Why Do They Hate Us?
What Hillary Clinton came to represent in the minds of many of those who voted against her is something worthy of careful examination and understanding. She was the first woman ever to get within shouting distance of becoming the President of the United States. She was eminently qualified by virtue of her vast experience in public service as well as by her demonstrated abilities to listen, gather information, master complex issues, perform well under pressure and work hard. Yet in the final moment, when it counted, many chose to vote for a man with no experience in public service, who bragged about assaulting women, and whose decades of business dealings include many accusations of fraud, bad faith and racial discrimination. While there are many reasons why our Presidential election turned out the way it did, I would like to focus on the phenomenon that has kept women out of positions of power for hundreds, if not thousands of years — namely, misogyny.
Misogyny is defined in the Oxford dictionary as dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women. Many of us want to believe that misogyny, to the extent that it exists in the United States, has now become almost a non-factor when men and women are being considered for jobs, promotions, salary increases, or positions of power in government. Yet we are faced with uncomfortable realities: The United States has never had a female President or Vice President in its 240 year history, and as of November 2016, women made up only 20% of the U.S. Senate, 19.3% of the U.S. House, and held only six of the fifty U.S. Governorships despite comprising 51% of the U.S. population. According to the American Association of University Women’s report, The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap (2016), women in the United States continue to be paid only 80% of what men are paid and face a pay gap even when they enter male-dominated jobs such as computer programming. At the top of the corporate hierarchy, women currently occupy only 4.2 % of the CEO positions at America’s Fortune 500 companies.
We now know that some people worked zealously behind the scenes for years to undermine, discredit and destroy Hillary Clinton. According to journalist Joshua Green, a senior correspondent for Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Steve Bannon, the executive chair of Breitbart news and now President-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist, was one of these people. Mr. Bannon was apparently engaged for years in a multifaceted plan to take down Hillary Clinton and any prominent Republican who regarded her as anything less than a pariah. Bannon is reputed to have been a master at directing and keeping the attention of the mainstream media on stories that raised doubts about Hillary Clinton’s character.
Trying to discredit and even smear one’s opponent has become commonplace in our elections especially at the national level. But something seems amiss here: Why were so many people so willing to believe the worst about Mrs. Clinton and at the same time give Mr. Trump such indulgence and latitude? Why did so many say they disliked or even hated her, without being able to give a coherent explanation for their feelings? In order to try to answer these and other questions such as why hatred and prejudice against women have been so enduring, we have to reflect on the nature of misogyny and on the long, dark history of the suppression and subjugation of women and of the violence perpetrated against them.
The United States has for centuries, been a patriarchal society. It has been a society in which power is held by men primarily through the existence of cultural norms that privilege men and withhold opportunity from women. Ideas about gender are so subtly and deeply ingrained in the American psyche that it is often hard to recognize when and to what extent they are operating to hold women back. They hold sway in many of the critical choices that we all make such as whether or not to run for public office, what jobs to train for, what to study in college, and even what sports teams, artists and composers we choose to support and patronize. What we have internalized about gender also figures in to less tangible things like how ambitious we are, how much we smile, or even how much we agree or express our opinions.
We would expect that in a patriarchal country like the United States, in which power accrues largely to men, that men would be secure and confidant in their power. But in the last sixty or so years, the gradual waning of that power has resulted in a growing sense of insecurity, uncertainty and instability. Factors like the exporting of American jobs to other countries, increasing production from rising economies, and automation have caused an enormous number of jobs to disappear especially in sectors of the American economy that have been largely the purview of men. In addition, the recognition of equal rights and opportunities for women and minorities has meant that some white males at least in theory, if not in actual reality, are competing with a larger pool of potential applicants for a shrinking number of jobs.
In a patriarchal culture, when economic resources become scarce or economic insecurity increases, hatred toward females and efforts to restrict and control them, tend to accelerate. The infamous Salem witch trials in 1692 in Massachusetts occurred at a time when Salem’s resources were strained due to an influx of people into Salem village who were fleeing a war being waged between England and France in places like Nova Scotia, upstate New York and Quebec. During the Great Depression in 1930’s America, the feminist fervor of the 1920’s all but disappeared. The federal government concentrated on bringing American males back to work, and New Deal programs like the Civil Works Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps gave jobs almost exclusively to men. Single or divorced women, widows supporting families, and wives who had been abandoned by their husbands, were left out of the mix. Men not women were seen as family breadwinners, and the federal government pressured women not to take jobs that should go to the men. Women who sought paid employment risked becoming the objects of criticism and scorn. (Ware, Susan. History Now, Spring, 2009). It is only in the last fifty or sixty years in the United States that women have not been pressured to assume their husband’s last names when marrying, that women have been able to establish credit in their own names, and that they have acquired significantly more control over their own bodies due to advances in birth control and the legalization of abortion.
As a psychologist, psychoanalyst and lifelong student of human nature, I know that the worst misogynists are those who are unable to tolerate their own feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. Some of the worst of these are psychologically weak men, what I call bully-men who for whatever reasons have such deeply rooted insecurity that they have to continually try to bully, suppress and control women in order to prove to themselves and others how big, strong and powerful they are. These men project onto women the nurturing, generous, soft qualities that they can’t abide in themselves. They expect women to cooperate with an agenda that requires them to embody these qualities and to subordinate themselves to men. Women who dare to try to advance themselves along either a career or a creative path are particularly triggering for bully-men. In their minds these women are troublemakers who stubbornly refuse to cooperate and fall in line with “nature” or society’s expectations. The rage that these men feel toward ambitious women comes out of their fear that women will not accept them in their weakness and inadequacy. The existence of powerful women threatens to remind them of what they have not achieved, and to trigger feelings in them that they cannot abide, and so these women are dreaded and must be conquered and controlled. These men are seemingly unable to tolerate the alternative, which would be to take back and own what they regard as their shameful traits. It is only out of that psychological place that they could begin to stop their hateful rhetoric and harming behavior toward women. It is only then that the possibility exists of their becoming capable of engaging in relationships with women that are characterized by mutual respect, affirmation and empathy.
On the other side of the misogyny picture are the women who are hostile to other women. What motivates a woman who despises powerful women? In a patriarchal culture, women are reduced to competing for the “good” of being attached to successful men; for centuries in the United States, this was the main and often only option that women had, in order to survive financially and within society. The women who resent other women the most seem to be the ones who most fully buy into the patriarchal cultural message that they are the lesser gender, and who have resigned themselves to a shadow life of always putting the needs of others before their own. Since a woman like this can’t have a separate, creative life in which she pursues her own desire, when she observes another woman living creatively, she is subject to feeling enormous envy, resentment and discomfort. She begins to experience the desire to ruin and spoil things for the envied woman and to wish that the woman suffer or be punished in some way. Just like the insecure man, the depleted woman needs to banish or persecute the self-actualized woman in order to keep the pain of her own thwarted needs from coming to the surface.
What makes some women more vulnerable than others to drinking the cultural Kool-Aid and absorbing the message that they are the secondary gender? Most women will hotly deny that they are inferior to men. Most will quickly agree with the concept of “equal pay for equal work”, but among these, many will still vote for candidates who demean women or try to work against allowing women control of their own bodies. All American women are immersed from the time they are born in a culture that values humans with penises over humans with vaginas. So to one degree or another, all women take in and have to grapple with the insidious message of their inferiority. The women who become the most compromised are the ones who were raised by depleted mothers, mothers who deferred to the men in their lives on major decisions, or who looked the other way when their husbands failed to consult with them, emotionally or physically abused them, or were unfaithful to them.
Sadly, the depleted woman is likely to treat her daughter in much the way that she herself was treated. She won’t validate or reward her daughter’s initiative and will turn away when her daughter attempts to pursue a course of action that goes against the prevailing patriarchal cultural messages. She will even envy her own daughters should they begin to think for themselves and pursue their own desires. The daughter of this kind of a mother will get caught in a psychological dilemma in which she needs her mother’s approval, affirmation and protection while at the same time she yearns to discover and express her own uniqueness. When they become young adults, daughters may be confronted with a terrible choice: they can either carve out an independent life for themselves, thus supposedly abandoning or betraying their mothers and enraging their insecure fathers, or they can yield to pressure, in effect ceding their own personal efficacy and power. In this way, trauma gets transferred from one generation to the next.
Whether it’s an insecure man or a depleted woman doing the envying and hating, the hated woman becomes an “other,” a being who can’t be consciously identified with, and who has to be suppressed or otherwise rendered powerless. “Lock her up!” and “Trump that bitch” were chanted loudly and fervently at Trump campaign rallies. Once the process of “othering” has occurred, it then becomes possible to carry out all sorts of violence against that maligned other. Hillary Clinton was pilloried, vilified, mocked and even criminalized by her opponent’s campaign. Hillary the mom, the wife, the advocate for children, the mediator and peacemaker, Hillary the empathic, caring human being — this Hillary was effectively murdered, as surely as if her heart had been cut out. The ambitious Hillary couldn’t also be the compassionate Hillary. All sentient Americans have witnessed this heinous act and are now left with the task of trying to mourn and deal with the resulting trauma, confusion, devastation and shame.
The one grudging compliment given by Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton during the campaign, when he was forced into saying something positive about her, was that she never gives up, that there is something indefatigable about her. Donald Trump, knowing that he and his surrogates had bashed her character unrelentingly for many months, couldn’t help but be impressed that she had not collapsed under the weight of their onslaught. It is interesting that he chose to identify this particular quality in Mrs. Clinton. One could argue that in the face of centuries-old hatred and prejudice, women have learned well how to cope and endure.