We asked a psychologist why men are put off by strong women
There’s no evolutionary reason, it’s just societal
by Helena Baron
Over the last century there have undoubtedly been huge advances in equal rights for women: from the suffrage movement to divorce laws and birth control – the female population has certainly become more independent and empowered. Nevertheless, it is now 2016 and there are still problems in all corners of society leave women with the short straw.
A clear indicator of the still very prevalent disparity between men and women is the fact that there are a mere seven women CEOs in the FTSE’s top 100 companies. And whilst facts like this are often put down to any number of ‘PC’ reasons, the frighteningly obvious sexism and misogyny we see day-to-day in the streets and on the TV, thanks to the likes of Donald Trump, cannot be dismissed so easily. One of the reasons sexism is so intrinsic in society is the idea that some (but definitely not all) men are still intimidated by, or wary of, a strong, independent woman. We talked to psychologist Emma Citron, to find out more about this mentality, and how people’s perspectives might be changing.
Why do some men sometimes feel intimidated by ‘strong’ or ‘independent’ women in their lives?
It’s very hard to talk generally, because we’ve got as many different types of men as we’ve got different types of women, societies, cultures, and communities. I think that [a trigger] that can upset some guys some of the time is when a woman is perhaps perceived as emasculating them in some way, putting them in their place, making them feel small, even if that isn’t the intention, but that is the way they feel. That can be a trigger for anger and aggression, and that can come out in sexist language, as it can come out in racist language and behaviour – it’s a similar trigger, there’s no excuse for it, it’s not different to racism.
My experience in my clinic [is that] if they have issues in their lives now or in the past that resulted in anger that they haven’t dealt with, (bullying at school is a very common source, as is witnessing psychological or physical domestic abuse), they’re going to be more likely to enact bullying behaviour within the workplace or family or elsewhere.
In what ways can we see this attitude in day to day life?
Language has typically been derogatory when it comes to successful women: they’re sassy, they’re pushy, they’re aggressive, where a similar stance taken by a man would be seen as go-getterish, a successful, career-minded, “good on him”, go-all-the-way-guy. I think people try very hard now to be more politically correct, but, certainly as a woman, I think it’s fair to say one still very frequently senses and picks up on these prejudices.
What, in your opinion, is at the root of this issue? Is it at all biological, or purely an effect of growing up in this society?
There’s no evolutionary basis for this, this is societal. Obviously women have babies, that is a fact. But even that is changing, we might get two fathers making a baby soon. The long and short is that it’s all societal, it’s changing and evolving [to use that word], but part of evolution for humanity is within societal and cultural norms, and these are the most strong influences. I would say, on our “evolution”. I’m sort of “fudging” this distinction between biology and society, and saying that there’s a hugely interactive process going on. And for humans, a huge proportion of change is societal and cultural.
How do you think these prejudices can be corrected? Is it something that is already changing?
It’s the classic thing that we would say to our daughters – it’s their problem. Yes, we must address it and combat it, but actually it’s not because of anything you are or anything you can be, or you should aspire to or you’ve done. It’s standing up to bullying, basically, on some level. It’s within the bullying framework. Obviously, to make the point, women can do and do do this to men too: “what kind of a man are you?”, “man up”, all these expressions – women can also bully men!
[Referring back to having same-sex, biological parents in the future]: Because of huge advances and strides that change every month in fertility medicine, I think our concepts of men and women [are changing]. And with the surge in obvious transsexualism and transgenderism, our very concepts of sexuality and gender are hugely different to what they were even five years ago, I would say.
So that is our reality, and it’s something that’s going to take a long time to change, if ever, I mean I like to be optimistic, I like to think that we will all have equal access, and equal pay gaps and better part-time opportunities etc.