Internalised Misogyny: An Explanation and Examples

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What Is Internalised Misogyny?

Internalised misogyny refers to when a woman (or person that is negatively affected by misogyny) internalises sexist patriarchal values. This occurs on an individual level. Generally, women and girls will have different responses to sexism and sexist values. However, we all learn to internalise sexist messages about the inferiority of women versus the superiority of men and masculinity.

Misogyny is the hatred or dislike of women and femininity. Society teaches all children and young people to uphold patriarchal values – misogyny being a huge part of this. Essentially, internalised misogyny brainwashes women and girls to support sexism. Sexism and misogyny are very deeply rooted in our culture and social institutions. Femininity is seen as a bad thing and so many people (including women) try to distance themselves from it.

Throughout our lives, we’re constantly exposed to traditional gender stereotypes and gender norms. Internalised misogyny has many forms, from jokes and comments to discrimination and violence. Internalised misogyny upholds brutal structures of oppression against women.

Read: Gender Socialisation: How We Learn to Be Men and Women

What Does Internalised Misogyny Look Like?

Internalised misogyny can appear in many ways. It occurs on an individual level, which means that it can vary from person to person. However, it can be easily spotted.

There are some common behaviours and actions that clearly show internalised misogyny. Many of these will be things that we’ve all taken part in or (at the very least) things we’ve definitely seen in other women and girls.

Misogynistic attitudes, comments and behaviours are very normalised. Beyond that, it’s often encouraged! Society tells women that they need to be “one of the boys” in order to be liked or hold value. But to be “one of the boys” they need to dissociate from the girls.

This encourages harmful behaviours that put down women and femininity. In turn, this contributes to the patriarchy. By doing this, we prolong a system of oppression that violently and painfully subjugates women.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dDBrpomXX0
“Not Like Other Girls” – The Culture of Internalised Misogyny | Antonina Stępak

Examples of Sexist Comments

There are endless examples of comments and interactions that can show internalised misogyny. Here are some of the most common…

“She’s such a slut…”

I feel like most women are guilty of slut-shaming another woman… because this form of sexist behaviour is so heavily normalised.

Women have all the sexual needs and desires that men do. However, for some reason, we treat women’s sexuality as entirely different. Society teaches us (mainly by religion and media) that women should be conservative about their sexuality. We shouldn’t want sex or enjoy it. We should expect it to be painful. But we should also allow our husband or boyfriend to enact all of their sexual desires upon us whenever he so pleases. As they say, the ideal woman is “a freak in the sheets and a lady in the streets” …

Women like sex. Pleasurable, safe sex is healthy for the female body. Women should be allowed to express themselves sexually without being judged by other women (as well as men).

misogyny, internalised misogyny, sexism, misogynist
Photo by Taras Chernus on Unsplash

Women that judge other women for being sexually active usually aren’t comfortable with their own sexuality. Being comfortable with your sexuality involves having as much or as little sex as you’d like. It also involves finding pleasure in these activities and being able to feel safe and comfortable to express yourself. Women are taught to repress or hide any sexual needs. So when women eventually come to terms with the sexual needs they have, they can develop a greater understanding of other women’s sexualities.

Not all women that have internalised misogyny slut-shame other women. However, (from what I’ve seen) it can be a significant factor.

“I don’t wear makeup.”

First, let’s clear things up. Just because a person doesn’t wear makeup, doesn’t mean they have internalised misogyny. However, those that mock women for wearing “too much makeup” or “being fake” do have internalised misogyny.

It’s clear to tell that this is internalised misogyny because this comment appeals directly to a male audience. Girls that make comments like these are always waiting for a laugh/validation from boys and men.

Women are beautiful when they wear makeup. Women are beautiful when they don’t wear makeup. They have the choice. The choice that they make is the one that makes them feel most comfortable.

“Boys will be boys.”

Many people use this comment but there is one pattern that I’ve noticed coming from it.

I often hear men using this comment to dismiss blatant acts of criminal violence or even sexual violence. Grown men use this comment to gloss over behaviour that is an obvious threat to society.

However, women use it too. But it’s usually from a maternal perspective. This phrase doesn’t usually come from girls or even young women. Grown women use this comment to dismiss “boyish” behaviour from their sons, nephews or other young boys.

misogyny, internalised misogyny, sexism, misogynist
Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash

Sometimes it doesn’t mean anything. It could be a boy playing with his toys or running around the garden with his friends. Although, other times it can be when he pulls a girls hair or gets into a fight with another boy. This is the introduction to what makes violent men. Violent boys can easily turn into violent men, especially when you ignore aggressive behaviours or violent tendencies when they’re children.

“What about men’s rights?”

Firstly, men have all their rights. Men haven’t had to fight for basic rights to necessities that women still have to. This includes personal autonomy, reproductive rights and even self-identity. For centuries, women were legally considered the “property” of their fathers and husbands.

Secondly, what about women’s rights? Feminism isn’t trying to take away men’s rights. It’s certainly not a competition. Why aren’t you advocating for women (as well as men)? Why are men more important? 

Thirdly, men do face adversities. Specifically, when it comes to mental health, young men and boys do face a struggle that women, in all honesty, can’t understand. Women also have extreme struggles with mental health. Both men’s and women’s issues with mental health were created by men.

Men set the misogynistic standard that men shouldn’t show weakness or vulnerability. This is what other men follow today. Men are also primarily the ones that laugh and joke about girls’ mental health in schools and on social media.

Why Is Internalised Misogyny a Problem?

Internalised misogyny is very damaging for women. However, misogyny doesn’t just affect women. It also negatively impacts transmen, non-binary people and transfeminine people. 

These groups are all hurt by internalised misogyny because it creates a perspective that invalidates their identities. When they internalise these messages, they internalise self-hatred and self-invalidation.

As we can see in some of the examples shown above, internalised misogyny can lead to severe cultural practices. This can involve slut-shaming, victim-blaming, reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes and so on…

Internalised misogyny dictates people lives. People aren’t allowed to express themselves freely or explore their own interests out of fear of being feminine. So they have to follow the herd and allow sexist values to decide their entire life.

This can cause people severe mental health issues. When people aren’t allowed to discover themselves (interests, hobbies, relationships, etc), it’s difficult for them to be happy. Society forces people to conform to gender conventions. Beauty standards and other social expectations can lead to self-esteem issues, lack of confidence, and trouble socialising with others.  

misogyny, internalised misogyny, sexism, misogynist
Photo by Naomi August on Unsplash

It can also be very difficult for people to find safe spaces. Safe spaces are important for people to feel comfortable. It’s vital that people are able to either create or find a space where they feel like they can be themselves.

Without this, it can be difficult for a person to maintain or understand boundaries, given that they can’t establish their own. This can result in many social issues and an inability to maintain positive stable relationships.

The Things Women Can’t Enjoy

Internalised misogyny causes women to act and behave in a way that isn’t authentic. They change their hobbies and interests because of their internalised misogyny. For many girls, this is especially common between ages 5-16.

I can name a “phase” I went through, just like many girls could, where I did just want to fit in. I did go through a “tomboy” phrase and I did put down other girls for no reason at all. A lot of my friends did the same.

As well as the impact this has on the other girls, there is also a noticeable impact that it has on us. We miss out on things. There are plenty of activities, hobbies, interests that are huge parts of my identity now that I definitely would have mocked back then, such as feminism. Fashion. Makeup. Celebrities. Movies. Woman-woman friendships.

Internalised misogyny stops young girls and women from enjoying or experiencing so many things because we turn away from them. These are the things that we could really enjoy. These are the things that could become our career choices, our main hobbies or our inspirations.

Here are a few examples of things internalised misogyny has taught girls to hate…

The Colour Pink

Yes, I certainly went through a phrase where I literally couldn’t stand the sight of the colour pink. Although, it wasn’t just about putting on a front and mocking the colour pink so that I could appeal to the boys. It was an actual genuine dislike for it… for no reason. Now, I love it! A lot of my clothes are pink and I’ve even had my hair dyed to match.

Pink is associated with girls and femininity. We all know how gender reveals go and whatnot. So with pink being the poster for femininity, when we internalise a hatred for femininity many of us also internalise a hatred for the colour it’s associated with as well.

Taylor Swift

This one really makes me feel bad, considering the fact that I’m a huge Swifty now. But unfortunately, I missed out on arguably Taylor’s prime era because of my own sexism.

Taylor is constantly getting backlash for “only singing about boys” and “writing songs about her hundreds of exes”.

First of all, there is clearly a double standard in the music industry. The majority of Taylor’s songs that are about an ex or a boy are gentle, heartfelt and/or appropriate for younger audiences. However, men can rap and sing vulgar and degrading lyrics about women and then sell these songs to 12-year olds with no backlash!?

Second of all, I’ve noticed that a lot of the interviewers that inappropriately question Taylor about her exes or her relationships are women. Obviously, these women are dealing with their own internalised misogyny.

Third of all, Taylor doesn’t actually sing about her exes all that much. Definitely not as much as the majority of male “artists” rap/sing about women’s bodies. When male artists sing respectfully about women, they’re praised for it. They’re husband material. Another delightful double standard.

Feminism

The F-word…

Even though I’m now a devout feminist, throughout high school I was under the impression that feminism was just a bunch of raving lunatics that just didn’t shave.

I do attribute some of this to Buzzfeed, which kind of ruined feminism for a lot of my generation by making manspreading and body hair women’s greatest concerns.

Read: Toxicity in Mainstream Feminism

However, many young women and girls refused to associate with feminism. This is partly because we didn’t have any understanding of what feminism really was and the issues that we (as women) face.

But also because of our internalised misogyny. We wouldn’t dare allow ourselves to be associated with something that the boys in our lives hated so passionately.

Of course, this has a multitude of negative effects on young girls and women. Firstly, introducing young girls to feminism is individually and socially crucial.

Individually, feminism teaches young girls about the sex-based discrimination that they’ll encounter, their oppression and how they can protect themselves. It can also introduce young women to choice. Girls are raised and sent off in one direction, whether it’s by parents, teachers or friends, girls are told what to do and how to do it. This is a major problem for girls and young women because it dictates their entire life (career, relationships, children, hobbies, etc). Internalised misogyny stops girls from realising that they’re in control of themselves and their life; that they’re allowed to make their own decisions.

misogyny, internalised misogyny, sexism, misogynist
Photo by Lindsey LaMont on Unsplash

Also, educating more people (women and girls especially) on gender inequality will have a massive impact on society. This can help feminism and feminist activism spread the message for women’s liberation. Society could easily bring about faster radical change to cultures and institutions if more people were fully aware of sexism and women’s concerns.

Female Friendships

Female friendships are so important for women.

There are far too many women out there that refuse to be friends with other women because “girls are too much drama” or “boys are just better”.

Over the years, I’ve had positive and negative friendships with men and women, and I can honestly say I have never agreed with either of these statements. The idea that girls are too much “drama” is entirely misogynistic and incorrect in so many ways.

First of all, define drama. Because when we say “girls are too much drama” we think of screaming and shouting about boys and stupid rumours. However, it’s apparently not “too much drama” when guys sexually assault girls at parties or are abusive in relationships or are constantly trying to sleep with you…

misogyny, internalised misogyny, sexism, misogynist
Photo by Obie Fernandez on Unsplash

Second of all, woman-woman friendships are incredible. Having girl friends to hang out with and talk to is absolutely incredible. Personally, I’m really glad that my past with internalised misogyny didn’t explicitly stop me from having positive friendships with other girls. For many women, it has.

I have noticed something interesting about girls that refuse to be friends with other girls and are “one of the boys”. They don’t seem genuinely happy. Now, wait a minute. I’m not saying that friendships with men are bad or that they can’t make you happy. I have plenty of male friends that I have amazing relationships with and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. However, women need other women in their life. Girls need other female perspectives and female representation in their circle.

Female friendships are a healthy and positive necessity that women shouldn’t turn away from.

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