During an anti-bullying week seminar in middle school, the teachers and guidance counselors coordinated a series of activities. The teachers who facilitated the seminar asserted that the activities were specifically geared towards girls. They went on to explain that girls are the harshest bullies and will do anything in their power to tear each other down. Whether it be scrutinizing each other relentlessly, spreading venomous lies, or practicing the finest art of sabotage.
Girls from an early age are taught to see each other as competition for everything, from nicest clothing to male attention. They are told to cross their legs and act like a lady while in the same breath being shamed for being feminine and told that their femininity is weak. So it is no coincidence that they grow up to hate themselves and other girls. This hatred is manifested in internalized misogyny.
Internalized misogyny is the involuntary internalization of sexist messages fed to women and girls by their surroundings and the media. Internalized misogyny is when society’s sexist messages resonate deeply in a woman’s belief system. It is a woman or girl believing she is better because her interests aren’t “stereotypical.” It is shaming other girls for their sex lives. It is believing that guys make better friends because girls are catty and shallow. It is calling a woman “a bad feminist” because she wants to be a stay-at-home mom. It is when a woman’s femininity is demonized.
Internalized misogyny can also exist on the opposite end of the spectrum. The Center for Cultural Bridges and Justice asserts that “women and girls are taught to act out the lies and stereotypes, doubting themselves and other females.” Some women and girls hear that they are unintelligent, docile, and incapable of anything outside the bounds of what is deemed appropriate for their “limitations’, and then conform to these negative stereotypes. They believe these sexist messages and begin to act accordingly.
Women and girls are often times each others harshest critics, even when it comes to trivial matters. Internalized misogyny is commonly displayed in the act of slut-shaming; scrutinizing a woman’s real or presumed sexual activity. When women express themselves sexually in a way others disapprove of, they are attacked for their personal choices.
Many women believe the sexist idea that women who embrace their sexuality are sluts; different kinds of girls who aren’t deserving of respect. Slut shaming is dehumanizing and reduces a woman to just her sex life. It is saying that a woman must conform to the way you believe sex should be done, and if she doesn’t she is worthless. Slut shaming is punishing a woman for exercising her sexual freedoms, the same ones freely granted to men. Women and girls should be liberating themselves and others, not oppressing each other by slut shaming.
Internalized misogyny is also displayed in the demonization of femininity or stereotypically “feminine” traits. For example, when any person is derided for being “emotional”—because that’s what women are considered to be. It’s when someone is considered “stronger” than another because their strength comes from stereotypically “masculine” traits such as athleticism, stoicism, or math and science skills. Some feminists try to shame gender roles, but in the process they shame femininity. If a woman is submissive or conservative they perceive this as weak and a slight to feminism, when it isn’t.
Many 20th-century feminists believed that in order to achieve equality with men, they had to be as “masculine” as possible. This belief still prevails in the modern feminist movement. Women who are “stereotypical” are made to feel lesser than. The whole point of feminism is to achieve gender equality. If a woman is choosing to wear girly things, stay at home with her children, or act in a conservative way, that doesn’t mean she isn’t liberated.
Internalized misogyny is a subtle form of oppression that creeps into our minds. If we don’t actively try to rid ourselves of the sexist messages that have been ingrained in us, we will find ourselves re-iterating them in our daily lives. Even those who identify as feminists can host internalized misogyny because it is innate. When girls are tearing themselves and other girls down, that only leads to the further perpetuation of sexism in society. By directing our hatred at ourselves, internalized misogyny distracts us from addressing and fixing our own sexist cultures.