If you identify as a female, you probably think there’s no way you can be sexist. The prospect of gender equality would come easily to a person who suffers from the lack of it, right? A common misconception. I myself thought so too. But after hearing this phrase, “internalized misogyny,” all over the media, I decided to really look into it. I found it’s easy to believe that women don’t play a role in the sexism of society. But have you ever felt judged by another girl because you weren’t acting as the stereotypical girl does? Or maybe you’ve heard women dissing other women for being single or wearing provocative clothing.
Internalized misogyny sits within us all, whether we are conscious of it or not. It’s possibly more problematic than regular misogyny, and has a lot of not-so-fun outcomes. If all women could learn to not buy into these expectations, I believe we would come away better from it.
What Is Internalized Misogyny?
“Internalized misogyny” is basically a fancy way of saying that women can be sexist against women too. If you didn’t know, misogyny is the term described as the “hatred of women.” So if female-identifying people internalize that, they begin to hate others of their own gender. What actually causes the internalization of misogyny is that girls adapt to a vague and kind of abstract standard created by social expectations and men. These standards normally show how we should behave and react, and often portray women as emotional, manipulative, weak or unintelligent. And unfortunately, women end up unconsciously projecting those ideas onto other women, and even themselves.
A way to easier understand this is through the term, “pick-me girl.” It’s a saying that has recently been extremely popular on TikTok and Instagram, usually found in comments or as the entire basis of a video. Through Urban Dictionary, a more modernized definition of the concept is described as “a girl who goes out of their way to impress boys and make them seem like they’re ‘not like other girls.’” “Pick-me girls,” are prime examples of teens who have lived under the influence of gender norms, and ended up putting down other girls in order to get the attention of others. While attention-seeking isn’t always horrible, it becomes risky when you are actively bad-talking another person. Especially at such a young age, when it’s preferable that every girl is fighting to be rid of sexist habits created by previous generations.
Internalized misogyny usually isn’t very obvious hatred. Fleeting comments like, “that’s not very ladylike,” “you throw like a girl,” and “women are bad at math” all have an affect on how you perceive yourself. These standards are extremely sexist, and yet a part of everyday life. Most importantly, it’s vital to recognize when women use these standards to bring other women down, because it can make you feel really inferior to others or insecure about yourself.
Yei Bin Andrews is a junior, and editor and writer for Midtown High School’s newspaper, The Southerner (she has written multiple articles, the most recent being “Finding the American Dream: The path to citizenship presents challenges.”) Andrews says she hasn’t “been in any situations where [she has] been talked down to by a woman, but more so feeling like [she] was ‘inferior.’” Andrews continues, “There have been some instances at school, whether it be from a female classmate or teacher, where they have made me feel unqualified, or not as deserving to be in the position I was in, when in reality I had all of the right capabilities and skills.”
“You Are Too Sensitive”
Ali Beskind, a sophomore at Emory University, remembers her years in the drama program. She says that they “all had to wear stage makeup, but as someone who wasn’t really into makeup, [she] didn’t know what to do or how to apply it,” and upon seeing this, “one of the female directors of the show asked: ‘How do you not know how to do makeup? You’re a girl you should know this.’”
Another example is provided by Shay Bowman, also a writer for Midtown High School’s newspaper, The Southerner (Her pieces, among others, include “Students react to Kamala Harris being elected Vice President” and “Student starts vegan skincare business: Glo Zen”). Bowman says “I have had female peers of mine say things like ‘You are a good athlete for a girl,’ or ‘You are too sensitive,’ when I respond to something in disagreement or in an assertive manner. Unfortunately, I feel like most internalized misogyny takes place behind other people’s backs.”
When asked if she’s ever judged another girl, Shay acknowledges that she has “thought that some girls are too dramatic or too girly which is rarely the case. It’s never intentional, but it is part of how society has raised us to view ourselves and other women.”
What’s a little disconcerting about all of those examples is that when the girls were judging other girls solely on their gender, they probably didn’t realize that what they were saying was sexist. Yet what they had been accustomed to hearing ended up playing a role in what they said and how it made others feel.
Competing With Other Girls
Competitions between girls is a bit of a different branch of internalized misogyny, but still notable. Have you ever noticed how there always seems to be one designated spot for a girl in a leadership position at your school, club or job? That’s no coincidence. Most systems operate so that there is always a token woman working among the men to show representation. While that’s nice and all, it has girls competing with other girls for that one spot, a situation that is probably the most subtle, but most prevalent issue to come out of internalized misogyny. To grab a hold of and maintain that single spot in your job or team, bringing other girls down is almost necessary. It pits girls against girls and can sometimes turn pretty ugly.
Yei Bin Andrew says, “When it comes to leadership positions or extracurricular activities, it’s sometimes challenging to feel like I’m being pitted against my female peers. Because of misogyny in general, I feel like women are always having to prove their worth more than men, even though that should never be the case.”
From a different perspective, Shay says, “I have felt like I was in competition with other girls, but not more so than boys. I want everyone to succeed, but sometimes someone’s success feels like it has an impact on your failure.”
Women In Places Of Power
A common misconception or stereotype is also that girls are “too emotional.” Specifically, this can be seen used against women in places of power. While this stereotype is majorly spread by men, other women have also been known to agree with it.
Ali Beskind reflects that “this idea is easy to buy (into) because we are surrounded by guys who have been told that they cannot be emotional,” so as a result, “our reactions seem huge compared to theirs.”
The behavioral outcome of women being deemed too emotional can be seen through a specific presidential campaign in 2016. When Hillary Clinton was running for office, countless arguments against her surrounded her gender, and not her actual campaign, opinions or skills. CNN commentator Mel Robbins wrote that “using sexism is also the laziest way to demean a woman,” because “if you can’t debate her ideas, just slam her appearance, her personality, her relationships and her likeability.” So instead of focusing on her ideas, the people zeroed in on the so-called disadvantages of having a female president.
According to CBS News, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) reported in a summary poll that this idea is “rooted in the long-held stereotypes about [women’s] roles as caregivers and nurturers. The characteristics associated with these roles are not necessarily seen as compatible with the responsibilities of the commander in chief.”
Around a similar time, the results of a 2016 PRRI/Atlantic poll showed that many men and women believe that the world is becoming “too soft and feminine.” Modern misogyny is actively preventing the growth and leadership of females, while we worryingly adapt to it.
What Can We Do To Stop It?
I once read a line by writer Nina Cherry that said, “empowered women empower women.” It made me realize that in order to actually take that step towards being a better feminist, you can’t knock other girls down. By becoming individuals and continuing to support one another, gender norms and stereotypes can be shed in the years to come.
There are strategies to shed these walls, of course. It’s important to keep an open environment with the other females in your life. Yei Bin tells us that her approach is to continue to support her friends, and “open [herself] up to be in a ‘safe space’ where they can freely and comfortably share their feelings.”
Ali says that she tries “to focus on [herself] in terms of where [she’s] at and if [she’s] happy being who [she] is.” She gives the thought that “Some girls may judge if I walk into a classroom or lecture hall wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, but I can take solace in the fact that I’m wearing what I want to and feeling comfortable as myself.”
As female-identifying individuals, we all have to recognize that we are in this together. It doesn’t mean you have to like every girl you meet, but dissing another girl for not fitting perfectly into a gender stereotype isn’t going to allow women to feel and become stronger. Sometimes it takes working out the problems inside a community to really reach out as a united front and face the matter. It may take some practice and it will take some time, but if we all continue to support each other’s individuality and uniqueness, the issue of misogyny will become much easier to conquer.