Internalised misogyny. That deep, manly voice buried within our brains that makes us think of women and act towards them in a way we never would to men.
Wondering why women over 40 are childless. Questioning a girl’s outfit choices. Noticing a female’s body hair. Judging her by her sexual prowess.
It’s not our fault but whilst it’s there, we must recognise and fight against it to become better women.
As a teenager, I was the biggest tomboy. Kappa popper bottoms, gold Reebok football boots I begged my Mum to buy and an Adidas t-shirt that wouldn’t look out of place in an ASOS 90s edit. I couldn’t have looked less stereotypically female. Not a single scrap of make up touched my face until I was 17 and was introduced to Bad Gal by Benefit and the tiny pots of gloopy goodness that were Lancome’s Juicy Tubes. I didn’t want to be girly. Girly meant you couldn’t be mates with boys, or like wrestling or be the class clown. I was solely mates with boys because girls were too bitchy and all they cared about was Justin Timberlake’s abs and Nick Carter’s hair.
The media constantly pitted my teen idols against each other. Britney Spears was heralded as the wholesomely sweet, girl-next-door whereas Christina Aguilera was derided as promiscuous and ‘dirrty’. One could not succeed unless the other was put down. Both were paraded as sexual beings and their worthiness based on their attractiveness. Unfortunately, Christina was just that bit too sexy for young, uncomfortable me.
As a young adult, other women were my competitors. I got promoted at my Thorpe Park job over another girl because my boss fancied me and made it obvious by drawing cartoons in which I was performing a variety of sexual acts in him. I WON! At my first proper job as a manager in River Island, I got into a war over a boy with another girl who worked there. He told me he liked her a lot. But I liked him. She wasn’t interested. So I told him and we got together. Another win!
Women, at this time, were acquaintances. People I could gossip with. People I would never get close to because we didn’t have that much in common. I still wasn’t girly. I still knew the offside rule. I still hated wearing dresses. I was very prudish about my sexuality. In fact, if you had mentioned to me that you’d slept with more than 5 people, I’d judge you.
The men around me didn’t help with my image of other women. Ex boyfriends would glare at females whilst out and pass comments on their appearances. I’d feel jealous and then put them down in some way to compensate. They’d tell me about their ‘slutty’ colleagues who’d had affairs at work. It didn’t register that these ‘sluts’ had affairs with his male colleagues but the men weren’t being called sluts.
I was a woman that was against women. They were competition. Their femininity highlighted the lack of my own. Or so I believed.
I don’t know when I woke up. My first close female friendships were forged in university. With women I’m still friends with today. As I matured, I started to realise that not all women were out to steal my boyfriend, or turn my friends away from me. I realised that not all women were vain airheads. In fact, I started to realise that maybe only bad PEOPLE had those characteristics and gender didn’t come into it.
I don’t know when I made the conscious choice to be a better woman. As an adult, I met a lot of strong feminists who taught me a lot about how to be a good woman. In the early days, the judgemental thoughts would still slip out. ‘What is she wearing?’, ‘How much slap has she got on?’, ‘SHE’S going out with HIM? HOW?, He’s a 10 and she’s a 4 on a good day.’ But soon, after a lot of self reflection, I realised I only had those thoughts because I had low self esteem. And only when my self confidence grew and I felt more comfortable in my femininity did those thoughts flip on their heads. They became, ‘No one else would wear what that girl’s wearing GET IT BABE’, ‘Her make up is INSANE’ and ‘DAMN GIRL, he’s hit the jackpot with you.’ And you know what? I liked myself even more.
Once I began to love women, I began to love myself. I saw other women taking care of their careers and succeeding, I wanted to take care of mine. I heard about other women sleeping around and instead of judgement, I thought – ‘get yours,’ and instead of comparing, battling and competition I began empowering.
I decided it was no longer enough just to abolish my own shitty thoughts, I wanted to abolish other’s. Either about themselves or about other people. I decided I wanted to be the woman other women need.
So what do other women need?
I’m not going to pretend I’m perfect. Or I’m a role model. Or I’m 100% there with my feminism. Or that those shitty thoughts don’t creep in every once in a while. I’m not going to pretend that being a white woman is fully going to be able to empower all women of all races and gender identities. So what can we all do until we’re there?
If someone puts down another woman around you – either by objectification or rudeness, call them on it. Don’t let it slide as locker room talk or banter. These jokes or seemingly blasé comments are rooted in shitty thoughts about women and need to be banished.
Don’t put other women down. I KNOW it’s tempting. But when a judgemental thought creeps in, ask yourself where it’s coming from and what the real root of your judgement highlights about yourself – then work on that.
Try to understand intersectionality. Educate yourself on the struggles of our most maligned groups. Groups where being a woman means something completely different to what the majority of people experience but is no less a valid experience. Read up on what makes it difficult for them to be women. If you’re straight and white, accept your privilege and try to use it for good. Just being aware that there are those whose society’s perception of femininity affects in a negative way, more so than you’ll experience, can be the start of change.
Donate to women’s causes. I know you can’t give to every charity but pick a few causes that mean something to you, or you feel passionate for and donate. It doesn’t have to always be money. Maybe it can be a bit of campaigning or signing a few petitions that you agree with – whatever it is, find a cause and get behind it.
Don’t pit yourself against other women. If you’re competing for a job, just be the better candidate without resorting to putting the other woman down. Never compete for men. If a man you want, wants another woman, then that’s life.
Support each other’s paths. If your mates want a future for themselves that you don’t want for them, don’t judge, just support. If your mates have personal ventures – small businesses, blogs, crafty sidelines – get behind them, share the love and tell everyone you know about the things your friends are killing. Lifting her up, doesn’t put you down.
Compliment each other. Telling a woman she is gorgeous does not make you less gorgeous. If you see a girl in the club with the best make up, a figure hugging dress and pins to die for, instead of feeling bad about yourself, go and tell her she looks banging. You’ll have made her night and I guarantee you’ll feel bloody good too.
It’s my belief that anyone who works on themselves to be better, to do better and to use their positions of privilege and influence for the good of other women, is doing the right thing. Internalised misogyny is unfortunately ingrained and will be here for a good while but if we can become more aware of why we think a certain way and be more responsible in our treatment of others, we’re making good changes. Yes we may not get it right all the time, or our changes for good may be small to some, but if we can make ourselves better and our treatment of other women better, then that’s what we all need.