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I’m sorry mama! I never meant to hurt you! I never meant to make you cry but tonight I’m cleaning out my closet. —lyrics to Eminem’s “Cleaning Out My Closet (I’m Sorry, Mama)”
Eminem went where no son has publicly gone before—or is allowed to go—in attacking his mother. In this society, it is taboo to speak ill of our mothers, so we either keep silent or get judged negatively for doing it. It is as though we are not allowed to talk about the bad only the good. By going against his mother, a man gets punished and called a misogynist who hates women.
Countless articles and interviews analyzed Eminem’s lyrics to “Cleaning out my Closet,” focusing on how his anger at his mother has become generalized to hate for all women. But what about his mother in real life? What kind of woman was she toward her children and her son?
A misandrist (which my word processor cannot even find in its Spell Checker) is the respectable feminist equivalent for the word misogynist, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Even in Webster’s little to nothing can be found on misandry, the hatred of men! Misogyny was a known word in Latin and Greek and according to the OED, was first used in English in 1656. Misandry was first used in 1946, three hundred years later. And to top it all, the word is a compound, combining the Greek words miso meaning “to hate” with andros, for man. Some books—Misogyny, Misandry, and Misanthropy, for one—use it in their titles, as do some articles. But little is out there that explains the concept fully.
Both misogyny and misandry are gender-neutral: Misogynists and misandrists can be either men or women. In general, however, usually women hate men and men hate women. Perhaps because of the horrors of sexism, our culture had to go very far in one direction and only look at what men have done to women. However, I think it’s time to examine what women do to men— especially mothers raising the boys who ultimately grow up to hate women. Somewhere they play a part in engendering this negativity.
In addition to criticizing Eminem for expressing his anger at his mother and trying to pathologize it, why not analyze his mother’s possible misandry? When someone disparages his mother, why don’t we wonder if she is somehow at fault as well? We allow sons and daughters alike to criticize their fathers, and our discomfort over their negative talk is much less than the public outcry when the topic switches to “Mommy Dearest.”
Society reveres anything associated with “mother,” as in Mother Earth, Mother Nature, and the celibate, childless Mother Theresa. Especially in the mental health field, when we examine a child’s early infancy, we focus on the mother, talking about the time and attention she devotes to nurturing her baby. During the child’s first year of life, the father is rarely the primary caregiver. I am sure this will change as more fathers, particularly gay men, join the care and rearing of their children. But until then, talk about child rearing usually focuses on the mother, primarily because the default is the mother, just as people often assume that everyone is heterosexual.
So therein lies society’s social mantra of “Love your mother,” because no one wants to believe that a mother could not love her children. No one wants to hear about how a mother can lack maternal instinct. Those who speak out about their mothers abusing them or being indifferent maternally to any extent will often not be believed and find themselves accused of betraying their mothers.
What happens to males raised by these women? And how can it affect their sex lives?
The Case of Shawn
Shawn was a 37-year-old male married with two children. He loved his wife deeply having been high school sweethearts. She was the first female he met who treated him kindly and affectionately. He came to therapy with me due to troubling compulsive sexual fantasies which had now become sexual behaviors involving finding couples through the internet with whom he could be sexual with the wives with the husbands watching being humiliated by being dressed as a woman and called names by both himself and the wife. At the end of the sex act his ultimate sexual desire would be to orgasm onto the man's face (a term known as Bukkake)--the ultimate humiliation to the man with both of he and the wife laughing at him.
Shawn was troubled by so much about this fantasy turned into reality. First, was he gay or bisexual if he wanted men to be involved and wanted to be watched by the man? What kind of a guy was he to cheat on his wife? He did not want her to discover this as he knew she would leave him immediately and he did not want that. He wanted to stop his sexual acting out.
I work with clients around the details of their sexual fantasies--as much as they are willing and comfortable in telling. Each detail is a lead to their pasts leading up to the formation of their sexual desires. In the details are embedded the answers as to where the therapeutic work is to be done.
I asked Shawn what he meant by his wife being the "first female to be kind to him". Shawn told me his mother was always putting down his father, making him sleep on the couch many nights and talking about him in critical ways. His sister was treated like a queen and was complimented, supported and given special treatment by their mother while Shawn was neglected and ignored by both his mother and his father. His father was gone quite a bit and Shawn believed this was his way of avoiding his mother who was so mean to him.
Shawn's mother talked poorly about males who were not "macho" and athletic. His father was a computer tech and Shawn described him as a "soft" male. Shawn himself could have been more athletic had he been encouraged but his parents did not do so. His mother laughed at males she thought to be "fags" and accused his father multiple times of being homosexual. It all made sense to me now as to why Shawn would have this fantasy and eventually act on it. The healing was connected to his childhood. In his sexual acts, he "wins" over the mother (the wife of the couple) aligning with the powerful and male-hating mother figure. The alignment is in humiliating the husband forcing him to dress like a female as females were the "superior" gender in his family and being male was inferior. In the fantasy, Shawn gets to the be the "man" his mother wanted, he wins her over and is in the power position over the husband rather than being in the same category as the father, which Shawn always felt he was growing up.
This clicked with Shawn immediately. He immediately connected the dots and his therapy work was not about confronting his feelings of anger and resentment toward his mother who he realized now was a misandrist. He remembered more details of how her hate for men manifested and recognized it was most likely because of her alcoholic patriarchal father.
But what about what he was doing to his wife? He did not want to hurt her by all this cheating. Together we discovered that to gain a sense of masculinity and triumph over his pain he had to do it in secret and hiding. This was not about his wife. He would most likely have acted on this with any women he was involved with.
Over the next year his compulsive behavior to act on his fantasy fell away. The fantasy and images he would find on the internet of this type of humiliation remained but he no longer felt any compulsion to act on them.