Wandering around the house one day I went into my parents’ bedroom. Next to their bed on the nightstand was a stack of Playboy magazines. I picked the first one up and started flipping through the pages. I was four years old.
Inside I discovered a nude photo of a beautiful, brunette woman. I imagine my eyes must have been the size of a Simpsons character as I took it all in. She was laying back, relaxed, with one arm above her head and her other at her side.
Her long hair cascaded down over her shoulder. Her perfectly painted face with inviting eyes made my heart race and captured my imagination. The lines and curves of her body were as if she were perfectly sculpted, carved out of marble by a master craftsman. I was immobilized and entranced. She was a goddess.
I couldn’t at that time tell you what or why, but there was something about women that I thought was amazing. As a child, most of my male friends thought (or at least broadcasted) that girls were “icky” and had cooties. I disagreed. I thought they were awesome.
Through my adolescence, I sacrificed almost anything and everything for my romantic interests; including my self-esteem. As an adult, I would joke that I had a borderline dysfunctional worship of women, and perhaps that was true. But it wasn’t until years later, after reflecting upon two failed marriages and countless other relationships that I had to admit what the evidence was showing me: I was a misogynist.
Up until that time I couldn’t have even spelled that word, let alone thought I was one. It was, and in some ways still is, a painful revelation. In reading about misogyny I learned that most misogynists don’t even know they hate women.
That was a little comforting. I also learned that this behavior is established early in life as a result of trauma involving a woman. That confused me because I had no such event (of which I was conscious, anyway).
Instead, I had a series of negative experiences with females of all ages, combined with my interpretations of behavior from men that planted these seeds. I liked girls … I mean, REALLY liked girls. At ages 4 – 6 I didn’t see them as so different from me. They were just kids as I was—only somehow especially awesome. But at about age 7 when I started noticing how I really felt about them and because I liked them so much, I started to become nervous around them. It made me a bit awkward and it wasn’t long before they saw me as different, weird, and someone to avoid.
I felt abandoned, rejected, and alone. At one point a group of older girls (maybe 10 or 12) found me at a playground one day and their curiosity inspired them to “play” with me a bit. I recall their laughter at the awkward fun they had.
In grammar school I was made fun of by one teacher for my (lack of) drawing ability. I was once denied permission to go to the restroom during class until it was so painful I couldn’t stop myself and peed in my pants. I was ridiculed. One year I was removed from the rest of the class and made to sit in the corner of the room in what today I could call “the dunce table.” And I watched my father — the most influential person in my life — deal with his divorce from my mother, nurturing the sub-conscious thoughts that women were malevolent.
I had no idea those thoughts were in my brain. I dismissed the idea that I didn’t adore women. I was shocked that anyone would think anything different of me. And I was even more shocked to discover they were right.
I hated women and I had no idea I felt that way. I fought with them. I slept with them, sometimes using them and other times allowing myself to be used. I was verbally and emotionally abusive. And there were two instances in my life where things even started to become physical.
This may sound as if I’m excusing my behavior or blaming others. I’m not. I don’t even blame myself. “Blame” involves “fault” and that requires a victim mentality. And I refuse to be a victim.
Instead, I take FULL RESPONSIBILITY for myself, my life and my history. Responsibility isn’t “fault.” Responsibility is “ownership.” And by taking ownership, I empower myself. Shame cannot exist once it has been witnessed. So this is my confession and, from this place of responsibility, I offer my apology:
I hear how my words and actions affected you and I understand your experience. I assure you that it was never my intention to harm you, upset you, dismiss you, ignore you, cling onto you, hold you back, beat you down, use you, abuse you or hurt you in any way.
I ask for your understanding and compassion for a man who has carried many misinterpretations and sub-conscious beliefs with him throughout his life and I assure you that I am doing everything I can to heal those wounds inside me so that I do not inflict any more on you.
I cannot change the things I have said and done, nor do I have any power to change how you choose to interpret them or feel about me. I can only offer you my gratitude for what you have taught me and I wish that my lessons didn’t have to come at your expense. I hope you will hear that I do love (and still borderline dysfunctionally worship) you and I will do all I can to help other men to do the same, so that your daughters don’t have to share in the cost of your sons’ educations.
The Recovering Misogynist
Photo credit: Getty Images