Internalised Mysogyny

Let us understand what misogyny is first.


Most people usually do not come across the term misogyny, and even if they do, they have a dictionary definition of it, which states that is the “dislike, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women”.


However, a philosophy professor at Cornell University, Kate Manne, argues that misogyny is not about men’s hatred towards women, it’s about controlling and punishing women who challenge male dominance.


This is a far more useful way to understand “misogyny” because it allows for more nuanced discussions about people who challenge power, because contradictory to popular belief, challenging power does not give you any rewards. In fact, it punishes you in a devastating manner.


When we discuss rape culture that occurs in the private locker room or chats run by men, we talk about the normalisation of a misogynist culture that is dominated and perpetuated by men. But are women just as capable of perpetuating harmful narratives about women?


The answer is: yes. Feminist author bell hooks says that “patriarchy has no gender” — what this means is that while women are some of the prime victims of patriarchal norms, they are just as capable of perpetuating the same harmful and misogynist myths or narratives about women and girls, and this is called internalised misogyny.


Internalised misogyny is the involuntary belief in ideas, myths and stereotypes by women and girls of women and girls. Patriarchal understandings of gender peddles sexist narratives that women and girls, boys and men believe and, unfortunately, enact on them. The consequence of this is that boys and men believe and perpetuate these lies against women and girls, and women and girls also begin to believe and internalise these myths against themselves, which leads to hostility towards other women and girls (also known as “horizontal hostility”).


But this is not just about it being an attitude in society, it is structural. It functions within our systems and is compounded by race, class and caste — this means when women try to challenge those with a better status (and in most cases, it is usually men), it does not end very well for them. So the other response is to “lean in”, to join the ranks of the status quo, to attain power, a seat at the table.

But simply getting a seat at the table does not lift the veil of sexism and misogyny that has, and continues, to follow women and girls. It simply means that women and girls become the very people who continue to propagate sexist ideas against other women and girls. The proximity to power may (really heavy emphasis on “may”) help them escape misogyny, but it does not completely shield them from it. This is why it becomes crucial to examine the status quo and the power associated with it; because when one starts to assimilate within the status quo, they start to become invested in the status quo — and the status quo is dangerously misogynist.


But this is precisely why it becomes important for women and girls to unlearn the sexist and misogynist ideas that they have internalised. This unlearning and relearning is possible, by examining our social and political structures in place, the norms that it dictates, and the power it holds to facilitate the conditions for internalised misogyny. It also requires a common feeling of solidarity and care for other women and girls, and of boys and men who are harmed by sexist thought.


A sustainable solution would be to challenge the very structure that allow for patriarchal ideas against women and girls to flourish. But that would require challenging power — which can be a petrifying task in and of itself, as iterated earlier, there are no glorious rewards to be gained for challenging power. It is why we call it a struggle. But the struggle does not have to be miserable, because when done together, we will have found community, people that we care and love. We, as women and girls, can hold each other accountable, allow ourselves opportunities for transformation and growth. We can challenge inequalities amongst ourselves so that we can make space for communities who have always been excluded. It does not serve the status quo’s interests when women and girls band together and not direct patriarchal hatred towards one another. And while it may not be enough to completely upend patriarchy, we can certainly try and put a dent into it.

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