We Need To Stop
Hating On Our Fellow Women
In 2016, 50 percent of hostile tweets using the words “slut” and “whore” were written by female users. It’s time we learned to check our internalized misogyny at the door.
Last May, The Guardian published a controversial report regarding misogyny, or woman-hating, on Twitter: Research conducted by public policy organization Demos showed that 50 percent of hostile tweets using the words “slut” and “whore” were written by female users.
While it may seem ironic that so many women would use language that is prejudiced against their own kind, social justice experts maintain that the Twitter discovery is just another example of an all-too-common, if seemingly paradoxical problem for women.
Cultural Bridges to Justice calls the phenomenon “internalized misogyny” or “internalized sexism” and defines it as “the involuntary belief by girls and women that the lies, stereotypes and myths about girls and women that are delivered to everyone in a sexist society are true.”
As women fighting against this, it’s important to keep in mind that having internalized misogynist assumptions is different than being a conscious misogynist. There’s no point in blaming women for developing sexist ideas about women; this development is a predictable result of being surrounded by external sexism from an early age.
Women living in sexist societies pick up sexist perspectives subconsciously simply because cultural truisms about women are deeply rooted in so many aspects of everyday life.
That said, we must learn to recognize and rethink misogynist elements of our own perspective. Here are some standard examples of internalized misogyny and ways out of the sexist assumptions.
If you went to high school, you’re probably familiar with the slut-stud dichotomy. As demonstrated in the Demos study, shaming a woman for her sexual activity is a common way that women are sexist towards other women. This shaming is most blatantly sexist when the judged sexual act also involves a man, but the man’s actions are understood as standard behavior.
Perhaps because sex is so often a male-dominated act, a woman’s choice to have many sexual partners is commonly seen as her choice to repeatedly “submit” to men’s supposedly degrading advances. Her many “lapses” seem to forfeit her right to the respect of her community.
If you catch yourself ascribing to these ideas, it can help to note the important topics absent from this limited, though widespread perspective. For example, slut-shaming ignores the possibility of female sexual agency, as well as the fact that sexual appetite can be read as a sign of health in women as well as men.
Slut-shaming also devalues the importance of consent by assuming that even when a woman consents to doing something sexual, she is somehow allowing herself to be taken advantage of.
Hyper-Criticism of Women
Slut-shaming is only one example of an overarching misogynist tendency to hold women to a higher standard of behavior than men. This hyper-criticism of women may seem to indicate that women are expected to be better people than men, but as a consequence they’re actually more likely to be deemed socially unacceptable for behavior that a man might display without provoking judgment.
Hyper-critical perspectives towards women can impede them in their career path, lower their self-esteem, discourage them from taking leadership roles, and encourage them to direct an unhealthy amount of attention towards maintaining a “womanly” appearance.
If you find yourself judging a fellow woman for not wearing make-up in a professional setting, dominating conversation, speaking authoritatively, having a big appetite, playing the field, or any other behavior that strikes you as crass or unbecoming, ask yourself if you tolerate similar behavior from your male peers.
Victim-blaming is a form of internalized misogyny that occurs when a woman holds other women responsible for the troubles that come with living in a sexist society. In its most brutal form, this can happen when a woman is blamed for being raped, as if the woman’s choice of dress or her choice to drink were as relevant to the tragedy as the attacker’s choice to rape.
There are more subtle forms of victim-blaming that even feminists are prone to adopting. Take for example the highly-educated feminist lawyer that resents a female peer for “propagating sexist social norms” by becoming a stay-at-home mom.
Not only is this an example of hyper-criticism towards a fellow woman (it’s unlikely that the same feminist would look down on a man who chooses to stay home and raise children), but even if the woman’s status as a family caretaker were a clear sign of female oppression, blaming this woman for succumbing to that oppression would be cruel and fruitless.
“I’m Different (Better) Than Most Women.”
Some women try to feel powerful by believing that they are better than other women. This belief is the cornerstone of the “cool girl” trap. The “cool girl” has many male friends and perhaps even adopts male-associated mannerisms.
In turn, she differentiates herself from and resents other women, believing that because she possesses whatever quality a sexist society doesn’t associate with women (sense of humor, charisma, intelligence, rationality, athleticism, etc.), she’s not like a woman at all. She believes that her powerful characteristics make her more like a man, and therefore better than other women.
The internalized misogyny inherent to the “cool girl” personality lies in the woman’s belief that her empowerment proves that she is the exception to the rule that women are worse than men. On the contrary, her empowerment should serve as proof that this misogynist rule is not grounded in reality.
When these women can see their empowerment as part of their womanhood and not contradictory to it, they will be capable of standing on the shoulders of other feminists instead of putting down women to seem more like the men that they will never be.
Part of giving up this feminism-fueled misogynist perspective is understanding that, whatever the battleground, a passionate feminist supports and empowers her fellow woman.