It’s always a fun game to see how celebrities redefine words. Of course, “feminism” is usually the go-to for this game, and we put face to palm over and over again as they refuse to believe a feminist can also be pro-human and not anti-man. But Morgan Freeman has chosen to come at this from the other end, and play around with the definition of “sexism.”
During a Q&A this weekend, Freeman was talking about his first meeting with Lori McCreary, president of the Producers Guild and the co-founder and CEO of Freeman’s production company Revelations Entertainment, and described her as wearing “a dress cut to here.”
The moderator, Mark Gordon, interjected to say Morgan wasn’t “a pig,” but then added “Maybe he is.” Morgan didn’t exactly contradict him.
“She doesn’t want to be thought of as a pretty face,” said Freeman of McCreary. “She wants to be thought of as serious. But you can’t get away from the short dresses.”
When Gordon pointed out that that comment could be seen as sexist (by people who are, like, listening), Freeman responded, “Sexist? Yeah. But I’m not misogynistic.”
The etymology of misogyny is straightforward: In Greek, miso means “hatred,” and gune means “woman.” A misogynist is a woman-hater… When I looked up the word she chose in the Oxford English Dictionary online, however, I noted that the meaning of misogynist had changed slightly but significantly. In 1989, the definition was “hatred of women”; in the 2002 revision, the definition was broadened to “hatred or dislike of, or prejudice against women.”
Thus, sexist and misogynist are now in some respects synonymous.
This reminds me of Kit Harington’s recent claims that the objectification he encounters when we’re not respecting his
perpetual pouty stare acting and just ogling his pretty hair is a form of sexism. I kept my mouth shut when he made those statements, because it feels shitty to contradict him. If that kind of objectification makes him uncomfortable, who are we to laugh? If it feels like harassment, then it’s not cool, not at all. But is it sexism? Can it be sexism if it’s not part of a historic, systemic, deeply ingrained way of looking at an entire gender? I don’t think so, but I’m willing to admit maybe I don’t know. Morgan Freeman seems to think he knows for sure, but he’s being a total ass.
You could— as I bet Freeman would— argue that language is fluid, and that the meanings of these words is subtle enough to invalidate hair-splitting in both cases. But if he’s going to play the semantics game, with rules that he gets to make up as he goes, maybe entrenched misogyny isn’t the breeziest of targets.