How can a (female) misogynist learn to make meaningful relationships with other women?
April 3, 2010 9:52 AM   Subscribe

How can I make start to make meaningful friendships with women? The trickiest part is that I'm misogynistic and also a woman.

I was abused by most of the most prominent women in my life as I was growing up, including someone I considered my best friend despite the abuse she put me through. I've been friends with guys for most of my life and I've tried making friends with women but haven't been able to get past the shallow stereotypes that are ingrained in my head (stereotypes that were not perpetrated by the guys I was with, but the stereotypes that I had come up with such as "All women do X, behave like Y, are only interested in Z")

This is also tied into a lot of self-hatred, which is getting better, but I'm still falling into my old traps of avoiding friendships with women and mentally thinking of them as not being worth my time. I know this thinking is wrong (realizing you have a problem is the first step?) but even though I'm in my thirties, I still am approaching female friendships like an awkward middle school student and flail a lot.

I am in therapy and my internal misogyny is a big part of what I'm working on, but I'm posting this in hopes there might be some women friendships 101 suggestions out there. I really want to get better.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
...this is a tough one.

I'm going to back up a few steps, with your leave -- you say that you have internalized some stereotypes that "all women do X and behave like Y". But I wonder -- do you do x? Do you behave like y?

My hunch is that no, you don't. And -- you are a woman. So if that's the case, then clearly, that means the statement that "all women do X" is false.

Now, I'm not saying that that's an easy thing to wrap your brain around, if you've been living with that mindset for so long. But I suspect that reminding yourself of that -- that "wait, of course it's not true that all women behave like Y, because I DON'T behave like Y, and I'm a woman" is just planting a seed that will gradually grow into "well, if I'm a woman who doesn't behave like Y, then there must be others".

As for how to get from that to making friends with women -- there's so many factors that go into making friends with someone, that this may not have an immediate effect. Even if you're open to making close friends with women, if there aren't any women of the sort you'd dig in your area anyway, it won't work as well. So if it still takes a while to find someone to bond with, that's kind of okay.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:05 AM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, like any stereotype, there *are* women who do X, behave like Y, and are only interested in Z. So the first thing I'd say is that if you do encounter women like that, don't let it automatically get you down. In fact I think it's possible that if all the prominent women in your life were like that, you might be gravitating to those women now because interact with them might actually be less awkward for you, because you're used to it.

I also think it might be possible that if you met a man who displayed X, Y, and Z, you'd just find him unpleasant and not interact with him anymore because of all the other men out there to be friends with, whereas if you met a woman displaying X, Y, and Z, you might figure all women were like that so why bother looking for others.

My advice is to start an activity where you will meet a lot of different sorts of women, and have the chance to get to know them without pressure. And where all of you are working on something worthwhile. Maybe a softball team. Maybe a well-established volunteer group for a cause that interests you. I think it might be worthwhile to think about the qualities that you DO like in a person, and think about which activities would draw people like that.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:10 AM on April 3, 2010

Last thing -- I don't know if this is the case for you, but I've found that when I'm the only female in a situation with a bunch of guy friends, there's a certain level of ... I guess, special attention towards me. That most likely will not be present in a situation with all women. So it might seem like the women are more self-centered, when that's not actually the case.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:14 AM on April 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

All I can say (other than it is difficult making friendships in adulthood, no matter what the circumstances) is that you will benefit from accepting that every single person (men, women - whatever) is different. No one necessarily fits into any broad, sweeping notion, good or bad. If you take that into account, your idea of "all women" might change. Just enough for you to take a chance. And that's a chance everyone, no matter how good or bad their experiences have been, takes. No one ever knows what the other person is going to do. That said, just be yourself and meet people with a sense that "it's interesting how things might unfold" (that is, with a healthy sense of emotional distance). Frienship take time. The getting there is only as good as your attitude towards it. If you're open and honest and someone disappoints you, that's life. It has nothing to do with gender.
posted by marimeko at 10:19 AM on April 3, 2010

You don't hate women, you hate people with abusive personalities and/or individuals with personality disorders. You've got confirmation bias partly because, if you were abused as a child by women, you have doubtless been attracting, or been attracted to, women with the same personalities and behaviors as your abusers. The best anecdote to this is to spend time with women who are people who don't suck. This is the ONLY anecdote to cynicism or stereotyping I know.

Where you might find them: progressive churches, volunteer organizations, nerd-heavy or outdoorsy clubs, etc. But know they're out there....after all, you're a woman who doesn't suck, right?
posted by availablelight at 10:19 AM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

I was the same way a few years ago. I was kind of a misogynist, mostly because I witnessed a lot of passive aggressive behavior from women (including myself), and it gets pretty ugly*. I mean girl bullying ugly, and I'm talking about my experiences as an adult, not high school or anything, although my relationships with girls in my youth definitely influenced my own misogyny.

It sounds like you're working to change your attitude towards women, and that's the first step, so you're already on your way. For me, it was a matter of changing my social circle and finding people I really connect with, rather than just befriending people I knew through work and school (not that you can't meet friends at work, but you don't have to be friends with your coworkers). Once you can get past the stereotypes, you'll be able to learn not to judge people based on gender, and you'll see that you can have good friendships with women. Try meeting people you already share common interests with, whether male or female, and get to know them. I think the more good people you meet, the quicker you'll be able to ditch the stereotypes and see them for who they are.

I've also found that it's helped me to learn about feminism. I think it can help put relational issues between women into perspective.

*I just want to point out that this kind of behavior is not a female-only issue. In fact, two of the most passive aggressive people I've met in my life happened to be men I was dating.
posted by lexicakes at 10:22 AM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

On non-preview, what availablelight said.
posted by lexicakes at 10:24 AM on April 3, 2010

I posed the question once whether women really liked each other and was booed out of the proverbial chatfilter room.

There really are a lot of bitchy, manipulative women out there--and women do tend to be competitive with each other. But there are also some very nice ones too.

Accept that some women are going to come into your life and hurt you. And you won't even understand why sometimes. But remember sometimes it isn't about you--it's about them and how they feel on the inside.

You can't protect yourself from every eventual uncomfortable relationship--without becoming a hermit.

Wait for women who approach you for friendship--then be responsive and be yourself. And if you end up getting hurt, dumped or used or whatever--you will get over it and them and go on with your life without regret.
posted by AuntieRuth at 10:34 AM on April 3, 2010

Spend time getting to know women before you decide whether a friendship is worth pursuing. I actually find that unfamiliar women fall into conversation about things we're "supposed" to like--shopping and manicures and all of that--maybe because it's seen as generally socially acceptable, or maybe because it's easy to start a conversation by complimenting another lady's shoes.

Also realize that you don't usually like everything your friends like, and that Woman A can have stereotypically female hobbies you hate and still be a fantastic friend. One of my best friends (let's call her Mary) absolutely loves E! reality shows (the one about the Playboy playmates, etc) and those celebrity gossip news shows like Extra! or whatever. I truly detest that stuff (god, Billy Bush's voice just makes my fucking skin crawl). But my friend Mary is also hilarious, and really insightful, and gives great advice and also has that personality where she walks into a room and can magically turn it into a party. She can make me laugh so hard my stomach hurts. If I'd dismissed her when we first met (or even when we were casual acquaintances) because she liked to talk about Kim Kardashian's sister's engagement, or because she dissed Antiques Roadshow, I would have missed out on a really great friend.

Accept that some women are going to come into your life and hurt you. And you won't even understand why sometimes. But remember sometimes it isn't about you--it's about them and how they feel on the inside.

And recognize that it's not because they're women that they hurt you--it's because they're people. There are shitty people out there as well as good ones, and women and men both have their share of bad friends.
posted by sallybrown at 10:50 AM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Do your male friends have other female friends? If so, those women are probably a lot more like you than the stereotypical women that you don't like.
posted by k. at 11:00 AM on April 3, 2010

What about asking your therapist for some referrals to women's therapy groups? Maybe a more structured and categorically supportive environment where you can experience a camaraderie with other women might help.
posted by so_gracefully at 11:03 AM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a great dislike of some traits that are associated with women: cattiness, utter lack of self-confidence, thinking that one's incompetence at something is acceptable purely because of gender (not "I don't like DIY, so I get someone in", but "Ha ha! Of course I don't know which end of a screwdriver is which!"), utter determination to stay permanently inside one's comfort zone.

Part of what helps me be more accepting of women who ARE like this, is having plenty of friends who are not. One place I hang out happens to attract a lot of self-employed people, who are usually self-confident and can't afford to just not do something because it's a MAN THING. I hang out with a lot of people who are into snow sports, where self confidence is pretty common.

So when I DO meet someone who embodies the stereotypes that I have trouble with, at least I'm not thinking "oh no! scary woman person", but just "someone I'm not likely to get along with".

Maybe you could do something similar.
posted by emilyw at 11:11 AM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Accept that some women are going to come into your life and hurt you. And you won't even understand why sometimes. But remember sometimes it isn't about you--it's about them and how they feel on the inside.

And recognize that it's not because they're women that they hurt you--it's because they're people. There are shitty people out there as well as good ones, and women and men both have their share of bad friends.

sallybrown, Are your relationships with your mother and sisters the same as those with your father and brothers? Of course they are not.

Women interact differently with other women with different motives than male to female relationships. Conversation topics are completely different.

The questioner is genuinely questioning her ability to get along with other women and is saying she has difficulty managing those particular relationships.
posted by AuntieRuth at 12:02 PM on April 3, 2010

I have a near-identical outlook on life, except that I am male and gravely dislike males. I am extremely anti-competitive and hate the domineering, self-aggrandizing traits that most males display. While I generally get along well with everyone, I only have lasting, deeply meaningful friendships with members of the opposite sex. Being friends with another guy feels like being friends with an enemy combatant to me--just saying things to get along.

One thing I did not hear in your initial post is why you want to be friends with other women. I think it's a good thing, but I don't think you've necessarily laid down reasons for yourself why it is a good thing to pursue. Unless you have a list of positives to balance the negatives, I don't think you're organically going to get to a place where you find yourself making friendships with other women. Consider what you look to get out of it, and how useful or positive this will be. Better conversation? Sharing your innermost thoughts with others more similar to yourself? Not having to feel like the odd one out around a group of guys?

Hopefully you can broaden the idea that what you are running away from--or rather, the factors leading to your running away from female relationships--are not tied to gender at all. Take stock of what you do and do not want in a friendship, honestly evaluate everyone in your life based on that, and go from there. Running into relationships with females purely based on gender is no better than running away from them purely based on gender.
posted by Phyltre at 12:24 PM on April 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Hey, anon, I almost could have written this question myself, except you seem to have worked on the issue a lot more than I have. MeMail me if you want.
posted by amtho at 12:25 PM on April 3, 2010

sallybrown, Are your relationships with your mother and sisters the same as those with your father and brothers? Of course they are not.

Women interact differently with other women with different motives than male to female relationships. Conversation topics are completely different.

That's just it though. When it's been your experience in life, or in your family specifically, that you relate to women in one way and men in another, or have different conversational topics with men and women, it's natural to to generalize that to everyone.

But that's just not the universal reality. Personally, my relationship with my dad is different from my relationship with my mom, AND with my brother, and with my sister, and male cousins, etc.

There may be ways that a lot of women act, but even if 99.9% of them acted that way, that still leaves 3 million women on this earth who don't. If the OP found those women, she wouldn't have to deal with those ways of acting.

It doesn't make sense to talk about "those particular relationships" unless she's talking about relationships with particular people.
posted by Ashley801 at 12:31 PM on April 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Women interact differently with other women with different motives than male to female relationships. Conversation topics are completely different.

But they don't have to be--or at least they haven't been in my experience--and thinking that they do discourages people (like the OP) who aren't interested in stereotypical "girl talk" from forming female friendships.

I have great male friends with whom I talk about stereotypical "girl" things (shopping, feminism, cooking) and great female friends with whom I talk about stereotypical "boy" things (sports, action movies, mechanical things). I made friends with my male friends and my female friends with the same motive--"I like you, I think you're interesting, and I enjoy your company." People are individual, and I don't think our sexes/genders make certain conversation topics off limits for one gender or the other. You ask about my mother/father/sister/brother--my relationships with my mother and my father have a lot more in common than my relationships with my mother and my sister; that they're different is not just because my mother is female and my father male, but because my mother and father are two different people.

The idea that any woman has more in common with any other woman than she does with any other man is what leads to stereotypes in the first place.
posted by sallybrown at 12:33 PM on April 3, 2010 [9 favorites]

It cheapens things for all parties when something is assumed about a group of people. It doesn't matter if that group happens to be one's own group. It narrows things down in the most uninteresting (safe) way. Life isn't that predictable. Unless of course you want it to be..
posted by marimeko at 12:54 PM on April 3, 2010

My guess is that you should find something you hate or are passionately against and then find other women who feel the same way. You can channel your pissyness into something else and see yourselves as being on the same team against a greater evil.

Politics is great for this. Anything political you want to work against? Are you against abortion restrictions? Against abortion rights? Go volunteer. Pro-choice organizations are, in my experience, heavily female. Try that?
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:19 PM on April 3, 2010

Relationships are actually really particular. There were many years where I would've said that I generally didn't like being friends with women, but during that time I still had a few really close friends, Allison,* for one, and Suzanne. I just saw Allison as Allison, my friend, and that friendship coexisted with my belief that I didn't like being friends with women. But it was a first step.

I think for you that might be a place to start, not trying to be friends with "women," but searching through your mental rolodex of people you've met (e.g., friends of friends) who happen to be female until you find one who doesn't strike you as "women" but as a singular person whom you might happen to like.

* fake name
posted by salvia at 1:53 PM on April 3, 2010

Here are some pretty closely related threads, if you haven't seen them already:

The only suggestion I can offer is that you practice your listening and empathizing skills in conversation. My female friendships tend to hinge on listening to their thoughts on their lives, and giving my own experiences in turn and showing that I relate or understand. My male friendships are like this too, but we spend a lot more time talking about common interests and hobbies. Obviously, this isn't going to happen if you just don't relate, but finding common ground is part of making friends with anyone.
posted by millions of peaches at 2:03 PM on April 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

As someone with the opposite problem -- always friendly with girls, terrible experiences with guys, subsequent difficulty relating to men -- I've gotten my issues under control, and one good reason is that I internalized the idea of confirmation bias.

If your problem is like mine was, it feeds on itself in the following fashion. There are tons of cool, decent females in and around your life, but you don't stop to think about their coolness and decency as a female marker. It is only when a female acts in a negative fashion that you associate her with her femaleness.

Work on that angle, and see if it doesn't help. How many people have you been forgetting to regard as female, because they've done nothing to irritate you?
posted by Countess Elena at 2:21 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

There really are a lot of bitchy, manipulative women out there

No more than men.

and women do tend to be competitive with each other.

No more than men.

Those points are at the root of what you need to realize. That opinion sort of reinforces your current negative thoughts, in stereotypically proposing some sort of justification behind what you fear. But there isn't one.

People are different, but stereotyping doesn't help. And as some alluded to above, you have encountered men who do X and women who don't do X, but it's letting yourself know that people are different, individually, will help.

Accept that some women people are going to come into your life and hurt you.

Some people will, but most people won't. That's a lesson I learned in my early 20s when it came time to build up my confidence. I had built up walls due to occurrences early on (like being bullied) and throughout my life. Letting go of those walls, and letting go of some residual pain that was 20 years old just made me stronger, by letting myself be vulnerable.

That might sound like a contradiction, but it really isn't.

Your past experiences with women are valid, as were mine (both males & females), but there comes a point where you need to open yourself. Yes, you might get hurt again, but 95% of the time it's rewarding, and you will feel psychically lighter because you won't constantly be on guard 24 hours a day.

The benefits of your new friendships will be a bonus.
posted by cmgonzalez at 2:37 PM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

How about screening for women in non-traditional professions? I, too, find most women vapid and boring, but the female scientists I work with are all pretty cool.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:02 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd say work on your misogyny and the rest will follow, if you have guy friends then you don't have an issue with friendship, you have an issue with women. I'm as geeky as they come and have always had many close female friends as well as slightly less-close male friends, I've never noticed any big difference in the nature of the friendship, so that's just a happy data point for you.

So, practical suggestions! The last time I recall having difficulty making (as opposed to meeting) girl friends was Jr High school, where I didn't have any friends at all because, let's face it, I was a freak. BUT- I was primed for when I did make friends they would be cool girl friends, because the friendships in my head were with the cool girls I encountered in books. So your girl friendships 101 assignment would be to start reading books with the sort of girls you would like to be friends with in them, so you can train in a virtual environment. I say books because it can be hard to find women in film and tv I recognize as actual people...

Next, try chatting with some women you normally interact with without vetting them for coolness or with any we must be friends immediately!! expectations. Possibly they might talk about shoes, I don't know, like guys might start in with sports just to kick something around until a subject everyone is really interested in comes up. This is called 'small talk'. Do NOT start trying to make them jump through geek-hoops to prove they're 'not like other girls' that is really annoying from misogynist guys and from misogynist girls it's unbelievably irritating. Your goal is to be cool with girls who ARE like other girls, because, as you are yourself a girl you are also like other girls. Logic! Practice casual, this-goes-nowhere small-talk until you can have a normal hey-crazy-weather-we're-having, neat-shoes-where-did you-get-them? conversation with the basic girl on the street without it feeling weird.

After that I'm pretty sure you will be fine, eventually small-talk will turn into more substantial talk with someone nice and next thing you know you'll be sucked into their circle of friends and you're done. Your main problem is probably that 'I'm weird about women' vibe-- again, don't beat yourself up!! It's pretty common! but I'm happy you realize it's not a good thing! If you get rid of that your next problem is plain meeting people, that's a whole other difficulty and that's what hobbies and the random chance of the universe if for. I've always found if I'm open and honest and ready to like people there is no shortage of people out there to be liked.

Friendship is a beautiful and necessary thing. This was powerfully brought home to me a few years ago, when my own most excellent mother underwent a long and terminal illness constantly surrounded and supported by a large and un-exhaustable circle of women gathered over decades of mutual friendship. Not something I normally talk about, but the denigrating of female friendships here is unsettling to me for this reason. It's false and ugly and congratulations to you for trying to overcome it. Good luck to you!
posted by Erasmouse at 4:39 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I found the single greatest barrier to actually making and keeping female friends was getting over myself. I am not that special or that different - there are many many women like me. Probably more women like me than more women not like me. Oddly enough my best friend is the same - traditionally unfeminine hobbies and personality traits and a hugely ingrained idea that female friendships suck. We found each other online (I was actually a total dick to her, she was upstanding in her response and I was suitably chastised and from there we were friends) and we bond over a variety of things. Part of it has been letting go of the stereotypes and part of it has been letting go of the misogynist notion that I'm so much more special because I'm not a 'girly girl'. Just because I loathe shopping, hate gossip mags, refuse beauty nonsense and find wedding planning/relationship planning tedious doesn't make me that special. Most people I know dislike that stuff. Or like part of it.

I think there's a lot to be said about realising the societal impetus on 'safe speech' too - so when meeting a new woman, that vapid sort of "oh love your dress" or "what about Angelina Jolie" style of conversation is a lot safer than "oh, did you see the Blizzard April Fools joke this year?" or "did you notice that fully tricked out Camaro out the front?" - the safe speech style thing puts and emphasis on the other person with very little assumption beyond they're wearing a dress/know who Angelina Jolie is. If all I ever talked about were my specific areas of interest, I'd be a damned boring person. That isn't to say dresses are interesting, but it's an easier lead in than talking science/video games/cars/insert approved masculine hobby here. As much as I find a lot of makeup stuff irritating and boring, I can appreciate the effort a lot of people put into it. Same with a lot of things - I don't give a flying fuck about cars but I can appreciate the effort and passion my brother in law puts into his vehicles. I owe my female friends and acquaintances the same level of response.

And cmgonzalez: Letting go of those walls, and letting go of some residual pain that was 20 years old just made me stronger, by letting myself be vulnerable. is right. The women friends I made when I finally let go of the anxiety and the sadness provoked by remembering school and university friends are immeasurably different. Yes some have broken up, or fallen by the wayside, but I can make friends without fear.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:54 PM on April 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

Do real women actually talk about shoes and clothes and celebrity gossip? I mean, I know they must. But it sounds unbelievably boring. I'm a woman, and so are most - but by no means all - of my friends. We talk about politics, policies, movies, books, work, our other friends and families, ethical challenges, our pets, good restaurants, TV shows, health issues, our careers (including successes, challenges, and workplace politics), music, funny/scary/weird things that have happened to us, vacation plans, philosophy, religion, good camping spots and a lot of other things.

I got to know a lot of these women in high school or college -- largely through nerdy academic classes I attended, or through activities I was involved in. I've also met friends through a vegetarian cooking club I go to once a week, a nonprofit I volunteer for, and a professional board I sit on. Women who do interesting things tend to be interesting people, so when I go out and do things that interest me I often encounter cool women.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:53 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

My sense is that hatred requires ignorance, i.e. it's not that you don't make friends with women because you're suspicious of them, but vice versa. Once you really know (really believe) that people don't fit your stereotypes, you'll abandon the stereotypes; the world is obviously not confirming them, you're just not paying attention to the signals you're getting.

One way to make an end run around your built-up internal barriers is to put yourself into positions where you'll be doing intense things with other women without 'femaleness' being the focus. Some exhausting physical activity (rock climbing? one of those dorky stationary-bicycle classes?), perhaps, in which you can't fixate on your willful ignorance because you'll be sweating and sharing an intense-but-safe experience. Exertion on behalf of a common cause or interest is a great equalizer, and makes you willing to listen to the people around you. If you don't exercise, you can, fuck that, you have to exercise. :)

Other commenters are right about casual, low-intensity exposure being helpful - just chat with people you wouldn't otherwise talk to, only for a moment or two, to fill your registers with examples of Mere People. You can't suppress wrong ideas, but you can replace them. Indeed that's the only thing you can do.

If you let circumstances work in your favour, if you flood yourself with sensation rather than paying attention to your own fixations, you'll instinctively relate to people in ways that go way back, beyond even your childhood. Find the things you like doing - the tasks and environments that transport you, the moments at which your overworked ego is suppressed - then find ways to make women a part of those experiences.

Again, you can't train yourself to 'not hate' - that's denial, or fucking 'tolerance,' and it's not robust - but you can acclimate yourself to fellowship. That's a natural byproduct of activities where you're not thinking about yourself, are instead forced into behaviours that make room for Other People (fellow participants) rather than your precious Ideal Types.

Hatred is not positive evaluation but fear; you can often do an end run around it by finding other ways to do the frightening thing, as if by accident, in passing. Presumably you like life; put yourself in positions where you'll discover that women are (surprise! bang, pow, zoom!) merely part of it.
posted by waxbanks at 6:50 AM on April 4, 2010

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