After an argument with my (now ex-) wife in which I had become violent, she offered an explanation for my behavior: misogyny. I had to look up that word, and discovered that the definition of misogyny is the hatred of women. Since then, I’ve read dozens of websites, articles, and social media posts that offer the same conclusion.
Men who commit abuse do so because we hate women, those sources say. We feel superior to them and think we’re entitled to do as we please, including using violence to “enforce” our position of authority. Often, the terms “domestic violence” and “gender-based violence” are used interchangeably, implying that domestic violence is a hate crime perpetrated against women because of their gender.
Hearing all this took me aback. None of those beliefs or attitudes seemed to fit with my thoughts, beliefs, or experience. Was I in denial, unaware of my own prejudices? Was I a rare outlier among men who have abused their partner? Or, are these arguments flawed? In this post, I want to explore the link between misogyny and misandry—two forms of sexism—and domestic violence.
What is sexism?
The definition of sexism is stereotyping, prejudice, or discrimination on the basis of sex.
- Stereotyping is associating certain tendencies to a group, such as “men like sports” or “women like shopping.”
- Prejudice is where we judge members of a group before we really know them, and assume that they fit the group’s stereotype. For example, assuming that I like sports because I’m a man, and that my wife likes shopping because she’s a woman, are forms of prejudice.
- Discrimination is where we treat someone poorly or unfairly based on the fact they belong to a particular group, whether their race, ethnicity, religion, age, ability, sexual orientation, or gender. Refusing to give me a job in fashion design or employ my wife as a sports reporter because we don’t fit the gender stereotypes of those careers is discrimination by sexism.
What do misogyny and misandry mean?
You can see how easily misogyny—hating women—could lead to all forms of sexism. If we hate an entire group of people, we’ll make incorrect assumptions and unfair judgments about the group and the individuals in it. Worse, we’ll be prone to treating those people poorly, even abusively.
Misogyny has become a commonly-used term in our collective vocabulary. I suspect, however, that it’s often used to describe actions that don’t quite rise to the level of outright hatred toward women. By the way, there’s a corresponding term for the other sex: misandry, which means hatred of men. It’s far less frequently discussed, although that doesn’t mean the attitude is less common.
Misogyny, misandry, and domestic violence
I’ve met a lot of domestic abuse offenders, both in the BIP programs I completed, and in facilitating groups for the Ananias Foundation. Finding someone whose actions come from a hatred of the opposite sex is rare. Mostly, I hear stories of people who struggle to control their emotions, and then respond to stress and conflict poorly. Their hurtful words or actions reflect the deep hurt that they carry: hurt people hurt others.
Thomas Simon and others did a study and asked if it’s okay to use violence against a partner to “keep them in line.” Only 2.0% of men thought it was acceptable to use violence against their female partner for that reason. Interestingly, 4.4% of women thought it was fine to use violence against a man for the same reason.
To say misogyny is behind all, or even most, domestic violence is not supported by the evidence. It certainly doesn’t explain women who abuse men or abuse in LGBTQ relationships. It’s bad logic – like saying all Rottweilers are dogs, therefore all dogs are Rottweilers.
When sexism does lead to abuse
Still, some people who hurt their partners do have sexist beliefs, and use those beliefs to justify behavior that should not be ignored or excused. For example, a guy may rule his wife with an iron fist because he thinks that’s his role as the man. Or a woman may humiliate her husband in front of others because she earns more than him.
If this is resonating with you, I challenge you to take a closer look at your beliefs and how they affect your actions and relationships. Here are some specific questions to ask yourself:
- Do you see your partner as inferior to you because of their gender?
- How often do I find myself thinking/saying generalizations or dehumanizing things about the opposite sex?
- Do you mistrust them because they are not a man or woman like you?
How sexism hurts
Telling a gendered joke or expressing frustration with the opposite sex is not misogyny or misandry. However, any time we dehumanize another person or an entire group, we make it easier to justify treating them poorly. That’s concerning.
Sociologists have consistently shown this through experiments. Studying the history of slavery or the Holocaust drives the point home. That’s why jokes, stereotypes, and broad statements putting down people of any group can become dangerous if left unchecked.
Obviously, spouting negative beliefs about anyone because of their gender or any other characteristic—race, age, sexuality, nationality—is hurtful. You probably know this from being on the receiving end of prejudice at some point in your life. When derogatory comments or unkind treatment become a pattern, we can cause serious emotional or even physical injury to our loved ones. That’s the definition of abuse.
Children in the household are also hurt by sexism, albeit in a more hidden and delayed way. If they grow up with false beliefs about men or women, they’ll find it hard to shed those attitudes in their relationships later in life. They may end up resenting you (and your gender) for how you behaved. This is how the cycle of harmful behavior repeats itself from generation to generation.
Finally, sexism hurts you. Psychologists who study relationships find people in equal relationships are consistently more satisfied than those who are not. Equal does not mean both partners are the same, but rather, they have mutual respect and an agreed-upon division of roles. You’re missing something from your relationship if you don’t trust or respect your partner as an equal because of their gender.
What’s behind misogyny and misandry
If your answers to the self-reflection questions I asked earlier left you uneasy and wondering if you’re carrying some sexism, it’s okay. Like all of our belief systems, those thoughts can be challenged and changed. Getting to their source is a great place to start.
Sometimes, it’s a matter of correcting false narratives from our childhood. If you grew up in an environment that was rife with gender stereotypes or rigid male/female roles, realize that those beliefs may be lies. “Men are jerks” or “women are manipulators” don’t have a place in a healthy or truthful core belief system.
Hating, or severely mistrusting, members of the opposite sex usually comes from significant emotional wounding. An absent, overly strict, anxious, or controlling parent can set us up to have strong negative associations with other members of that parent’s gender. These wounds are worth exploring and healing. Counselors can be a great help if you have access to one.
Austin James wrote in his book about how his mother’s controlling behavior and dependence on him left a deep-down resentment toward women as a whole. This played out later in his life, where he used put-downs and emotional abuse to keep his wife off-balance, and therefore powerless. Healing the hurt of his childhood freed him to see his wife as safe and treat her respectfully.
How to stop misogyny, misandry, and sexism
In case you need to hear this: men are not all alike, nor are women! Individually and as groups, our diverse talents and shortcomings balance each other out in very complimentary ways. If you’re carrying negative gender biases and beliefs, address them so you don’t miss the wonderful benefits that diversity brings.
Realize that negative emotions often have very little to do with the person standing in front of us. Instead, it’s usually based on what’s going on in our own head. And the thoughts in our head may have very little to do with today’s reality, but a lot to do with days gone by. Realizing this makes it so much easier to address behavior that we want to change – whether it’s related to sexism or something else.
God created men and women differently, yet equal. He calls us to serve and submit to one another in love. By accepting and acting on this truth, we get to enjoy the fruits of healthy, loving relationships. Having a partner to support and care for you, to share burdens, and to enjoy success is one of the blessings he built into creation.