Men tend to take the lead in far-reaching misogynistic movements (see also my previous posts on male misogyny, e.g., here). But very many women are misogynists too. In fact, some evidence suggests that on Twitter, women use misogynistic language more frequently than men do. Like their male counterparts, female misogynists are driven by either unjustified hate or contempt for women. The female misogynists that are among the most salient in society today can be described as The Puritan, The Self-Critic, The Self-Loather, and The She-Devil. Here is how to spot them.
The Misogynistic Puritan
The Misogynistic Puritan takes the ideal woman to be domestic, subservient, nurturing, kind, mild-tempered, alluring, youthful, and sexually pure prior to marriage. She has adopted this feminine ideal from her misogynistic husband, family or acquaintances.
She takes herself to be pretty darn close to the feminine ideal. She is subservient, always standing behind her man as a solid pillar of support.
She hates women who deviate from the feminine ideal and takes it to be her life's mission to find ways to discipline them and ultimately get them on the "right track."
Michelle Duggar, a submissive and holier-than-thou housewife and reality television star, seems to exhibit some of this behavior, advocating for complete female submission. In a blog post for newlyweds, she shares advice on how women can keep their husbands happy:
And so be available, and not just available, but be joyfully available for him. Smile and be willing to say, “Yes, sweetie I am here for you,” no matter what, even though you may be exhausted and big pregnant and you may not feel like he feels.
The Misogynistic Self-Critic
The Misogynistic Self-Critic is disdainful toward women who are not very feminine, whether it’s because they choose not to be or because they are just bad at acting in a traditional way—for instance, women she takes to be too fat, too big, too masculine, too angry, too loud, too competitive, too hardcore, or too alpha.
She is in favor of traditional gender roles and will use any opportunity she gets to preach their social virtue. Men should be dominant alphas, women should be soft and compliant.
She may regard herself as one of the feminine misfits.
Suzanne Venker, the author of The Alpha Female's Guide to Men & Marriage: How Love Works, writes that “Women have become too much like men ... They’re too competitive. Too masculine. Too alpha.” She attributes modern women’s “inability to find lasting love” to their need to dominate and overpower. Women who want to find lasting love, she argues, need to be soft instead of hard. They need to uncover their femininity. She relates how she used to resent having to be feminine to get along with her husband. But her “alpha ways were bumping up against his alpha nature,” she writes. “We were like two bulls hanging out in the same pen together, and there was too much friction.” So, she decided to embrace her femininity. She reports on what she learned in this passage:
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It’s liberating to be a beta! I’m an alpha all day long, and it gets tiresome. I concede that I thrive on it; but at the end of the day, I’m spent. Self-reliance is exhausting. Making all the decisions is exhausting. Driving the car, literally or figuratively, is exhausting. It took me a ridiculously long time to get it. But once I did, once I accepted that the energy I exude and the way I approach my husband directly affects his response and behavior, I changed my tune. And when I did, something happened. The tension disappeared overnight. Just like that. Well, almost like that. It was a lot of stop and go at first. First I’d handle something the “right” way—i.e. by not arguing with him, or by not directing his traffic, or by being more service-oriented—and marvel at the response. Then life would get busy, and I’d resort to my old ways. Sure enough, I’d get a different response. So I’d make a mental note of how I messed up and make sure to get it right the next time. Eventually, it became second nature.
When disclosing why she decided to embrace her femininity, Venker briefly mentions that she “had zero interest in [her] husband adopting a more feminine role.” This may at first seem like a logical reason to change.
But her claim that she “had zero interest in [her] husband adopting a more feminine role” implies that she wanted her husband to be the person in charge, the alpha. She clung to this desire, even while embracing her alpha ways in her marriage. But this means that her excuse for changing her ways wasn’t logical after all. Cognitive dissonance may have prompted her to adjust: she wanted herself and her husband to be the alpha leader. Something must give.
The Misogynistic Self-Loather
The Misogynistic Self-Loather has adopted a general attitude of contempt toward every one of her own “filthy” kind, including herself.
She regards women, including herself, as promiscuous, manipulative, dishonest, irrational, incompetent or unintelligent.
She tends to be in denial about her own self-loathing but not usually about her contempt for other women.
Hulu’s dystopian television series The Handmaid’s Tale, adapted from Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name, offers several examples of misogynistic self-loathers. Inside the Republic of Gilead, where most women are infertile, the remaining fertile women are enslaved as “handmaids” by the commanders and their wives. The series follows the plight of June/Offred, a handmaid owned by Commander Fred Waterford and his wife Serena Joy. The most important part of Offred’s job as a handmaid is to carry a child for the commander and his wife. During a monthly act of ritualistic sexual violence called “the ceremony,” Offred is shown lying with her head in Serena’s lap while Commander Waterford rapes her.
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Serena is one of the story’s female accomplices who actively participate in the dehumanization of their own gender. But the privileged wives are not the only female misogynists in the story. Early on in the story we learn that one of Gileans enforcers Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), who trains, disciplines, punishes and if necessary, tortures and kills, the handmaids, is a pro-life extremist who sees herself as saving the women from sin (or, in Aunt Lydia’s words, from “murdering babes,” “orgies” and “Tinder!&rdquo.
Selena and Aunt Lydia are misogynistic self-loathers. They have no real power. The commanders are ultimately in control. Yet they side with their oppressors and participate in the dehumanization of their own gender. Why? Their self-loathing is no doubt self-punishment. But their misogyny toward other women is not. Perhaps their contempt for their own gender gives them some semblance of control in an incomprehensible and unjust world. Or perhaps they thrill at inflicting pain on women, periodically pausing to self-punish and rid themselves of the built-up shame.
The Misogynistic She-Devil
The She-Devil sees herself as superior to other women, and at least on a level with, if not above, the top alpha males she encounters. In her view, other women are manipulative, dishonest, irrational, incompetent or unintelligent, but somehow she is exempted. She might possess some stereotypical feminine virtues like beauty and slenderness. But she perceives herself as instantiating the stereotypical masculine virtues of intelligence, the strength of character and rationality, and her behavior is more manly than that of her male coworkers, classmates or friends. Don't be surprised if she can outdrink all of them.
She is in constant competition with other women and would rather kick a woman off the career ladder or out of school than help her progress. But she masterfully escapes detection and punishment for her bad behavior. As you wait for the elevator with your box of memorabilia and your withering office plant, your rival is one step further up the career ladder, her triumphant laughter hanging in the air.
She is host to dark personality traits. Her firm belief that she is superior to other women points most strongly to narcissism. But narcissistic traits are also routinely present in borderline personalities and psychopaths. In the general population, dark traits tend to be subclinical, which means that they are not associated with the level of dysfunction seen in clinical cases. But mixing high functionality with sinister character traits is more likely to give you a Molotov cocktail than a Cosmopolitan.
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Vivienne Parry, a British science journalist and broadcaster, describes her mother as a misogynist of this type. When Parry revealed to her mother that she wanted to study science at the university, her mother responded: “Whatever for?” Parry was taken aback. But it made her wonder: “Why was my mother so against helping anyone of her own gender climb to the same heights as she did? Why was she so loath to laud female achievement—even when the female forging ahead was her own daughter?” When looking at the past through her contemporary lens, the answer to her question turned out to be terrifyingly simple, she writes: “I fear my mother was a misogynist.”
According to Parry, female misogyny is even more prevalent today than in her mother’s day. Male misogyny runs rampant in today’s society. But, as Parry points out, female misogyny can be even more toxic. According to Parry, “when there are so few women at higher levels, many of them think they must behave like a tigress, using every weapon at their disposal to protect their position against other ‘sisters.’”
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