How I Overcame My Misogyny

misogynyBy Laura Wolff

I was a pre-teen bitch.

I wasn’t exceptionally mean or catty — in fact, I was an anti-bullying advocate. But my deeply internalized sexism led me to disdain anything and everything considered “girly,” from “Twilight” to dresses to teenybopper Disney stars. And the girls who enjoyed them. 

I had plenty of friends. But I had trouble getting through a conversation with them. Without expressing annoyance at their passions, anyway.

How could anything be good if the fanbase was 12-year old girls?

Sure, I was a 12-year-old girl, but I was special and different. I liked things that girls didn’t: incontrovertible proof that my favorites were better.

It was gender ranking at work: ranking male-things as better than female-things. My whole life, I’d been told that being a boy was good and being a girl was not so good. I still remember a boy in preschool breaking into tears after being mercilessly teased because his favorite color was purple. Or, if a boy wasn’t quite up to snuff he was called a girl.

To someone seeing through a patriarchal prism that says “masculine” is normal and “feminine” is an inferior mutation, it all made perfect sense.

I didn’t realize I was playing into the double bind which says women and girls should like “feminine” things like fashion, make-up, children and romance, but which simultaneously says those things are shallow, stupid, and lazy.

Ironically, it was the pink-saturated, lipstick-smeared, female-dominated movie Mean Girls that made me think again. I was stunned when Tina Fey told a roomful of high school girls that,

You have to stop calling each other sluts and whores, because that just makes it okay for guys to call you those things.

I was suddenly ashamed of how I had treated women my whole life. I had an epiphany that there’s nothing inherently wrong with being “like other girls” because there is nothing inherently wrong with other girls.

I rededicated myself to defying gender expectations. But this time the defiance wasn’t rooted in misogyny or effemiphobia, but in seeing the look on people’s faces when they realized I wasn’t going to back down when challenged, like a “good girl.”

Turns out, by dismissing mainstream femininity as vapid and useless, I perpetuated a system that pressured me to reject my feminine side. There is nothing superior or intellectual about blindly accepting social norms. Or cutting off half of your humanity.

This was written by one of my students who gave me permission to post it.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on March 14, 2014, in feminism, gender, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. This is a such a good read. The article brings up an important point to note that not all misogynists are males and many could be indeed women themselves. Sometimes I even wonder that given the patriarchy, if it could lead to more female misogynists than the male ones. I could resonate with the author well, for I also often feel annoyed and even angry at very feminine-looking designs, makeups, or even clothes. And this is still happening sometimes. I actually started to be more aware of this side of me after I got exposed to the feminism ideas. For the first time, I have taken a critical look at my entire life and tried to understand why things happened the way they did. Also for the first time, I could understand the reason is called stereotypes behind all the color division between girls’ and boys’ toys at department stores of pink and blue; I could see why people would say the boys should go to science and girls should do something less rational and stressful. After realizing all of these, I started to feel ashamed that I was never conscious of them growing up and I decided to put in lots of efforts to make things right. And it kind of went out of control and now I often struggle with this reverse-sexism in which I often try to stay as far as possible away from makeup, pink princess-like designs in stationary, shopping for dresses and wearing high heels. Sometimes, I would feel bad for my friends who would still fight for boys’ attention or go on diet just so that their boyfriends would like them more. However, I did not notice that by looking down on the feminine side I am also making myself a victim of patriarchy too. I have failed to understand that in a corrupted system with multiple dimensions of oppression on both males and females, we are all victims and no one is superior to another. This article is like a wake up call for me.

  2. I understand some of the struggles the author may have faced. I remember being a girl, and almost intentionally hating the color pink just because it seemed to associate too much with “uber femininity”. I felt like openly accepting the color pink made me feel really tacky, but innately, I was not adverse to the color at all. In fact, a mild shade of pink (pink salmon) is one of my favorite colors as of today. I feel like unintentionally being misogynistic is part of our conditionings, but as I got older, I allowed my true self to surface a bit more.

  3. I use to be opposed to raising girls with the idea of princesses and castles and pink things and anything that sounded girly and then I ask myself, what about boys? and I thought, I would let boys wear pink and play with dolls, etc, if they wanted to. And that’s when i caught myself having a double standard and in a way giving privilege to the boys to do whatever they want and not the girls. Originally my thoughts had the best intentions: girls should also view themselves as teachers and doctors and lawyers and wear blue if they want to and play any sport they want because they are equal to men and they can etc. But it didn’t cross my idea that by taking away the girly things I was also limiting their freedom to chose whatever they wanted to chose. And so at the end, I got to the conclusion that anyone can chose to be and do and wear whatever they want as long as the idea is not forced into them. In other words, I think that girly things or manly things do not define a man or a woman. It is not a matter of likes or attitudes or anything. It is a matter of seeing and treating each other as equal regardless of any differences we think we have and the ability to be free to chose whatever we want to be or do.

  4. I was the kind of girl who did not like Barbies are Disney Princess a lot when I was small. I used to get dolls and stuff like that during birthdays but I do not really like them like the writer of this article. However, I did not criticise others who like it as the writer. I agree with her that the terms “Slut” or “whore” are something invented by men to diminish women as we cannot see any words like that to humiliate guys. Therefore, if women keep calling one another sluts or whores, it is really ridicules because they are not only scolding that person, she is also saying something that offend herself.

  5. I am still trying to overcome internalized misogyny….It depresses the hell out of me that men are still seen as experts, leaders, artists and scientists where women are just expected to be beautiful and then motherly. Of course women that are leaders and scientists are thought of as just exceptions. Sometimes I genuinely can’t help but look down on stuff like Twillight and 50 Shades of Grey which are badly written and have horrible messages.

  6. I think that the fact that she was seeing things differently, and had a more advanced perspective on society (seeing male things as better) brings up a lot of gender domination and hierarchy. She couldn’t help it, but if every one saw this way, then there would not really be different views. I personally like for things to be different. And i think that the gender ranking and ruling is extremely wrong and unnecessary.

  7. Powerful, honest, and great self-awareness. It’s very challenging to stand up and walk away from patriarchal and misogynistic conditioning. Wonderful that this is exactly what she did.

  8. I fell into that same trap– likely because I was raised in a family with four brothers and a father who HATES women. I remember identifying with the LOTR character Eowyn, because she talks about the limitations of being born a woman… I wanted so badly to not be like other girls and I looked down on all the stereotypically feminine attributes. I’m not sure what eventually changed that… (though Mean Girls is an awesome movie!) but now I get my girly on. It still horrifies my friends who’ve known me for a long time but they’re learning to cope.

  9. It has always been difficult for me to understand this whole feminine/masculine thing. Maybe that is because I have moved around or maybe it is because these things are confusing. I have always thought of myself as feminine and have never wanted to be a man. After all, why would I want dangly parts. My feelings regarding this matter became even stronger when I had my doll-loving, pink and glittery-loving son who has been called gay-related names until recently.

    Gender is extremely difficult to get a handle on. I am a woman so therefore I am feminine. Both my sons and my husband are men and therefore they are masculine. Inside my head that is how it works and I can’t get my head to think of it any other way.

  10. A very good article. Gender equality is not about burning bras or becoming like men. It’s about being able to be who we are and not be looked down upon for our gender or interest. It goes for men too. I always think of patriarchy focusing on what society says masculinity is. A man who shows traits not typically seen a masculine, such as those who like My Little Pony, will face ridicule from society as well. No one who is something other than what society is is masculine should be treated any differently than anyone else.

  11. I guess I have the opposite problem of your student. I’m a guy but prefer female things. I accept my masculine side, or at least I deal with it…but I prefer feminine things over masculine. It’s taken me a long time to accept that about myself and still have trouble discussing it with my wife or others.

    • People seem to be born with different sorts of personalities–some more feminine and some more masculine. And the personality doesn’t always fit the body. Or I should say, the personality of our culture defines it doesn’t always fit the body. In some cultures to be a man is to be what we would consider to be quite feminine. Take a look at this if you haven’t already:

      My Son Likes Girl-Things. Is He Gay?

      And, your difficulty accepting your feminine side and discussing it with others comes in part because our culture so devalues the feminine. It’s not as hard for women to accept their masculine side because that side is so valued. So women are often proud when they are assertive, leaders, and don’t like frilly clothing, For instance. Of course, sometimes others aren’t comfortable with this, And so women like Hillary Clinton are hated by some conservatives who want women to stay in their place.

  12. I have found that the areas for my realization and growth, like my objectification, have always been covered by a layer of unawareness – either an assumption that something is ” just the way it is” or occurred as merely a stray thought when it actually was an altered state of consciousness covered by a layer of unconsciousness. As the aphorism says, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off!”

  13. “I was suddenly ashamed of how I had treated women my whole life. I had an epiphany that there’s nothing inherently wrong with being “like other girls” because there is nothing inherently wrong with other girls.”

    This strikes me as more than a bit sad. I personally don’t like “girly” things, or at least what is stereotyped as being for girls/women…but that’s just me. Even as I’ve grown up and come to embrace and accept my inner masculinity, I’ve never felt that cis women who were comfortable in their femininity were somehow “lesser” or “inferior”. They like what they like…I like what I like.

    I think that internalized misogyny or misandry is a bigger issue for those such as your student above, who take a longer time to move past it than others. Nobody, whether male, female, or something in between, should *ever* feel they are somehow inferior or superior due to simple preferences. Instead, people should focus on ways to become a better human being…not ways to prove they are more masculine or feminine.

    • I agree with you.

      I’ve noticed my own tendency to elevate the masculine in things like disliking frilly clothing, disliking girly music and liking football, which I’ve come to see I really don’t.

      I admire her coming to see the unconscious internalization and working to get over it. That’s the hard part. Because it is unconscious.

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