British Journal of Psychology led by Steve Stewart-Williams found that people respond to research on sex differences in ways that favor females. In two studies, participants were asked to read a popular science article that was experimentally manipulated to suggest that either men or women have a more desirable quality (for example, men/women are better at drawing or men/women lie less often). Participants evaluated the female-favoring research more favorably than the male-favoring research. Specifically, participants found the female-favoring research more important, more plausible, and more well-conducted and found the male-favoring research more offensive, more harmful, more upsetting, and more inherently sexist. This pro-female bias was observed among both male and female participants, and in study two, the researchers replicated the results in a south-east Asian sample.