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Why It’s Important to Unpack Your Internalized Misogyny

Women are told from the day that they are born that in order to be socially acceptable, they have to behave and look a certain way. These ideas about what is socially acceptable stem from the patriarchy and were created to ensure that society would never truly view women as being equal to men. These misogynistic ideals that are instilled in women are such a common part of our culture that it’s hard to even recognize them at this point, which means that most women, even some feminists, have misogynistic views whether they realize it or not.

In order to truly overthrow the patriarchal system, it’s important that every person takes time for introspection and analyzes whether they may be misogynistic in some ways. Many women have internalized misogyny that they should take the time to unpack but don’t because they’re too focused on the ways in which men contribute to the patriarchal system and have not taken the time to analyze the ways in which they do.

The first step in unpacking this internalized misogyny is taking the time to truly understand which of your behaviors and beliefs are problematic. It’s easier to pick apart the behaviors of men and see how they are misogynistic, but having to pick apart your own and other womens’ behaviors is slightly more difficult. 

One of the most common ways that women contribute to the patriarchal system is by judging other women for the clothing that they choose to wear, the number of sexual partners that they have had or for owning their sexuality. Men have always seen women as sexual objects that are meant to be consumed at their convenience. Women were not given agency when it came to their sexuality and were expected to present themselves in a demure way to appease men but were oversexualized when men found it convenient.

five women sitting on or around an orange couch
Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels

As a result, a lot of society, even presently, believes that women that do what they want to with their bodies are immoral and undesirable. Society is only okay with women being sexual when a man is benefiting, but if a woman chooses to be that way of her own free will, it’s unacceptable. These misogynistic ideas manifest themselves in women when they shame other women for wearing clothing that society deems provocative, look down on other women for choosing to engage in sexual encounters as they see fit and scoff at women that are open about their sexuality.

Even if women don’t look down on others for doing those things, if they hold themselves to society’s standards and believe their value will lessen if they wear certain things, if they have more than a certain number of sexual partners or if they are comfortable with their sexuality, then they still have internalized misogyny.

Women are allowed to wear what they want to, and wearing certain things is not an invitation to be perceived sexually. Women can have as many sexual partners as they want to, and their worth will not lessen in the slightest as they have the right to engage in any consensual sexual encounter just as any man does. Women do not have to hide their sexual lives from the world while men broadcast theirs to boost their ego and fuel their masculinity.

Another way that women contribute to the patriarchal system is by constantly pitting themselves against other women. Women will strive to be more attractive or more intelligent than other women and perceive someone saying that they are “different” from other women as being a compliment. The reason some women feel like they are in competition with other women is because men have fooled women into thinking for centuries that they are a prize worth winning. Historically, women’s financial and social well-being has been tied to finding a man that’s willing to marry them, so they began to view other women as the thing standing in the way of their survival.

Angry woman
Noah Buscher

While things have changed in some ways, many women still carry this competitive nature with them and seek the approval of men at the expense of other women. There are many women who view everything a woman does as an attempt to seek attention from a man. Women do not exist to please men, and their every action does not have a motive. They may choose to look a certain way or do certain things because it makes them happy; they aren’t always trying to get a man to find them desirable.

There are also a lot of women that feel insecure when they are in the presence of a woman that they believe to be more attractive than they are, or they feel secure when in the presence of a woman they perceive as being less attractive than they are. They unconsciously are comparing themselves to other women out of fear that that will be seen as less desirable to a man. Beauty is subjective, and every person is beautiful in their own way, so there’s no need to try to compare yourself to anyone. Some women also find men degrading women as a whole then uplifting them to be complimentary.

Speaking against women as a whole is misogynistic, and if you as a woman feel comforted by that misogyny, that means that you have internalized misogyny as well. A compliment does not require someone to insult others. Some women also feed into the narrative that all women are bad, but they’re different when they imply that all women are hard to interact with because they’re so emotional, so they choose to be friends with men instead.

Characterizing all women as possessing a negative character trait is rooted in misogyny, and being emotional is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, more men should work to become more in touch with their emotions instead of criticizing women about theirs.  There are also a lot of women who judge other women based on whether or not they adhere to society’s beauty standards for women, which is also rooted in misogyny. Women are allowed to look how they want to. It’s completely up to them how they choose to appear, and quite frankly, it’s no one else’s business.

Cosmetics and brushes rest on a table
Photo by Emma Bauso from Pexels

However, many women will look down on other women for not adhering to the beauty standards that are set, even if they don’t realize they are doing so. This manifests itself most commonly when women judge other women for their decision to wear or not wear makeup.

Some women will believe themselves superior to make-up-wearers for not “needing” makeup or choosing not to wear it, and they often do this in an attempt to get approval from men. Men tell women that they need to be beautiful but also shame them for wearing makeup.

So these women feel proud when they can attract a man without makeup since they know men don’t like it, and they think they’re better than other women that they think need makeup. No one needs makeup. Makeup accentuates the features that are already on someone’s face, and it is an art form. Women don’t wear makeup to please men—they do it because they like the way that it makes them look and feel.

There are also some women that feel superior because they choose to wear makeup while other women don’t, which is also problematic. The root of that feeling stems from men telling women that they should constantly look presentable and desirable and that the way that they naturally look is not acceptable.

Women do not constantly have to wear makeup so that they look good for a man, as the only person a woman should be trying to impress is themselves. Another woman is not less in touch with her femininity or less desirable just because you don’t think she puts as much effort into her appearance as you think she should.

three black women
Photo by Zach Vessels from Unsplash

There are some women that also choose to police other women on their body hair as well and feed into the notion that women are meant to be smooth and hairless at all times. The reality is that hair is natural, and women should not be ashamed of it. Whether someone chooses to groom themselves is up to them, and women have no obligation to do so to appease anyone. Any woman that believes otherwise about herself or any other woman should analyze why she feels that way because I’m certain it’s rooted in misogyny. 

Women can also be very quick to assign character traits to other women based solely on their appearance, which is also rooted in misogyny. They will see a particular woman and automatically assume she’s not intelligent or that she’s mean. These traits that we’re assigning to these women that we know nothing about are traits that men have told us women possess.

We’ve been socially programmed to believe women are catty or unintelligent, so we just assume random women we don’t even know are that way. It not only prevents us from getting the opportunity to get to know some great people, but it also is misogynistic. If you notice, we don’t really assign these negative character traits to men as quickly as we do women.

Some women also will view outspoken women as being rude and suppress their own urges to speak up and share their opinions. This feeling stems from society telling women that they are supposed to be docile, agreeable and not overly expressive. Men are afforded the privilege to express their opinions and emotions more freely without criticism, but women will receive a label for trying to do the same. 

group of diverse people holding hands
Photo by Wylly Suhendra from Unsplash

One of the final but most harmful ways that I will mention that women may show they have internalized misogyny is by not supporting or believing survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence or sexual harassment. Society has conditioned us to believe women are meant to do whatever a man wants and that men can do as they please, so people are quick to overlook allegations of domestic violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment. They believe a man’s word over a woman’s because they historically have been believed to be more credible.

Women deserve to be able to tell their stories and receive support from their community. Many men will be reluctant to believe these stories because it will force them to recognize that some of them have harmed people in the past or are currently doing so in the present, but women need to support survivors. Men need to do the work to stop things like this from happening, and the women that continue to enable this type of behavior have to be held accountable as well.

Believe survivors, don’t gaslight them or assume they’re lying because you value a man’s word more than a woman’s. I fully recognize that women can also be the perpetrators of this type of harm as well, but their support of the men who cause this type of harm is rooted in misogyny. 

Women are not to blame for the ways in which they contribute to the patriarchal system, that blame should fall on the men who created the system, but that doesn’t mean that the resulting harm that they inflict is acceptable. In order to truly achieve liberation for all women, we must all do everything in our power to unlearn our misogynistic beliefs and stop our misogynistic behaviors.

If you see that any of the misogynistic behaviors or beliefs I’ve mentioned are familiar to you, please take the time to unpack your internalized misogyny. Every person can grow and change, and while unlearning behaviors that contribute to the oppression of marginalized groups is not easy, it is a lifelong process. However, I urge you to start that process now if you have not already. 

Britney Simmons is a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University who is majoring in Mass Communications with a Concentration in Print/Online Journalism. She has loved reading and writing since she was a child, and is an animal lover. She loves to travel whenever possible, and you can usually find her binging some new series or napping.
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