“Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them” (2002) explains the psychology of misogynists and the dynamics of toxic relationships between women and misogynists.
- Misogynists are anxious and afraid that their partners can hurt them
- Misogynists try to control and disempower their partner so that they can never leave and hurt them
- Most misogynists aren’t going to improve or seek therapy, so women are probably better off breaking up
About the Author: Susan Forward is an American psychotherapist and author. Susan had her own practice, as well as being a therapist, instructor and consultant to several Southern California psychiatric and medical facilities.
Forward focuses on toxic, manipulative, and abusive relationships, and she is also the author of “Emotional Blackmail“.
Misogynists: the need for a new category
Forward had started noticing a pattern with some women in her practice.
Several of them seemed to describe a type of abusive relationship with similar traits, but that didn’t fit the common profile of the usual personality disorders.
These men weren’t narcissists.
Contrary to narcissists, they could love intensively. And contrary to narcissists, their need was that of controlling, rather than being admired.
They were also different from sociopaths.
The destructive and value-taking behavior wasn’t generalized, but very focused towards their partner only.
He was also able of loving. As a matter of fact, his love was often particularly intense.
They weren’t sadists either.
These men felt both threatened and enraged by the same pain they were causing.
Psychological & verbal abuse more than physical abuse
The misogynist is usually not a batterer, but use psychological and verbal forms of control and abuse.
The myth of masochism
Forward says that the concept of masochism has been overblown in terms of its actual incidence, and it’s been wrongly used to label victims who were everything but masochists.
None of the women she cured were masochists, and none of them enjoyed pain.
Yes, many of them were emotionally attached to their partners, and some of them had trouble letting go. But none of them enjoyed the pained -they joined therapy to get rid of the pain, after all (note: that also makes Forward’s own sample self-selected, and thus not a great sample to generalize when it comes to the topic of masochism)-.
Reject the abuse, or you participate in it
The woman’s acquiescence to abuse is the crucial element that allows for the abusive relationship to develop in the first place.
Once she accepts an attack on her self-worth and permits herself to be demeaned, she has opened the door for future assaults.
Misogynists only stick with women who put up with it
I loved this example of a higher-quality, more assertive woman, who dropped the misogynist as soon as he started his abuse:
He decided I’d tipped the cabdriver too much and started screaming at me in the middle of the street. I don’t know why he thought he could get away with that kind of stuff. I told him I wasn’t going to put up with that kind of treatment and that if he pulled that again I was going to leave. Well, then he was sweet as pie for a day or two, and then he did it again. So I left.
That’s how to properly use assertiveness to stop abuse early on.
Traits of misogynist relationships
Some of the traits of misogynist relationships include:
- A sense of desperation
Both partners often crave emotional attachment. The misogynist can have a desperate need to bind the other person to him.
- The woman as the savior
Women who pair up with troubled misogynists can come to believe that they can “save them” through the power of their love and support.
It enables the woman to see herself as a goddess, earth-mother, and healer.
Also read the best book on this topic: “women who love too much“.
- The first “incident”
The first instant of abuse usually happens over a minor event. The woman is left incredulous that such a seemingly good man could get so angry and aggressive. Usually, the woman wants to believe it’s all OK, and she will pretend “it never happened”.
- Abuse begins in earnst with committment
The outbursts are sporadic until the relationships enters a milestone, such as committment, moving in, or marriage.
Then, abuse becomes a mainstay.
The Toxic “Unspoken Contract”
This is the unspoken contract between the man and woman:
- Woman: my emotional security depends on your love (and I’ll renounce my wishes to get it)
- Man: my emotional security depends on being in total control (and I will become abusive and nasty to control you)
He has to win & control at all costs
All relationships entail some power struggles.
But in normal and good relationships, partners negotiate.
What usually happens, is that the partner for whom something is less important, concedes to the partner who cares most about that issue.
But in the misogynist relationship, the power struggle is constant, and he always wants to win and control.
He’s always angry because total control is impossible
Since total control over another human being is impossible, the misogynist is angry and frustrated most of the time.
Psychological abuse is as bad as physical abuse
Forward says that some women find solace saying “at least he doesn’t hit me”.
But she says that the result is the same.
Her reply is:
The result is the same. You are just as scared, you feel just as helpless, and you are in just as much pain. What difference does it make whether the weapon is his fist or his words?
As a matter of fact, that type of thinking will only keep her stuck is an abusive relationship for longer.
The Tools of Abuse
Among the tools of abuse:
- Implied threat: hitting is not necessary when the fear of physical abuse can achieve the same
- Unrelenting criticism: including “fault-finding”
- Denial: denying the abusive incident even happened
- Rewriting history
- Shifting the blame: if he behaves badly, it’s only because of her (and for the abusive relationship to proceed, the woman must accept that she is indeed to blame)
- Isolation: the misogynist seeks to restrict the people allowed in her life to only those who support his worldview and his controlling goals
- Financial control: there are two types of misogynists, the “good provider”, and the one who’s always broke. If he’s a good provider and stays at home, he is likely to use her financial dependency as a tool for control
Also read more in:
Misogynists see children as rivals for household control (& woman’s love)
Some misogynists resent children because they make it harder for him to control her.
And some misogynists resent children because they want their partner’s full and undivided attention.
Says Susan Forward:
No matter how many children there are, he gets to be the Number-One Kid.
See a real-life example here:
Some misogynists want her full attention because they didn’t get enough motherly love, so now they seek it from her female partner.
And some other misogynists can attack her maternal adequacy and skill as a way of demeaning her.
Why women stay with misogynist
Relationships with misogynists can be intense and confusing.
Some of the reasons why some women stay stuck in them:
- The love hook / addiction: most often than not, it’s not real love, but addiction generated by the intensity of the abusive up and downs
- Looking for the “magic key”: the on and off and alternation between love and abuse can lead women to believe that there must be some secret formula to make things always good, and that she can find it. But there are no magic keys
- The hope hook: the hope, or better, the “fantasy” that things can change and that he can finally show her only love, without the abuse
- The collusion hook: when she believes that she is at fauls, she effectively joins him in her own abuse. Also see “Codependent No More“
- Stockholm Syndrome: developing positive feelings for those same people who abuse us. See this example
- Fear: fear is expressed in many ways, from fear of not finding another man, to fear of divorcing, to fear of a drop in living standards, to fear of dating again
Misogynists Are Fearful
To begin with, Forward says that misogynist’s abuse is a covert up for his tremendous anxiety about women.
Like everyone else, the misogynist needs to feel emotionally loved, and safe.
But his normal needs to be close to a woman are mixed with fears that she can hurt him emotionally.
He harbors a hidden belief that if he loves a woman, she will then have the power to hurt him, to deprive him, to engulf him, and to abandon him.
He comes to believe that he is as dependent on his partner as he was on his mother. Inherent in his fear of this dependency is the equally dreadful fear that she will leave him.
So to assuage his fears, the misogynist seeks to make the woman too dependent, and too powerless, to ever hurt him.
If he can totally control her, if he can strip of her self-esteem, he will be safe.
How Men Learn to Hate Women
- His mother was too powerful mother
In adjusted families, the mother is the primary source of comfort, while the father helps him pull away.
But in the misogynist’s household the father is either too frightening, or too passive, so the boy remains too dependent on the mother.
The mother becomes too powerful, and he views his partner in the exact same way: an overly powerful figure that can frustrate him, command him, make him feel weak, or hurt him.
- His father was a misogynist
When the father was an abusive tyrant and the mother was weak, the boy sees two options: be weak like mother, or a tyrant like the father.
Some boys choose the tyrant path, and become abusers.
- His father was abusive
This might seem counterintuitive, but if the father was abusive, many boys can subconsciously blame the mother for not doing anything to protect them.
It’s also possible the wife of an abusive man seeks refuge in the children, or even ask for their support.
This puts the boy in an impossible position. He feels like he has this huge responsibility to defend the mother, but not being able to. The boy is supposed to count on the mother, not being called upon to rescue her. When his basic needs for support and protection are not met, he carries that pain and emptiness into adulthood.
Which leads us to the next point:
- He wasn’t properly mothered
He didn’t just forget about those needs: he took them into his adult life and particularly into his relationships with women. As an adult he expected women to meet his desperate need to be mothered in a way he never was as a child.
- He was mistreated by his mother
When the mother abuses or mistreats her children, the boy is betrayed by the person that was supposed to care for him the most. And he can grow to feel that all women are like that.
Being rejected or unloved also counts as mistreatment.
- He had a rejecting mother who made him hide his needs
A rejecting mother who makes him feel bad for his needs teaches him that it’s never OK to be vulnerable, and that his needs are shameful and unacceptable.
He may begin trying to cover up his vulnerability whenever he can. Many misogynists use bullying and macho behavior toward women to defend against these unacceptable feelings of vulnerability.
- He was suffocated by his mother
If the mother is overcontrolling or overprotecting, the boy can grow to resent the mother.
A girl can stay close to her mother while she finds her own identity, but a boy needs to pull away. If the mother is too involved and overprotective, the boy can feel helpless. When he grows up, he can come to view women as malevolent being out to rob him of his independence and masculinity. And that leads to endless power struggles.
The boy from suffocating mothers can also internalize the belief he can’t survive without the mother, and that he can project that sense of dependency onto all women in his life.
If the boy had a strong father figure, he could pull away from the mother, but dominan and suffocating women tend to pair up with more submissive men.
- He had weak father and dominating mother
If the boy grew up within a relationship where the mother would call all the shots and the father would never stand up to her, he can grow to believe that women are controlling and men cannot stand up to them.
That makes them overly sensitive to any different opinion or independence from women, which he interprets as a sign of her trying to dominate him.
Plus, these days, there is also the red pill to turn men into misogynists.
A man who switched from defensive misogynist to high-quality
I like this example of a man who went through therapy, learned, and made himself a better, higher-quality man:
Ben found, to his amazement, that the woman she became was far more fascinating and exciting than the woman he’d tried to make her into.
In our last session he told me: Before, all I wanted was somebody who wasn’t going to leave me. The worst thing I could think of was that if she could stand on her own two feet she could also go. But now that I feel better about myself I’m not so afraid anymore. She’s finished school and has a job, and to tell you the truth, I’m damned proud of her. She’s not this dependent little girl anymore. She’s more like a real person. She stands up for herself, and you know what? I like it! She’s more fun. She’s alive and she’s interesting. I tell you, I’m more in love with her than I’ve ever been.
How women learn to love women-haters
The main reason why women stick with abusers and women haters is this:
- They have a negative view of themselves
The damaged self-image that they sometimes carried from childhood predisposes them to abuse.
- Childhood abuse
Including fathers who blamed children for their own insecurities (scapegoating), or who placed too high demand, and then showed all their disappointment when the child failed to meet them.
In her psychoanalytic interpretation, Forward says that “the drive to repeat the familiar combined with the equally powerful drive to make it come out better creates a trap into which many women fall”.
To better understand this dynamic, also read “how low self-esteem predisposed to abuse“.
- High drama family
She grows up believing that fighting and drama are the only “normal” ways to be in a relationship.
She has more power (but doesn’t know it)
She actually has more power than her partner, because he is far more dependent on her than she is on him. She just doesn’t realize it.
She says that his fear of abandonnment and his need to be in total contrl make him a paper tiger.
Get out of a misogynist relationships
While women hope things get better, in reality they usually get worse.
Staying in the relationship is bad for you.
And if you want to stay for the children, it’s bad for them as well, since it teaches boys to become misogynists, and it teaches girls to accept abuse.
The steps Forward recommends:
- Recognize you have the choice to behave differently: keep behaving the same way, but recognize that you have the final say on how to behave
- Write down all labels he uses: then, write next to each one of them a different adjective that better represents you
- Use paradoxical therapy: imagine you telling your partner that they are right to abuse you, because you are worthless, go on your knees, thank them for all they do to you. Then, realize this is exactly what you’re doing with your behavior
- Imagine your partner behave and saying what he says to you, to someone else: this helps you realize what he does and say is not “normal”, and that since you wouldn’t accept that behavior on someone else you like, you also cannot accept it for yourself
- Change the way you see him: stop making excuses and start to truly see his behavior for what it really is
- Use your anger positively, instead of repressing it
- Remind yourself of your power: he needs you as much, and very likely more, than you need him
- Learn assertiveness
- Be careful: when he realizes his methods are not working with you, it’s possible the abuse will escalate before it disappears. That might mean some abusers can get violent. If that’s the case, get away. But some abusers can react with self-destruction or with pleading, tears, and begging. The goal is the same: to stay, and make you submit again
Should you leave?
Most misogynists don’t want to improve, and they don’t even want to get into therapy. A minority will, but don’t count on being the exception.
As a rule of thumb, it’s always better to end abusive relationships.
To decide whether to leave or not, read “should I end the relationship?“.
- Using her sexual drives to label her as “disgusting”
Jim used Rosalind’s sexual desires as weapons against her. Because her needs were different from his, he labeled them “disgusting.”
I once dated a woman with a healthy sexual appetite whose ex-boyfriend labeled her as “disgusting” and “weird” for masturbating or for using the water pressure out of the showerhead to orgasm.
But, says forward, what distinguishes the misogynist is a deep aversion towards women’s bodies.
- Sexhaolics use sex for control
Said one guy to her partner: “The only time I feel I have you is when I’m in you.”
Sexhaolics use sex either to escape life tensions, for example before going to work or to release tension coming back from work, or as a tool for control, as the guy from the quote above.
Eventually, women in a relationship with a sexhaolic will feel like an object.
- The misogynist believe women are untrustworthy
Says Susan Forward:
The misogynist’s underlying suspiciousness seems to come from a fear that women are “only out for what they can get.”
- “I’m better because of social background” power move
I found this example interesting when it comes to relationship power dynamics:
Gerry constantly reminded Paula that her family and background were inferior to his. He told her that because his father was a professor and hers was an electrician, she was low-class and he wasn’t. He couldn’t stand to spend time with her family because they were such “uncultured, ignorant people.”
- Misogynysts justifie affairs saying that “the woman would do the same”
I paraphrase for brevity:
Many misogynists who are having extramarital affairs assume their partners are doing the same. The more guilty the man feels, the more he needs to project that guilt onto his partner. By doing this he makes her the “bad” one. These affairs usually don’t change the misogynist’s desperate need to hold on to his partner.
- The “strong woman paradox”
This is the woman who is fully independent, possibly successful and high power in her work, only to revert to helpless child in her relationship. This was the case for Susan Forward herself actually, who realized she was in an abusive relationship with a misogynist while she cured women in a similar situation.
She’d run her successful clinic, then walk back home, and start feeling scared and helpless right before getting back home.
Idealization is a double-edged sword. It feels wonderful and flattering, but it also blinds a woman to the fact that she’s doomed to fail.
On not the necessity of early assertiveness:
I tell women all the time that you can’t afford to give Hitler Poland.
On “rescuing” unstable and irresponsible men:
Unstable, irresponsible people do not get rescued; they continue to fail over and over again, and often they wind up hating their rescuers for making them feel even weaker.
On being attracted VS staying:
Any woman can be attracted to a misogynist. Being attracted to a misogynist is not the problem. Staying and accepting abuse for long periods of time is!
- Sometimes too much on socialization/nurture side instead of nature
Sometimes it feels like Forward discounts the role of nature and genes in favor of socialization.
Women learn these behaviors early, and are consistently rewarded and praised for them. The paradox here is that the behaviors that make a woman vulnerable to mistreatment are the very ones she has been taught are feminine and lovable.
- Can lead to confuses common male behavior for misogyny
Like many misogynists, Jeff saw affection and caressing as time-consuming and unnecessary once he’d “won” his woman. Foreplay became something to rush through to prepare Nancy for the main event—intercourse.
That’s how many behave, and that does not necessarily make all of them misogynists.
I know Forward didn’t mean to say “every man who rushes is a misogynist”, but it can lead to confusion.
- Sometimes Freudian
Some analyses were good, and potentially true. Yet, also untested and very “Freudian”.
It might seem that a man who had a suffocating mother and who feels the need to control women would be drawn to a partner who is the exact opposite of his mother. However, what often happens is that this man becomes magnetically attracted to a strong woman and then tries to weaken her. What he is doing is trying to rewrite the old family script to make it come out better. If he can control a powerful woman, he can prove to himself that he is more of a man than his father was. He will win the battle that his father was afraid to fight.
That is very possibly true… In some cases, at least.
But it at least needed a note that it’s not science and it’s not proven.
Some other passages were pure “psychologizing” and “psychoanalyzing”, and in my opinion lowered the quality of an otherwise excellent book.
- Exaggerates social bias
The author says that our society promotes the abuse of women.
I found that not to be true.
She also implies that pornography incites misogyny and/or cruelty, and I also found that not to be true.
- Warns of male therapist bias, but not of female therapist biases
The author says that some male therapists have a male bias in their approach.
Probably true, and she could have mentioned that some women, as well as some men, have a pro-female bias (Smith, 2017).
- Sometimes misunderstands human nature, makes nonsense justifications
Writes Forward about a man who had sex with female patients in his practice:
In his work as a psychologist, he was able to gain power and control over many of his female patients by having sexual relations with them. This was one of the ways in which he attempted to deal with his longings for comfort from a woman.
So he banged a bunch of women using his influence and power position, and he did that to “deal with his longings for comfort”?
“Men Who Hate Women” is the best book I have read on misogyny and abusive relationships with a misogynist.
Recommended not just to women, but also to men with a tendency to dislike or distrust women. It can help them uncover -and get rid- of some of the dormant and childhood issues that predispose them to dislike and distrust women.