A client recounted a story to me the other day about an issue she had at work. A female peer my client was tasked to work on a project with stalled the scheduling of a time to do the research and work. After several requests by my client, her peer told her she had already completed the project and handed it in. Dismayed by how this made her look, she went to discuss it with her boss. She was as objective as she could be when presenting the issue, trying hard not to put her peer in a negative light. Her boss, also a woman replied, “I know what your problem is. You’re jealous of her because she is younger and prettier than you are.” My client was shocked silent, leaving her bosses office humiliated.
Misogyny—Not Just a Male Thing
We’ve all heard of misogyny. It is the hatred of or hostility toward women. While we mostly associate misogynistic behavior with men, what we don’t realize is that it as pervasive (if not more) in women than it is in men. It’s covert so it is notoriously hard to spot when you are not looking for it. In women, it often comes fueled by envy and frustrated ambition. Worst of all, female self-hatred is still rampant, leading to low self-esteem and adaptive, low assertive behavior.
Misogyny is typically an unconscious envy of and hatred toward women that is planted in the formative years. Denial of the natural power of the feminine by the women and men in early life causes girls to deny and destroy it as adults. In most cases, misogynistic women do not even know that they hate or are being aggressive toward themselves and other women.
In my practice and personal life, I constantly hear stories of how badly women get treated by other women if they are smart, beautiful, talented or ambitious. I also hear stories of how women allow men to behave toward them, even when they are the primary breadwinner. Worst of all, the prevalence of women’s self-loathing undermines authentic female power and authority, causing them to act more like men or like second class citizens.
Blaming Men Instead of Understanding the Female Brain
While we often look to men as being the culprit for women’s lack of equality, we need to look at role that women and the female brain play in the perpetuation of female misogyny. We need to understand how the brain of women is wired and the unconscious drivers of behavior that are causing barriers to success. In particular, women need to feel entitled to equal opportunities, and stop blaming men for being a barrier to their success.
Facts About the Female Brain
Women Listen with Both Sides of the Brain
Women constantly respond to what is being communicated both emotionally and rationally. Researchers, using brain-imaging technology that captures blood flow to “working” parts of the brain, analyzed how men and women process language. All subjects listened to a novel. When males listened, only the left hemisphere of their brains was activated. The brains of female subjects, however, showed activity on both the left and right hemispheres. This means that women are more likely to be influenced by how they and others feel. They are pulled off course and are hijacked by their emotions more than men get.
Women’s Brains are Wired to Internalize Aggression
As a result, they don’t naturally act or react aggressively when playing to win. A study from the University of Pennsylvania recently discovered that sections of the brain used to control aggression and anger responses are larger in women than in men. Women who show their anger have long been devalued by their female and male peers, accused of PMSing, called a bitch or simply told to stop being so emotional (with a collective role of the eyes). Women often don’t prepare themselves for this type of devaluation, get embarrassed and go quietly self-protective instead.
Women’s Brains Respond More Strongly to Negative Emotions and Produce More Negative Emotions
They respond more strongly to negative emotional stimuli and are more likely to personalize and react to competitive or devaluing behavior and aggressive tactics than men.
They are Afraid of Upsetting or Angering Their Peers or Boss
Women adapt to what men expect them to be like rather than behaving authentically and risking negative emotional responses. Studies show that women suffer more than men suffer and have more difficulty staying optimistic. Their energy goes into resolving the emotional issues (trying to figure out how to prove themselves and get men and other women to accept them) and being self-protective rather than staying focused on objectives.
Women have Difficulty Using Their Legitimate Power
As women have often been on the abusive side of power resulting from historical practices in regard to finances, education, roles of authority and decision making, they have difficulty holding their power and value with men. Female leaders are criticized, especially by other women, for being assertive, dominant, decisive, ambitious and self-promoting, (behaviors associated with men). Women still try to temper themselves by behaving in stereotypical ways (i.e. empathetic, supportive, indirect, understanding and friendly.) They don’t assert their power for fear of the negative reaction they receive.
Women Don’t Feel Entitled to Be at the Table
Many women behave as though men have more value because men are naturally more self-promoting. Women still wait to be given the same rights and opportunities that men have rather than assuming they already have them. Many women who are on boards or in senior leadership roles feel as though they are privileged to be there even though they have worked twice as hard as their male counterparts for the role. Fear causes many women to devalue their abilities and inflate those of men. Women don’t ask for what they want, aren’t prepared to walk away when treated badly or say no to doing menial tasks (making coffee or taking notes) when serving on boards.
Conditioned to Help Men
Women help men; men help men. Women are not as supportive of other women when they reach the top. One research study suggests that, when there are a few women at the executive level, they are compared to one another. This leads to competition between them. Women are compared to one another as though the competence of one reflects on the other. (This is not done amongst men.) Women are afraid of being accused of favoring women and over-compensate by holding them to a higher standard or criticizing them publicly. They make little to no effort to help other women join them at the top.
Woman need to wake up and understand how their self-critical behavior and their enabling of men are the lethal combinations that perpetuate a misogynistic society. When women understand how their brain is organized to function and the natural predispositions that lead to undermining behaviors that get in the way of living from their authentic feminine authority. Negative self-talk, denial, convincing oneself that you really don’t want what you actually have a burning ambition to achieve are all ways that women get in their own way. Expecting less from partners and male children also adds to the fallacy that it is men that are misogynistic and women are victims.
Dr. Dranitsaris is a brain-based therapist and behavioral change expert with more than 30 years experience in the field of psychotherapy, leadership and personal development. She works with individuals, couples, and families to help them understand their personality, needs and emotions. She helps change dysfunctional patterns of behavior, thinking or emotions in addition to treating anxiety, depression, impulse control, eating disorders, and relationship and family issues. Dr. Dranitsaris uses a combination of psychodynamic, cognitive and mindfulness approaches, to build self-esteem and change emotionally driven behaviors that gets in the way of satisfying relationships and careers.
A prolific and frequently cited writer on a broad range of topics on behavioral dysfunction, emotional intelligence and personality styles, Dr. Dranitsaris has been featured in a number of magazines including O, the Oprah Magazine and O’s Little Guide to Finding Your True Purpose. She is the co-author of the popular book on the Striving Styles “Who Are You Meant to Be – A groundbreaking, step-by-step approach to identifying and achieving your true potential” and of more than 70 individual books on personality type. Anne is currently working on her upcoming book, Stop Being at the Mercy of Your Codependent Brain, due to be released in September, 2017.