A Brief History of Misogyny: The World's Oldest Prejudice

was a highly respected author and journalist known particularly for his commentary about Northern Irish politics. He grew up in Belfast (where he was taught by Seamus Heaney), and worked with Jeremy Paxman and other outstanding journalists at BBC Belfast, during a period of seminal current affairs programming. Jack published four novels and seven works of non-fiction, most of the latter relating to politics and terrorism in Northern Ireland, including the bestselling
Phoenix: Policing the Shadows.

Sadly, Jack died of cancer in 2004, just after finishing the manuscript of
On his death, his family received letters of respect from statesmen including Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton, who had come to rely on his balanced analysis of Irish politics.

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The world’s oldest prejudice







Constable & Robinson
55–56 Russell Square
London WC1B 4HP


This edition published by Robinson,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2006


Copyright © Jack Holland 2006


The right of Jack Holland to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988


All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.


A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in
Publication data is available from the British Library


ISBN-13: 978-1-84529-371-0
ISBN-10: 1-84529-371-1
eISBN: 978-1-78033-884-2


Printed and bound in the EU


1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

This book is dedicated to the memory of its author.
It is also dedicated to the women who raised him – his mother, Elizabeth Rodgers Holland, his grandmother Kate Murphy Holland and his aunt ‘Cissy’ Martha Holland, as well as to his sisters – Katherine, Elizabeth and Eileen.







1 Pandora’s Daughters


2 Women at the Gates: Misogyny in Ancient Rome


3 Divine Intervention: Misogyny and the Rise of Christianity


4 From Queen of Heaven to Devil Woman


5 O Brave New World: Literature, Misogyny and the Rise of Modernity


6 Victorians’ Secrets


7 Misogyny in the Age of Supermen


8 Body Politics


9 In Conclusion: Making Sense of Misogyny


Further Reading






Thanks are due to a number of people in our quest to get this book published posthumously. For their moral and/or practical support, we would like to thank Stephen Davis, Don Gilbert, Susan Phoenix, Marcia Rock and Michelle Stoddard. We are particularly grateful to Brad Henslee, David Goodine and Mike Myles for creating, developing and maintaining

We especially wish to thank Sappho Clissitt, our London literary agent, who had the courage and foresight to take on this project, when many other agents would not.

They all have our heartfelt thanks.


Mary Hudson and Jenny Holland


My father loved history and he loved women. These are the two factors that brought him to the topic of misogyny, one substantially different from the Northern Irish political matters on which he had built a career.

He began work on
Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice
in 2002. The topic was quite a conversation starter. A common response from other men, when my father told them what he was working on, was an assumption that he was writing some sort of defence of misogyny, a reaction he found startling. Another common response was surprise that such a book should be written by a man. To this, his answer was simple. ‘Why not?’ he would say. ‘It was invented by men.’

While he was writing, he became consumed by the astonishing list of crimes committed against women by their husbands, fathers, neighbours and rulers. My mother and I would shudder as he recounted them: from the mind-boggling torture
of suspected witches in early modern Europe, to the horrendous cruelty suffered by women in North Korean prisons. He clipped newspaper articles; he read myriad histories; he turned to poetry and plays in an attempt to find cultural explanations.

My father felt that this was his most important work. In it, he turned his journalist’s eye to a daunting question: how do you explain the oppression and brutalization of half the world’s population by the other half, throughout history?

The tools he used in tackling that question were the same ones he employed to make other more contemporary conflicts tangible to his readers – his ability to condense difficult, inaccessible material; his considerable knowledge of Western culture and history; his sympathy for the oppressed; and his lyrical prose style. With these at his disposal, he created a history which, despite its often brutal subject matter, is remarkably pleasurable to read.

In March 2004, a month after he finished
, my father was diagnosed with cancer. He died that May of NK/T cell lymphoma, an extremely rare form of cancer that is almost always fatal. Although weakened by illness and treatment, he remained absorbed by the project, and continued working on the final edits while in his hospital bed.

The father-daughter relationship occupies an important place in this book, for it is in this most intimate of connections that misogyny’s pernicious effects are carried forward, or broken. It is also a central relationship in any girl’s life – and as a father, mine approached his parental role with lightness, admiring without fawning, accepting the arrival of my womanhood with grace and tactful approval. Most of all he always asked me for my thoughts. He encouraged me to be argumentative, to challenge him. Occasionally, he would chuckle and poke fun at my youthful convictions; other times our debates would become quite heated. I knew from what he
said that he prized my intelligence. I knew from the soft look in his eyes that he cherished my womanliness.

It is difficult to measure the importance of that acceptance, especially now that it is gone. As I read what my father wrote about the treatment that so many women have endured, for centuries and across continents, I become aware of an irony. I was spared the effects of misogyny. Exceptionally, I was able to live, at least at home, free from its shackles.

My most tender memory of my father, out of a lifetime of tender memories, is from three days before he died. He and I were sitting alone in one of the patient lounges of a Manhattan hospital, going through the manuscript together. I read aloud, and he wanted to know if I had any suggested changes. I was flattered that he – professional author, expert, adult, father – was asking me – newbie reporter, expert on nothing, young woman, daughter – for my opinion.

It was a golden moment, now burnished by recollection. It felt as though the quiet task we were engaged in was greater than his illness. In the sun-drenched room where we sat overlooking the Hudson River, for a brief moment, we were keeping at bay the suffering and fear that surrounded us in that cancer ward.

We were not long at our task when I realized that my father’s doctor, a kind, soft-spoken man who barely two weeks earlier had informed my mother and me that my father’s death was imminent, was standing by watching us, clearly moved. His expression told me that he did not see scenes like this very often.

Jack grew up in Northern Ireland in the 1950s and came of age in the socially and politically turbulent 1960s. From early on, he was surrounded by capable women. He was raised primarily by his grandmother Kate Murphy Holland, a formidable matriarch from the wilds of County Down, and his
aunt ‘Cissy’ Martha Holland, a woman of considerable beauty who never married and worked in one of Belfast’s many linen mills. His own mother, Elizabeth Rodgers Holland, grew up so poor that she could afford to attend school only sporadically. She would serve as an inspiration to him throughout his career. He used to say that his aim as a writer was to give people like her, uneducated but endowed with intelligence, access to complex ideas.

He was always concerned with the female experience. When he came to write his first non-fiction account of the Troubles, then at their height, he mined the letters and stories of his mother and aunt and used them to great effect in
Too Long a Sacrifice: Life and Death in Northern Ireland Since 1969
, published in 1981. His first novel,
The Prisoner’s Wife
(1982), explored the suffering endured by women when men engage in war.

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