I’m known for gathering abusive men’s secrets and turning them over to the other side. A couple of people have said to me, for example, that having a copy of Why Does He Do That? is like getting your hands on the other team’s playbook.
So now I’m going to do it again. And this secret is a pretty big one:
Men’s bad attitudes towards women don’t come from their experiences with women; they come from their experiences with men.
Men who are negative about women love to blame it on women:
“I don’t trust where females are coming from because so many of my partners have cheated on me.”
“I have a chip on my shoulder against women because I was abused by my mother.”
“I see what women are all about because my ex-wife tried to take my money and my kids.”
How to I know that his explanation isn’t the truth?
First of all, as I’m fond of telling my audiences when I’m making presentations, I’m a former boy. I remember how much negativity I was exposed to about females — and I grew up in surroundings where I actually was around less of that stuff than most boys are. I’m not just talking about resentments or annoyances towards females; I’m talking about profound disrespect that bordered on hatred. As boys we heard so many messages that dehumanized females, that turned them into servants for men, and that justified sexual assault and physical violence toward them.
Secondly, I’ve known countless men who have been burned by individual women, whether by their mothers or their school teachers or their dating partners, and they didn’t turn those bad experiences into excuses to look down upon the entire female sex.
Third, there’s research about it. For example, one study specifically compared men who had been abused by their mothers to men who had not, to see if the two groups on average had significant difference in their attitudes. The findings? There was no difference between the two groups in their attitudes towards women.
Now let’s come at this question from a different direction. Think for a moment about white people whom you’ve encountered in your life who were very racist, and you were bothered by their beliefs about people of color. Did you say to yourself, “Wow, this person must have had really bad experiences with people of color”? I bet you didn’t. I bet your thoughts went much more along the lines of, “This person either grew up around white people who were racist as hell, or else that’s who they’re hanging out with now.”
And you’d be right. White people develop their attitudes towards people of color from their experiences with white people. Any negative experiences they have with people of color are just excuses for the outlook they have already absorbed and adopted.
Plus, once we know a white person is racist, we don’t really trust what they have to say about what their interactions with people of color have been like; we suspect — again, quite correctly — that their attitudes have deeply distorted their perceptions and their memories of what has happened between them and non-white folks.
Why should our thinking be any different regarding men who look down upon women? Men who are anti-female got that way through the influence of the key men in their lives, beginning when they were young and often continuing into their adult peer relationships.
In short, bigotry is always caused by the group that is bigoted, not by the targets of that bigotry.
I’ll write more soon about the various ways in which this key insight matters, but for today I just want to choose one point to underline:
You can’t fix a guy’s bad attitudes towards women by being good to him. It doesn’t matter how kind, loving, honest, and patient you are with him; none of your heartfelt contributions will have any impact on his outlook on women. His attitudes didn’t come from women being mean to him, so they can’t be cured by women being good to him. Recognize this when you’re deliberating over whether or not to leave an unhappy relationship.
Men’s bad attitudes towards women only change when they are confronted by women and men — especially by men — about their attitudes. Again, it’s just like what happens with racism.
Steer as clear as you can of anti-female men, and don’t pour a lot of energy into trying to get them to improve their misogynist outlook. Men are really the ones who have to do the work of changing other men. I recognize that it’s tempting to try to be an ambassador for women, but it’s a dead end. You have much better things to be doing with your time and spirit.