When I was in middle school, I wanted more friends who were boys because I felt like girls were too much drama. If a girl wore makeup, or seemed more focused on her physical appearance than her inner qualities, I’d say things like, “You should be natural” or “Don’t wear makeup to impress a boy” or “You’re more beautiful without makeup.”
I joined my 9th grade peers in calling a classmate in a tight dress a ho. During lunch, the same girl was hanging out with a couple of boys and seemed to be flirting, even though she had gotten out of a relationship the day before. I nodded toward her and said to my friends, “Doesn’t she seem to be…” but my friends cut me off, nodding. They knew I was about to say “acting like a slut.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was acting out internalized misogyny, which is a hatred of women practiced by women against other women or even against themselves. I was judging her based on how she dressed and talked to boys. But I had no idea what kind of person she was.
My male relatives constantly comment about how girls are dressed, declaring anyone in crop tops and short shorts a ho. And if my cleavage is showing, they tell me to cover up. They say it in a way that makes me feel ashamed of my body.
In school, as early as kindergarten, I heard people tell boys “you throw like a girl,” “you’re a p-ssy,” or “man up.” They made me think girls and qualities associated with them were weak and inferior to men.
“Man up” means stop being emotional like a girl. I hear this expression particularly when boys cry. This shaming made me feel like I should try not to show my emotions either.
Embracing My Feminine Qualities
Last summer, an activist I follow on Instagram posted something about internalized misogyny and how she used to have it until she educated herself about it.
I went to Google to learn more and realized that I was guilty of more than half of the examples of internalized misogyny. I had engaged in slut-shaming, victim-blaming, and shaming girls for not shaving, or women for being stay-at-home moms. I’d said, “Girls are too much drama,” and “I’m not like other girls.”
I thought about how I tried to reject my stereotypically feminine qualities and focus more on my masculine qualities. My “feminine” qualities are being sensitive, gentle, and emotionally expressive. My “masculine” qualities include being independent, assertive, persistent, and emotionally stoic. But I have both sets of qualities.
Now that I have educated myself about internalized misogyny, I feel more comfortable expressing my feelings. I don’t worry about looking like I’m creating too much drama or looking weak. If you think about it, even the scariest animals show their emotions and that doesn’t mean that they are weak.
I read up on ways to catch myself and change my way of thinking. At school, if I overhear girls talking about their sexual encounters, rather than my old “girls shouldn’t—” I cut myself off. Sex isn’t something women should have to be quiet about: If men can talk about it, so can women. If I hear misogynistic talk among my friends, I point it out.
One of my friends asked a few of us whether we thought she should wear a tight top because she’s busty. While our other friends said no, I said, “Wear whatever you feel comfortable in.”
Recently, we had our first Girls Day at school, devoted to female empowerment. In the gym, my English teacher took the mic: “We ladies have to stick together, especially in this world where our race and gender is an issue…We Black women have the highest college graduation rate….”
My teacher’s words reinforced my attempts to get rid of my internalized misogyny. She was saying that if women want equal rights, then we can’t go around calling each other names that boys and men use to put us down. In the end, we don’t have to like each other—we just need to respect each other.