27 September 2023

The devil we know: How to identify a misogynist, and what to do about him

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine* says there are certain behaviours that red flag a man as a misogynist — someone who believes women are lesser than men and despises them for it.

Photo: Ashley Jurius

Misogyny is a pervasive problem across many parts of the world.

So, why, when, and how is misogyny a problem?

Definition of misogyny

Misogyny is a hatred of women.

More specifically, a misogynist holds specific opinions about how women should act and be and hates them because they don’t conform to their rigid standards.

These standards often include women filling specific roles and duties, such as being wives and mothers and believing they are themselves inferior to men.

Sometimes confused with sexism, misogyny is a distinct term that describes an attitude rather than a behaviour.

In other words, misogynists are sexist, but not all sexist people are misogynists.

For example, someone who exhibits violent rage toward women, whether or not he has actually physically or psychologically attacked anyone, is a misogynist.

Meanwhile, someone who makes a sexist joke or reference is not necessarily a misogynist.

Misogyny also reflects a deeper and angrier attitude regarding women and a belief that they are inherently beneath men.

A misogynist is someone who holds the belief that women are lesser than men and despises women for this reason.

Common traits of misogynists

Sometimes misogyny is easy to spot, but other times, particularly when the person in question is someone close to you, the signs are more subtle.

Here some common behaviours misogynists exhibit.

While each individual behaviour does not necessarily signify that the person is a misogynist, it does warrant a woman being on her guard.

If a man displays several of these behaviours, you can consider them red flags.

  1. Mansplaining

A man who assumes a patronising tone when explaining a concept — often something about which you’re more familiar than he is — to you is an indication that he believes: a) he is more knowledgeable than you; and b) you need educating.

  1. Criticising women for behaviours tolerated in men

In any setting, someone who criticises a woman for behaviour he accepts or even lauds in men is a sign that he is unfairly biased against women.

  1. Possessiveness in relationships

Men who are misogynistic may display a strong need for control in relationships with women, romantic and otherwise.

He puts himself at the centre of the relationship, and focuses on his needs, not those of the other person.

  1. Displaying a competitive streak

Misogynistic individuals can be competitive with men but are even more so with women.

These individuals can be downright furious when women outperform them.

  1. Disparaging measures that promote equality

A misogynist frequently espouses negative reactions to and true anger about legislation and other measures taken to promote equality, such as affirmative action and the women’s rights movement, with no bearing on whether they actually affect him.

In fact, he may blame his own circumstances on his belief that women receive rewards they don’t deserve.

  1. Entitlement

Misogynists believe they are entitled to certain “things” from women — for example, that women owe them sex or loyalty.

  1. Dismissing a woman’s — or all women’s — opinions

A misogynist might value other people’s opinions, just not those of women.

He does not place any value in what a woman has to say and generally views her beliefs as irrelevant.

Misogyny in the workplace

In August 2017, James Damore, a senior software engineer at Google, wrote a memo criticising Google’s diversity initiatives, referring to “biological causes” as one reason women aren’t equally represented in the tech industry and leadership positions.

Damore was fired after the memo was leaked and outraged protestors shared it on social media.

This is just one example of misogyny in the workplace.

Casual, everyday sexism in a work environment is never justified, but when people exhibit misogyny in the workplace — cruel, harassing, or even violent behaviour toward women — they are turning your space into an intolerable and potentially unsafe environment.

Examples of misogyny in the workplace include:

  • Sexual harassment, which occurs when people make unwanted sexual advances, vocalise inappropriate sexual comments, or make offensive comments about a person’s gender.
  • Institutional sexism: Workplaces in which sexism is deeply embedded in the office culture, where one gender is favoured over another, receives different or special treatment and is implicitly (or explicitly) acknowledged as superior are examples of misogynistic work environments.

There are, of course, many other instances in which misogyny can occur in the workplace.

How to deal with a misogynist at work

Dealing with misogyny at work can be a challenge.

When the people with whom you work aren’t treating you with respect, your work environment can feel downright hostile.

So, how can you shut down disrespectful attitudes and conduct?

When it’s your boss

When a boss makes a misogynistic remark or behaves inappropriately, he is harming your working relationship and, in some cases, your ability to do your job.

  • Address it head-on: If your boss makes a blatantly misogynistic remark, addressing it when it occurs is the best way to make sure he takes note and knows it was wrong and hurtful. You might for example, repeat what he said back to him and ask, “Do you realise you just said that?” or “Do you understand why that’s hurtful?” Of course, if there are many other people in the room, you might prefer to be more discreet and speak to him privately.
  • Pull him aside: Pull your boss aside as soon as possible, so it’s still fresh in both of your minds. Explain why the comment was hurtful and offensive. If you’re addressing a pattern of behaviour, you might want to request a more formal meeting.
  • Go to HR: If your efforts to get through to your boss aren’t working, or if you’re uncomfortable speaking to him, your HR representative is your next stop. Make sure to bring any documentation of your manager’s offences and specific examples of when his behaviour occurred and made you uncomfortable.

When it’s a colleague:

  • Address it at the time or in private.
  • Talk to your boss.
  • Go to HR.

When it’s a client:

  • Address it.
  • Document it.
  • Avoid working with the client in the future.

If a client makes you uncomfortable due to misogynistic or other inappropriate behaviour, tell your supervisor that you don’t want to work with him in the future.

If this is not possible, request that a colleague or supervisor be present whenever you must interact with the client.

In all instances

  • Build a support system.
  • Follow workplace procedures.
  • File a complaint.

* Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a writer. She tweets at @Lauritaberl. Her website is lauraberlinskyschine.com.

This article first appeared at fairygodboss.com.

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