A fear of women is called gynophobia. Historians say the term arose to define the fear men experience of being humiliated by women, namely by emasculation. Emasculation means to deprive a man of his masculinity or male identity. In other words, to make him feel weak or not “manly” enough.
Misogyny, or the hatred of women, is another phrase resulting from the male fear of being humiliated by a female. The opposite of misogyny is misandry, which means a hatred of men. Gynophobia can affect both men and women.
Gynophobia symptoms may include:
- an immediate, overwhelming fear or worry or terror when you see or think about women
- an understanding that your fear of women is unwarranted or exaggerated but the fear is impossible to control
- anxiety that gets more intense as a woman gets physically closer to you
- consciously keeping away from women or events where you might see women; or feeling extreme anxiety or fright in situations where you see women
- difficulty doing your daily activities because you are fearful of women
- physical manifestations of your fears such as tightness in your chest, sweating, a rapid heartbeat, or difficulty breathing
- an upset stomach, dizziness, or faintness when you’re near women or thinking about women
In children, gynophobia may appear as tantrums with clinging, crying, or a refusal to leave a male parent’s side or approach a woman.
Gynophobia is a specific phobia because it involves an extreme and irrational fear of something — in this case, women — who are not dangerous in most cases, but still manage to trigger worry and avoidance behaviors. As with other specific phobias, gynophobia is chronic and can significantly impair your ability to maintain your work, education, everyday activities, and social life.
Experts aren’t sure what causes gynophobia. Some possible causes include:
- previous bad experiences with women, such as mental or physical abuse, neglect, rape, physical assault, or sexual harassment
- your genetics and environment, including behavior learned from your parents or the people around you
- changes in the way your brain works
Some people are more prone to gynophobia than others. Those most likely to develop gynophobia include:
- young people, as most phobias — including gynophobia — occur in early childhood, often by 10 years of age
- family members with phobias or anxiety disorders (which you may have learned or inherited)
- a personality or temperament that is more sensitive, inhibited, or negative than other people
- a previous negative experience with women
- being told or reading about a negative experience with women from a friend, family member, or even a stranger
Gynophobia might at first seem like nothing more than an odd personality quirk. However, a phobia of women has the potential to grow into a major obstacle in your life. You should see your doctor if your gynophobia is causing you anxiety that:
- negatively affects your work or school performance
- interferes with your social relationships or ability to be social
- impairs your ability to perform other everyday activities
Your doctor may refer you to a mental healthcare provider for specialized treatment.
Suspected cases of gynophobia should be addressed especially promptly in children. Sometimes children outgrow their fears. But because gynophobia can significantly impair a child’s ability to function in society when they age, their fears should be addressed with professional medical help as soon as possible.
You can ask your doctor to screen you for gynophobia. They will talk with you about your symptoms, and ask you to recall your medical, psychiatric, and social histories. Your doctor will also examine you to rule out any physical problems that might be triggering your anxiety. If they think you have gynophobia or other anxiety disorders, your doctor will refer you to a mental healthcare provider for specific treatment.
The majority of people with gynophobia receive their treatment in the form of therapy sessions. Gynophobia is treated primarily with psychotherapy, which is also called talk therapy. Exposure therapy and behavioral therapy are the two most common forms of psychotherapy used to treat gynophobia. Medication may also be used as part of the treatment plan for gynophobia.
You can change the way you respond to women by learning how to change your behavior. Exposure therapy can help you do that. During exposure therapy, your therapist gradually and repeatedly exposes you to things associated with women. Near the end of your treatment, you are exposed to a real-life woman or women.
Incremental exposures help you to cope with the thoughts, feelings, and sensations associated with your fear of women. A sample treatment plan might include your therapist first showing you photos of women. Your therapist will then have you listen to audio voice recordings of women. Finally, your therapist will show you videos of women. After this, your therapist will have you slowly approach a real-life woman in a neutral space, such as outdoors.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) combines exposure therapy and other therapeutic techniques to teach you different ways to view and cope with your fear of women. Some aspects of CBT include learning how to:
- view your phobia in a different way
- cope with the bodily sensations associated with your phobia
- emotionally deal with the impact your phobia has had on your life
After walking out of your CBT sessions, you should feel more confident, like you have some mastery of your thoughts and feelings instead of feeling overwhelmed by them.
Usually, psychotherapy alone is very good at treating gynophobia. However, it can sometimes be helpful to use medications designed to decrease your feelings of anxiety or panic attacks associated with gynophobia. Such mediations should only be used at the start of treatment to help speed up your recovery.
You can also use these medications on an infrequent, short-term basis. For example, in situations where your fear of women prevents you from doing something important, such as getting medical treatment from a woman or visiting the emergency room.
Medications used to treat gynophobia include:
- Beta blockers: Beta blockers control the effects of adrenaline on the body. Adrenaline normally surges when the body experiences anxiety, and this can result in uncomfortable and sometimes harmful physical problems including a boost in heart rate and blood pressure, heart palpitations, and a shaky voice and limbs.
- Sedatives: Benzodiazepines help calm your body by diminishing your anxiety. These medications are highly addictive and should be used with caution. If you have a past history of alcohol or drug abuse, avoid taking benzodiazepines.
Gynophobia can have a huge negative affect on your quality of life. Possible complications of gynophobia include social isolation, mood disorders, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts or attempts.
It’s critical for you to ask for help if you need it. It’s even more important if you have children who are, or could be affected by, your phobia. Proper treatment can help you reduce your anxiety and enjoy living your life normally again. The key to recovery success is continuing your treatment plan to keep your gynophobia symptoms at bay.