Until I reported this column, I simply assumed that the discrimination that women faced around the world was rooted in misogyny; now I wonder if sexism isn’t the better term. Let me explain the evolution of my thought.

Well, one is a structural framework which dehumanizes women in order to create male supremacy, and the other is a structural framework which dehumanizes women in order to create male supremacy.

Initially, I focused on misogyny because women in so many places are targeted for particularly brutality. For example, in South Asia, acid attacks are common against women, but almost never against men. Likewise, many different cultures report incidents in which women are picked out and stripped naked or otherwise sexually humiliated, in ways that rarely happen to men. And as best the records tell us, women were executed about twice as often for witchcraft as men. Granted, in conflicts men and boys are invariably killed at far higher rates than women and girls, but that’s functional: it facilitates robbery and reduces the men’s ability to bear arms in a rival militia. In contrast, women are often assaulted in ways that seem less functional and just gratuitously barbarous. The rape-caused fistulas in Congo are one example. So all that is why I tended to reach for misogyny as an explanation.

I’m not that familiar with NK’s work. I’m assuming he works with violence against women issues, and there’s not enough people in the world who do. But speaking from a feminist framework, I would actually be wondering what the constructs of masculinity in such a society is. How does this society define “man” and “woman”? Is this a society which recognizes only this false dichotamy? If the definition is man = power, women = weaker + has babies, then both sexism and misogyny are likely to occur. Perhaps Kristof would see misogyny where it takes violent forms and sexism where it takes the form of restrictive social expectations. Either way, it seems to me both are more likely to come from a social system where a) the construct of gender is recognized and b) one of, if not the, major aspect of the masculine gender is power over the feminine gender.

Then in the reporting for this column, I spoke to evolutionary psychologists who emphasized the distinct origins of racism and misogyny/sexism. Racism seems based in a hard-wired tendency of ancient humans to divide into groups to improve odds of survival, and it was an evolutionary advantage to be able to identify strongly with your own tribe and to fear or kill members of other tribes. That may be why even very small children — even infants — draw racial distinctions or other in-group/out-group distinctions.

Dude. I know you write books and all, but please to not be asking evolutionary psychologists about gender roles.

In contrast, the evolutionary origins of attitudes toward women were based presumably less on hatred and more on desire to control them and impregnate them, so as to pass on one’s genes. Acquiring and enforcing a harem, so as to improve the odds of one’s own genes being passed on, might involve ruthlessness, enslavement and brutal beatings, but there was no evolutionary incentive for gender hatred as there was for hatred of different tribes.

Therein, I think, lies the numb of our problem. If you accept, arguendo, that control is a necessary component of passing on one’s genes, then there’s your answer. The desire to control another human being – to put your need for self-propogation above her personhood – is a manifestation of misogyny. Not caused by misogyny. The act of taking away a woman’s bodily control is, in itself, a misogynist act. The use of that control to force her to bear a child is a misogynist act.

This also plays into the fundamentally wrong idea that if you can explain something, it can’t be all that bad. We know earthquakes are caused by shifts in tectonic plates, but that doesn’t mean they don’t kill people.

And of course much of the anti-women behavior around the world, from genital cutting to bride burnings to sex trafficking, is typically overseen by women themselves, and it’s easier to see their behavior as opportunism or deeply-embedded sexism than as hatred of fellow women. So that’s why I wonder if sexism, in the sense of discriminatory attitudes toward males and females, isn’t a better way of thinking about the issue than misogyny, in the sense of hatred toward women.

Women can be sexist, and women can be misogynist. In these cases, I see women committing misogynist acts.

Other anthropologists I spoke to also noted that the most discriminatory restrictions against women tend to come not from those who profess to hate women, but from those who profess to honor and protect them. Think of Afghan society, for example. After interviewing many men who beat and lock up women and threaten to kill them if they take a false step, I’d say that their attitudes for females are a mix of bizarre honor and contempt, but not usually hatred.

The men in this case have committed misogynist acts. They are attempting to hold control over a woman’s autonomy because she is a woman and they are men. I don’t know that a verbal expression of the feeling of “hatred” matters so much as the physically painful and spiritually dehumanizing acts as experienced by the women. If what they called honor and contempt led them to commit a misogynist act, then I have a lot of trouble getting my head around the idea that said honor and contempt is not misogynist.

I can’t say I’m fully convinced of the argument I’m making. There are still the acid attacks and similar behavior, which I find hard to explain short of misogyny. And maybe the distinction between sexism and misogyny is artificial. Wife-beating may be rooted in the male desire to control a mate and ensure that she passes on his genes and no one else’s, and such behavior isn’t driven by hatred of women in the way that lynchings were driven by racism or that attacks on gays were driven by homophobia. But for the woman with multiple broken arms, that may seem a meaningless distinction.

He seems to be relying on a false distinction, and doing so by ranking the suffering of women (who, coincidentally, are non-western, as far as I can tell) and that false distinction is when an attack becomes so violent it stops being sexist and starts becoming misogynist? This is pretty problematic for a lot of reasons. You can’t compare two different cultures and put them on a scale of what appalls the outside eye slightly more about the way women are treated in society, and then have a magic cutoff point where sexism stops and misogyny begins. I find the assertion that domestic violence isn’t rooted in misogyny pretty astounding. Domestic violence is not just about gender performance, though it is that, it is about terror and control and convincing the victim that she is less than human – which is the goal of both sexism and misogyny. Such behavior is hate crime just as lynchings and attacks on gays and lesbians are hate crimes.

What do you think? I’m thinking aloud here and would welcome your thoughts.