By now we can identify the most egregious forms of misogynistic behavior—calling women “sluts” or “whores,” saying “she asked for it” or offensive jokes about women being barefoot and pregnant. In almost all cases that type of misogynist behavior and language reduces women to objects of men’s sexual desires or their ability to reproduce.
College campuses are rife with “slut shaming” while men are praised for their sexual conquests. Women students excel academically but when they go out they want to look “hot.” In some ways our society has progressed so that we have women lawyers, doctors, engineers, but in some ways our mentality is more Mad Men than Ms. Magazine.
In the context of marriage and divorce there are many misogynistic behaviors that men (and other women) inflict on women.
The most obvious lead to a cycle of domestic violence. He harms her physically and then begs forgiveness insisting, “I’ll never do it again.” But there’s always another time, perhaps a burnt dinner leading to a black eye, or a black eye for no reason at all. By this time, the woman is socially isolated with little or no financial resources and perhaps young children to care for. The question isn’t, “Why doesn’t she leave?” The REAL question is, “How do we help her leave while keeping her and her children safe?”
Other misogynistic behaviors show up when the children arrive, or even before. I was fit, healthy and working full time during my first pregnancy. And I was TIRED. I would come home and rest after dinner and my ex would say things like, “What are you doing just lying there?” or “Really? You’re that lazy?” Both remarks show a remarkable lack of empathy, care, or concern. I finally retorted, “I just made a kidney for somebody! What did YOU do today?”
Power imbalances, or perceived power imbalances can often lead to misogynistic and devaluing behaviors.
1. Economic Imbalance The most obvious imbalance is an economic imbalance when a formerly wage earning wife leaves the paid workforce to stay home with young children. Instead of being an equal partner, she’s a freeloader. What does she do all day? She must be sitting around eating bon bons and watching soap operas because how hard is it to take care of a baby or a toddler or both? And why is the house such a mess?
2. Emotional Imbalance When a husband sees his wife as emotionally needy—a negative state—rather than seeking emotional connection—a positive state--he can easily justify his misogynistic behaviors. Years ago my ex and I saw a female marriage counselor. This therapist encouraged my ex to explore and find his “inner child” through pursuit of solo activities that inevitably led him away from our family. I was the “bad guy,” the gatekeeper that blocked him from true happiness. She encouraged my ex spend more time away from the family to meet his needs for “thrills” while my needs for emotional intimacy were dismissed. So yes, women can be misogynistic too.
3. Informational Imbalance This covers everything from knowing household finances, to how to snake a drain, to discovering an affair and everything in between. Knowledge IS power. The good news is that education is an antidote to informational imbalance. If you are signing a joint tax return, read it, or at least understand the W2s and 1099s so you know your household income. Read the mail, check credit card statements. Listen carefully. My ex’s affair wasn’t his first. Prior to The Other Woman (TOW) he had at least one emotional affair that I know of. He came home from work constantly talking about a female employee’s personal problems—her impending divorce, her custody battles, her move out of state—topics that don’t belong in a work environment. I don’t encourage snooping, but I do encourage being informed.
No marriage or relationship is ever 50/50. Someone will know more about the kids’ sports schedules and someone else will know more about household finances. That’s a necessary division of labor. But when a husband uses a power imbalance to demean, diminish, or belittle his wife or other women, that’s misogyny and THAT’s a problem.
Gaslighting (verb) to cause a person to doubt his or her sanity through the use of emotional manipulation.
In the context of a marriage this is probably the most insidious form of misogynistic behavior because it is invisible. It’s a reference to the 1944 George Cukor movie Gaslight where an abusive husband secretly and repeatedly dims and then brightens the gaslights in the house while accusing his wife of imagining the flickering. (dictionary.com).
One of the more common ways gaslighting shows up in a marriage is when a husband dismisses his wife as, “You’re crazy.” Those two words shut down any potential for communication or emotional intimacy. They discount her thoughts, opinions, feelings, and yes, emotions. If she’s upset about something and he calls her “crazy,” well, then, it’s not important. If she has an idea about how to handle a problem and he says, “You’re crazy,” then her thoughts aren’t important and by extension, she’s not important.
“Labeling women as "crazy" is a way of controlling them. It may not be something planned or pre-meditated, but the ease with which men call women "crazy" says a lot about them. Calling a woman "crazy" is quick and easy shut-down to any discussion. Once the "crazy" card has been pulled out, women are now put on the defensive: The onus is no longer on the man to address her concerns or her issue; it's on her to justify her behavior, to prove that she is not, in fact, crazy or irrational. Men don't even have to provide any sort of argument back -- it's a classic catch-22: ‘The fact that you don't even see that you're acting crazy is just proof that it's crazy.’”
~Harris O’Malley, Huffington Post
I have been called “crazy” more times than I care to remember. And always in a heated moment when I was emotional (i.e. weak). In my ex’s view, emotions were a sign of weaknesses while rational thought was a sign of strength. So the only way to shut me down was to play the “crazy card.”
My final thought is to invite you to find your power. When I (finally) asked my husband to leave I went to see our marriage counselor. I told him what I did and I was feeling very ashamed because, for me, divorce was the last thing I wanted. He said something I’ll never forget. “Good for you. You have found your power.”
I’ve written about my own thoughts and experiences with misogyny. I invite you to add your experiences and comments so we start a conversation.