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  • Writer's pictureThe Feminist Times

Internalisation of Misogyny: A psychological perspective

Misogyny can be defined as the hatred of or prejudice against women. The word is formed from the Greek roots misein (“to hate”) and gynē (“woman”). A common misconception is that only men can be misogynists, but in reality, misogynistic tendencies have got nothing to do with the sex of the person and are in fact ubiquitous. People generally have a propensity to internalise this deep-rooted aversion to women because living in a patriarchal or a male dominated society implies reinforcement of ideas that are biased against women and show them in a negative or inferior light. We tend to push each other down instead of pulling each other up. One would wonder how it is possible for women to tear down their own when they are all, in some way or the other, implicitly or explicitly, oppressed in society. However, the problem is unbeknownst to them and the answer to this can be explained by using the psychological concepts of socialisation and internalisation.

Socialisation can be understood as a process wherein people learn and gain enlightenment about the “socially acceptable” ways of functioning in a society. This is a systematic process that takes place through the agents of socialisation i.e., family, peer groups, school and media, right from childhood. A product of this is internalisation, which can be understood as a process of unconsciously imbibing certain attitudes and behaviours into one’s own repository of ideas. Hence Internalized misogyny is when women subconsciously project sexist ideas onto other women and even onto themselves. One of the most prominent reasons behind patriarchy, regressive gender stereotypes and roles based on it and the resulting sexism and misogyny being so well entrenched in our society since time immemorial is internalisation of these conventional ideas that have been handed down from generation to generation. It is only a result of socialisation that we all have developed preconceived notions and formulated a certain image in our minds about what an “ideal woman” is like, right from they way she looks, talks, sits and walks to the kind of “woman like” activities she should indulge in socially. One unique feature about this type of projection and degradation is that it occurs in a very subtle and casual manner in everyday life which makes it difficult to identify and rectify. Writer Suzannah Weiss rightly said, Internalized misogyny does not refer outright to a belief in the inferiority of women. It refers to the by-products of this societal view that cause women to shame, doubt, and undervalue themselves and others of their gender.” Hence addressing this makes it even more important because it implicitly acts as a hindrance in the progression of the feminist movement.

“Who will marry you if you don’t learn how to cook and act like a girl”

“Do not wear too revealing clothes or a dark shade of lipstick, no one respects attention seeking girls”

“I only like hanging out with boys. Girls are so much drama”

As girls, we are all familiar with the aforementioned condemnatory statements either first handedly or vicariously and ironically enough these are all made by women reproving their own kind. This mocking and policing of other women’s behaviour is nothing but a perpetration of internalised hate towards women and all femininity. An example of this is mothers or aunts casually slut shaming the girls in their house based on ill-founded reasons such as how often girls go out or the kind of clothes they choose to wear. Another related example is shunning women that demonstrate sexual autonomy and agency and reproaching them for being “promiscuous.” At the end of the day, everything boils down to the marriageability of young girls, yet another product of socialisation. It is believed that the ultimate goal of an “ideal” woman in this patriarchal society should be spending her formative years learning how to behave in “socially acceptable” ways that will eventually enable her family to find a suitable man for her so she can prove her worth as a woman by prescribing to societal norms and get married to start a family.

Some people have made an attempt to justify misogyny on the pretext that the aforementioned hatred of women by men could be subconscious and rooted in certain traumatic past experiences involving a female figure such as a negligent mother, an emotionally abusive girlfriend or a manipulative sister and so on. On the other hand, the same logic, when applied to cases wherein the roles are reversed and the treatment of men by women is being explained, would not hold true in a patriarchal society. For example, a woman could be shackled in a toxic marriage and be a victim of marital physical abuse, yet her hatred for her husband or in general men, would be deemed irrational or extreme. Applying the same logic in this case, she could develop an aversion towards men because of her past trauma but here, her trauma would be invalidated solely because the hatred of men was never, and can never be as systematic and entrenched as the hatred of women is in our society. This example only substantiates the Dworkin quote from 1997: “Women are perceived to be appalling failures when we are sad. Women are pathetic when we are angry. Women are ridiculous when we are militant. Women are unpleasant when we are bitter, no matter what the cause. Women are deranged when women want justice. Women are man-haters when women want accountability and respect from men.”

Some women also find themselves projecting this internalized misogyny onto themselves more often than they project it onto other women. They are quick to cast judgements, shame, doubt and undervalue themselves because of their gender identity. This is related to another psychological phenomenon wherein you start believing that you are inferior because the society we are a part of is constructed in a way that it constantly reinforces this idea at the subconscious level. In addition, since women are constantly conditioned to deem themselves as subordinate to men, it is nothing but natural for women to see themselves in an inferior light vis-a-vis men. This highlights a state of cognitive dissonance, which involves holding contradictory beliefs, opinions, ideas and thoughts. On one hand, girls may call themselves feminists and express a desire to be perceived equal to men but on the other hand, proudly claim to be “not like other girls”, a phrase which is yet another fragment of our patriarchal legacy. People have been selling this phrase as a compliment either to praise other girls or make themselves feel validated. What most of us fail to realise is that it stems from an unconscious deep-rooted hatred for women and implies that girls are inferior or possessing “feminine” attributes is undesirable so not being like “other girls” gives you an edge over them. Obliterating such problematic statements from our vocabulary can be the first step to challenge internalised misogyny.

Patriarchy regulates us on a sexual, emotional, physical, social and cerebral level. The very essential idea of feminism is challenging and opposing this patriarchy at a macro level. However, this can only be done if we are all willing to introspect and identify how patriarchy is influencing our thoughts and attitudes at the personal level. We can only fully get rid of this ingrained patriarchy by unlearning and relearning different strands of feminism.

- Gurman Kaur Chawla

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