What is Chauvinism?

G. Wiesen

Chauvinism is, traditionally, a term used to refer to extreme bias or allegiance to a cause or belief often in the face of all reasonable or alternate viewpoints. The term was originally established in relation to political leanings or beliefs, but has since been used in conjunction with other ideas and attitudes. Chauvinism does not just indicate loyalty or agreement with a group, but typically indicates resentment or hostility toward opposing groups as well. The term has also been used often, since about the 1960s, by feminists to refer to “male chauvinism,” which is an often aggressively sexist view held by some men.

Chauvinism has been used to refer to sexist views held by some men.
Chauvinism has been used to refer to sexist views held by some men.

The term originates from the French word chauvinisme, which stems from a likely fictitious person named Nicolas Chauvin. Chauvin was said to have been a loyal soldier in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte and even after sustaining numerous injuries and little reward, remained fiercely loyal to Bonaparte even after his defeat and the Restoration period of French history. Though there is little historical documentation to support the existence of a real person named Nicolas Chauvin, he was raised to a legendary status after being included in numerous songs and vaudeville performances.

On average, women are paid less than men.
On average, women are paid less than men.

Just as Chauvin was used as a figure to represent an undying, illogical fanaticism toward his nation and beliefs, the term chauvinism was then used to represent someone with such views. In this sense, a “national chauvinist” would be someone who wholeheartedly believed in the value of his or her own country, even to the expense of those who were citizens of another nation. A “party chauvinist” would be someone who strongly holds to the beliefs of a certain political party, and rabidly attacks anyone who supports a different party or holds differing views.

The term “male chauvinist” came into popular use during the efforts of feminists and those in favor of equal rights for men and women in the United States during the 20th century. Male chauvinism is generally used to refer to men who believe that men are superior to women, whether mentally, physically, or in any other way. The term was used so often, that many people began to associate “chauvinism” as synonymous with “male chauvinism” and often incorrectly assume that any chauvinist views are inherently sexist or misogynistic.

Jingoism is a similar term, often used in British English though not unheard of in American dialects, which typically means strong political leanings that can include threats or violence towards other nations. This term has been used to describe a number of different countries over the years, typically those demonstrating imperialist or aggressively expansionist actions. Though jingoism and chauvinism may be used interchangeably, there is a tendency for jingoism to more often indicate a potential use of force in support of political beliefs.

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