Women don’t always help themselves against misogyny


Misogyny is not just a guy thing. A recent column explored how the current abortion debate exposes deep-rooted misogynistic attitudes to Irish women’s health and rights. To my surprise, many of the hundreds of responses assumed that misogyny is just about men’s distrust of women.

While this is certainly true, most women are also misogynistic without realising it. In fact, female misogyny is more insidious because it perpetuates society’s overall negative attitudes and behaviour towards women. Since about the 2nd century BC, women have internalised these attitudes and allowed misogyny to control their lives.

Women have absorbed the idea that they are not okay, thus contributing to their own oppression. Women are just not good enough unless they conform to male, and therefore society’s, views about how they should look, behave and think.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), perpetrated by women on young girls, is an extreme example of misogyny. This crime is carried out because females are not accepted by men and some societies unless they have been mutilated.

More than 3,000 women living in Ireland are victims of this practice which has been criminalised by the Criminal Justice (FGM) Act 2012. Anyone carrying out FGM in Ireland or removing a girl to another country for the purpose of FGM can be jailed for up to 14 years.

The clothes women wear are dictated by female misogynistic attitudes, with some women wearing almost no clothes and others covering themselves head to foot burka-style.

Children’s clothes are bought by misogynistic women who think it is okay to dress little girls in sexualising garments (so that they will grow up to be attractive to men), whereas boys wear play-friendly T-shirts and shorts.

Plastic surgery performed for non-medical reasons, such as boob jobs, buttock lifts, liposuction and body modification surgery, are requested by women because they have internalised the belief that they are not okay as they are.

Other examples of female misogyny include feelings of resentment about maternity leave, bottle-feeding and smugness about staying home to mind their children.

While clothing, attitudes to maternity leave, childcare and plastic surgery may seem trivial misogynistic practices, they contribute to the problem of violence against women.

When women think their choices are not okay, or they have to adapt these choices to suit male and therefore society’s views of how women should be, they set themselves up for men to treat them badly.

A June 2013 report from the World Health Organisation, Global and Regional Estimates of Violence against Women: Prevalence and Health Effects of Intimate Partner Violence and Non-Partner Sexual Violence, concludes that “the evidence is incontrovertible – violence against women is a public health problem of epidemic proportions”.

This WHO report is the first global systematic review of the available data on the prevalence of violence against women. Findings show that overall, 36 per cent of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence and non-partner violence perpetrated by family members, friends, and acquaintances.

In some countries, two-thirds of women experience violence every day. The 2012 Women’s Aid annual report published last week estimates that one in five Irish women experiences violence and abuse from an intimate partner.

The report makes clear that intimate partner violence includes emotional abuse, such as being humiliated and insulted and controlling behaviours such as not being allowed to see family and friends. As there is no agreement among countries on measures of emotional/psychological partner abuse, prevalence rates are not included in the report but it can be estimated that at least half of all Irish women experience emotional and psychological abuse on an ongoing basis.

Women who have been abused report much higher rates of chronic health problems. Apart from physical and sexual injuries, they are twice as likely to experience depression, anxiety, psychological trauma and PTSD.

They are also much more likely to have alcohol use disorders, low-birth-weight babies, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, irritable bowel disease and chronic pain.

How do people know if they are secret misogynists? Attitudes to maternity leave and childminding are good indicators. If men or women feel even slightly resentful about maternity leave or believe mothers are mainly responsible for child-minding, then they are misogynists.

Whether we like it or not, these beliefs contribute to violence against women. It is time for women to start believing they are okay as they are and acting accordingly. This includes putting themselves forward for top banking jobs and politics so that the country is not run by testosterone.

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