*This talk has its loose origins in my doctoral thesis “Social Construction of a Bad Woman” from 2014 and has been presented at the conference “Engendering Difference: Sexism, Power and Politics“, that took place on 12-13 May 2017 in Maribor at the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Maribor, Slovenia.*
The dominant definition via Urban Dictionary, an Internet platform that creates many cultural stereotypes and debunks them at the same time, describes crazy cat lady as “an elderly suburban widow who lives alone and keeps dozens or more pet cats, usually many more than municipal code allows, in a small house, and refuses to give away or sell them even for the sake of the safety of the cats or herself”, “a woman, usually middle-aged or older, who lives alone with no husband or boyfriend, and fills the empty lonely void in her life with as many cats as she can collect in one place. Said homes are usually very stinky and the aforementioned woman may also very likely be white trash”, “a woman who loves her cats more than people”, “that old lady that lives down the street from you that has over a dozen cats named after each of her ex-boyfriends that have done her wrong”.
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.
We were all young and we will all age (if we live long enough). Age is more than just a sum of years, spent on this planet, it is a social construct that allows people to unjustly categorize other people. Falling into a certain age group is never neutral; it has social consequences on a smaller (i.e. individual) and larger (i.e. systematic) scale. Those consequences are sometimes manifested negatively – as age discrimination or ageism. Ageism refers to attitudes and beliefs, feelings and behaviour towards people based on their age, where the normal or “right” age is from 25 to 55 years old. Right-aged people represent the economic, cultural and social motor of the society and by this, they possess the symbolic power; power that allows them to define Others according to their beliefs on what is right (good) and what is wrong (bad).