Internalized misogyny limits female self-expression, success
May 25, 2022
Computer Science Teacher Livia Piloto said internalized misogyny is the phenomenon when women subconsciously feel hatred for other women in addition to feminine concepts.
“It’s something that a lot of women feel and probably sometimes don’t even know it,” she said. “It is thinking negatively about things that are feminine and things that are girly.”
As defined by the University of Missouri-Kansas City, internalized misogyny is “when women subconsciously project sexist ideas onto other women and even onto themselves.”
In addition, Olivia Holmberg (’25) said the patriarchy – the system in which men hold power over all other genders – perpetuates the notion that women are inferior to men, which can lead to women manifesting hatred for themselves.
“In the patriarchal society that we live in, women are often, like, valued less,” she said. “Those stereotypes can easily affect a woman and how she sees herself.”
Manifestation of internalized misogyny
Holmberg said patriarchal oppression is the root of internalized misogyny. She said since anti-women sentiments are ingrained in society, they also often infiltrate women’s perspectives.
“If misogyny wasn’t so prevalent in society, then there would be less internalized misogyny as a result,” she said.
Further, Piloto said society views women as “second-class citizens” and instead should be considered equal.
Alternatively, Ziad Ben-Gacem (’25) said internalized misogyny is the enforcement of social norms and stereotypes surrounding identity – namely gender – as opposed to the result of systemic misogyny.
“There is always that kind of need to be normal or to fit in or you can often end up thinking things are weird before you actually introduce them,” he said. “It kind of plays into that same thing with social norms …, the need to be normal and fit into a box.”
Margot Crawford (’24) said these stereotypes play a significant role perpetuating internalized misogyny because women feel pressure from a young age to identify with a specific label.
“I see so many stereotypes that get pinned on to girls and women,” she said. “I always grew up with the tomboy versus girly-girl thing, like, ‘Which one are you?’”
Ben-Gacem said internalized sexism is widespread in Grades 7 and 8 as young teenagers tend to feel insecure about their identity and appearance.
“It becomes that sort of polarized, ‘You’re either in or you’re out’ kind of thing,” he said. “You can either be a part of what’s accepted or you can be a rebel.”
Similarly, Piloto said this internal bigotry becomes prevalent during middle school, where young girls start to compare their abilities to those of boys.
“You start seeing ‘oh, those boys can do this, but I can’t, and it might be that you want to be them,” she said. “But instead they should be like, ‘I’m a girl and I can do that too.’”
According to Forbes, technology company Hewlett-Packard discovered that when applying for a promotion, women felt like they had to meet 100% of the requirements, while men only felt they had to meet 60%.
Furthermore, Piloto said women often feel unworthy and lack confidence when applying for positions.
“Women sometimes also feel like we need to prove ourselves more than a man,” she said. “Even adult women, when we apply for a job, we need to, we put ourselves in a higher standard than, you know, we need to.”
Women sometimes also feel like we need to prove ourselves more than a man.”
— Computer Science Teacher Livia Piloto
Moreover, Crawford said many perceive careers associated with women as “weak or sensitive,” preventing them from pursuing feminine roles.
Moreover, Piloto said as she is a computer scientist in a male-dominated industry, she herself experienced internalized misogyny and began to view women as inherently less intelligent than men.
“Because I was always involved in a lot of male-dominated things, a lot of it got to me,” she said. “I did think that women were dumber, right. I was like, ‘Why aren’t there more women here, are they just dumber?’ I just didn’t understand, and to be honest, all my friends were male because there was no women for me to even have a counterpoint.”
Bora Erinc (’22) said he sees a significant gender imbalance in his physics class, which is the result of the “idea that we get funneled into these sort of perceptions” that specific genders are fit for certain interests.
Piloto, who used to work at an all-girls school, said she sees a difference in how students are willing to participate and how they ask questions in an all-female environment rather than in mixed-gender climates. Thus, Piloto said it is essential for women to have a safe space so they can be comfortable and talk without fear of judgment.
“I saw the difference in how girls ask questions in class versus how girls ask questions in class here,” she said. “It’s really beneficial for girls to be able to be in an environment of only females.”
Stigma surrounding femininity
Holmberg said society views traits associated with feminity as weaker and inferior to those associated with masculinity.
“Anything feminine is sort of associated with bad,” she said. “Whether it’s a woman being feminine or whether it’s a man being feminine.”
Holmberg said this stigma around femininity prevents women from expressing themselves and creates more pressure on a woman’s appearance.
“It could definitely impact like self-expression and maybe even increase more focus on appearance because in a patriarchal society, a woman’s appearance is like, basically the entirety of the woman’s existence,” she said.
Piloto said when she dresses feminine in a professional setting where other women dress more formal and less feminine, she feels self-conscious about her appearance.
“I feel sometimes inferior, you know, when I’m in a group of more of intellectuals, and there are women there, and I’m like all dolled up,” she said. “I do sometimes feel like people look down on girliness and femininity.”
Crawford said one of the reasons there are negative connotations surrounding dressing feminine is an association with weakness.
‘There’s like a lot of that stigma or like, ‘Oh, she wears dresses all the time, you know she can’t, like, run around and jump and play.’ Of course she can,” she said. “Even if she can’t in the moment because she’s just wearing a dress, who cares? It doesn’t make her weak because she wears dresses or feminine clothing or likes feminine things.”
There shouldn’t be a differentiation on if you’re smart or girly. You can be smart and girly, right? And I think that that’s really important for girls to see as well.”
— Computer Science Teacher Livia Piloto
Piloto said femininity should be appreciated instead of being looked down upon.
“I love the fact that we can pull off makeup and we can do our hair the way that we want to do it,” she said. “I think it’s a form of outspokenness.”
Piloto said being feminine and smart can coexist and women should not have to choose between one or the other.
“There shouldn’t be a differentiation on if you’re smart or girly,” she said. “You can be smart and girly, right? And I think that that’s really important for girls to see as well.”
‘Not like other girls’ and ‘pick me girls’ phenomena
According to a TED Talk delivered by Antonina Stepak, the “not like other girls” phenomenon is when “a woman who considers herself unique because she does not fit into the narrow, stereotypical view of womanhood.”
Holmberg said the “not like other girls” concept impacted her as a pre-teenager and she has since worked to unlearn that mindset.
“When I was younger, I went through one of those like ‘I’m not like other girls’ phases,” she said. “I think I was like 11 or 12 when like, I realized that whether I was like feminine or masculine it didn’t really matter or impact anything and I wasn’t like going to be better or worse depending on how I wanted to behave.”
Crawford said she dislikes the “not like other girls” term as she believes there is no one way to be a girl and women should be praised in a way that does not bring down other women.
There’s not a single girl on this earth who is like another girl.”
— Margot Crawford ('25)
“No one is like other girls,” she said. “There’s not a single girl on this earth who is like another girl… it’s just putting women against each other and I don’t think that’s good.”
Piloto said the “not like other girls” mentality has been prevalent ever since adolescence and extended into college. Even as an adult, Piloto said many of her friends have yet to unlearn the mindset.
Similar to the “not like other girls” phenomenon, the term “pick-me girl” refers to a woman who behaves to appeal to men, simultaneously bringing down other women or enforcing stereotypes about women.
Holmberg said using the term “pick-me girl” is ineffective in combatting internalized sexism as it puts down women instead of tackling the issue.
“By shaming the people who have internalized misogyny, that’s actually not doing anything to help like, get to the root of the issue,” she said. “While it does bring awareness, a little more awareness to internalized misogyny, it doesn’t ever like explicitly mention the actual dangerous effects.”
Crawford said the term is problematic as it shames women who are friends with men or naturally more masculine-presenting.
“It’s used to make fun of women who are friends with men and I think … that’s women turning on other women,” she said. “I don’t think putting labels on women is good.”
Erinc said toxic masculinity and internalized misogyny “are two sides of the same coin.” Erinc said both concepts emerge from the belief that men must exert masculinity and power, while women must adopt femininity and, in turn, compliance.
“In men, that can manifest in like aggressiveness or like being obsessed with looks or like trying not to look soft,” he said. “It can be the other way with women, like trying to seem like domestic or submissive.”
Ben-Gacem said there are ties between internalized misogyny and toxic masculinity. He said both concepts exhibit condemnation for stereotypically feminine attributes and promote hypermasculinity.
“People can express hatred in terms of internalized misogyny of things that are inherently feminine like I said, saying things like ‘that’s so girly,’” he said. “On the other hand, there are things… where people are expressing their hatred for things that are inherently not masculine.”
Erinc said both ideas surface due to how society views men and women historically, and they are interlinked because women are told to act the opposite of how men would, and vice versa.
“It is one force that has emerged as a result of like historical power,” he said. “The idea that men should be one way, and women should be one way, I think they compliment each other because we define these things in relation to each other.”
Erinc said this stigma limits women from expressing themselves fully, in the same way toxic masculinity limits men.
“They are the manifestations of the same force coming from two different end gender spectrums,” he said. “It’s limiting. It’s like ‘don’t do this, but do this,’ and that can have like a really strong sort of disconnect with how you’re actually feeling.”
Tackling internalized misogyny
Holmberg said while topics that fall under misogyny and gender roles are discussed at the school, internalized misogyny is one of various subcategories that often go unspoken.
“We do talk about the patriarchy and we have talked about like toxic masculinity in some of my classes,” she said. “But there are many other byproducts of patriarchy and a lot of other like topics within sexism that just aren’t talked about.”
Ben-Gacem said internalized misogyny falls under the category of the influence of social norms, and the phenomenon “should be discussed under the broader topic, so that it can be more understood through many lenses.”
Ben-Gacem said internalized misogyny, like other topics that fall under gender norms, should be tackled by dismantling the notion that there is one way to act as a certain gender and instead promote being unique and different.
“It’s similar to other breaking other gender norms, just kind of the cultivation of a community that accepts everything that understands it’s okay to be one thing, it’s okay to be another,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just who we are.”
Moreover, Piloto said she tackles internalized misogyny by facilitating discussion with the faculty’s Women’s Affinity Group, in her “girl chat” with friends and with her own daughters. She said she encourages her 3-year-old daughter to self-express through clothing in a way that is comfortable and true to herself.
“My oldest already thinks that she needs to wear dresses all the time,” she said. “I want to empower her, but I also want to empower her in the fact that she can be who she is… She doesn’t need to just wear dresses unless she wants to.”
Ultimately, Erinc said internalized misogyny should be torn down by talking about it and reaffirming that people should be whoever they want to be.
“We need to talk about it,” he said. “It sounds super corny, but I think we need to enforce the idea that you are okay just the way you are. I think that is the cure to a lot of these things.”