I think we’ve all been there. You see an attractive or provocatively dressed woman and suddenly you’re angry with her. It doesn’t make sense. You don’t know her, she has no impact on your life, and yet there it is: a little bit of rage.
Why is it that we as women feel this way about other women? We’re feminists, aren’t we? We believe in another woman’s right to dress and act however she likes. But somehow we can’t help feeling like she’s wronged us. This is internalized misogyny. It works in the same way as internalized racism or classism. In the western world, people have learned certain things to be true, even if they’re not. One of those things is that other women are the competition. We learn it from music, TV, fashion, our parents, and even casual, conversation. We have to knock each other down in order to raise ourselves up. We have to be the most beautiful, the skinniest, whatever will make us stand out above the rest.
This is where the phrase “not like other girls” comes from. What does that mean? What’s so wrong with being like other girls? Other girls are awesome. It usually means not “feminine.” To be feminine is to be weak, to be part of the competition. From there we get a great number of debates: Can I still be a feminist if I wear makeup? Can I still be a feminist if I wear dresses or high heels? Can I still be a feminist if I want to have kids? Or be a stay-at-home mom? Or if I am a sex worker? Gender and sex expression really have nothing to do with whether a person deserves to have equal pay, equal access to health care or employment, and equal opportunities for advancement in a career, but internalized misogyny has made us believe that they do. We as women have developed our own hierarchy and we use it against each other. Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by Regina George.
Knowing that this internalized misogyny exists in your brain does not give you carte blanche to hate on other women. Knowing about our internalized prejudices allows us to confront them head on, and put in the work to make sure we don’t let them hurt other people. The next time you find yourself hating on another woman stop and think about why. Raise her up instead of tearing her down. Just because you were raised to hate other women doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it. Who profits from us tearing each other down? We fight the patriarchy, not each other. There’s room at the top for all of us.
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