- Gynophobia is the irrational fear of women.
- It can affect both men and women.
- Gynophobia is not hatred of women/ misogyny, it is an anxiety-provoking fear response.
- It can result from upbringing, previous traumatic experiences with women, or a genetic predisposition to developing a mental illness.
The fear of women is something that does not seem like a genuine fear, but it unfortunately is very real. The person suffering from this fear has to live in a world where half the population is something they fear. That does not seem plausible, does it? But that’s actually how gynophobia works.
A person suffering from gynophobia will be fearful of women and being around women so much so that they avoid such situations altogether, hence making it extremely difficult to live a relatively normal and anxiety-free life.
What Does Gynophobia Mean?
Gynophobia is an irrational and specific phobia of women. This phobia can affect and hinder the daily life of the person suffering from it. It makes the person extremely phobic of the situations where they have to talk to or be around women.
Gynophobia is a fear of women, but it does not mean hatred of women, nor is this a reason for misogyny. It is an anxiety-filled response that affects both men and women. Meanwhile, misogyny is a learned or internalized cultural and societal value-based attitude and behavior.
These are not the same, as misogyny may be based on hatred or ignorant views and biases, but gynophobia is based on real and genuine anxiety and fear of women. Misogyny is a prejudicial ideology and gynophobia is an involuntary and uncontrolled fear.
This also means that having just a hard time socializing with women is not alone a criterion for gynophobia. Gynophobia is a high-level intense fear and anticipatory anxiety just based on thoughts about women, being around women, being around feminine images or videos, and hearing women-related words and voices.
Gynophobia is not recognized as a disorder under the DSM-5, but this type of phobia is equivalent to specific phobias.
Reasons and risks of gynophobia
The causes of this specific phobia may be wide-ranging and, based on the individual’s personal life and predisposition to mental illnesses. The threat of women just comes from their presence and a trigger that is specific to these individuals.
It affects the lives of people’s daily lives and the ability to maintain a work-life, academic, general, and social life.
The reasons for this phobia include:
1. Previous terrible experiences with women
The experiences that a person goes through vividly affect them. Negative and traumatic early life experiences can be a reason for early onset or a triggering factor for developing gynophobia.
If a person has suffered through abuse at a young age; mental, physical, or sexual abuse, they become at risk of developing gynophobia. These experiences may predispose them to develop high levels of fear and anxiety around and about women.
Having a genetic predisposition to fear or someone in their family suffering from mental illness may lead to the passing down of more susceptible genes. If the person’s family has suffered from anxiety or panic disorders, it may be in their hereditary nature to be more vulnerable to such phobias and anxious feelings as well.
Growing up in an environment where a person is surrounded by people who speak about their terrible experiences of women and generally have negative dispositions and assumptions towards women, they might learn from the people around them to be fearful or feel cautious about women.
Having a parent or family member suffer through a phobia or panic disorder may also leave an impression on them in childhood and normalize this phobic behavior and thoughts.
4. Witnessing a traumatic event.
Witnessing a traumatic event involving females, and early in childhood where things can get easily influenced and confusing, can lead to a person being at risk for gynophobia.
This traumatic event can be any extreme event that changes the perspective of the child regarding women. Witnessing accidents, rage negative behavior, sexual or physical abuse, etc. conducted by women, may give way to developing such fears.
5. Cultural influences
It is important to take note of the place and the society that the people are a part of as how women are treated and regarded by the people around them really affects people at a young age.
As people grow up, they internalize and act out in the same way they think is culturally appropriate.
People at most risk of developing gynophobia
Gynophobia is not that well researched and it is difficult to pin down what exactly may be the cause or the risk factor, but it is understood that some of the following play a role in influencing the individual to develop this fear.
1. Children by the age of 10
It is understood and known that young kids are more perceptive to the development of phobias.
Usually, by the age of 10, the kids have become well accustomed to the world around them and start developing world views and ideas that stay with them as they become adults.
Facing trauma at this age or being in an environment that promotes gynophobia can leave kids at risk to develop this fear based on their childhood experiences and memories.
Usually, the fear shows up as tantrums, clinging, crying, or not trying to leave a male parent’s side. They become fearful of the women approaching them and don’t want to be near them.
2. Family with phobias or anxiety disorders
A person becomes at risk for gynophobia if they have a family who has a history of phobias or anxiety disorders. Genetic predisposition makes a person at risk of developing gynophobia.
3. Timid or sensitive personality and temperament
People who have negative and pessimistic outlooks on life can be at risk of developing phobias. People with generally more sensitive and receptive personalities are at risk of developing gynophobia.
Having a sensitive or timid temperament from an early age is a marker of a risk for developing gynophobia.
4. Negative experience with women
Negative experiences with women at a young age can be a risk factor for developing gynophobia. A person going through harrowing experiences as a child can lead to trauma and fear, anxiety-inducing responses from an individual.
Negative experiences are more concrete, growing experiences that color the lives of people who go through them and have to go through trauma. They develop defenses to avoid further hurt or shame. These defenses can result in gynophobia after festering in an individual.
5. Being exposed to negative stories and traits about women from others
If at an impressionable age, they are exposed to negative stories about women always being painted terribly and in negative situations, they might be at risk of developing gynophobia.
Hearing constant negative talk about women and being told as a young child about the lives of real women in a negative way
can predispose an individual to be at risk for this fear.
Symptoms of gynophobia
Gynophobia is a specific phobia, and it has a few common symptoms with panic and anxiety symptoms and other specific symptoms that differentiate it to be gynophobia. Some of the symptoms include:
The physical symptoms of gynophobia tend to overlap with other anxiety and panic disorders. These symptoms are noted to be consistent for over more than 3 weeks and are persistent in this situation. It is not gynophobia if it is only one-off.
These symptoms are present in the high-intensity range and affect the person severely enough to disrupt their lifestyle. The physical manifestation of fear and anxiety is shown through the following:
1. Lightheadedness/ dizziness/ fainting
Feeling light-headed when there is a mention of women, thought of women, or after getting to know that women might be present where they are/ going to be.
Fear and stress response may lead to this feeling of dizziness.
2. Tightness in the chest
Knowing that there are women around them or that they may have to interact with them, and that they cannot always be avoided, can lead to fearful thoughts and defenses.
Tightness in the chest can occur as a result of the fearful thoughts and stressful nature of the situations they get into to avoid being around women.
Fear, anxiety, and stress about thoughts of women or being around women reaches a level where they are extremely anxious. This extreme anxiety leads to sweating profusely.
4. Rapid heartbeat
An increase in heart rate occurs as a result of the fearful and anxiety-inducing thoughts and situations about women that these individuals have to face.
Anxiety and panic about the uncertainty of running into women or being caught off-guard around women or seeing something triggering may result in a rapid heartbeat.
5. Difficulty breathing.
The fear and anxiety become so much that they have difficulty breathing when they find themselves in the vicinity of women. It also becomes so stressful that they discover that they’re holding onto their breath or are unable to breathe when they experience something triggering.
6. Upset Stomach
Extreme anxiety and always being in panic mode can leave people with an upset stomach. The exorbitant amount of nausea that is a signifier of anxiety can affect an individual’s stomach.
This upset stomach occurs when they are panicked and caught in a situation where their anxiety and fear become too overwhelming.
As gynophobia is a specific phobia, the following symptoms must have an irrational and excessive fear which has an immediate anxiety response. They must try to avoid the fearful situation, which results in having their life affected by this fear.
It should also be present for more than 6 months consistently and is assured is not caused by another disorder like generalized anxiety disorder or social phobia, or general health issues.
Specific phobias can co-occur with other mental health disorders such as major depressive disorder, mood disorder, substance dependence, social phobia, or generalized anxiety disorder. People can sometimes suffer from overlapping and multiple phobias, so care must be taken to be diagnosed with gynophobia correctly.
Gynophobia is witnessed in individuals through some of the following behaviors, thoughts, and actions, which include:
1. Excessive worrying and fear of being around women
The individual is characterized by having an intense and debilitating fear of women or of being around women. The fear is out of proportion and irrational in nature and the individual is aware of the unreasonable nature of their fear.
2. Overwhelming fear while thinking of women or being around them.
An individual suffering from gynophobia will have an overwhelming and uncontrollable fear when thinking of women or having the knowledge that they have to be around women.
3. Awareness that this fear and anxiety is irrational but unable to control it.
The individual suffers from the unexplainable fear and they are aware of how unreasonable this fear and anxiety is, but they cannot change or control it by themselves due to the intense nature of their fear.
4. Extreme anxiety when a woman gets close.
People suffering from gynophobia experience extreme anxiety and psychical symptoms attached to anxiety such as rapid heartbeat and sweating, etc. While they are around a woman. If a woman gets too close without their awareness, they might get extremely overwhelmed by the fear.
5. Avoiding being around or meeting women.
Because of their debilitating fear, they do everything possible to avoid being around in the same places as women.
This avoidance may lead them to take up jobs or streams where they don’t have to interact with other women. They may also lose out on academic and social life as they avoid meeting women at all costs.
6. Avoiding events where women will be present.
They will avoid well-known or better places/ events just to avoid being around too many women. They will gather knowledge about the event and then decide to avoid it if they find it overwhelming.
They may also entirely avoid going to certain places altogether because they can never be sure of when and where they might run into women, and due to this uncertainty they may just skip events that they cannot gather information on and know beforehand about how many women will be present.
7. Facing problems maintaining a regular life due to the excessiveness of this fear.
As women make up half of the population and are entirely impossible to be without any women present in their life, they face difficulties in keeping and starting social relationships. This may also hinder their professional and academic as well as personal goals, as they cannot get into any place without talking to or running into women in public or personal spaces.
This fear becomes so excessive that their demands become irrational and they become a recluse by choice and also start choosing life based on avoiding this fear, such as going to all men’s schools/ boarding institutes even if their academic goals are not aligned.
8. A sense of desperation
When the person suffering from gynophobia realizes that they are around women, or encounter uncontrolled stimuli regarding women, they may engage in and feel a sense of desperation for leaving or getting out of that situation.
They may get desperate, look for ways to escape that situation if they come across women, find a video or picture of a woman, etc. They want to avoid this fearful situation and they get desperate while trying to get out of it. They may leave social or work situations without explaining or entirely abruptly and rudely.
This is when they start disconnecting from the situation they are in. The trigger or the panic-sending stimuli might be small but may lead to someone being disconnected and dissociative in nature.
Depersonalization is feeling disconnected from one’s thoughts, feelings, and ideas. This is difficult to go through as one does not recognize one’s own thoughts and behavior. The unreasonable and uncontrollable nature of this fear leads to people feeling detached and dissociated from their own selves, which leads to more difficulty and panic.
10. Not feeling in control
When someone is suffering from gynophobia, they do not feel in control of the thoughts, ideas, and views that they hold and the fear that they have regarding women. The fear is so strong and irrational that they realize that they are not the one controlling it but that their life is being controlled by this unrealistic fear.
Treatment for gynophobia
Phobias as they become a hassle in a person’s daily life, and therefore need to be treated effectively. The most effective treatments for phobias include behavioral therapies and psychotherapy, as well as medication.
Some of the most commonly used treatments for gynophobia include:
1. Exposure Therapy
ET is one of the most effective therapies that work on the anxiety-like and fear symptoms of gynophobia. It works on making people suffering from phobias get exposed to the phobic situation or stimulus. It works by getting them used to it and working towards getting rid of their situational fears entirely. The fear is being confronted in micro-doses.
In a therapy session, the therapist slowly and effectively exposes the client towards things they associate with and fear about women. The ultimate effectiveness test of the sessions would be the client directly being near/ talking to a woman comfortably without feeling overwhelming fear.
The process will involve starting low by drawing/pictures or photos of women, becoming comfortable with those, and escalating eventually to audio and videos. The final testament to the process would be talking to or being around a woman in a neutral setting.
The sessions are usually 5-6 in number and a minimum 50-60 minutes long depending on the therapist and the intensity of the fear and the willingness of the client to get over their fear.
2. Cognitive Behavior Therapy
CBT gives clients various ways to deal with their phobias. It helps clients understand and view their phobia in a different light, cope with the reactions and bodily accompanied by a phobia and then emotionally deal with the gynophobia.
CBT helps clients gain more self-trust and confidence and tools to deal with their fearful and overpowering thoughts.
The client and therapist work together throughout multiple sessions to work on their thoughts and actions and how to rearrange them in a new light. The therapist also gives the client tools to use outside of the session and a lot of homework is given to understand and strengthen the positive responses and relaxation skills and techniques of the client.
Medications are used to deal with the physical symptoms and manifestations that come with the phobia. The awareness of the anxiety that is felt in the body can lead to the worsening of the phobia and hence, with therapy, medication can also be given for severe cases.
The diagnostician may subscribe to some anti-depressants, beta-blockers, or sedatives to get the anxiety-like symptoms under control to aid the therapy process.
Medication is only recommended if kept under control. As the medication treats anxiety symptoms, it should be of note that medication should not be abused or over-prescribed. Medication prescribed during the initial sessions is usually the best combination that is given out.
Complications if left untreated
It may not seem like a serious problem to people suffering from it, but it can become complicated if left untreated. It is a phobia, and the fear is irrational. That is something that shouldn’t be left untreated, as it can affect the person for the rest of their life.
They may live in fear and anxiety all their life, go through troubling physical health, and also have their life upturned socially, as well as in personal relations.
Some complications include, but are not limited to:
1. Social isolation
It can lead to social isolation as the population of women is always present in academic, social, and workplace circles. It is nearly impossible to avoid meeting women or running into them at a place altogether.
This impossible need to avoid them leads to social isolation as they are left with limited or no options at all to go out or try to form a new friendship or maintain a cordial workplace or family relationship.
This lack of a non-adjusting attitude makes them drop from plans or friends and almost always out of meet-up plan discussions, making them feel even more isolated and disconnected.
With difficulty maintaining daily life and also experiencing social isolation, it becomes easier for people suffering from gynophobia to suffer from depression.
As they are not going out, not leaving a safe space, and feeling like they’re all alone with their fear and anxiety, it can drive them further into depression and make it more difficult to get help when they need it the most.
3. Substance abuse and misuse
Because of their feelings of isolation, anxiety, and fear, they may start using and abusing drugs to get through these terrible feelings they feel. They may start to depend on them to alleviate their fears and anxiety. This dependency and misuse of substances is a negative and harmful way of dealing with gynophobia.
When faced with the possibility that one is suffering from gynophobia, it is important to remember that this phobia is treatable and that people don’t have to live with their crippling fear for their entire life.
Tips to deal with gynophobia
When you realize you are suffering from gynophobia, your first instinct may be to try and get it under control. The following are the steps that you can take to deal with your phobia:
1. Seek out a therapist.
When you realize, you have a fear that is not in your control and is affecting your daily life, you can take charge to join therapy. Getting the necessary help is required to get over something that is so deep within someone.
Therapy will help you understand why the fear exists, how you can deal with it effectively, and give you tools to deal with it anytime in your life post-therapy. It is a process to go through but entirely worth it when the result is to be free of the fear and the constraints it puts on your life.
2. Understand your fear.
Understanding what triggers you, what is the history behind your fear will help you in conquering it. Understanding its roots and why it exists is a basic step needed to know how to change and overcome fear.
This step will be needed and explored in therapy as well, so it is pertinent to know how and why you have your fear.
3. Know the limits of your fear.
Fear can exist on a wide range of scales and differs in intensity from person to person. Knowing what you can and cannot tolerate, how long you can go in a fearful situation, what you tend to avoid, what makes you feel cautious and in danger, where all can you go, where is your safe space, what exactly is your reaction and how is it perceived by others? These and similar things you should try to find out about your fear.
Knowing the limits of your fear will help you to know what you can and cannot tolerate, and what you would need help with from your therapist.
4. Try experimenting
To know and truly understand your limits, you can experiment to know what are the fearful situations, and what are your responses in the daily situations that you face. You can try to experiment with what you can endure by yourself, what is bearable and achievable.
You probably fear it tremendously to see a woman on screen but if you try to experiment, you may realize that you are able to tolerate pictures of women or audio that may play in the background that have female voices, or when you are not so focused, you can be around women when men outnumber them.
But these experiments should not be carried out meaninglessly, it should be planned and careful. If you are unable to go through a situation then you become aware of your limits and should reach out to a therapist to remedy this situation.
Gynophobia is a very real but fortunately, treatable fear. It is important to seek help as you realize that you are suffering from gynophobia, as it affects a person’s lifestyle. Phobias are not preventable, they just happen, therefore, getting help is the best solution when you realize you or someone you know is suffering from gynophobia.
Even though gynophobia is an irrational fear of women, a well-trained male therapist will be able to treat you effectively. They are non-judgemental, so you don’t need to feel shame while reaching out.
The treatment of phobias is rigorous but effective and therefore needs a patient way of dealing with the process. It takes time and should not be given up because of its slow nature. Remember, it is better to try a treatment rather than leaving it
untreated as it leads to more complications.
Passionate about both writing and psychology. A Counseling psychologist by profession and a writer by desire. Her aim has always been to combine the two wherever she can. You can always catch her updating her reading list and reflecting on the world around us. Empathetic to a fault and hoping to help people enough to leave a positive impact.