Do you want to destroy strong women?
October 1, 2009 11:19 AM   Subscribe

Is the inclination to "destroy strong women" common among men?

I have a friend who has done a lot of therapy and who has realised that he has a desire to "destroy strong women," which he claims is quite normal among men. I have never heard any friends of mine say this before (I would count myself among "strong women" and I would count his female friends in this category, too). This is an intelligent, emotionally honest person in an artistic field.

I wonder if such a person would actually (subconsciously?) act on such a desire, or if knowing it would prevent him from doing this. Obviously this is not something a person who doesn't know the individual can answer, so my question to the community is: Is this a common feeling among men? Or would you take this comment to be somewhat startling, as I did?
posted by adamfaux to Human Relations (70 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like he's repeating something his therapist said.
posted by box at 11:21 AM on October 1, 2009 [11 favorites]

I strongly admire strong women and I have no desire to destroy them.
posted by Mountain Goatse at 11:23 AM on October 1, 2009 [6 favorites]

Sounds like mommy issues for a guy who has spent a lot of time talking to a shrink. How prevalent one thinks this desire is probably depends on how much stock you put in Freud (though I am no psychologist). I'd be more worried about your friend proclaiming his revelations about his psyche than I would about this so-called desire.

But I'm not a strong woman, so YMMV.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:24 AM on October 1, 2009

Yeah, it sounds to me like there is a certain element of the power of suggestion here. I have never heard any man I know talk about having this desire and I don't believe I've seen it (as far as I can imagine it) in the people I interact with.
posted by zennoshinjou at 11:24 AM on October 1, 2009

This is psychobabble.
posted by phrontist at 11:24 AM on October 1, 2009 [28 favorites]

Is this a common feeling among men? Or would you take this comment to be somewhat startling, as I did?

Common as in do many men have fleeting subconscious fears of strong women? Probably.

Common as in do many men often have/act on these fears? No.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:25 AM on October 1, 2009

who has realised that he has a desire to "destroy strong women," which he claims is quite normal among men.

All messed up people think others are just like them. Racists think everyone is a racist. Assholes think everyone is rude. Theyre usually wrong.

Its also important to realize that all men are not alike, but that's a whole other issue.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:26 AM on October 1, 2009 [25 favorites]

This sounds like something one of my more disturbed and SNAG-y friends might have said in high school.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 11:26 AM on October 1, 2009

It's not the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard, but it's pretty high up there.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:29 AM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

If by 'destroy' you mean 'tied up and told what to do by a dom', then yes.

If not, then no...
posted by ZaneJ. at 11:30 AM on October 1, 2009 [6 favorites]

No, not at all and I would further find it to be utterly confusing. What the hell does he mean by "destroy?" Does he want to physically harm them? Emotionally? Ruin their morale and sense of self worth with verbal abuse?

Now... I do think there are men out there who are intimidated, feel encroached upon and generally threatened by strong women, and they can (and often do) act in the ridiculous manner you might expect. But are they a large majority and is it common for them to want to "destroy" them? Not to my eyes. I suspect your friend might be projecting his own feelings onto the common man in an effort to - even subconsciously - validate his own desires.
posted by Rewind at 11:31 AM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

While I agree with others that this sounds like therapy-speak, I think the phenomenon is real, but probably more aptly characterized as a form of sexism or misogyny. Some people are sexist or exhibit sexist behavior, but not all people. In other words, it would be unfair to make a generalization about how a group of people think or behave based on a select few, but the thing you're talking about exists.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:32 AM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well, when I look at the reaction some people (men and women) have towards someone like, say, Hillary Clinton, or Sonia Sotomayor (to name a few), it seems pretty clear to me that a lot of people react negatively towards assertive women. "Destroy" may be a strong word, but how many times have I read some commenter saying, "I want to slap Hillary Clinton"? Surely physical violence, even imagined physical violence, can be a method to bring someone down... to show them and the rest of the world that they are lower than you. If that is what the psychologist means then yes, I would say that this can be a common phenomenon, although certainly not a majority of men feel this way.

Perhaps your friend is, in a roundabout way, trying to apologize for or excuse some way he has been reacting towards you. Perhaps he talks about you behind your back or subtly tries to sabotage you in conversations? Or some other trick that he has come to realize is destructive?
posted by muddgirl at 11:35 AM on October 1, 2009 [9 favorites]

Why would you invite a random group of people with their own biases and flaws to play armchair psychologist and project onto some unrelated person's possibly erroneous summation of their own flaws and then act like it means something? You know and I know that this is an opportunity to let your own and others' insecurities off the leash in the guise of a question.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:35 AM on October 1, 2009 [7 favorites]

damn dirty ape: "All messed up people think others are just like them. Racists think everyone is a racist. Assholes think everyone is rude. Theyre usually wrong."

Yes! I knew some guys who would spout off some of the nastiest stuff. Their excuse is always, "well let's be honest— behind closed doors, everybody thinks like us. If they claim they don't, then they're lying to themselves."
posted by yaymukund at 11:35 AM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

If a man said to me "I used to want to destroy strong women, but I'm better now" then yes, I'd find that disturbing. Considering he probably got this from a shrink, 'destroy' is most likely not literal.

I've run across more men who respect strength in a woman than are scared by it. So if you're asking, do I think all men hate strong women, the answer is no. I wouldn't even say most men. And I definitely would think that any man (or woman) who wants to 'destroy' anybody has issues outside that person or group of people. So really, it would be an issue of that particular person and others with the same issues, not an entire gender. 9I hope that makes sense)
posted by caveat at 11:36 AM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is an intelligent, emotionally honest person

No. No, it's not.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:37 AM on October 1, 2009 [5 favorites]

I have a friend who has done a lot of therapy and who has realised that he has a desire to "destroy strong women,"

I think what your friend is unknowingly saying is that he is afraid of women--he's just not being honest with himself.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:38 AM on October 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think the urge to wrestle strong women is not uncommon amongst men, because, hey, wrestling is fun, especially if you do not have to worry overly about hurting someone. Destroy? Nah.

Unless the formulation of strong is actually a substitute for "domineering," then I could buy that. It leaves out the other half, which is the urge to destroy domineering men. People often dislike having a boot on their neck, and I don't think the plumbing of the person with the boot matters.
posted by adipocere at 11:39 AM on October 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

Strong man: assertive
Strong woman:aggressive
posted by hortense at 11:43 AM on October 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

It would be nice to have that idea "destroy strong women" clarified/expanded a bit. Which behaviors or thoughts was your friend and/or friend's therapist talking about?

I think that men (in general) feel uncomfortable or threatened around strong women/women in power (personally, I could see that come, as mentioned above, with Hillary Clinton and Sonia Sotomayor), and I know personally that (as a male) I have a stronger visceral reaction to women's anger, that I don't have to men's anger. Whether this translates to a desire to "destroy strong women", I'm not sure, you'd have to clarify.

In general, I think that males (and females) are conditioned societally to be fearful or mistrustful of women who have power or express self-determination. How this manifests itself in individual's behavior depends on the individual.

I also think that our society does more to prevent strong women from developing than it does to destroy them.
posted by baxter_ilion at 11:43 AM on October 1, 2009 [9 favorites]

What do 'destroy' and 'strong women' even mean? He wants to murder female body builders? He wants to subjugate women who have been given suffrage by their country? He wants to ruin the careers of successful women?

Seconding phrontist: This is psychobabble.
posted by mullingitover at 11:48 AM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Either your friend or his therapist is a dishonest fool.

Yes, misogyny is "normal" in the statistical sense, as in there are lots and lots of misogynists in the world. It is not "normal" in the clinical sense, as hating more than half of the human race because of their gender identity is not a sign of mental health.

Congratulations to your friend, or his therapist, for having come up with a seemingly clever way to justify unreasoning prejudice.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:58 AM on October 1, 2009 [4 favorites]

This isn't pyschobabble just because some people personally don't want to destroy strong women, and many people are taking the phrase quite literally. The therapist isn't suggesting your friend wants to tear strong women limb from limb, for god's sake.

There are certainly men who resent, with varying tones of rage, bitterness, fear and admiration, women who exhibit independence, anger, confidence, entitlement, rudeness etc. A lot of these men choose subdued partners, though certainly not all men who date quiet women do so because they despise loud, brassy ones. Some of those guys had overbearing mothers, or ones who were talked down to by their fathers. We live in a culture that is still deeply uncomfortable with female anger and aggression, where lots men (and women) consciously or subconsciously accept men who hit and yell and call people names but think a woman doing the same type of behavior is out of line.

Honestly, anyone with ears and a water cooler in their office must have an awareness of this hatred for strong women during the Democratic primaries. Don't tell me people brought back the c-word for Hillary Clinton because they despised opt-in health care.
posted by zoomorphic at 12:05 PM on October 1, 2009 [26 favorites]

yes, this sounds like a way of justifying his own bias - ie: "everyone's doing it"

I've no idea what the "theraputic" value of even recognizing that something like this is/could be common... the issue is whether it "works" for him in his own life - which I think most of us would say it does not/ should not... to bring in what other do is simply a way of saying "see others do it too... so I'm OK - I don't really need to change."

posted by Jiff_and_theChoosyMuthers at 12:09 PM on October 1, 2009

Seconding that this is something akin to psychobabble. What does "destroying strong women" even mean? I can't think of too many day-to-day situations where I'd have the opportunity or desire to "destroy" anyone, and I certainly wouldn't have my choice of genders in such a case. This sounds disingenuous at best.

If someone told you many women have the desire to destroy weak men, or strong men--or tall women with a weak personality--would that make any sense?

Personally, as a male, I enjoy the company of strong females and wish more women were strong. But I can't speak for anyone else.
posted by Phyltre at 12:09 PM on October 1, 2009

I also think some people are misinterpreting the use of "common". It seems like y'all may be reading it to mean "acceptable". I interpreted it the same way I'd interpret the sentence "HPV is a common infection" - doesn't mean we shouldn't fight to eradicate it.
posted by muddgirl at 12:10 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your comments so far. I think "destroy" was meant emotionally or intellectually, not physically. My friend and I only had one conversation on this subject and it was that sentence that struck me and has stayed with me, and in a follow-up conversation he said that surely he has known women to want to "destroy" men, and suggested couples he has known where the man has "no will of his own," which was presumably partly (in his estimation) the woman's desire.

This does sound like sexism to me. Certainly resentment.
posted by adamfaux at 12:11 PM on October 1, 2009

To build off Sidhedevil's response, I didn't get the impression from the post that the therapist was using the condition as an excuse, but rather a shorthand label for the problem shared by many young men.
posted by zoomorphic at 12:13 PM on October 1, 2009

In this context I think 'destroy' = 'knock down a notch'.
posted by jasondigitized at 12:15 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think he's trying to describe knee jerk reactionary backlash to feminism and failing.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:17 PM on October 1, 2009

This is psychobabble.

Sure, it's a strong term, but who's to say this guy doesn't have serious issues dealing with women in power? I'd absolutely say there is a pervasive, if latent, insecurity among (American) men regarding strong women- how often did we hear the words "Hillary" and "bitch" in the same sentence during the election? I don't think it's at all a stretch to consider that someone may sit at the more extreme end of that spectrum.
posted by mkultra at 12:18 PM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think that many people have varying levels of jealousy and resentment towards those that they perceive to be "better" (stronger, smarter etc) then them in some way. For many they take this and use it as motivation to improve themselves. Other go the other way and try to find ways to bring the other person down to their level.

These feelings are likely magnified if the "better" person falls into a class for which the underdog also has underlying prejudices (women, gay, different races).

I think this behavior is not uncommon.

I think most of us however have a much easier time dealing with these feelings and prejudices in socially acceptable ways. By that I mean that most of us can easily shrug off these feelings and not let them control our actions.
posted by bitdamaged at 12:24 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

My friend and I only had one conversation on this subject and it was that sentence that struck me and has stayed with me, and in a follow-up conversation he said that surely he has known women to want to "destroy" men, and suggested couples he has known where the man has "no will of his own," which was presumably partly (in his estimation) the woman's desire.

Yes. That is an accurate observation. There are domineering and even abusive people of all genders who treat their partners with disrespect.

The part I am differing with here is where your friend claims this is "quite normal." It is not normal, and your friend needs help (perhaps with a different therapist if his current therapist is encouraging this kind of self-justification).

Bullying and aggression are not normal or healthy parts of romantic relationships. BDSM and other power-exchange practices are not the same as bullying and aggression, because they are consensual agreements between partners. Dom(me)s do not want to "destroy" their subs; they want to engage in mutually satisfying rituals and behaviors that explore the sexual and erotic aspects of power. Bullies should not be dom(me)s, and dom(me)s should not be bullies.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:24 PM on October 1, 2009

As a female dominant, let me assure you that there are legions of men who desire strong women.
posted by desjardins at 12:25 PM on October 1, 2009

Mod note: few comments removed - the only way this thread can stay on the rails is if people keep their eye-rolling and taunting out of here - metatalk is an option for you, calling everyone in this thread names is not
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:37 PM on October 1, 2009

Hillary Clinton is an interesting example as there's a pretty good comparator for her: Bill. Were the attacks on Hillary worse and more vociferous? I'd argue Not Proven.

Were the forms of the attack different? Sure, but that's the way the orchestrators of these attacks work: caricature. Bill was made into a sleezy bubba, Hillary into an emasculating bitch (apologies, but that's the best thumbnail). Is it possible to show one is worse than the other? I doubt it. Caricature works best if it's nasty as possible.

Bill got a pretty raw deal for years, as does Obama now. I'd count put the attacks on Hillary of 2007 and 2008 as preemptive strikes by a well-organized political community against a presumptive nominee. When the nomination was settled, she was left alone and the attacks focused on Obama.

I doubt the argument that "all men want to destroy strong women" is proven at all by the HR Clinton case. I think that this is an incorrect conflation of a particularly poisoned political culture with gender-based discrimination, ultimately proving nothing.

Is the phenomenon of the post real? I dunno (but not particularly in my experience). Does misogyny exist? Indubitably. Does HR Clinton's political experience say anything about either? Too conflated with politics to tell, but I don't think so.
posted by bonehead at 12:45 PM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think a lot of men are unused to encountering strong women in professional situations (especially when the woman is the boss) and so there is a little uncertainty about how to interact with them.

Then again, there is a rapacious aspect to male interactions - life is a combination chess/polker game, and the object is to win. In order to win, you need to employ different tactics and different tools. You use some tools for competing against men, and those same tools and more when competing against women in the workplace. A woman's gender can be used against her, but all's fair in love and war, right?
posted by KokuRyu at 12:45 PM on October 1, 2009

What's his measure of a woman's strength? Bench presses? Articles published in peer-reviewed journals? Power to hire and fire? Sounds to me like typical male insecurity masquerading as insight.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:47 PM on October 1, 2009

In general, I subscribe to damn dirty ape's newsletter on this question. Otherwise intelligent, emotionally honest people fall into projection easily enough. Saying something is common is kind of the next door dysfunctional neighbor of saying a problem is really everyone else, not you.

So that kind of thing coming out of someone undergoing therapy may be incremental improvement.

On the other hand, "destroy strong women" may just be provocative hyperbole meaning "sexism" which is certainly more common than it would be in a better world. It may be a bit of psychobabble that resonated with him to realize a negative part of himself that he denied previously; people do like to latch onto those kinds of things that are tied to flashes of insight.
posted by Drastic at 12:50 PM on October 1, 2009

Mod note: please take HC sidebar to email if you're not answering the OPs question, thanks
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:13 PM on October 1, 2009

I would consider myself a strong woman (both intellectually and physically) and have encountered reactions ranging from reluctant respect to open admiration but never an intent to destroy.

I've heard similar comments from (young) people who were "wronged" in relationships and projected weird gendered power dynamics onto their experiences. I don't think such a belief actually persists for long.
posted by cranberrymonger at 1:21 PM on October 1, 2009

(Sorry, not trying to be cruel or age-ist - I am a young person myself. All I mean is that it's normal for young people to take extreme stances that sound shocking but such statements don't always indicate a true, abiding belief.)
posted by cranberrymonger at 1:23 PM on October 1, 2009

Here are my honest feelings on this. I don't speak for all men but I certainly feel I do speak for a CERTAIN population of men. I'm by nature, very mellow and introvert. But you get me into a competition (aka force my hand), people get really surprised by how type A I can get in a very quick time. I'm not talking about quick games. I'm talking about long term projects.

One scenario. Say, I'm in a class, and I score a 95 on the first test. Now, I consider that luck. Seeing, I'm by nature mellow, aka lazy. But someone will come along and label me a "genius" for my score. And then everyone has that impression of me. Now if I was rebellious, I would fail the next test on purpose. But I'm not. I'm very conformist. So once they've branded me a genius, I almost HAVE to get the highest grades on the tests from then on. I usually have.

Now, to women. You see... women have certain expectations of me. They do. Don't question me on this. I was raised in the third world where masculinity seems to mean something more than it does here. I live in the first world but socialize mostly with lower middle class and lower class citizens where such pro-masculine ideologies seem to perpetuate themselves the most. I also date women in this stratum. So generally, I've in some sense molded myself into a quasi-masculine archetype. I have a very athletic build. I read a lot. Still in school, but my future goals do involve acquiring certain leadership/management posts within my particular field.

Now... within my social environment, I have never met a woman who I can positively say matches me or does better than me in whatever I do. Outside my social environment, I do communicate online with women around my age who surpass me hands down in their breadth of knowledge.

The dilemma is. I've read the data. Women, even successful ones, tend to marry up. So naturally, socializing with a woman superior to me (and around my age) in a significant way feels a bit weird. I don't hate her. In fact, I typically think she looks down on me. This may be the case with some women. Maybe they do look down on me for "underachieving" Sometimes, I'm sure this doesn't cross their minds. But anyone who's been around people for long enough knows that optimism about other people's behavior/thoughts is for fools. Optimism should be reserved for situations you have direct control over. So I generally assume similar aged women who've achieved more kind of look down on me.

I mean.. I kind of look down on people my age who've accomplished significantly less. Not all the time. But I do it.

So naturally, I overachieve. It's peer pressure. I don't like being looked down upon. I don't want to destroy strong women; they're great competition. I actually feel more comfortable competing with strong women because there's usually a greater chance of cooperation. I never feel the need to strut my ego up on the pedestal.

A fellow male however, I kinda feel the need to "destroy" and de-masculinize. Not sure why. Double-standard?
posted by fairykarma at 1:29 PM on October 1, 2009

Is this a common feeling among men?

I don't know, I haven't met all men. Believe or not, there are differences between men (and women) based on culture, region, race etc. So saying "men" is just a hugely general statement, you know?

Or would you take this comment to be somewhat startling, as I did?

It all depends on the context and reasoning.

Frankly, this sounds like a you problem, not a him problem. You seem to be having trouble digesting the statement and perhaps assigning negative thoughts to him and all men based on this single statement. What's his life story, his background? Was he emotionally abused by a female authority figure or some such? Was there a terrible incident with girls when he was young or in high school? You don't say, you're just stuck on this single statement as if it's the end all and be all of not only him, but all men.

Over all, I think you should be happy for your friend for discovering this about himself and being willing to discuss it with you, a strong woman. This is probably just the beginning of him improving himself and that's awesome.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:34 PM on October 1, 2009

Yeah, I've met some men who want to knock women 'down a notch' or resent women in authority positions. So this doesn't sound crazy-- but it's certainly not all men.
posted by dragonette1 at 1:41 PM on October 1, 2009

People, including therapists, say goofy things in therapy that are not literally true. For example, I don't want to have sex with my mother. And this cigar here is actually a cigar.

If you've ever had therapy you know how goofy therapists can get. I can't tell you why they do this but I know they do.
posted by chairface at 1:42 PM on October 1, 2009

As a fairly strong-minded woman, my experience is that most men are not particularly interested in putting me or anyone else down. So I call shenanigans on your friend, at least for his choice of words.

I'd also venture to say that your friend hasn't dug deep enough yet; I'm suspicious that the "desire to destroy strong women", as he puts it, is indicative of something else, whether it's self esteem issues or whatever else.
posted by LN at 1:44 PM on October 1, 2009

I've met enough abusive men in my life to believe that the phenomenon is a real one - and I've known enough women on the receiving end of that behaviour to know it's a dangerous one.

In my experience, men who have that desire to destroy strong women are generally total control freaks who intentionally set out to undermine the confidence of women and to make those women dependent on their approval and validation - and they do tend to want to destroy anything which they can't control.

Is it common among men? It's common enough that society has put in place resources to cope with destructive behaviour by men towards women, and that it's fairly well recognised that these men become most destructive when faced with the loss of women over whom they've exercised control.

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that more men feel this way at least occasionally than ever openly admit to it - most of us tend to be somewhat cautious about expressing attitudes which are not politically correct or socially acceptable. That said, I've known plenty of women who have a similar attitude towards men - the only real difference is the methods by which they seek to destroy those they can't control.
posted by Lolie at 1:44 PM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

People, men in particular, have a strong desire to believe what they feel is "normal."
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:46 PM on October 1, 2009

I don't know how common this is, but my dad certainly has this desire. It has not made life very easy for my (strong) mother and sister or me. I attribute it to an assumption that all women are lesser than himself. When he encounters a woman who is better than him at something (smarter, more successful, better social skills, etc) it makes him feel threatened and defensive, which he expresses in violent and angry or passive-agressively undermining ways.
posted by JennyK at 1:48 PM on October 1, 2009

I've met enough abusive men in my life to believe that the phenomenon is a real one

It's real (and abusive women are real, too). But it's not "normal" in any sense except possibly a statistical one. Abusiveness in relationships is unhealthy, and any therapist who doesn't make that clear to a client is a shitty therapist.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:11 PM on October 1, 2009

You know, there are tons of misogynistic assholes out there. Tons of them. A lot of them just "cant stand chicks", and a lot of them are just plain assholes. Most of them, if not all, would not say "I want to destroy strong women" (especially out loud). This is all just my opinion based on my experiences.

What really makes my ears perk up is HOW IN THE WORLD DID THIS dude's therapist convince him to tell the world that he wants to destroy strong women?

1. He has some issues for which he is not getting help with.
Telling someone that he wants to destroy women...and that its common for many people to have it doesn't solve it. It makes it ok to want to destroy women. Thats just fucking idiotic. I've never even heard of this bullshit, and I read through most of the DSM-IV my frosh year of college.

2. His therapist is Rasputin(a).
posted by hal_c_on at 2:50 PM on October 1, 2009

Considering that this comes from a conversation with a therapist, most probably it is not "man against all strong women", but the dynamics that evolved between one man and woman/women he was involved with. I quite suspected this to be a routine happening in transitional points (defining the relationship, commitment, etc.) of romantic relationships. Some successful, career-minded men who outwardly declare they want a relationship of equals choose patient, nurturing, giving to the point of self-sacrifice women to be in relationships with but are seemingly unable to cope during these transitional phases, devise requirements on her personality/values/boundaries that are in conflict with her personality/values/boundaries (and thus were things that attracted the man to that particular woman to begin with). In essence what is being said here is: "I cannot continue loving you if you do not make this concession, if you do not compromise yourself on this particular point, and since were are in this transitional stage, it is your responsibility to make a correct decision". This sabotages the relationship, and dissolution is often blamed on the woman.

As I say, I suspected this, never heard or read of it in psychological literature. On the other hand, both women and men report having "lost their self", having their identity/beliefs severely harmed, or not knowing who they are in the aftermath of emotionally abusive relationships.
posted by Jurate at 2:56 PM on October 1, 2009

Hillary Clinton is an interesting example as there's a pretty good comparator for her: Bill. Were the attacks on Hillary worse and more vociferous? I'd argue Not Proven.

Data point: I had a friend whose job was to open mail for a US Senator (Democrat) during the Clinton attempt at health care reform. The hate mail against Bill was mean-spirited, obscenity-laden, ugly stuff about what a stupid hillbilly moral degenerate he was.

The hate mail against Hillary, on more than one occasion, consisted of her head cut and pasted (literally--no photoshopping) onto gonzo pornographic photos. The actual letters were often in the same vein. People hated Bill--but they fantasized about bodily harm and/or humiliation against Hillary. I think the difference on how hatred is expressed is relevant to this conversation. Not all men hate strong women--but when they do, that hatred is uniquely gendered in terrible--annihilating--ways.
posted by availablelight at 3:15 PM on October 1, 2009 [7 favorites]

"...let me assure you that there are legions of men who desire strong women."

Yes. Absolutely.
posted by jamesalbert at 3:21 PM on October 1, 2009

I'm a little WTF on this question, because on its face it can't be reasonably answered in any decisive way, and seems basically like a setup to incite potentially inflammatory arguments. I give credit to MeFi and the mods that it hasn't significantly gone that way.

Is this a common feeling among men?

Who can answer this, in a non-anecdotal or non-personal way? As a man, I can tell you that it's not a feeling I have. Beyond that, who am I to speak for the rest of the male population of the world?

Or would you take this comment to be somewhat startling, as I did?

Honestly, I find it contemptible. If I found myself in a position to deduce and acknowledge for truth the fact that I have a strong hatred/loathing of anyone without some pre-existing rationale (e.g. she killed my dog), a) I'd be horrified, and b) I wouldn't seek to relay this information to my friends by tossing in an aside along the lines of, "Hey, lots of people feel that way," because, well, see 'a'.

That one compound statement says to me that, while your friend may be emotionally honest, he's certainly not very emotionally mature. Delivery has a tendency of getting lost in electronic translation, so I can't be certain of the space your friend was coming from when he confided in you. But if it was as flippant as it sounds, I'd call him to the mat immediately for that crap.

Or, to put it another way, your friend's 'realization' wouldn't constitute an acceptable emotional state to me from my friend, unless he duly felt the accompanying need to work through and transcend that behavior, with or without his therapist's help.
posted by Brak at 5:02 PM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Very broad and vague and subjective and conditional as others have said, so who knows. With that said, I imagine when he says "wants" he means "am subconsciously compelled" and when he says "to destroy" he means "to try to make them stop acting in a way I don't think they're supposed to act" or "to put them back in their place." He's talking about some deep nugget that he unearthed in therapy and is giving it an easy label. I doubt he wants this in the same way he might want a particular job or want to eat a pizza. He's in therapy trying to understand his motivations for why he behaves the way he does, so it's not likely an active, conscious want. He's still trying to even accept it, having previously been blind to it. And he's being remarkably honest to share something like that with you. You normally don't expose your innermost uglies to anyone that way.

I wonder if the sentiment could be that he doesn't want women to violate the box he has made for them in his head. They are to fill a certain role and be a certain way or they're breaking the rules. He's got a place for women in his subconscious conception of the world and if they try to occupy some other space, he feels compelled to put them back in it so things work properly. And even more so if they grab some of the power that has traditionally belonged disproportionately to men. Ultimately I think that would be a manifestation of a control issue. Must control his world so he can understand it and operate in it.

The same phenomenon can exist for race, culture, sexuality, etc. Look at how the Klan sprung up the year the South finally lost the Civil War. There had been a social order and the black people stayed in their box for all that time. Then suddenly they were out of it, not following the "rules" that lived in many people's heads. "Usurping" some of the power and control that used to belong to others. So you had people trying to put them back into the box, to correct this violation, to intimidate them until they realized the error of their ways and resumed their ordained role. And then later the same kind of thing with Jim Crow, civil rights backlash, integration backlash, interracial relationships backlash, etc.

Same thing with gay people. Most of us growing up were not socialized to have a place to file gay people should any later show up. From birth we were imparted a cut and dried set of gender roles and built our understanding of relationships around that. Then here come these people messing up the order. Nowhere to file them. Not understanding, not in control of our world. Anger, resentment, lashing out, trying to shame or intimidate them back into the boxes people are supposed to stay in. Even today there are people and groups that try to get gay people to either convert or get back in the closet. They may quote the bible or whatever, but down deep I imagine the real motivator is that they don't have anywhere to put them and don't want to unclench their understanding of the world in order to shuffle it to accommodate some new thing. They're going to force the world to work how they were taught that it worked.

Hillary Clinton keeps being brought up. Same thing there. The role of First Lady had been almost sacrosanct all those years, but we didn't even realize it until somebody tried to step out of it. Then suddenly all this irrational anger and backlash shot out. She wasn't acting right! Get back in the box, lady, or else. You're messing up our conception of how the world works. Make things the way they were! Oh what relief it must have been when Laura Bush came in and started acting right. Quiet, meek, background, the usual reserved fashions, supportive, smiling, cutting a promo with Elmo about reading, being gracious and forgiving with Theresa Heinz Kerry when she said something ugly in the press, making no controversial statements, staying out of "men's business" etc. Fast forward to Michelle Obama and people actually got angry first when she wore something sleeveless and then when she wore shorts on vacation. I couldn't believe I was seeing articles about it. People were affronted, in my opinion, because she wasn't acting how she was supposed to in their minds. Articles were written as though we had a say in what she wore and people sounded off about whether it was appropriate or not.

Could be your friend has some of that going on with women who are outspoken, forceful, controlling, ungentle, intimidating, fully self-determined, independent, or any combination of traits you wouldn't find in June Cleaver or maybe your mom (ymmv). If they don't act right, he's drawn to police them into compliance, and shame on them. I'm a fairly evolved guy, but I still have to adjust and consciously think about how to act when I'm around an assertive woman who pulls no punches and makes no apologies and doesn't back down. If a guy is like that, I'm used to it, and I have the tools and techniques to respond. A woman like that, at least where I am, is so much rarer that I'm thrown off my rhythm. And realistically there's at least a little bit of an urge to defend traditional territory in terms of the power dynamic. Part of me is affronted because on some barely conscious level I feel she's not acting "right." And I can't deal with her like I would a man if things get ugly, so my hands are also somewhat tied. If I'm being fair, I know I'm the one who needs to adjust, not her, but it takes some effort and humility.

When your friend says it's quite normal among men, maybe that's what he's referring to - this ongoing epoch of adjustment to women as full people with full rights and opinions, an equal share of power, full self-determination, etc. There can be the usual irrational backlash when people don't stay in their boxes and keep the world working properly. Different men, and different kinds of men, are at different points along that spectrum of acceptance. And society as a whole is still adjusting. It hasn't been but a handful of decades since the bras burned. As predicted, though, the moral arc continues to bend toward justice. Translation: don't worry. I mean, you know, unless you uhh want to worry... like, I'm not saying I have a say in whether you worry... you can worry, it's your right... I uhh... gosh you have such pretty eyes.
posted by kookoobirdz at 6:24 PM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think with regards to abusive men (verbal or physical) it is very common, if not "normal." I think those people really get off on putting women down, feeling strong and superior over them, etc.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:31 PM on October 1, 2009

I don't think it's uncommon, but not exactly common either. I have several male friends who despite being intellectually liberal/progressive have a very strong misogynistic streak to them. Several have even admitted it, especially when it comes to relationships. They would never date someone that they would consider an "equal". There appears to be a very strong disconnect between what they think about strong women and how they feel and react to strong women. I actually think it makes them incredibly unhappy and prevents them from having fulfilling relationships, but that's a discussion for another day...
posted by whoaali at 6:52 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

A lot of people want to take someone down a peg, but men are scarier so the might-get-hurt reflex cancels out the take-down-a-peg urge when those people are around most men.

See also: "I have a mental image of myself as a white knight and do not want that, or any of my other delusions, messed with."
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:04 PM on October 1, 2009

Assertive and aggressive aren't gender traits. One can be either, or both, whether one is male or female.

Why must it always be framed by genitalia? Someone who fears or wants to destroy strong others is probably spineless, and is blaming gender for it. In other words, making excuses.
posted by gjc at 8:13 PM on October 1, 2009

If you'd read some of the hateful stuff posted by some men on WNBA fan boards, and as comments to on-line news articles, you'd have no doubt that some men definitely want to destroy strong women.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:52 AM on October 2, 2009

gjc, they're not gendered traits, but they are traits that are associated with gender, and as long as people deny this, it will remain the status quo.

I'm with zoomorphic - I think what he's referring to isn't physically destroying women so much as, well, a strong desire to "take them down a peg" - humiliate them publicly, discredit them intellectually, etc. And while I wouldn't call this something that every - or even most - men feel, I also wouldn't call it rare.

I have sensitive, intelligent male friends who will make it a point to pick fights with me over things that I know they even agree with, in public, especially in front of our other friends. I'd count myself as a strong women, and I've seen them do this same thing with other women who I feel are strong, and also noticed that the shyer and less assertive a woman is, the more "sensitive" she seems - ie, the more in line with the social construct of femininity she is - the more polite they will be to that woman. When I've called them on this, they've even copped to it (sometimes), but never really been able to give me an answer as to "why" beyond "I don't know, I just feel really defensive and upset when women are angry about something, and I want to shut them down."

These people invariably never do this to men - they'll defer to and respect strong men, and openly bait strong women, and it invariably makes them pretty miserable individuals, because it screws with their interactions with women (or at least, women like me). I honestly feel kind of bad for them, but not bad enough to want to hang around them anymore.

I definitely feel that this ties into some kind of weird subconscious thing where they want to discredit or humiliate or otherwise "destroy" women who they feel are strong, perhaps stronger than them. And I definitely feel that this is misogyny in action. How common it is is subjective - if you look on internet message boards, you may get the impression that 99.999% of men feel this way, whereas in my group of politically-aware, rather punkish friends, it's pretty rare and gets called out and admitted to and apologized for whenever it occurs. YMMV.

I also know plenty - more, even - men who admire strong women, desire their company, respect them and enjoy having discussions with them and value their perspective. I married such a dude, and I think that this is a much more healthy - and "normal", for a given value of normal, I guess - attitude. I think if your friends' therapy helps him arrive at a more respectful, egalitarian attitude towards women, so much the better, and who can call that psychobabble? But if it just gives him an excuse - "oh, my therapist said I'm just this way" - it's bullshit.
posted by ellehumour at 6:56 AM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

strong, perhaps stronger than them

men who admire strong women

I'm confused as to what "strong" means in this context.
posted by phrontist at 9:55 AM on October 2, 2009

I'm confused as to what "strong" means in this context.

It means they could crush you with a refrigerator.

But seriously, I consider it meaningless in any practical sense, and I avoid using it. You could say that it refers to a certain "flavor" of personality: someone who is honorable and/or trustworthy and/or confident and/or accomplished and/or self-reliant and/or strong-willed and/or a million other admirable things, particularly those which evoke the simple dignity of the hardscrabble pioneer wife. For some reason, these qualities are considered unusual for women to possess, and so people like to point it out when they notice it. I suppose "strong" is used as the umbrella term because the general idea of "strength" is very general, and doesn't have the same negative connotations as, say, "ambitious" or "stubborn."

For example, Hillary Clinton is often considered "a strong woman" because she is professional, assertive, clever, driven, and politically aggressive. Either of my sisters might also be described as "a strong woman": they both are smart, outspoken, college educated, community leaders, and have at least one job apiece in addition to being the primary caregivers to their respective children.

Like I say, I avoid the term, partly because of the vagueness, and partly because I find it supremely irritating when people drag gender into places where it's not necessary. My mother is not "strong" DESPITE NOT HAVING TESTICLES OMG; that's just how she is. Testicles have nothing to do with it. I wouldn't guess that most people mean it this way, but that's how it comes across, and if you're trying to stamp out stereotypes, it's ultimately counterproductive.

As to the original question: if by "strong" you mean "generally admirable" (see above) then no, I don't think it's normal for men to want to "destroy" these people (whatever that means). It's not really a good thing to want to "destroy" any particular class of people, actually, and if that's really what he wants, and that class of people includes many of his friends, he should probably something about it. I suggest that he find a better therapist.
posted by Commander Rachek at 12:11 PM on October 2, 2009

In my experience, other women are more likely than men to want to destroy strong women.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:51 PM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

gender roles are complex and psychologically intense aspects of personality. People respond to them on many levels, some of which they will not consciously notice. Because gender is deeply entangled with social, familial, and sexual relationships, the way a person responds to gender will develop according to family dynamics, sexual desires, and social mores.

Men certainly do sometimes develop a level of preference for a more traditionally "feminine" woman. Women even commonly consider a certain sort of behavior appropriate for a man but not a woman. It probably comes up most often in sexual situations - when on a date, does the man pay the bill? open the door? and so forth. Those may seem like meaningless little things, but they are all part of a larger picture of which role is being played, and many people prefer the woman takes the submissive role, the man the dominant (unless there has been an explicit agreement to switch in the bedroom, though in that case it is often hammed up or the woman's domination is superficial - she's in charge while wearing a sexy leather catsuit).

If the woman doesn't play the "feminine" role, there are certainly plenty of guys who will be uncomfortable. Plenty won't, but to be surprised that it ever comes up is silly. It comes up all the time.
posted by mdn at 7:47 AM on October 3, 2009

I don't think of myself as strong or weak, but I know there are men out there who have given plenty of thought as to how they would really like to get rid or me, and one I can think of in particular who really tried to get in my head because I gave his girlfriend ideas about using words like "no."

So yes, it's psychobabble, but not necessarily unfounded psychobabble. Did your friend elaborate as to what he does/says that may have led to that conclusion?
posted by medea42 at 3:54 PM on October 4, 2009

Is the inclination to "destroy strong women" common among men?

posted by ixohoxi at 6:34 PM on October 4, 2009

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