We all know what sexism means – it is a prejudice (i.e. discrimination or uneven treatment) against people on the basis of their gender (e.g. women, but also trans, genderqueer, gender fluid or intersex people) that operates on the societal, organisational and interpersonal level, can be typed as blatant, subtle or covert and can manifest in different dimensions (e.g. formal/informal, cumulative/episodic, deliberate/unintentional, public/private, Benokraitis and Feagin, 1995).
But what is an internalized sexism or misogyny? It is not hard to imagine that if the society is sexist, women won’t pick up or internalise those attitudes and definitions about their own gender on the basis of those beliefs. Internalized sexism happens when a woman is using the same sexist attitudes and beliefs about her gender towards herself and other women. Any woman can be subjected to sexist attitudes from two different sources: the opposite (e.g. men) and the same gender (e.g. women), so being a woman is like being caught between Scylla and Charybdis.
Reasons, which contribute to internalized sexism, are:
- A rule of hegemonic masculinity that is invisibly present and perpetuated on every level of Western society. Anything other than male/masculine is Othered – silenced, devalued and ignored. Women, as de Beauvoir has stated many moons ago, are Other by default, but gender intersects with other social factors, such are race, class, ability, sexuality; under the umbrella of Other can therefore fall low-wage people, trans persons, black, LGB+, people with disabilities etc. However, being a woman in a world of hegemonic masculinity is not a powerful social position.
- The lack of (women’s) power results in devaluation of femininity from any gender. Anything that is culturally conditioned and linked with femininity – for example colour pink, make-up, duckface, selfies, narcissism, frivolity, nipples, menstruation, sexual agency (or to put it more simple – women wanting sex and being slut-shamed for that), servile professions (low income, status and prestige, so-called feminized professions – waitressing), sex work (pornography, prostitution), entertainment (pop singers, dancers), self-care – is being perceived as not “serious” or “essential”. However, any woman who is transgressive from what is considered “proper femininity” (e.g. academic professions – women are still being perceived as second-class academics, having leadership skills, feminist values, being a cat lover, gender bending or sexually fluid), is also being subjected to same-sexist monitoring.
- Capitalism encourages competition and women are more than welcome to compete with each other in the “feminine areas” – fashion, beauty, fight for heterosexual men. The hybrid of allowed competitiveness and beauty is showcased in beauty pageants, where merely physical attributes of a woman are judged.
How is internalized sexism cultivated and perpetuated? Through external sources, such are early socialisation (learning of gender roles – boys like blue/are trustworthy, girls like pink/are flaky), media and advertising (women are either passive or evil/active characters); perceptions of women are being stereotyped and hence seen as less powerful. If women are perceived as “powerless”, then no wo/man wants to identify with powerlessness. Even though the latter is a result of an uneven power struggle, what is perceived as “powerful” is still associated with masculinity – rationality, emotional distance, physical strength, wealth etc.
How is internalized sexism manifested? Women, who have internalized sexism, suffer from self-hate, alienation from themselves and others, hate other women sometimes just for being different (Othered for that matter – childfree women, educated women) and hence unrelatable, they do not believe/trust women, discredit them professionally, attack them personally, use victim-blaming strategies to shame women and unnecessary critique, they minimize the value of women, do not employ women, create hostile working environments, engage in passive aggression, but most importantly, believe in gender bias in favour of men. Sexist women rarely question or criticize the authority of men, their actions or behaviours or gender order of hegemonic masculinity in general. This deliberate gender blindness is just another aspect of their internalized sexism.
What to do? Firstly, this pattern has to be recognized and then deliberately unlearned. Internalized sexism is harmful to all women, because it positions them as primarily guilty until (or if) proven innocent. No woman should ever be put into a position to endlessly and constantly defend herself for being a woman.<<< Back