What Is Internalized Misogyny & How To Fight It In Yourself

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What Is Internalized Misogyny & How To Fight It In Yourself
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Internalized misogyny is something most women struggle with. It may be the reason why you find yourself hating on the new girl at work, bashing a stranger’s outfit, or taking an absurd amount of pride of not being like “one of those girls.” 

What is internalized misogyny?

If misogyny means dislike or contempt towards women, internalized misogyny means the sexist behaviors and attitudes we, as women, absorb through societal norms that we then inflict on other women.

 

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Internalized misogyny is often passed down.

Hatred is something incredibly easy to internalize.

My mom taught me age five to act in a “pretty” way: stay quiet, brush my hair, put on nice clothes, etc. But I also wasn’t allowed to try too hard: I was expected to look pretty, but I wasn’t allowed to use makeup, or wear shorter shorts and skirts until I was well into my late teens. 

Oftentimes, internalized misogyny is passed down generationally: because of my mom and other women before her, I immediately knew at a young age to hate yet relentlessly aspire to femininity. 

I would put down other girls for not being pretty enough, and then in equal parts bash girls who looked like they were trying too hard to be pretty.

Internalized misogyny is linked to many gendered psychological disorders. 

Because of what I was taught, in turn, I inflicted this weird balance within myself too, where I had to be girl enough to be accepted, but not girl enough to be looked down on.

It was almost as if being too much of a girl on either spectrum was something that should be punished. 

According to a study done by the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s Department of Psychology, the implications of internalized misogyny include psychological disorders such as depression, eating disorders, and less social support among women.

Internalized misogyny is something that is taught very early on, and because of this some of the more insidious behaviors can go completely unnoticed in us.

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How to Recognize and Fight Internalized Misogyny

Here are some ways internalized misogyny shows up in your everyday thought process, and here are some ways you can fight it in yourself. 

1. Reevaluate how you look at sex. 

Sex often dominates how we should see womanhood, so much so that it takes an arguably too large part of how people see feminism. 

This isn’t to deny the important steps taken to give women sexual freedom: marriage, abortion, and healthcare reform are all incredibly important in elucidating what rights women have under the government. 

But while sex is fun, there is no denying the role it played in subjugating women.

Sex is about male pleasure first, sex is owed to the other party, sex is a form of validation, etc. — these patriarchal attitudes pervade the dating scene and often cloud a woman's relationship with her sexuality.  

It is easy to then internalize these patriarchal attitudes: sometimes you don’t have sex as a form of pleasure, but as an easy way to get male attention.

Guardian Columnist Van Badham writes that female sexual liberation has led to male sexual entitlement. While sexual freedom has been incredibly liberating for many women, sex-positivity, in combination with casual dating, continues to link sex with self-worth. 

While poorly communicated sex and expectations can be damaging for both parties, many women feel the need to dismiss their own needs for romantic relationships to seem “chill” and “not-crazy,” like other girls. 

Again, this isn’t to say there is anything wrong with women who like casual dating and sex; but a lot of attitudes with casual sex often stem from women will tamper down their own need for exclusivity, seeing that as a weakness. 

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2. Reevaluate your negative feelings. 

Now, sometimes your new boss, who just happens to be female, is a horrible person who you can’t stand, and you desperately pray at night that she steps ankle-deep in sewer water by accident on the way back home. 

That is not necessarily internalized misogyny; it’s more when you feel instant competition or hatred for a woman that enters a field that is often male-dominated: whether it be work, academics, another woman in a difficult environment can cause immediate panic. 

If she’s a terrible human being, you are not obligated to like her in the slightest! Hate away, it is your god-given right! 

But if you are a woman in a male-dominated field, you might find that you’ve had to do many little rituals and behaviors that took years to perfect in order to survive your job. 

If you are already in a precarious position and are already finding yourself undermined at work or school, having another woman enter into a space you’ve had to work so hard for can feel like an immediate threat. 

That doesn’t make you a horrible person, it is just what has been taught. Instead, take the opportunity to get to know your new coworker, or at least identify the root cause of your feelings: does this negativity you feel toward her reflect more on her, or on you? 

3. Recognize the role of privilege 

Internalized misogyny, like with most feminist discussions, requires a more nuanced look at how race and class affect gender. 

When discussing the glass ceiling, we commonly understand the gender divide to be like white men at the top, women at the bottom. 

But studies show that women of color, especially Black and Latina women, are paid much less not only to their male counterparts but to their white female coworkers. 

Race and class play a huge role in internalized misogyny because of how traditional femininity idealizes wealth and whiteness.

In Asia, the beauty industry makes bank off of “skin whitening” creams, in the U.S. beauty magazines and beauty products are advertised by thin, white models. 

This goes beyond the beauty industry: whether it be work, school, etc. some of us more than others have been psychologically cheered in ways we’ve likely never noticed. On one hand, it is easy to internalize this praise and use it to look down on women who aren’t in idealized class and race. 

On the other hand, many women of color internalize this hierarchy and grow up with this kind of self-hatred.

We unconsciously compare ourselves to a very monolithic standard of beauty, and to recognize this can help unlearn a lot of the toxic behaviors privilege and traditional femininity play on our psyche.  

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Jessica Xing is a writer who covers LGBT issues, books, media, and culture. 

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