Definitions for some of the terms used:
Sexism is discrimination and/or predjuduce based on sex or gender. It generally affects women, girls, and non-women and nonbinary individuals who present in a stereotypically feminine way.
Misogyny is the dislike or hatred of, or ingrained prejudice against women, feminine presenting people, and other misogyny affected individuals.
Internalized misogyny manifests as misogyny affected individuals subconsciously projecting sexist ideas onto others and themselves.
As a girl who grew up (and is still growing up) in a liberal family surrounded by people who hold similar beliefs, feminism was always something I was aware of. When I was a kid, my mom didn’t want me to watch Disney movies because she thought they would teach me unrealistic and harmful standards for the roles that women take in romantic relationships. The idea of becoming a strong and brave woman who wasn’t reliant on a man was a key part of my future plan. But in recent years I have begun to realize the issues with the form of feminism I was raised on. First of all, the feminism I was familiar with was centered around oppressed people assimilating to a more stereotypically “masculine” way of living and being. Being strong, brave, and self reliant are traits that men are taught – and expected – to embody. The message behind what I was taught was that by expressing this set of traits, my worth would increase. Although being courageous and powerful are great traits to have, the way that women are allowed to exist is still restricted by this form of feminism. Not to mention, having your worth based on how well you fit into a stereotypically masculine standard is deeply misogynistic and counterproductive. It punishes individuals who embody stereotypically feminine traits, and teaches them to restrict and change their way of being if they want to succeed. The negative effects of assimilation-based feminism still influence decisions I make, and the way I perceive myself. Throughout my childhood and early teenage years I experienced internalized misogyny that was caused not only by misogynist interactions, but also the harmful narratives that were part of the feminism I was raised on.
One of my earliest intense experiences with internalized misogyny was when I was around 6 or 7. For all of this to make any sense, I have to tell you about my 3rd birthday party. The theme was pink princess tea party. It included a pink princess gown, all of my stuffed animals (who were the tea party guests) dressed in pink, and bright pink cupcakes. Skip ahead to second grade; I was anti-pink. My favorite color for the next 8 years was blue. At first glance it seems I was working against sexism, and that I was making a statement by rejecting the color girls were supposed to love. But it was actually internalized misogyny at work. I had distanced myself from femininity because I had been taught that femininity detracted from my worth as a person. Although I know I didn’t fully understand why I hated pink as a seven year old, the misogynistic beliefs I had internalized had already begun to affect me.
Even though I experienced internalized misogyny throughout my early childhood, I would say that my biggest struggles with it happened during middle school. My middle school experience, like most peoples, kind of sucked. Everyone in middle school is trying to figure out how they want other people to see them, but can only ever figure out the ways they don’t want to be perceived. It was the same for me. I was hyper aware of how I thought others were perceiving me, and the insecurity I felt was only made worse by the misogynistic ideals that I was subconsciously forcing onto others and myself. I became hypercritical of the way I acted and silently judged other girls and feminine presenting individuals. I was deeply insecure about my interests and my body, like many of my peers. And I used my internal judgments of others to try to boost my battered self esteem. But of course this only made matters worse.
Although I wasn’t aware of what I was doing at the time, a few years ago I was having a conversation with a friend about our middle school experience and I had a realization. I think it was the closest I have ever gotten to an epiphany. Not only did I realize my judgments and ideas of superiority had been a way to try and make myself feel better, but I also realized that my judgments were all aimed at non-men. I didn’t exactly always think kind thoughts about the boys at my school, but I didn’t hold them to the same standard that I did of most girls. I was hyper judgmental of the way they presented themselves through clothing, the way they interacted with others, and their hobbies. And I was especially judgemental when girls and femme individuals expressed traits that would be considered hyper femminine. Classic internalized misogyny.
The realization I had that I had that day changed me. It sounds cliché, but it really did. I spent a lot of time reevaluating they way that I view the woman and femme indiduals that I encounter. My judgemental attitude had made me unhappy, and had made me an unpleasant person internally. I try my best to not judge others for the choices they make with their life, because it’s really none of my business. And if whatever they are doing makes them happy and is insignificant to the life of others, there is no reason for them not to do what makes them feel good. It’s really helped me be kinder to others, and to myself. But being judgmental is a hard habit to break. I sometimes find myself judging the choices that women and girls around me make. I always have to remind myself that that is because I have been taught to harshly judge the way that women act. A lot of the time, when people talk about misogyny, you envision the concept as an outside force. But sexism and misogynistic beliefs have become such an undercurrent in every aspect of life, that they have permeated our subconscious thoughts and the feminism that is meant to liberate us. It’s hard enough being restricted and judged by others; it becomes infinitely harder when your own thought processes are oppressing you.