Feminism 101: What Is Internalized Misogyny?

Illustration by Katherene Quiteno.

Urban Dictionary says that internalized misogyny is made up. But every woman, regardless of whether she was aware of it, has likely felt the self-hatred that comes with being female in a male dominated society.

Internalized misogyny is the involuntary and often unknowing acceptance of sexist ideas by women, the very people the patriarchy was built to oppress.

When a woman calls the girl who sleeps around a whore, that is internalized misogyny because she is perpetuating the sexist stereotype that women are not supposed to be sexual.

When a woman dismisses her friend’s mood swings by asking if it’s “that time of the month,” that is internalized misogyny because she is implying that a person’s natural bodily functions limit their rationality.

When a woman doesn’t speak up in a male-dominated class discussion because she thinks her thoughts might not be important or relevant, that is internalized misogyny because she is assuming that she, as a woman, is less qualified for intellectual spaces than men.

When a woman justifies herself to someone by saying she’s “not like other girls” or that she’s “one of the guys,” that is internalized misogyny because she is upholding the idea that women are all the same and that it’s somehow undesirable to be one.

A few weeks ago, I realized that I considered myself more attractive with makeup than without. It seems like an obvious realization, since makeup is specifically marketed to women as a product that magically makes us more desirable. From sexy makeup commercials starring gorgeous models to teen movies in which the “ugly” girl gets a makeover and then gets the guy, we’re told that we have to paint our faces to be attractive.

This was a frightening realization for me because previously I had thought that I, as an ardent feminist, was immune to this kind of brainwashing. It’s not so much that liking how you look with makeup is a bad thing; a lot of the time makeup allows us, male and female and none of the above, to express who we really are.

However, we constantly let makeup commercials influence our self-worth and desirability. While makeup is an important tool for self-expression, no woman should be made to feel undesirable if she doesn’t wear it.

That’s the sneaky thing about misogyny: growing up in a patriarchal society, it’s sometimes hard to tell when we are perpetuating ideas meant to oppress us.

These ideas are drilled into us from the moment we’re born. We aren’t born sexist. We learn to be sexist when we grow up in a society where women are nothing but homogenous, irrational, unqualified, sexually pure objects of men’s sexual desire.

Women are already considered objects in many patriarchal societies. Allowing our internalized misogyny to influence how we treat ourselves and other women turns us into tools of the patriarchy. By perpetuating sexism, we’re doing the misogynists’ jobs for them.

Next time you feel tempted to judge another woman based on her clothing choice, or you tell yourself you can’t wear shorts because you haven’t shaved in a while, remind yourself that these ideas are a product of a patriarchal society meant to oppress women’s minds, bodies, and choices.

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