5 Ways Misogyny Has Worked Its Way into the Lives of Women
“Can a woman be a misogynist”? This question came up in one of the comments in my recent article “Why Aren’t Women Supporting Other Women at Work”. The answer is “yes,” we all can. There are so many ways that misogyny has worked its way into the lives of women that it’s hard not to be.
Internalized misogyny is defined as the involuntary belief by girls and women that the lies, stereotypes and myths about girls and women, that are delivered to everyone in a sexist society, are true, as defined by the Cultural Bridge to Justice.
This is an unfortunate by-product of centuries of oppression and the many ways we, as women, have learned to adapt to in a culture that has “power over” women.
When we compete with other women at work, collapse after being shamed for our choices by another woman, or abuse our own power over another woman, we are colluding with a sexist culture.
This isn’t something we plan to do. We may not even realize what’s behind our words when we say things like “I prefer to work with men than women”.
So how does misogyny sneak its way into our lives?
1. It starts when we’re children, through our family of origin and the adult figures of our culture. As children, we’re little sponges taking in everything around us. We don’t yet have the critical thinking abilities needed to assess the values of what we’re being taught. We might have experienced a family where there were double standards being set for the boys and the girls in the same family. We might be guided into particular roles in the family and coached for particular roles as adults. One woman told me that she resented always being the hostess. Growing up in a prominent family with a dad who was a politician, the family frequently entertained. When she married a political figure and tried to break out of this role, she received serious flak from her mother and the other women in her life for “not being happy with all you have”.
2. If you experienced violence or abuse as a child or adolescent, there’s a good chance you have internalized misogyny. Here’s an update on the statistics from RAINN.org:
- Every 107 seconds a sexual assault occurs.
- There is an average of 293,000 instances of sexual assault each year of victims age 12 or older.
- 44% of victims are under age 18
- 80% are under age 30
- 68% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police, and
- 98% of rapists never spend a day in jail
Violence and rape are crimes of hate. When women do not have an advocate, who keep their attack a secret, or are unable to get justice for the violence they experience, internalize the messages of hate against themselves.
3. Victim blaming means exactly that. Victim blaming is often an extension of “slut shaming” and bullying, which is grounded in the belief that men get to assert themselves and women do not. There is research that shows that blaming the victim makes, the observer, feel better. It hurts to hear someone’s painful story. We want to believe we live in a just world where “bad things only happen to bad people”. When bad things happen to good people, it hurts us and frightens us. We realize our own vulnerability. Blaming the victim helps the non-victim feel more in control.
4. Resenting Feminine Women. I have to check myself on this one. I grew up in the world of men – literally. I have 3 younger brothers and no sisters. I worked on Wall Street for 20+ years. And, I have 3 sons, no daughters. But the truth is that I always wanted to wear pretty dresses made of lace and velvet. I loved purple growing up (my mother told me this was the color of sluts). I wanted to be surrounded by flowers and pretty things. I would get bullied and shamed when dressing this way. Not just by my dad (who was a misogynist) but by other girls - even as early as sixth grade. As a result, I have struggled with my choices of how to dress for years. As women there is so much “interpretation” about the message we’re conveying through the clothes we wear. Will we be taken seriously? Will we send the wrong message? Will we be sexy and attract a partner? How will other women see me?
5. Criticizing the choices of other women. Living in a patriarchy, and while we are working to continuously make changes, we are still constrained in many arenas of work and home. Women are still the primary caregivers. If a woman chooses to stay home with her children, she may be criticized, and perhaps even pressured to provide additional income for the family. If she works outside the home, she may often feel like she’s failing as she juggles the priorities of work and family. Add onto this, women who are caring for aging parents and you have yet another dynamic.
These are just a few of the ways that internalized misogyny sneaks its way into our minds and lives. We are not to blame for having internalized misogyny and it’s not an intentional plan of patriarchy. But what it does is allow women to outwardly perpetuate the oppression that has been imposed upon them. Inwardly we often see women suffering from low self-esteem, depression, isolation, eating disorders, and more.
We need creative solutions to transforming internalized misogyny. Self-awareness of what you’ve internalized is a starting point. Empathy towards other women is another.
Learn more about Terri and programs she offers that support healing the wounds of self-rejection and the empowerment of women at the Women Connected School.
This article previously appeared on Women Connected.
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