Gynocentrism refers to a dominant or exclusive focus on women in theory or practice; or to the advocacy of this. Anything can be considered gynocentric when it is concerned exclusively with a female (or specifically a feminist) point of view.
Elements of gynocentric culture existing today are derived from practices originating in medieval society such as feudalism, chivalry and courtly love that continue to inform contemporary society in subtle ways. Peter Wright refers to such gynocentric patterns as constituting a "sexual feudalism", as attested by female writers like Lucrezia Marinella or Modesta Pozzo. Marinella recounted that, in 1600 AD, women of lower socioeconomic classes were treated as superiors by men who acted as servants or beasts born to serve them. In 1590, Pozzo wrote,
"don’t we see that men’s rightful task is to go out to work and wear themselves out trying to accumulate wealth, as though they were our factors or stewards, so that we can remain at home like the lady of the house directing their work and enjoying the profit of their labors? That, if you like, is the reason why men are naturally stronger and more robust than us—they need to be, so they can put up with the hard labor they must endure in our service."
Feminist theorists later promoted the need for gynocentrism whereby women's views, needs, and desires are given primacy as the lens through which social issues are analyzed and addressed as a counter to male perspectives in academia and culture. Scholars Katherine K. Young and Paul Nathanson state that feminist calls for equality or even equity are often a subterfuge for gynocentrism.
The term gynocentrism is derived from ancient Greek, γυνή and κέντρον. Γυνή can be translated as woman or female, but also as wife. In ancient Greek compounds with γυνή, the stem γυναικ- is normally used. This stem can be spotted in the genitive case γυναικός, and in the older form of the nominative case γύναιξ. In ancient Greek, no compounds are known to exist with γυνή that start with γυνο- or γυνω-.
The ancient Greek word κέντρον can be translated as sharp point, sting (of bees and wasps), point of a spear and stationary point of a pair of compasses, with the meaning centre of a circle related to the latter. The meaning centre/middle point (of a circle) is preserved in the Latin word centrum, a loanword from ancient Greek. The English word centre is derived from the Latin centrum. The word κέντρον is derived from the verb κεντεῖν, meaning to sting (of bees), to prick, to goad, and to spur. When trying to explain etymologically the term gynocentrism, it is important to consider the ancient Greek κέντρον, with the signification middle point/centre, and not the more obvious ancient Greek word κεντρισμός (mirroring -centrism).
Scholars Katherine K. Young and Paul Nathanson state that ideologically, the overriding focus of gynocentrism is to prioritize females hierarchically, and as a result may be interpreted as misandry (the hatred and prejudice towards men). Feminist calls for equality or even equity are often, according to them, a subterfuge for gynocentrism.
Young and Nathanson define gynocentrism as a worldview based on the implicit or explicit belief that the world revolves around women, a cultural theme that they claim has become 'de rigueur' behind the scenes in law courts and government bureaucracies, resulting in systemic discrimination against men. They further state that gynocentrism is a form of essentialism – as distinct from scholarship or political activity on behalf of women- to the extent that it focuses on the innate virtues of women and the innate vices of men.
Some authors make discriminations between individual gynocentric acts and events, such as Mother's Day, and the more general concept of a gynocentric culture which refers to a larger collection of culture traits that have major significance in the way people’s lives were lived.
Some post-modern feminists such as Nancy Fraser question the assumption of a stable concept of 'woman' which underlies all gynocentrism. Scholars Paul Nathanson and Katherine K. Young make a comparable claim that gynocentrism is a form of essentialism as distinct from scholarship or political activity on behalf of women, to the extent that it focuses on the innate virtues of women. Nathanson and Young add that "This worldview is explicitly misandric too, because it not only ignores the needs and problems of men, but also attacks men."
Christina Hoff Sommers has argued that gynocentrism is anti-intellectual and holds an antagonistic view of traditional scientific and creative disciplines, dismissing many important discoveries and artistic works as masculine. Sommers also writes that the presumption of objectivity ascribed to many gynocentrist theories has stifled feminist discourse and interpretation.
Feminist writer Lynda Burns emphasises that gynocentrism calls for a celebration of women's positive differences—of women's history, myths, arts and music—as opposed to an assimilationist model privileging similarity to men. However observed in practice, the preeminence of women associated with gynocentric narratives is often seen as absolute: interpersonally, culturally, historically, politically, or in broader social contexts such as popular entertainment. As such, it can shade into what Rosalind Coward called "womanism...a sort of popularized version of feminism which acclaims everything women do and disparages men".
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- Katherine K. Young and Paul Nathanson, Legalizing Misandry, 2006 p.309
- Katherine K. Young and Paul Nathanson, Sanctifying Misandry, 2010 p.58
- Wright, Peter, Gynocentrism: From Feudalism to Modern Disney Princesses, 2014 p.8
- Burns, p. 160-1
- Christina Hoff Sommers, Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women (1994) p. 64-73
- Lynda Burns, Feminist Alliances (2006) p. 153
- Rosalind Coward, Sacred Cows (1999) p. 11