Although Russia has traditionally been a patriarchal society, misandry—the sharp criticism of men, or ‘reverse sexism’—is on the rise. Women accuse men of every possible sin, from acting aggressively to being too passive at work and home, and from narcissism to general indifference. Men are at the centre of numerous high-profile harassment scandals. Although it is impossible to ignore the problem, it would be equally wrong to blame all the world’s problems exclusively on men. In a pilot study, HSE University researchers studied misandry in the women of two different generations.
‘A woman is walking down the street, and next to her is an appendage,’ said one 21-year-old respondent, referring to the man at the woman’s side. ‘Whether he is present or absent hardly matters,’ she said.
The heroes of the past, she suggested, are a very different matter. The respondent referred to a hypothetical ‘golden age’ when ‘men were always respected,’ when ‘as a couple was together, the woman would always be focused on her man, regardless.’ But times have changed and so have men.
Another respondent who is twice as old (42 and married) was less categorical. There are few ‘real’ men today, she said, but some still exist. She defined them as men who are willing ‘to do some crazy things — in the positive sense — to please his woman.’
The researchers conducted interviews and surveys of Muscovites of different generations: those 18-33 years old and those aged 34-55. The pilot project involved approximately 300 people who were members of various thematic groups on the Facebook (property of Meta, which has been recognised as an extremist organisation in Russia) and VKontakte social networks (from those interested in motherhood to those dealing with housing problems).
The researchers found that many respondents of different ages held negative attitudes towards men. For some, this stemmed from personal experience (relationships, family life, etc.) and for others, it seemed to be simply a conviction passed down from the parent’s family.
At the same time, many respondents spoke of the superiority of women. In this gynocentric picture of the world (as opposed to androcentric, in which men are the measure of all things), it is women who possess the best personal qualities and who are the most capable. They are the leaders at home and at work. Respondents said that ‘the woman is in charge,’ ‘the wife makes the decisions’ and that women are smarter, stronger and wiser than men are. At the same time, they did not reject traditional female roles as, for example, the keeper of the family hearth.
Such views appear frequently on social networks and blogs, and not only from feminists. Taken together, they contend that ‘women run everything,’ men are egoists and irresponsible, ‘cant be trusted’ and so on. Such misandry is so widespread that some researchers consider it mainstream and that discrimination against men is systemic.
Misandry is the suppression of men and discrimination against them. It takes different forms — from verbal insults to physical aggression. This behaviour often stems not only from frustration and contempt but also from fear, women’s desire to protect themselves from all manner of threats (from infidelity to personal violence) and the desire to assert their own superiority.
Misandry is the mirror image of misogyny, the hatred of women and is essentially a reaction to it. Both phenomena are equally destructive because both lead to conflict, psychological trauma and discord. According to the researchers, they ‘reduce gender solidarity.’
Despite the numerous changes that have occurred, modern society remains patriarchal. It retains a gender hierarchy in which men dominate.
According to Carol Gilligan and Naomi Snider, authors of the book ‘Why Does Patriarchy Persist,’ a patriarchal culture ‘Elevates some men over other men and all men over women.’ In this system, men have personalities and, ideally, women do not. Human characteristics are divided into ‘male’ (more ‘correct’) and ‘female,’ and so on.
Gender inequality is seen particularly in the fact that men and women with the same level of education enjoy different career opportunities. Men have higher salaries, move up the career ladder faster and are more likely to occupy leadership positions.
However, women often lose out simply because they are occupied more with family matters and spend more time taking care of children. Many are 'supermoms' who devote a great deal of time to their children's health and development, driving them to various activities, sports, music and art lessons, etc. It is difficult to combine that lifestyle with overtime at the office, business trips, corporate events and other career 'lifts.' Parenthood essentially becomes a second career for women, replete with its own skillset and even 'work schedule.'
In other words, women often have dual employment, giving them a workload both in the office and at home. As a result, they are often forced to choose whichever jobs allow them to combine work and family most easily. This has the effect of so-called ‘self-selection,’ when women themselves choose lower-paying positions. Obviously, such jobs offer no promise of a successful career or a good salary.
And, it is women who most often encounter such career limitations as ‘sticky floors’ and ‘glass ceilings.’ In the former, women starting out in their careers remain longer than usual in their initial positions because employers are not in a hurry to promote them. In the latter, women advance only to mid-level positions but not higher, even when they could be successful managers. At the same time, women are subjected to such ludicrous comments as ‘they can’t do it’ or ‘they’re incapable.’
Like penetrating radiation, a certain ‘penetrating genderization’ and its attendant restrictions on women permeate a wide range of institutions. What’s more, the process begins from earliest childhood: in kindergarten.
Kindergarten teachers transmit a number of gender restrictions to children. Pre-school education has a ‘hidden curriculum’ of sorts that transmits largely conservative ideas about 'true' femininity and masculinity. It prescribes a number of behavioural standards for girls, saying that they should be modest, good-looking and obedient and that their main interests should be singing and dancing. According to this thinking, math and technical pursuits are not for girls.
Gender stereotypes are also transmitted in schools. Studies have found a common belief that girls should be perfect, like the clever and beautiful Vasilisa the Wise of Russian folklore. This puts tremendous pressure on young girls to become ‘perfect ladies.’ Boys are cast more in the role of the folk character Ilya Muromets. This epic hero started out by doing next to nothing but later became so active as to move mountains. The lesson: it is fine to put less pressure on boys than on girls.
At the same time, boys’ achievements receive greater attention. Researchers found that such a focus on sons was thriving in parents’ posts on social networks. Parents spoke more enthusiastically about their boys’ achievements and received more ‘likes’ for those posts.
And finally, in a textbook example of the genderization of education, girls are ‘supposed’ to be interested in the humanities, whereas the STEM field — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — is for boys.
Women are tightly constrained by stereotypes. It is no accident that society increasingly criticizes archaic ideas about femininity and masculinity. There is a growing intolerance for sexual objectification — relating to someone as nothing more than an object of sexual gratification. This finds expression in violence towards women, gender-based discrimination, and so on. All of these phenomena are frequently associated with hegemonic masculinity in society.
According to Australian researcher Raewyn Connell, power-based relations and the unconditional dominance of men underlie hegemonic masculinity. The flip side of this phenomenon is the male fear of appearing insufficiently masculine, as described in detail by US sociologist Michael Kimmel.
These problems cause psychological trauma for women. The antidote is the change in gender roles that has been occurring over the past half-century due to massive numbers of women entering the labour market and the public policy field, as well as to the sexual revolution. Today, men and women compete for status, in their professions, for self-realization, and so on.
Misogyny has spurred a 'second' or 'reverse' form of sexism — misandry. In this way, men as a social group are labelled with the negative, 'brute force' aspect of 'hegemonic masculinity,' creating new gender stereotypes. According to this logic, all men are aggressive and hypersexual.
The roots of misandry lie in ‘ideological feminism’ and its unwavering assertion that women are superior to men. The researchers write that the feminist debate has prepared society to discuss women’s issues, making it more gynocentric and pushing men’s issues into the background.
The study shows that the feminist debate has turned many male traits previously seen as assets into liabilities. For example, a man’s physical strength is viewed as a threat to women, men’s ability to make decisions quickly is cast as excessive assertiveness, male rationality is seen as shrewd calculation, and so on.
In fact, there are very different types of masculinity, as is clearly shown by the example of men’s magazines that are actively involved in constructing a ‘new’ masculinity. The popular 'metrosexual' male who takes pains to look like the men in glossy magazines is not the only example. There is also a strong professional type. This is the head of a large company 'who knows how to take responsibility for himself,' and others.
Ideas about masculinity can vary widely among different social strata. Members of the middle class often state that a man’s main duty is to care for and be responsible for the family. Such men are often involved in childcare, do work around the house and try to help their wives.
Those in the working professions take a more patriarchal view, casting the father as the primary breadwinner of the family. They speak of masculinity more often as an individual quality. Men should be able to survive in difficult social situations. Strength, both moral and physical, is key.
By contrast, respondents in the pilot study more often referred to a ‘weak man — strong woman’ model of relationships. ‘In my family, Mom is the head and Dad obeys,’ explained one 20-year-old Muscovite. ‘Dad does whatever Mom says.’ The gender roles in families often change, with the mother acting as the breadwinner. At the same time, discrimination in relationships does not disappear. Instead, it is simply directed at the husband. ‘Mom often belittles Dad,’ the respondent admitted.
However, even if the father is still the breadwinner, it does not guarantee that others will respect him. The family often views him exclusively as the source of material support for the children, but not as an educator. Some respondents also said that this financial function was a priority for men. ‘I live in a system of thinking where the man is the breadwinner,’ said one 22-year-old respondent. ‘He should earn the money and bring everything to the family and the home.’ Despite this, the discrediting of the man’s role in the family often results in denying him custody of the children after a divorce.
In any case, two interesting points arise regarding role differentiation in the family. Some respondents described a model of very traditional roles in which the wife creates the proper atmosphere at home but the man should act as the head. Nonetheless, the wife in this situation was still the head of the family, whether openly or discreetly. ‘She leads quietly,’ as one respondent put it.
The respondents said that the women in the family are more ‘intelligent,’ ‘cunning’ and ‘wise’ than the men are, yet also possess the more traditional qualities of ‘kindness,’ ‘gentleness’ and ‘conscientiousness.’
Other respondents spoke of the need for equality in the family with regard to decision-making, responsibilities, etc. but said that it was lacking in reality.
The researchers identified four categories of misandry: the role differentiation (in private and public life) as mentioned above; the perception of men as an aggressive social group; selective cynicism (belittling male character traits); and gynocentrism — the prioritization of women.
The respondents spoke extremely negatively about the fact that men occupy the most prestigious positions at work, referring to it as discrimination against women. They often described women as ideal workers who are ‘disciplined,’ ‘responsible’ and ‘independent,’ and men in negative terms, as ‘disorganized,’ ‘forgetful,’ ‘inattentive’ and ‘occupied with nonsense.’
The narrative given by respondents casts men as an aggressive social group. They described them as ‘arrogant’ and ‘cruel’ and spoke of their fear of unfamiliar men. Referring to encounters with unfamiliar men in public, one 21-year-old female respondent said, ‘When I go somewhere alone late at night, I feel uncomfortable, afraid because I don’t know what he’s thinking.’ Such concerns cause women to change routes, to get around town only in the company of others etc. One 35-year-old female respondent said, ‘First of all, I often try not to go out alone at night and, secondly, I always keep everything under control, I always look to make sure that no one is following me.’
The distrust of men as a social group also surfaces when discussing sexual infidelity.
The female respondents described men as ‘predators,’ ‘ladies men’ and ‘bucks.’ Women said that men act according to ‘animal instincts.’ One 21-year-old woman explains, ‘Men are prone to infidelity not because they get tired of their woman but because they are bucks by nature. You can’t get rid of that.’ However, women’s self-doubt can also be the cause of some of their distrust of men. ‘I don’t believe that I’m so great and wonderful that nobody would ever leave me,’ a 22-year-old woman admitted.
Respondents share a certain negative image of men as ‘very weak,’ ‘irresponsible’ and ‘cowardly.’ They say men are ‘afraid of losing their comfort zone’ and ‘incapable of doing anything’ while also narcissistic and excessively cocky.
Many respondents gave clearly gynocentric answers, saying that women are superior in every way. In their opinion, modern males are not at all ‘real men,’ ‘successful,’ ‘reliable,’ ‘well-mannered’ or ‘serious-minded.’
According to the respondents, women are ‘strong,’ ‘self-sufficient’ and ‘independent.’ They ‘don’t need men’ and ‘know how to cope with life.’
Compared to men, women ‘do a lot more work’ and manage to get everything done, one 22-year-old Muscovite said. ‘And you need to go to the gym, eat right, do your eyelashes and nails — and combine it all with studies, work, your man, your female friends and, in general, everything. They [modern women] somehow find time for all of it.’ At the same time, she described the opposite sex like this: ‘As for guys, they say, “I’ve got work so I don’t have time for anything else. I won’t eat at all today.”’
Quantifying the results, researchers developed a misandry scale using the above-named four categories (role differentiation, gynocentrism, etc.). Respondents were asked to rate the extent to which they agreed with particular statements on a scale of 1 to 7, with ‘1’ indicating complete disagreement and ‘7’ full agreement. Examples of such statements include: ‘Women are more moral than men are,’ ‘Most criminals are males,’ ‘Men on average are more prone to cheating and sexual infidelity’ and ‘Lately, men have become more infantile and effeminate.’
A calculation of the values obtained revealed only a moderate level of misandry. The scores ranged from 152 to 180, or close to average. However, women aged 34-55 were more likely to hold negative opinions of men. ‘Generation X women had a higher level of misandry (156) than those of Generation Y (148),’ the authors of the study noted.
‘The older generation holds more traditional views due to personal experience during the Soviet period,’ researchers noted in interpreting the results. ‘It was normal for them to carry a “double load” in marital relations (including stereotypes regarding childcare) and to tolerate domestic violence as a traditional norm (“If he beats you, it means he loves you”). The narrow opportunities for male and female self-expression are echoed in negative, misandristic attitudes.’
It is also possible that the younger respondents had partially assimilated the negative attitudes of older female relatives such as grandmothers and mothers. ‘Socialization remains a significant factor, and the role that parents play in socialization does not diminish,’ said Olga Savinskaya. But she said that the modern generation is more concerned with ‘the stereotyping of male-female relationships, and not just in couples, but also in other areas of society,’ from relations in the workplace to those in leisure pursuits and self-expression.
‘For young people, sexual education is important, and this is not just about learning the 'right' traditions and norms that have grown out of a centuries-old way of life,' the researcher emphasized. 'The opening up of public dialogue about the gender-related foundations (stereotypes formed in the process of socialization, opportunities and freedoms) of sexual relations play a therapeutic role for the modern generation.’
Researchers also studied the connection between misandry and the respondents’ socio-demographic characteristics. It turned out that the level of misandry is higher among mothers (156) than among women without children (147).
Thus, the older female respondents and those with children evince the greatest hostility towards men. ‘It is probably one and the same group,’ the authors of the study explained. ‘The older the woman is, the more likely it is that she has children.’ At the same time, marital status, education, financial status and the nature of the partnership have no effect on the level of misandry.
It turns out that the phenomenon of misandry is culturally rooted in society. The researchers offered two possible explanations for the higher levels of misandry among Generation X women. On the one hand, it could reflect ‘generational shifts in women’s attitudes.’ On the other hand, it might be connected to the life cycle. For example, with the accumulation of experience in performing gender roles in the family, women become increasingly disappointed with men. However, a larger-scale study is needed to make a more complete interpretation of the findings.