How Internalized Misogyny Affects Female Friendships

I love my friends. I have always had their constant support, and they’ve gotten me through some really trying and stressful times, for which I’m very grateful. Because of them, every stage of my life—from my childhood to my transition to college—hasn’t had to be alone. They are creative, funny, compassionate people, and the overwhelming majority of them are women.

Because of this, I’ve had a lot of practice with the nuances of female friendships, and I’ve heard a lot about what my friendships are supposed to be like. My friends and I hardly ever have conflicts, and if we do, we resolve them calmly and with respect. We commiserate about things that are going wrong, and we celebrate each other’s successes. But since we’re girls, aren’t we supposed to fight each other until one of us swears never to talk to the others again? Aren’t we supposed to be jealous of each other, all the time and for every reason, and manifest those feelings in cold shoulders and subtweets?

No, we don’t do that. Those behaviors aren’t confined to just girls, either. Just because women are friends doesn’t mean we have to have any hidden motives or secret agendas, especially not any relating to boys.

As early as I can remember, girls have been denying feminine conventions in favor of being “one of the boys.” In elementary school, you were either a “tomboy”, a “girly-girl”, or “half and half”. Almost every girl I knew would proudly proclaim herself a “tomboy” in order to seem more relatable to the boys (in their heads, this somehow translated into attraction). I remember thinking to myself that I was half and half, because I loved dressing up like a princess or a fairy, but my family had a treehouse in the backyard, so that translates into some sort of boyishness, right?

On our play dates at home, we would play with Barbies and dress up our dolls in plastic shoes and tops. I clearly remember sewing together scraps of fabric to make dresses and shirts for my dolls, but that hobby was too feminine for me to share with my classmates. When we got to school, if there were boys around, we’d say we played with toy cars instead of dolls, and that our favorite activity was soccer instead of dress-up.

Later, those same girls who claimed to be boyish enough to hang out with the guys began to realize that the natural progression of aging would take them to makeup and bras and cringe-worthy face glitter. For some of us, this was tough to embrace. Secretly, though, I was glad to be able to embody conventional femininity without the absurd feeling that it would alienate me from potential elementary-school boyfriends. Something I’ve realized lately, though, is that although young women will outwardly embrace femininity, we still harbor the same internalized misogyny that once allowed us to disavow any affinity for innocuous vanity or the color pink. Now, though, it manifests itself as stereotypes that demean the value of genuine female friendships.

 

Think about it: how many times have you heard, “I only hang out with boys because there’s less drama”?

What about, “Girls can’t be friends if there’s a guy involved”?

Or, my personal favorite, “You just can’t trust girls as much as guys”?

First of all, the amount of drama in any group or relationship—romantic or platonic—depends on personalities, not gender.

Secondly, the presence of a guy—any guy, be he Prince Harry or Josh from your Psych lecture—will only affect a friendship if you let him. Kenyon is a small school, and a lot of guys here will have connections to several girls who may know each other. This doesn’t have to end friendships, though; if someone prioritizes their lasting friends over a one-night stand with some guy they happen to think is cute, there will be no problem.

Trust is another factor that depends on personalities instead of gender. It can be broken by men, women, and everyone else. Playing into these stereotypes means revealing the flawed logic behind it, built on centuries of sexism. These ideas were originally perpetuated by men, but after hearing it—after living it—women internalize the misogyny that pits us against each other.

How have women been portrayed in literature and culture for hundreds of years? Socrates pushed us aside, saying we were incapable of lofty and intelligent thought. Shakespeare called us manipulative. Nietzsche compared us to truth, making the point that both are elusive and deceptive.

Sound familiar?

These are things we say about ourselves, and when they’re on our minds enough, they erode our relationships with other women. Being a girl, or a woman, feminine or otherwise, is great. Conventional femininity is built on things that should be celebrated, not torn down. I, for one, am tired of seeing female friendships suffer or fail because girls characterize each other stereotypically instead of affording them the complexity and nuance that every person deserves.

Being a “girly-girl” doesn’t mean playing into catty, antiquated stereotypes. We can do better, for our female friends and for ourselves. Let yourself embrace being a girl, without the internalized misogyny that prevents you from doing so.

 

Image credits: Feature, 1, 2, 3