Boys will be misogynists: Men's hatred of women begins in infancy. Psychotherapist Adam Jukes tells Angela Neustatter how their mothers are responsible
Wednesday 07 July 1993
So it is with a certain trepidation that I knock on the door of his north London flat, wondering quite what level of fear and loathing to expect when the beast within responds. In the event, Mr Jukes, a psychotherapist, is a pretty mild embodiment of misogyny. He describes it as 'as natural to men as the possession of a penis' and declares that 'Men are not good to women or for them'. He is a quiet-voiced, middle-aged man in neat, dark clothes and flamboyant tie whose early formality turns to larky laughter as our conversation progresses.
There are also a few attempts to distance himself from the extremity of his title. He had wanted to call the book The Fraudulent Phallus: understandably, his publishers thought not. And he tries a couple of times to mitigate the relentless picture he has presented of an emotional Terminator.
But what he has to say in Why Men Hate Women (Free Association Books pounds 15.95) is unequivocal and challenging. At the risk of being dubbed an Uncle Tom by his own sex and an unpalatable aficionado of feminism, he suggests, contentiously, that the genesis of misogyny lies in what happens, early on, between boys and their mothers. He argues that the feminist analysis of a male-orchestrated culture serving up endless demeaning and damaging images of women, and allowing boys to believe from a very young age that they are entitled to have power over the opposite sex, is right, but that it does not go far enough. He spreads pale hands wide, saying: 'Culture may teach men attitudes and give them permission to maltreat women, but I think that to understand where the wish to behave like this comes from we have to look at psychodynamics. The floor of my consulting room is littered with the psyches of men struggling with their relationships with mothers.'
Over and over he has heard how men's feelings about their mothers colour the way they relate to other women. He concluded that they punish women for not providing the perfect love experienced in infancy before they had to make the psychological separation necessary to 'learn' to become men. Although it is male children who reject the mother and seek a man to model themselves on, they feel it the other way round. Mr Jukes explains: 'The baby boy, without the intellectual knowledge to understand what is going on, believes the mother is rejecting him. In his eyes she stops being simply the 'princess', who made him feel totally and unconditionally loved, and becomes a 'witch', making him suffer.'
The effect of this, according to Mr Jukes' theory, which draws on a wide range of sources from Freud and Melanie Klein to Nancy Chodorow and Dorothy Dinnerstein, is devastating. The child begins to feel that dependency and vulnerability at the hands of a woman are dangerous, and the conflict he experiences evokes fear and sadistic feelings. Mr Jukes says: 'He has to repress those feelings, but at some level the the boy decides never again to allow a woman such power over him. I believe (that decision) is made by all men, whatever the particular form or intensity it adopts in adulthood.'
And that is the crux of it. A child whose separation is wrapped around with adequate loving and succour, and whose subsequent experiences with women are positive, will probably be able to sustain relationships.
Before we accuse Mr Jukes of overstating his case, he suggests looking at the plethora of articles in which women describe how men hurt them mentally and physically. He points out that far more women than men initiate divorce. And, of course, men's ability to treat women as a dangerous alien species has been the stuff of literature from Greek mythology, through Shakespeare, to D H Lawrence, Philip Roth and others.
Mr Jukes's starting point was the work he does as a psychotherapist. Men from across the social spectrum are referred to him because their behaviour has reached the courts or is breaking up their marriages. He always assumed, as most of us do, that these men were exceptional. 'At first I thought they must be disturbed and sick. But I began to recognise, as they described attempts to control, often leading up to physically threatening and violent actions, kinds of behaviour and rationalisations I know in myself and in men friends.'
For example? 'Shouting, swearing, using intimidating gestures, being highly critical of, say, a woman's abilities as a mother, her physical appearance, humiliating her in front of people - there are so many ways that men set out to control women and which are considered quite acceptable. I know some women behave this way towards men, but the crucial difference is that they do not have cultural support in doing so. Nor do men feel the fear women live with, that a man may turn to violence.
'I believe that the man who feels the need to control his partner, and focuses on this, may well have little or no time for his children and indeed may be jealous of them. If such a man does not succeed in getting the control he wants over his partner, he very possibly will leave home and children. Or, as very often happens, wives sue for divorce because of unreasonable behaviour by their partners. In both cases you have a situation where children are left without fathers.'
Is Mr Jukes one of those men who are eager to prove personal virtue by turning against their own sex? His book is, on his own admission, a mea culpa exercise. But he made me stop and think. I found myself recalling an uncomfortable number of times when women friends, who on the surface have comfortable, egalitarian relationships, have wanted support and comfort because of verbal abuse, intimidation, and even physical violence by their partners.
The pain of separation from the mother can cause another type of behaviour: that of the man who cannot get emotionally close to a woman and who runs scared at the idea of commitment. He has learnt to split off the intimate emotions and, in due course, to shut them down rather than risk being hurt again.
Mr Jukes recalls: 'I have done this myself, and I know very well that male pattern of putting all my emotional energy into work and success, rather than revealing that I might be dependant on a woman or vulnerable to her. Women who have been courted with desire and dedication by men who then turn cold when they offer intimacy, suffer a great deal and feel they have done something wrong.'
And it is women's desire for intimacy which tends to be seen as pathological, for example in such books as Women Who Love Too Much.
So if all this trouble stems from the early relationship with Mum, what can be done? Mr Jukes is at pains to say he is not blaming mothers, and blame is probably not the point. But if, as he maintains, the mother who gives her son a strong enough sense of being loved even while the break takes place protects him from the wildest excesses of misogyny, then we ought to stop and listen.
We do betray children when we leave them for long hours, disregarding howls or pleas to stay with them, and convince ourselves it is OK. We betray them by seeking careers for our own satisfaction and leaving them the rump of our attention. We betray them by sending them to boarding school at a pitifully young age.
There may be good and sometimes immutable reasons why women do this. There is also a vicious circle. Good mothering rests to a large extent on self-esteem, good support and having the mental time and space to give to our children. Women caught up in abusive relationships with men may have none of these. But, all the same, perhaps the many women who have spent the past two-and-a-half decades focusing on what is wrong with men should read a book that considers their role in men's misogyny.
Through his work, Mr Jukes sees men deciding they will not go on being violent and abusive, and hopes they will read his book because it may help them to change. He also believes that the circuit can be broken through women's financial and mental independence. 'I see couples where the woman has enough sense of herself - and the means to leave a man if she dislikes his behaviour - working happily and with genuine equality. But how many women are in this kind of strong position where their lives are not prone to men's whims?'
Mr Jukes believes he has such a relationship with his partner, but the sadistic feelings are still there bubbling beneath the surface. Sometimes he wants to intimidate or shout her down if she does not do as he wishes. Keeping misogyny at bay does not sound easy when you hear him describing his daily mantra, designed to prevent him from slipping into sexist and abusive behaviour.
And there is his angst about being seen as a reviled outsider. It comes out almost as a plea when he says: 'I have a terror of being dubbed the man who hates women.'
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