Understanding And Overcoming Misogyny

Updated January 20, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

With confirmed roots reaching back to ancient Greece, misogyny generally means a dislike or contempt of women. It can take many shapes in the modern world: male privilege, gender discrimination, violence against women, patriarchy, sexual harassment, belittling women, and objectifying women, for example. Misogyny is not a mental health condition but rather a harmful mindset that can affect relationships and social interactions. Read on to learn more about misogyny, what causes it, and how people can overcome negative attitudes toward women.

Have You Been Called A Misogynist And Want To Change?

What Is Misogyny?

When broken down into its most essential components, misogyny is the mindset or belief that women are inferior, often merely because they are women. It is typically expressed through the hated, discrimination, or dismissal of women. Some would extend the definition to say misogyny is about punishing women for challenging male dominance. This prejudice is usually deeply entrenched, sometimes ingrained from childhood, and can be difficult—but not impossible—to overcome.   

“Misogyny should not be understood primarily in terms of the hatred or hostility some men feel toward all or most women. Rather, it's primarily about controlling, policing, punishing, and exiling the "bad" women who challenge male dominance,” said author Kate Manne, author of Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny.

Sexism Vs. Misogyny

While sexism and misogyny are often used interchangeably, the two are different. Sexism refers to beliefs about the fundamental nature of the roles men and women should play in society. Misogyny refers to the idea that women are inferior because they are women and can involve using threats, force, or other means to ensure things remain as they are. Misogyny can be a form of sexism, and it is possible to be both sexist and misogynistic.

Where Does Misogyny Come From?

From ancient philosophers to every religion, the viewpoints about females and the role they should play in the world are widely varied and can help shape how people view women. How women are portrayed in the media can significantly influence misogynistic attitudes, and the online environment is often rife with misogyny. When female characters are depicted as bossy, “catty,” or quick to betray, negative ideas about women are reinforced and can lead to cognitive biases or patterns in thinking. 

Misogyny can also be passed down from generation to generation. Traditional gender roles were more widely accepted in the past than today, and those beliefs can be reinforced by family teachings passed from mother to daughter and father to son. Research shows that children exposed to domestic violence and emotional abuse may experience a greater likelihood of displaying similar behaviors and attitudes about women in the future, but most children model the behavior they witness. 

Cultural influences may also play a part in the prevalence of misogyny. Many religious texts suggest women are inferior and sinful, fit only for a life of subservience. These beliefs can contribute to negative attitudes toward women. Some cultures may also support specific gender roles and show contempt for anyone who believes otherwise. 

Typical Misogynistic Behaviors

  • Catcalling and objectifying women

  • Showing preferential treatment to men over women

  • A lack of respect for a woman’s time and effort

  • Interrupting, speaking over, or ignoring a woman

  • Blaming women for conflict and expecting them to compromise to restore peace

  • Rejecting ideas from women

  • Refusal to promote female employees

  • Punishing women for calling attention to discrimination

Can Women Be Misogynists?

Women who repeatedly observe the media depictions and societal beliefs about misogyny, see it in action, and experience the devaluation of women's skills may eventually internalize those beliefs, applying them to themselves and other women. This phenomenon is called internalized misogyny, a facet of internalized sexism. It can be expressed through women mistrusting other women, believing in gender biases, minimizing the value of women, and generally reflecting misogynistic attitudes. 

Examples Of Misogyny

  • People feeling comfortable or justified in abusing or attacking a woman, either verbally or physically, simply because she is a woman. 

  • Treating daughters with a different set of rules than sons.

  • Sexual harassment, in or out of the workplace. Nationwide, 81% of American women report experiencing a form of sexual harassment or assault throughout their lives, compared to 43% of men, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center

  • Discouraging young women from pursuing academic careers typically associated with men, like scientific and technological pursuits. 

How Misogyny Impacts Mental Health

A recent study shows that misogyny and sexism can leave a lasting impact on the women who experience them, often contributing to poorer mental health and well-being. The study found that women who experienced discrimination based on gender had an increased risk of developing a mental health condition like depression, lower life satisfaction, decreased cognitive function, psychological distress, and overall poorer self-rated health. Internalized misogyny can also result from families where misogynistic ideas are prevalent, and young women may view themselves negatively from an early age. 

2018 study of online misogyny showed that problems on the internet don’t always stay there, as 41% of women experiencing online abuse or harassment said they felt physically unsafe on at least one occasion. 

Overcoming Misogynistic Thought Patterns

While you may currently have a misogynistic mindset, there are ways to overcome those thought patterns and develop healthier relationships with the women in your life. Working with a therapist can help you identify the causes behind misogynistic ideas and help you replace them with more positive, constructive attitudes. It is possible to achieve a perspective shift and move away from harmful, negative thoughts about women in favor of a more balanced, healthy outlook. 

Tips For Men To Work Against Misogyny

  • Call it out when you see it. Don’t ignore the behavior or imply it is acceptable. 

  • Actively listen to the ideas, opinions, and perspectives of the women around you. 

  • Support diverse female leaders in positions of political power when you agree with their policies. 

  • Reflect on the power and privilege you inherently have as a man. 

  • Attempt to see situations from a woman’s perspective to better understand how they may be affected. 

  • Credit your female co-workers for their ideas and hard work. 

  • Challenge sexism and misogyny when you encounter it. 

  • Persistently advocate for policies that support people who identify as women.

“Active confrontation of other men for sexism, bias, harassment, and all manner of inappropriate behavior may be the toughest part of male allyship. It is also utterly essential,” said the authors of a Harvard Business Review paper about men confronting sexist behavior. 

Handling Misogynistic Behavior

Knowing how to deal with misogyny can be hard when you encounter it yourself. Perhaps someone made an inappropriate comment at work, or you were catcalled on your lunch break. Misogyny can invade your life, either first-hand or through another, like a friend or the media, in countless ways, and you can combat it by trying some of the following options.  

Tips On Handling Misogyny For Women

  • Call it out when you see it. Don’t ignore the behavior or imply it is acceptable. 

  • Practice self-care and find healthy coping mechanisms to handle stress. 

  • Report misogyny and sexism when it occurs. 

  • Create and support safe spaces for women. Educate yourself about the damage internalized misogyny can do to your mental state and make efforts to support other women actively. 

  • Remove yourself from the situation. Setting healthy boundaries is also helpful, but sometimes, the most effective solution is to leave. 

  • Speak to a therapist. If misogyny is causing harmful effects in your life, consider therapy as a method to develop coping skills for dealing with misogynistic behavior and reinforce healthy attitudes. 

Have You Been Called A Misogynist And Want To Change?

How Therapy Can Help You Build Healthier Attitudes

Therapy can help you identify your harmful thought patterns and work to replace them with healthier mindsets. If you have been called a misogynist or are concerned about how your beliefs about women shape your relationships, consider speaking with a therapist. Virtual therapy platforms like BetterHelp offer convenient appointments via phone, video call, or online chat.

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) has been successfully used to treat a variety of unhealthy habits, beliefs, and attitudes. Recent studies show that online CBT treatments can be as effective as sessions in the traditional clinical setting and often more so for younger people who are comfortable in the virtual environment. 

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Admitting that you may have a harmful attitude toward women can be difficult. The information outlined in this article may make it easier to recognize whether you have problematic beliefs about women and find the resources to make a positive life change. 

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