Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them: When Loving Hurts And You Don't Know Why
By Susan Forward, Ph.D., Joan Torres
What Makes Families So Important
When we are children our families lake care of our basic survival needs; they are also our first and most important sources of information about the world. It is from them that we learn how to think and feel about ourselves and what to expect from others. Our emotional foundations are created by the ways in which our parents treated us, the ways in which they treated each other, the kinds of messages their behavior communicated to us, and the ways in which we handled that information internally.
Young children believe that their powerful, important parents have a monopoly on truth and wisdom. Therefore, whatever a parent says must be right and true. When a parent makes a judgment about a child's basic worth, this opinion becomes fact in the child's impressionable mind. If parents let their children know that they are good, valuable, and lovable, they will develop a view of themselves that is positive and solid. They will expect good treatment from others because they will believe they deserve it.
But if a child's early treatment teaches her that she is bad, inadequate, worthless, and unlovable, she will find ways to set up her life that support this view.
The negative self-images that some children develop carry through into adulthood. As I looked for a common denominator among the women I worked with who were with misogynistic partners, I found that they all carried with them from childhood a profoundly negative view of themselves. It was this damaged self-image, more than any other factor, that set these women up to accept abusive treatment from their partners.
While our self-images are developing, we are also learning, through identification with our mothers, what it means to be a woman and how women are supposed to behave with men. Our fathers, on the other hand, are our first references for how men behave and how they treat women. In addition, our parents' interactions with each other provide our first and most important picture of how couples behave together. No film, television program or school primer is a more powerful teacher than our daily exposure to our parents' marriage. As children we don't realize that there are many other ways of conducting a marriage. Our parents' marriage becomes the model on which our future views of male-female relationships are based.
One of the ways we learn from our parents is by receiving messages from their behavior. The word message in this sense relates not to direct verbal communications between the parent and the child but to the child's interpretation of her parents' behavior and statements.
Cultural Support for Women's Dependency
Society has traditionally reinforced the idea that girls are inferior to boys, that girls can't take care of themselves, and that women need men lo take care of them. We've all seen men portrayed in the media as stronger, more competent, and smarter than women, while women are often portrayed as highly emotional, indecisive, scatter-brained, passive, illogical, manipulative, and even malevolent. Such stereotypes further damage a young girl's ability to see herself as a strong and worthwhile person.
Coupled with these views is the disparity between the accomplishments for which boys are admired and those for which girls are admired. While girls may be praised for their manners and appearance, boys are often praised for academic achievement and physical strength, Girls may also be discouraged front exploring and mastering life and encouraged instead to develop skills to manipulate others to negotiate in the world for them. What these girls are getting are lessons in helplessness.
Even after we grow up, many of us continue to believe that we have little control over our lives. We may see others as the decision-makers in our lives and come to view life as something that happens to us. This belief system, reinforced by childhood identification with mothers who model extreme dependency and helplessness, sets many women up for abusive marriages.
"Do What I Say, Not What I Do"
It is behavior, not words, that has the greatest impact on a child. When a mother tells her daughter not to allow a man to control her or abuse her and then models the opposite in her own relationship with her husband, the girl will respond only to the behavioral message, not to the verbal one.
Paula, who was a successful commercial artist before she married Gerry, told me that her mother had encouraged her in the pursuit of a career and had supported her emotionally as well as financially:
My mother was an accomplished artist and was starting to have some financial success with her work. But my father picked on her about it constantly. He'd stand over her shoulder while she was painting and sneer, "You're no Picasso, dear." When I was 14, she quit painting altogether. When I asked her why, she said, "What's the point if Daddy doesn't like it?" Here she was, always telling me how important it was for me to have my own interests and to do the things I wanted, no matter what anyone said, and yet she was giving up her painting because Dad didn't approve. I was furious at her.
The message that Paula received was, It's important for you to he your own person and have a career and success, but I'm not allowed to do that. Later, in Paula's marriage to Gerry, she was quick to abandon her career when he became critical of her work. "I guess it was more important to have his approval than it was to continue," she told me. Despite her mother's verbal support for Paula's professional success, Paula responded to the more powerful effect of seeing her mother abandon her own career.
Even when a woman is able to free herself from this type of role modeling by her mother and to achieve financial independence, she may still view herself as inferior and allow herself to be subjected to psychological abuse by her partner. Both Rosalind and Laura provided good examples of this. As I pointed out in The Paradox of the Powerful Woman, a woman may be a fully independent adult in her business or professional life, and still react as a helpless child in her most intimate relationship.