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Internalized Misogyny

Our world caters to cis-men, specifically white, thin, nondisabled cis-men. The rest of us, particularly queer, dark-skinned, fat, disabled, Black, women, have to make do with a world that sees us as sub-human. One of the ways we try to conform to this world is by policing those who go against the status quo, even when they look like us. In this piece, we are exploring internalized misogyny and the way it can be perpetuated by people affected by misogyny.

Misogyny and internalized misogyny do not occur in a vacuum. They are a direct result of patriarchal and sexist societies that prioritize cis-men over other gender identities. Misogyny is the ingrained and institutionalized prejudice against women, and internalized misogyny is misogyny from misogyny-affected people directed at other people and themselves. Internalized misogyny is a result of years of socialization and indoctrination within a misogynistic society. It is so ingrained in our everyday lives that we do not even realize we are partaking in it.

Given the prevalence of misogyny, ranging from sexist microaggressions to structural violence against women, it is to be expected that misogyny manifests in women’s criticisms of themselves. These criticisms, when left unchecked, are then projected in interactions with other women, further perpetuating the patriarchy. We ought to look within ourselves and reflect on how we are both affected by and perpetuate misogyny.

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One of the most common ways internalized misogyny shows up is through language. Below is a list of a few phrases that girls and women have said, what they mean, and how to counteract them. We hope they provide a moment of reflection:

"I'm not like other women". Women typically say this to distance themselves from other women, which not only minimizes womanhood to just one way of being but it also implies that being a “typical” woman is subpar. The violence in this statement stems from the fact that women are taught to simultaneously strive to embody femininity while distancing themselves from it to achieve desirability.

Possible antidote: Compliment yourself without demeaning other people. Question the why behind your statement.

“I'd rather hang out with the boys. The boys are less drama”. This, like the previous statement, implies the “character” of womanhood/girlhood is unappealing. It frames women as perennially jealous of one another and as a result do not make good friends. The notion that all they do is gossip and bring other people (especially other women) down. This is a stereotype brought on by the patriarchy to prevent non-cismen from congregating and forming communities. The “boys” are usually straight, cis-men and boys.

Possible antidote: Some self-reflection on what you seek in a friend/friend group, interrogate the friendships you are currently in, and question whether or not your needs are met.

"Unlike other women, I have morals" This moralizes clothing, dating habits, sexual preferences, sexual activity, etc. The "respectable" woman is seen as the best kind of woman and the only one worthy of respect. However, the measure of respectability is a moving target and inherently unattainable. It is a tool for control where people who do not conform to gender stereotypes and gender roles are policed, harassed, assaulted, etc. by the footmen of the patriarchy.

Possible antidote: Mind the business that pays you.

“Real women are...” Curvy; can keep a man; can cook; can do their hair; can take care of kids; can have kids; e.t.c. Anything short of this is a failure at womanhood.

Possible antidote: Do not gatekeep womanhood. There is no such thing as a “real woman” as that implies there are “fake women.” If she says she is a woman, then she is a woman.

In Tanzania, as in most parts of the world women tend to take on the bulk of labor within their communities. From child-rearing to taking care of family members, their labor is severely underappreciated. This is a result of early childhood acculturation. Girls are told from a young age that they need to help around the house, are taught not only how to cook but also how to be subservient to boys and men.

Another way in which internalized misogyny is taught is through mainstream media. Movies, TV shows, newspaper articles, hit songs tend to have themes that enforce sexist practices within our society. An example is the tv series Haikufuma. It is set in Dar es Salaam and it follows an ensemble set of characters enmeshed in a variety of romantic and platonic relationships. One of the characters is a doctor who does not want his wife to work outside of the home. The wife does not like this arrangement and is vocal about her dislike. However, she is painted as unreasonable and her husband is portrayed as level-headed and “correct”. This situation plays up certain tropes of the rational man and the irrational woman and it perpetuates the notion that it is okay for men to have full control over women's lives. Men, on the other hand, have the “luxury” of choosing the jobs they want, and most men would not take jobs that are coded as “women's jobs”.

Young women know that regardless of their hard work, they likely will not be able to gain the social capital needed to "thrive" in society without proximity to a man, often through marriage. You have a young woman who started working at a young age as a direct result of her circumstances and the needs of her family. She has been able to raise enough money to fund family members' hospital visits, education for her younger family members, etc. Most of her income goes to her family however she still feels like she's less than a man simply because of internalized misogyny—an external force turned inward. This same young woman will look at a woman doctor and doubt the doctor's skills, simply because she is a woman. Internalized misogyny causes her to downplay both her capabilities and those of other women.

We must unlearn the horrid lessons of internalized misogyny we have accrued throughout our lives. This unlearning is necessary for all aspects of our health and wellbeing as individuals and as members of different communities. Starting with ourselves is essential, we can do this by:

  • Noting sexism and misogyny when it pops up

  • Educating ourselves

  • Working towards changing our mentality and thought process

When we have a solid foundation we ought to focus on the young or younger people in our lives, specifically children. Misogyny and internalized misogyny is taught at a young age and early intervention is the best way to go. Through consistent, collective action rooted in liberation for all people, we will be able to uproot these harmful and oppressive ways of being.

Special thanks to Konversations with Kanyomozi for their brilliant video on Internalized Misogyny

Written by Leticia Maganga and Kerin Shilla

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