12 Ways to Spot a Misogynist
“If the leader of the opposition wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror” is a quote from 2012 by Former Prime Minister of Australia and leader of the Australian Labor Party, Julia Gillard.
The man she was addressing is Tony Abbot of the Liberal Party, a man who would assume the office of Prime Minister just after Gillard.
The scandals surrounding Abbot’s time leading Australia were outlandish and numerous, often centering on racism and misogyny.
Even before Abbot stepped into the role of Prime Minister, his misogyny was clear as day, perhaps best exemplified by the aloof attitude and condescending smirk he was giving Madam Prime Minister, as well as his crude remarks later, during her now-famous impassioned speech in 2012.
Dealing with someone who dislikes you is a nightmare for most people. You can never do anything right in their eyes; they disrespect or belittle you in front of others and say uncharitable things behind your back.
And sometimes you’re not even sure how you ended up in this situation – what did you do to this individual that made them display such nasty behavior? How on earth do you make them stop?
Sometimes the answer is defeating: they have an innate dislike or even unbridled hatred for something about you that you have no way of changing.
Even if you could change it, the thing they hate about you can be a normal part of your identity that shouldn’t be up for debate and is kind of none of their business.
A significant majority of women have dealt with someone like this – somebody who hates them simply for being female.
It is important to note that the definition of misogyny doesn’t just mean hatred of women – it includes prejudice and dislike.
A person doesn’t need to outwardly, consciously hate women in every aspect to be a misogynist.
Because almost no misogynist will ever voluntarily identify themselves as one, you have to spot them through their behavior and speech.
This can be tricky – how do you know if your coworker Jerry is saying Susan is being hostile and demanding because Susan is a bad boss, or is he projecting these negative attributes onto Susan because she is a woman is a superior position to him?
DIVIDING WOMEN INTO GROUPS WITH FALSE DICHOTOMIES
Most misogynists don’t consider themselves to be misogynists – they think they have good reasons to treat or speak about women the way they do.
They often group women in categories of “good”, meaning women whose behavior complies with the misogynist’s own views, and “bad”- those whose behavior does not.
There are many good reasons to dislike some women, the same as any other group. Misogyny arises only when that dislike comes from a dislike for their femaleness or some subset of it.
A discussion on the subreddit r/AskWomen started around how women have noticed misogynists behave around them, and many people came up with varying examples of division of women, where one group gets treated better than the other.
One of the recurring themes was the way misogynists try to divide women by how attracted they are to them – they treat older, disabled or otherwise ‘undesirable’ women with meanness and contempt while treating women they desire in a much better way.
These divisions are sinister because some women who get treated well by misogynists for unknowingly checking the boxes for their approval might not notice how the misogynists treat other women, thus making it difficult for them to exchange experiences and agree on who they should avoid or watch out for.
Sometimes, the women themselves internalize this idea of division. A prime example of this is the trend of identifying ‘other girls’, and those who are not ‘like other girls’.
It might start innocuously, with somebody complimenting you by saying how you are different than most girls.
It can then become internalized to the point that these women start to actively hate and ridicule those ‘other girls’ and only get self-esteem from putting themselves in contrast to the inferiority of most other women.
Video essayist and online creator Sarah Z made a video on this subject, analyzing not only the origins of the trend but the backlash and mocking these women received as a result of implementing this dichotomy.
As always, misogynists found a way of hating these women too. Some claimed that these girls were ‘pick mes’ desperate for male approval, rather than, as Sarah points out, women who felt out of place in the pop-cultural female space and found themselves alienated by stereotypes.
Whatever the reasoning behind dividing women into two groups is, the misogynist will always win – just because a woman is in their good graces now doesn’t mean she will stay there for too long.
MAKING INEXPLICABLE CHANGES IN BEHAVIOR
One version of this is relatively straightforward – if your partner, friend, family member or colleague behaves strangely towards women in private conversation or is mean and demeaning but acts completely normal or even proclaims to be a feminist when people are around, then congratulations (or condolences), you have spotted a misogynist!
However, the opposite situation exists as well. Misogyny can come from rooted insecurity in oneself and a fear of losing one’s position in society.
This can manifest itself in some misogynists as a perfectly normal interpersonal relationship with women one on one, but, when there are third parties present, especially those whom the misogynist perceives to have higher status than themselves, the misogynist can use derogatory jokes or aggressive attempts of establishing control over women to ‘impress’ those third parties.
Even just being around misogynistic behavior can make some men take on a less empathic mentality – ignoring or even joining into their behavior.
A recent study conducted by the Department of Psychology of Georgia State University observed the behavior of men towards a woman in a small group, comparing how the men acted when the other men in the group behaved normally versus how they acted when misogynistic behavior was purposefully introduced.
The men in the second group displayed less empathetic behavior towards the woman instead of speaking out and calling out their peers.
Misogynists think women must act a certain way – to be pleasant and lenient even when they feel uncomfortable in an interaction and the moment women don’t, these people, usually men, respond in a drastic change of mood coupled with increased aggression towards the woman.
Farrah Khan, manager of Consent Comes First at Ryerson University, gives an example of this from her own experience in an interview with CBC News.
OBJECTIFICATION AND DEHUMANIZATION
A relatively easy way to spot a misogynist is to listen out for objectifying comments about women. Objectification of women means that women’s bodies and their attractiveness is given more importance than their personal agency and intellectual ability.
The research concludes that women who are perceived as attractive tend to be objectified by both men and women.
A study showed both men and women an image of a provocatively dressed woman.
The majority of participants reported negative opinions about that woman’s character and mental capacity, and the men attributed less agency to the woman in question.
Research led by the University of Vienna found that people responded with less empathy towards the feelings of women who were depicted in sexually objectifying ways and that the basic human characteristics of these women were diminished in the eyes of the participants.
This study observed brain activity and didn’t rely on the participant’s self-reporting.
DIFFICULTY OR RESISTANCE TO DISPLAYING SYMPATHY FOR WOMEN’S ISSUES
Remember Mister Abbot from the beginning?
One of his mentioned scandals was referred to as ‘winkgate’ as he had made a winking and smirking gesture during a radio show while a chronically ill 67-year-old woman was speaking about how she had to work as an adult phone line operator to survive and pay rent.
The woman’s story was touching to all who heard it except Tony Abbot, who seemed to find it humorous.
Misogynist attitudes can make misogynists have such distorted views of women’s lives and women’s pain that they seem to lose all ability to sympathize or empathize with women in difficult situations, especially when those situations have gender-specific elements, such as the job of the older woman mentioned above.
Another study by the Department of Psychology, Georgia State University explored the relationship between sexual violence and negative attitudes towards women.
This study analyzed the self- reported the behavior of young heterosexual men and found that those who had negative attitudes about women exerted increased sexual violence towards their female partners and experienced more stress when working under a female superior, which in turn led them to lash out at their partners even more.
ADMIRING MEN WITH CERTAIN TRAITS BUT DESPISING THE WOMEN WHO HAVE THEM
The misogynist is an avid practitioner of the double standard.
They will find many kinds of behavior just fine or even sympathetic in men, but when faced with women who do those same things they will be quick to proclaim their complete awfulness.
One of the places this can often be seen is in how popular the male anti-hero is versus how uncommon the anti-heroine is.
Anti-heroes in fiction serve to illustrate the complexity of the human mind and to engage their audience in moral and ethical debates.
Their whole existence is a challenge to established social norms. This sounds like the perfect basis for a less than perfect female protagonist.
The anti-heroine will challenge society’s misconceptions about women’s goodness and likability, she will be compelling but her behavior will be reprehensible – just like the male protagonist’s behavior, which everybody loves!
The misogynists don’t see it that way. They question the appeal of these characters; proclaim them to be terrible and insufferable!
When a female author writes these characters, she is often asked to defend herself or present her likeability to prove she is not as nasty as her characters.
Male authors do not have to defend their virtues just because they wrote a difficult male – they are assumed to have the mental capacity to create a character who is not a carbon copy of themselves.
The misogynists apply the double standard to women in politics as well. They see female politicians as less capable and more easily confused.
They call them emotional and doubt their decision-making ability. They constantly scrutinize the looks of female politicians trying to infer character flaws just by the way these women style their hair and makeup, how they speak and whether they smile enough.
No aspect of private or public life is safe from misogynist scrutiny.
Misogynist attitudes can also be seen in the way parents are criticized by gender.
Mothers report more criticism about how they should be spending less time at work and more time with children, while fathers report the opposite.
Working women who have children are asked about who takes care of their children while they are at work much more often than working fathers.
EMOTIONAL BIAS MASQUERADING AS DETACHED INTELLECTUALISM
Many misogynists like to hide behind what they think is a fair meritocratic way of analyzing people.
This is of course, just superficial since any minimal application of honest academic analysis of their attitudes would have uncovered their negative biases towards women.
These people like to think of themselves as smart and well-informed, but seem to deliberately misunderstand everything even tangentially related to feminism.
They adopt a condescending tone while misinterpreting statistics on the wage gap, sexual assault, and gendered discrimination.
They form their position on feminism beforehand based entirely on their fears and misconceptions, and then accuse the whole feminist movement of operating in bad faith, being absurd and overly emotional.
This behavior gets mimicked by misogynists on the internet who build their identities around being above emotion and praising logic and open discussion but end up mostly using bad-faith arguments to harass women they don’t like.
A notorious example of this was the #Gamergate scandal that happened at the beginning of the decade.
The scandal was supposed to have been about ethics in game journalism but seemed to focus most of its attention on vitriolic targeted harassment of women who were involved in the video game industry instead of going for the corporate interests behind corrupt games journalism, which would have been the logical thing to do.
The concept of fragile masculinity is used mockingly to point out the many absurd ways in which society has evolved to protect masculinity.
Individuals who suffer from fragile masculinity tend to zero in on the male perspective in any conversation and try to defend it, even if the issue is clearly not on their side.
They are offended by boys wearing pink or trying on make-up and tend to police their own behavior in extreme ways, refraining from physical touch with other men or any shows of emotion, lest they are accused of being not manly enough.
Traditional masculinity is fragile because not even the men themselves identify with it – they have different ideas about where their masculinity comes from and what the focus of it is – some of these ideas in direct tension with the popular definition of masculinity that society tries to enforce, as one study shows.
The widespread perception of the masculine identity seems to be tied to the idea of dominance even though very few men center their identity on traditionally masculine roles.
Unfortunately, in the case of the 8% of participants who did display a strong affinity for dominance and traditional gender roles, there was a high instance of violent behavior toward female partners.
INAPPROPRIATE JOKES AT THE EXPENSE OF WOMEN
Misogynists tend to make sexist jokes and enjoy sexist humor. They also tend to deny any sexism behind it, covering by saying that some women ‘can’t take a joke’ or that their jokes don’t have any deeper meaning.
Research would suggest otherwise – researchers urge both the public and their peers to think about how the prevalence of sexist humor in society leads to negative attitudes about women.
According to Dara Greenwood Ph.D., the negative effects of sexist jokes are the biggest when females engage in sexist humor in front of men.
The men perceive these women as credible sources of information on what is and isn’t appropriate to say, and tend to use them as an excuse to perpetuate misogynist behavior in the future.
ALL OF THEIR COMPLIMENTS TOWARDS WOMEN ARE PATRIARCHAL
When misogynists have something nice to say about women, it usually means they are talking about their looks.
Patriarchal societal structures see value in women based only on their sexual and reproductive value.
So certain women, mostly young and single, are only seen as valuable when they conform to societal norms of beauty – these are standards misogynists want to preserve and they use compliments to try to enforce them.
Another type of compliment a misogynist might have for a woman, especially one that is a stay at home mother, might be that she is a good wife who doesn’t talk back to her husband, that she is always smiling or that she doesn’t complain too much.
The effect of comments like these is the strengthening of rigid gender roles in the family and they equate being a woman worthy of praise with being a housebound, obedient and financially dependent on a male provider.
ENFORCING BIOLOGICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL MYTHS ABOUT MEN AND WOMEN
Gendered myths have existed for a long time and many have been thoroughly debunked – virginity is a social construct and there is no way to confirm it in women;
Women were not naturally less intelligent than men, they just weren’t provided with the same opportunities and access to education.
Men are not less susceptible to emotion than women, they were just socially conditioned that way, etc.
However, misogynists often continue believing things that have been proven false.
A recent example of this can be seen in the manifesto of James Damore, a former Google employee who listed many debunked beliefs about gender and race.
These false beliefs lead him to proclaim that women and non-white people were biologically inferior to white men, and that ‘promoting diversity’ was a nefarious political plot.
FEAR OF SEEKING PSYCHOLOGICAL HELP
Research done in the UK took a look at how attitudes about masculinity, fear of intimacy and male gender roles (all of which is closely related to misogyny) affected men’s readiness to seek psychological help.
It turns out that holding all of these toxic beliefs is bad for the individuals themselves as well as those around them.
They fear stigmatization and won’t reach out for help when they are emotionally distressed, thinking that they have to withstand it all alone because they are men.
This leads them to a great deal of suffering, so research suggests that promoting positive attitudes about counseling might help improve these men’s happiness and help them repair interpersonal relationships.
You may have noticed that gender-neutral pronouns were used throughout this article in some instances when referring to misogynists. This is because women, just like men, can exhibit these behaviors and attitudes.
Doctor Berit Broogart from the University of Miami writes about all of the different kinds of female misogynists she has encountered, grouping them into 4 categories: The She-Devil, The Self-Loather, The Self-Critic and The Puritan.
These include women who hate all other women and see themselves as special and in competition with men for dominance; women who transfer their own self-hate and criticism on other women around them.
Women who despise all women who don’t conform to strict gender roles and women who use sex and sexuality as a means of judging and degrading women who they find too promiscuous.
Of course, some unlucky misogynists might be a combination of all of those or could have different traits varying in intensity, depending on the situation.
According to Tracy Smith, a licensed therapist, misogyny can develop as a result of a traumatic incident or abuse from a female figure which then subconsciously keeps affecting the way the individual bonds and relates to women.
She says this behavior isn’t conscious and is unaware of the pleasure they experience when acting on misogynist impulses.
She, of course, acknowledges the destructiveness of misogynist people and advises women who have been in close personal relationships with these people to seek treatment for their sustained emotional trauma.
It could be that misogyny is rooted in psychological pain for some, or even most people. Research from Tijuana, Mexico found a significant correlation between misogynist attitudes and depression, substance abuse, and inadequate education.
However, claiming that this behavior is not also a result of personal choice and personal responsibility does a disservice to all of the victims of abuse who did not develop such destructive attitudes as a result of their trauma.
Having difficulty processing trauma is normal and to be expected, but many people who experience trauma do not display toxic or misogynist behavior.
Misogyny is about power, and the desire for power over women is not the best way to deal with personal issues.
The historical and sociological roots of hatred towards women are extensive, ranging back to ancient Greece.
Spotting individual misogynists and analyzing their behavior is useful, but it is not the essence of the problem.
Societal structures and gender roles are much more powerful enablers of misogyny than any individual, no matter how powerful, will ever be.
This is why you must be aware of the wider societal impact of misogyny – you can learn to avoid individuals, but you cannot escape misogyny itself. The only way to deal with it is to actively fight it.
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