Gynophobia is an abnormal fear of women that can make an individual feel overwhelmed and also affect their daily life. Becoming aware of this strange condition can help sufferers understand and overcome their fear and live a fulfilling life.
What Is Gynophobia?
An irrational and intense fear of women is known as gynophobia. Derived from the Greek term gunē (women) and phobos (fear), it is a form of specific social phobia that is also known as gynephobia or feminophobia. Previously, this disorder was known as horror feminae 1. It is believed that the term gynophobia was originally used to describe the anxiety and fear men experience during the process of emasculation and humiliation by different women. As emasculation often makes most men feel mentally and emotionally vulnerable by depriving them of their masculinity, it can often lead to the development of a fear of or aversion to women.
Not only men, but women can also be affected by gynophobia. The sufferers are not only afraid of women in general, they can also be scared of their own female family members like mothers and sisters, as well as romantic partners or potential mates. People with this condition may avoid interacting with women and may even avoid marriage as their crippling fear often leads to high levels of anxiety and panic attacks. Although this phobia is not officially recognized by the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it can be potentially diagnosed with the criteria provided for specific phobias. Venustaphobia or caligynephobia, which refers to the fear of beautiful women, is an associated phobia.
As both children and adults can be impacted by this disorder, it can affect the sufferer in their adulthood if this fear of women is not resolved during their childhood or adolescence.
Gynophobia vs Misogyny
Even though it may appear similar to most people, misogyny must not be confused with gynophobia. This phobia is completely different from misogyny, which is a hatred for or prejudice against women. While misogyny is primarily a socio-cultural attitude that can be damaging, gynophobia is a phobic response that can lead to severe anxiety in the sufferer.
Berit Brogaard, D.M.Sci., Ph.D., a professor of philosophy and the Director of the Brogaard Lab for Multisensory Research at the University of Miami, explains that misogyny refers to “hatred toward women or a type of woman for a particular reason.” This hatred can often develop in an individual because women “don’t act in accordance with beliefs the misogynist has about how women should think and behave,” Berit adds. However, gynophobia is a social anxiety disorder where fear is triggered either by thinking about women or by interacting with them. Misogyny is a mindset but this specific phobia is a clinical condition where the sufferer may experience nausea, cold sweats and palpitation by coming into contact with women. Hence, they avoid women and isolate themselves from women completely.
Symptoms Of Gynophobia
Patients suffering from a clinical fear of women may experience the following symptoms:
- Feeling an intense and overwhelming fear and anxiety when thinking about or encountering women.
- Inability to control their fear and phobic reactions even if they are aware that their fear is irrational.
- Increasing levels of anxiety when anticipating or interacting with women.
- Deliberately avoiding situations where they might encounter women socially.
- Their fear affects their normal daily functioning.
Apart from these, there are some other physical and psychological symptoms of gynophobia as well:
1. Physical symptoms:
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heartbeat
- Tightness in your chest
- Dizziness and nausea
- Upset stomach
- Dry mouth
2. Psychological symptoms
- Panic attacks
- Mood swings
- Haunting thoughts and images related to women
- Inability to speak or form sentences
- Inability to develop a positive relationship with women
In children, gynophobia may manifest through crying, clinging, or refusal to leave a male family member’s support and comfort.
Causes Of Gynophobia
The exact cause for the development of an irrational and extreme fear of women, who are usually not dangerous, is not clearly known. However, like most specific phobias, gynophobia is believed to be caused by several contributing factors like genetics and environment. Most experts believe that this specific phobia is likely a result of experience and environment.
Here are some of the most probable causes for the development of gynophobia:
1. Genetic factors
People with a family history 2 of phobias or anxiety disorders are more likely to develop specific phobias like the fear of women. Genetics play a crucial role when it comes to fears and phobias, revealed one study 3. It states that “both heritable factors as well as environmental factors such as trauma, vicarious learning, and/or negative information are important for differences in fearfulness and phobias – at least in children.”
2. Environmental factors
Environmental factors 4 also play a contributing role in gynophobia. Traumatic experiences with women are one of the major factors for the onset of a fear of women. Mental, physical, or sexual abuse, abandonment, rejection, infidelity, public humiliation and various other negative experiences may lead to an intense phobic reaction towards women. Some mental health professionals also believe that unresolved issues with mothers can also be a contributing factor. Childhood gynophobia can affect and impact the life of a patient well into their adulthood, influencing them to consider women as an emotional or physical threat. Moreover, scary stories about witches may also trigger this phobia at times.
3. Other factors
Apart from genetics and environment, our brain structure and personality may also influence the development of such a phobia. Someone who is more inhibited, sensitive or has a negative attitude may be more likely to be afraid of women.
Diagnosis Of Gynophobia
Having a phobia of women may not necessarily be an isolated disorder as it may often be associated with some other psychiatric or personality disorders. As gynophobia is not recognized by the DSM-5 as a separate diagnosable condition, it may be diagnosed according to the criteria for specific phobias.
The diagnostic criteria for specific phobias include:
- Intense and exaggerated fear that is unreasonable.
- Instant anxiety as a response to the feared object, women in case of gynophobia.
- Excessive anxiety and distress when thinking about or encountering women.
- Intentionally avoiding women.
- The patient’s ability to function properly in daily life is drastically affected.
- Symptoms must be present for at least 6 months.
- It should not be caused by any other medical or psychological conditions.
Treatment Of Gynophobia
Although the fear of women may not appear like a damaging condition to most of us, gynophobia can become a serious obstacle in the sufferer’s life. High levels of anxiety caused by this disorder can:
- Adversely affect their performance in school or work
- Negatively affect their personal relationships and prevent them for developing romantic connections
- Disrupt their social lives and ability to socialize
- Interferes with their daily functioning
This is why it is crucial for people suffering from the fear of women to seek professional help and medical treatment. Although there is no specific treatment for this particular condition, a mental health professional may recommend therapy, medication or a combination of both, after analyzing their medical and psychiatric histories. The doctor may also conduct some tests and examinations to ensure that the symptoms are not manifested by any other medical condition.
Here are some treatment options available for patients suffering from gynophobia:
If someone is suffering from this condition, then a doctor or a mental health professional may recommend the following therapy techniques for treatment:
A. Exposure therapy
Exposure therapy 5 is an effective way to change a patient’s phobic reaction to women. By repeated and gradual exposure to images and media related to women in a controlled setting, a therapist will try to desensitize the patient to their fear and enable them to develop positive coping mechanisms. As the sufferer becomes increasingly desensitized and their fear drastically reduces, the therapist will ask the patient to encounter and interact with women in real life to gain control over their fear and themselves.
Exposure therapy helps to modify the thoughts, emotions, behaviors, perceptions and reactions of the patient towards women in a step-by-step and incremental manner.
B. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT 6 teaches patients to gain new perspectives, manage their emotions and overcome their fear of women. It merges exposure therapy and other therapeutic strategies to –
- Change their underlying beliefs
- Observe their fear from a different perspective
- Manage their phobic reactions and bodily sensations when encountering women
- Regulate the emotional impact of their fear
CBT makes the sufferers feel more confident about themselves and allows them to master their thoughts and behaviors instead of feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
Although there are no specific medications for the treatment of gynophobia, certain medications can be used to relieve anxiety, panic attacks and other symptoms associated with this condition. Medications can prove to be especially effective when used along with therapy. However, medications must be taken only during the initial phase of the treatment process to enhance the efficiency of therapy and improve the effectiveness of the recovery process. It may also be used for a short-term period on an infrequent basis.
Presently, the following medications are used in the treatment of gynophobia:
- Beta-blockers help to manage the physical symptoms of anxiety.
- Sedatives, like benzodiazepines, help to reduce severe anxiety.
- Antidepressants, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), help to prevent panic attacks.
However, it should be remembered that medication only helps in relieving the symptoms associated with this phobia and not the actual condition or the underlying causes.
Women deserve respect, not fear
Gynophobia can have some serious impact on a person’s life. Not only can it affect their personal life and relationships, it can also lead to mood disorders like depression, social isolation, substance abuse and even suicidal tendencies.
This is why it is important for the patient to speak with a trusted loved one and seek professional help. Treatment can help them to manage their fear and anxiety so that they can live a normal, social and happy life once again.References:
- Wortis, J. (1993). Heterophobia: Horror feminae and horror viri.. Biological Psychiatry, 34(8), 505–506. https://doi.org/10.1016/0006-3223(93)90191-F
- Loken, E., Hettema, J., Aggen, S., & Kendler, K. (2014). The structure of genetic and environmental risk factors for fears and phobias. Psychological Medicine, 44(11), 2375-2384. doi:10.1017/S0033291713003012
- Lichtenstein P, Annas P. Heritability and prevalence of specific fears and phobias in childhood. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2000 Oct;41(7):927-37. PMID: 11079435.
- Loken, E. K., Hettema, J. M., Aggen, S. H., & Kendler, K. S. (2014). The structure of genetic and environmental risk factors for fears and phobias. Psychological medicine, 44(11), 2375–2384. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291713003012
- Sars, D., & van Minnen, A. (2015). On the use of exposure therapy in the treatment of anxiety disorders: a survey among cognitive behavioural therapists in the Netherlands. BMC psychology, 3(1), 26. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40359-015-0083-2
- Priyamvada, R., Kumari, S., Prakash, J., & Chaudhury, S. (2009). Cognitive behavioral therapy in the treatment of social phobia. Industrial psychiatry journal, 18(1), 60–63. https://doi.org/10.4103/0972-6748.57863