"My own mother didn't foster an upbringing that made women seem like loving people," says a man writing to advice columnist Cary Tennis. What follows brings up a whole host of difficult issues.
The letter-writer explains that he suffered "intense emotional and verbal abuse" at the hands of his mother. The result:
I emotionally associate interacting with women (and in many ways, people in general) as a categorical loss of my own value and free will. I learned early on to disappear. Interacting with women on an intimate level is dangerous and destructive. If I do anything that suggests I exist — an opinion, a want, or a need — I expect abandonment as a result of emotional withdrawal or I ready myself for an attack, because really, how dare I.
He also says that he fears acting on any romantic attraction because "I will be attacked and eventually destroyed at the hands of a woman." The letter-writer's fears are obviously severe, and deeply connected to his history of abuse, but I still felt an initial discomfort with his story — men who fear women are, frankly, a group I fear. Tennis (sort of) explains why:
[B]eing terrified of women sounds a little insane and women need to protect themselves from insane men because some insane men are dangerous to women. They murder women and rape women and beat women. So insanity in a man is a red flag. Women wisely avoid insane men.
I don't know that we needed the word "insane" there — men who fear or hate women can be dangerous to women, regardless of whether they're clinically mentally ill. That said, there's no evidence that the letter-writer hates women or is dangerous to them in any way — instead, he seems to avoid interacting with them. And as Tennis points out, reactions like mine are going to make it difficult for him to be open about his fears.
Tennis advocates that he practice dating, and admit to being nervous, but not disclose his fears about women on the first, second, or third date. When should he open up? Tennis is a little bit vague:
Eventually, you will get to the point where you can look at a woman and tell her exactly what is going on right then. For instance, you might get to the point where you can say that in this moment you are absolutely terrified.
Say it with a smile.
Of course, the letter-writer doesn't necessarily have to tell women that he's scared of being "attacked and eventually destroyed at the hands of a woman" in order to open up about being an abuse victim. When and if he does that is up to him (and the therapy he's sought in recent years might help him with this decision), but it's possible that revealing his history would be more productive than directly voicing the most damaging assumptions about women that it created — assumptions that, frankly, would likely drive many women away. I, at least, ultimately came to think of the letter-writer less as a "man who fears women" and more as a "person who was abused by a parent" — and the latter didn't inspire the same knee-jerk response in me. Whether this kind of response is fair, or necessary to keep women safe, is a question for a whole different post. For now, one thing is clear — the letter-writer deserves support for working on a problem that's hard to even talk about without freaking people out.
Mom Made Me Terrified Of Women [Salon]