A few days ago, I went to the library and checked out the book Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them. Partly, I was just curious. Because it has long been considered a groundbreaking work, I figured any modern-day feminist worthy of the name should be well-versed in the relevant literature.
So, I started reading. Susan Forward, the psychologist who wrote the book, had me at the first couple of sentences, in which she described a destructive relationship dominated by a man who systematically destroys the woman’s attempts to assert her right to equal treatment. We’ve all seen relationships like that. Some of us have even been in relationships like that. Dr. Forward hit the nail right on the head.
So far, so good.
Then I come to the chapter in which she describes how men learn to be misogynistic within their families. As she describes the influence of a misogynistic father in shaping his son’s distorted perceptions of women, that too has the ring of authenticity and truth to it. We all know fathers who deliberately indoctrinate their sons in the belief that women are inferior, second-rate, worthy of contempt.
There’s where the problem sets in. After disposing in a few short paragraphs with a toxic father’s impact, she devotes the remainder of the chapter describing in great detail the damaging effects of the mother-son relationship in response to the father. Page after page sets out the various dysfunctional models for how mothers trapped in marriage to an irredeemable jerk damage their sons. But not one further peep about what the father in all his destructive glory is doing on a daily basis. The daily snickering over the stacks of Playboy magazine hidden in the basement. The constant belittling of his wife in front of their children, relatives, friends, casual acquaintances. The overarching intolerance for anyone’s will but his own. Somehow, none of that is considered nearly as powerful as the mother’s futile attempts to cope with a situation that is completely out of her hands.
Same old same-old.
So in other words, even when the father is a complete and utter swine, it’s still somehow all on the mother’s shoulders if the son winds up damaged.
Doesn’t sound very groundbreaking to me. Sounds like the same old claptrap we’ve been hearing for generations. And the sad fact is, that’s still pretty much the presumption most family therapists are laboring under.
A not-very-modest proposal.
So for the record, bear with me while I make an outrageous, preposterous, revolutionary proposition. I’m just going to go out on a limb here, because someone’s got to do it. I realize this may be the first time anyone has ever dared to suggest such a thing, so you might want to make sure you’re sitting down.
Sometimes–often, in fact–when a man grows up hating women, it was the father who taught him that. Not the mother. And just as often, when a family’s dynamics are pathologically dysfunctional, the problems begin and end with the father. Not the mother.
Ultimately, though, when a man continues into adulthood hating women, there is one person and one person only who is responsible for that.