Internalizing Misogyny: The Lessons We’ve Learned And How They’re Holding Us Back

We live in a world where we teach young women that the best thing they can be is “not like other women”.

We live in a world where we teach young women that they need to compete against other women-~-for jobs, for success, for recognition, and yes, for men.

We live in a world where we teach young women that they need to be pretty, but that it is more acceptable to hate their bodies than to love their bodies, to say they are ugly than to say they are pretty.

Why?  Because we live in a world where we’ve taught young women that they need other people to validate them.  And that, right there, is a significant part of the problem.

Imagine for a second that we didn’t do these things.  That we taught girls that they were good enough, all on their own.  That they didn’t need to be pretty or smart or clever or adorable or charming to be worth something-~-that because they were people, they were worth something?  Then imagine if we taught girls that they didn’t have to apologize for being pretty or smart or ambitious, that they didn’t have to apologize for who they were or what they wanted out of this life?  It would be a different world, folks.

Studies show that women apologize for success more than men do.  They may do this explicitly or implicitly, through downplaying their accomplishments or uptalking when they know they’re right to diminish their apparent conviction, but they do it.  And this is problematic, because it means that women are not laying ownership to their own successes.  We don’t teach women that they’re necessarily successful because they’re smart or hard-working, or that they deserve success.  In fact, we still run the risk at times of imparting the old “Annie Get Your Gun” message: that men are not attracted to, and do not want, successful women.  This isn’t necessarily true, but it’s still something that girls pick up somewhere along the way.  And even men’s appeal aside, women are taught that it just isn’t ladylike to brag about their accomplishments.

That wouldn’t be so bad, but no one’s bragging for us, either.  Studies show that women are less often recognized for awards that aren’t specifically designed to target women-~-oops.  A 2012 study showed that when committees to select recipients for scientific achievement awards are chaired by men, men win the awards 95% of the time.  Occupations dominated by women-~-including child care, nursing, administrative work, and teaching-~-are undervalued within society and often written off as lesser career paths as compared to work as a doctor, lawyer, etc.  Both men and women in these occupations are paid less as a result of this undervaluing.

As for the things I mentioned earlier…well, they just create even more barriers to success.  Take for example the idea of women competing against other women, or feeling the need to not be like other women.  Rhetoric that always singles out the “top women” creates the impression that women are their own category, or that there’s a “woman quota” to be fulfilled-~-if they’re only going to promote one woman, then you’ve got to compete against the other women, and ignore the men…right?  The result is that women feel the need to constantly put other women down, through rhetorical tools like slut shaming or questioning each other’s work ethics/work-life balancing abilities, or by simply trying to eschew any behaviors or appearances that might be considered feminine.  After all, if men are in charge, you’d want to be one of the boys, wouldn’t you?  The problem is, this doesn’t actually help women get ahead, it just creates more adversity and pulls apart a group that was already in the minority in many situations.  Instead of making it so that women are successful, this results in women stepping on each other and maintaining a status quo where very few women actually make it.

All of these forms of internalized misogyny create a message that success is perhaps not for women, or that success is meant to be limited.  It sets lower bars for women, bars that also function as ceilings.  If a woman sees nursing as the best she can pursue, why go for an M.D.?  (Not that there is ANYTHING wrong with nursing, I bring this up only from the perspective of social prestige/monetary compensation).

But maybe these messages say something else, something worse: that the terms of success are to be set by somebody else.  That you need someone to tell you you’re doing well, that you’re pretty, that you’re smart, that you’re different, in order for you to claim that success.  That in order to be successful without having to apologize, that validation has to come from outside of you, and likely from a man.  That’s a harmful lesson, and one we need to un-learn, and fast.  Otherwise, we’re just re-setting the panes in the glass ceiling ourselves…and no one wants that.


~ by Randi Saunders on January 30, 2014.

4 Responses to “Internalizing Misogyny: The Lessons We’ve Learned And How They’re Holding Us Back”

  1. Reblogged this on The Student Becomes The Teacher.

  2. I definitely agree!

  3. This is very well written and you’re absolutely right!

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