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Chauvinism is the unreasonable belief in the superiority or dominance of one's own group or people, who are seen as strong and virtuous, while others are considered weak, unworthy, or inferior. It can be described as a form of extreme patriotism and nationalism, a fervent faith in national excellence and glory.
In English, the word has come to be used in some quarters as shorthand for male chauvinism, a trend reflected in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, which, as of 2018, begins its first example of use of the term chauvinism with "an attitude of superiority toward members of the opposite sex".
According to legend, French soldier Nicolas Chauvin was badly wounded in the Napoleonic Wars and received a meager pension for his injuries. After Napoleon abdicated, Chauvin maintained his fanatical Bonapartist belief in the messianic mission of Imperial France, despite the unpopularity of this view under the Bourbon Restoration. His single-minded devotion to his cause, despite neglect by his faction and harassment by its enemies, started the use of the term.
Chauvinism has extended from its original use to include fanatical devotion and undue partiality to any group or cause to which one belongs, especially when such partisanship includes prejudice against or hostility toward outsiders or rival groups and persists even in the face of overwhelming opposition. This French quality finds its parallel in the English-language term jingoism, which has retained the meaning of chauvinism strictly in its original sense; that is, an attitude of belligerent nationalism.
In 1945, political theorist Hannah Arendt described the concept thus:
Chauvinism is an almost natural product of the national concept in so far as it springs directly from the old idea of the "national mission." ... [A] nation's mission might be interpreted precisely as bringing its light to other, less fortunate peoples that, for whatever reason, have miraculously been left by history without a national mission. As long as this concept did not develop into the ideology of chauvinism and remained in the rather vague realm of national or even nationalistic pride, it frequently resulted in a high sense of responsibility for the welfare of backward people.
In this sense, chauvinism is irrational, in that no nation or ethnic group can claim to be inherently superior to another.
Male chauvinism is the belief that men are superior to women. The first documented use of the phrase "male chauvinism" is in the 1935 Clifford Odets play Till the Day I Die.
The balance of the workforce changed during World War II. As men left their positions to enlist in the military and fight in the war, women started replacing them. After the war ended, men returned home to find jobs in the workplace now occupied by women, which "threatened the self-esteem many men derive from their dominance over women in the family, the economy, and society at large." Consequently, male chauvinism was on the rise, according to Cynthia B. Lloyd.
Lloyd and Michael Korda have argued that as they integrated back into the workforce, men returned to predominate, holding positions of power while women worked as their secretaries, usually typing dictations and answering telephone calls. This division of labor was understood and expected, and women typically felt unable to challenge their position or male superiors, argue Korda and Lloyd.
Chauvinist assumptions are seen by some as a bias in the TAT psychological personality test. Through cross-examinations, the TAT exhibits a tendency toward chauvinistic stimuli for its questions and has the "potential for unfavorable clinical evaluation" for women.
An often cited study done in 1976 by Sherwyn Woods, Some Dynamics of Male Chauvinism, attempts to find the underlying causes of male chauvinism.
Male chauvinism was studied in the psychoanalytic therapy of 11 men. It refers to the maintenance of fixed beliefs and attitudes of male superiority, associated with overt or covert depreciation of women. Challenging chauvinist attitudes often results in anxiety or other symptoms. It is frequently not investigated in psychotherapy because it is ego-syntonic, parallels cultural attitudes, and because therapists often share similar bias or neurotic conflict. Chauvinism was found to represent an attempt to ward off anxiety and shame arising from one or more of four prime sources: unresolved infantile strivings and regressive wishes, hostile envy of women, oedipal anxiety, and power and dependency conflicts related to masculine self-esteem. Mothers were more important than fathers in the development of male chauvinism, and resolution was sometimes associated with decompensation in wives.
Adam Jukes argues that a reason for male chauvinism is masculinity itself:
For the vast majority of people all over the world, the mother is a primary carer...There’s an asymmetry in the development of boys and girls. Infant boys have to learn how to be masculine. Girls don’t. Masculinity is not in a state of crisis. Masculinity is a crisis. I don’t believe misogyny is innate, but I believe it’s inescapable because of the development of masculinity.
Female chauvinism is the belief that women are morally superior to men; it is essentially antifeminist and sexist. Second-wave feminist Betty Friedan observed that "...the assumption that women have any moral or spiritual superiority as a class is [...] female chauvinism." Ariel Levy used the term in her book Female Chauvinist Pigs, in which she argues that many young women in the United States and beyond are replicating male chauvinism and older misogynist stereotypes.
Chauvinism is "fanatical, boastful, unreasoning patriotism" and by extension "prejudiced belief or unreasoning pride in any group to which you belong." Lately, though, the compounds "male chauvinism" and "male chauvinist" have gained so much popularity that some users may no longer recall the patriotic and other more generalized meanings of the words.
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