Enter Australian feminist Jane Caro. She has explained the shift this way:
Feminist, author and speaker Jane Caro told Fairfax today that words changed all the time and said it was certainly not a problem for feminism that "misogyny" had lost a bit of its fire power.
Ms Caro suggested the definition change may also be a reflection of the rise in the status of women.
"It was acceptable 100 years ago, 50 years ago to hate women," Ms Caro said.
"As the attitude towards women has softened ... it's entirely understandable that the meaning of the word describing that emotional state may also have softened."
Jane Caro believes that it was acceptable 50 years ago to hate women, but that attitudes since then have "softened".
That's a striking thing to believe. My own impression is that women were respected more 30 years ago than they are today, particularly in their role as mothers. I can recall there being at least something of a tone of respect for motherhood back then.
So why would Jane Caro believe that women were hated 50 years ago? I don't think it's ignorance. I think it's this kind of logic at work:
a) Jane Caro as a feminist believes that the true good in life is the traditionally male career role
b) 50 years ago most women were not careerists but mothers
c) Jane Caro assumes that women were deprived of the true good of careerism because of a hatred toward them by men, i.e. the thought process is "women must have been hated otherwise they would have been careerists rather than mothers".
As an aside, Jane Caro is the writer who once wrote a column about the British 7UP documentary series, which tracked the lives of a group of English children. The three working-class girls in the series did not end up having successful marriages: one divorced, one had children as single mother and one remained childless.
According to Jane Caro this represented a fantastically positive development for women. Why? Her argument was that if the average woman ends up marrying well and having children then women have no choice about the way their lives will pan out. But if women are childless, divorced or single mothers then there is the opportunity for a self-determining life, in line with liberal autonomy theory.
That's where at least part of her hostility to motherhood comes from. She doesn't think it allows for a self-shaping life path.
Here is how she puts the argument:
For the first time in recorded history, women began to have choices about the kind of life they would live. Indeed, Apted’s four girls, particularly those from working class backgrounds have demonstrated precisely that. One has had a high-powered career and in the last film had chosen to become a single mother; another is a single parent due to divorce and the third, who runs a mobile community library for children, has not had children at all. The upper class girl, after a startling adolescence, has lived a more conventional life, revolving around marriage and full-time motherhood.
Without doubt, the increase in the choices women have about the shape their lives will take has been exhilarating, exciting and not before time.
As I've written before, once you accept the liberal idea that autonomy is the highest, ordering good, then much else follows, including a denigration of the motherhood role.
What we have to insist on, against liberal assumptions, is that it is not just the fact of choice that is of value, but that there is a value to be recognised even in those things which we are born to, or which we naturally develop toward, or which are common or conventional aspects of being a man or a woman.
Even if motherhood is a conventional path for a woman, that doesn't mean it isn't experienced as a significant fulfilment for each individual woman.