Written by: Cesar Lopez
“Woman must not accept; she must challenge. She must not be awed by that which has been built up around her; she must reverence that woman in her which struggles for expression.” — Margaret Sanger
In the aftermath of a turbulent and anxiety-filled election season, many of us are left to ponder, how and why did the United States elect Trump as president? This is especially puzzling, considering a major portion of Trump’s voter turnout were women.
Although race and class are all specific categories which differentiate who voted for who, the fact remains, a significant portion of women casted their ballots for Trump. A man who on numerous occasions has:
- Tied women’s worth to their desirability and appearance,
- Criticized women for having a voice,
- Freely objectified women in public forums and
- Fat shamed and belittled women’s bodies,
to name a few.
So, why did such a large number of women vote for what seems to be blatantly against their own self-interest?
What’s at work?
While many of us are familiar with the concept of sexism and misogyny, have you ever heard about “internalized misogyny”? What does this internalized aspect of the term speak to and what does it mean?
Internalized misogyny is defined as: Unconscious and often unknowing self-acceptance of sexist perceptions which cause women to shame, doubt, and undervalue themselves and others of their gender. (Source)
Think of internalized misogyny as a sort of residue of sexism. For centuries, women’s bodies, identities and worth are put into question, debated upon and devalued at the hands of patriarchal cultural and legal systems.
These negative messages that specify a woman’s place and boundaries eventually become the norm for all women. They become an inescapable constant in their lives, unconsciously creating self-deprecating attitudes that they begin to accept and expect in other women.
Hence, men do not need to be active agents in enforcing sexist ideas upon women, rather women will socially police themselves and others into conforming or feeling shame for behaviors and beliefs outside of this sexist cultural framework.
As consequence, things like:
- criticizing women for have multiple sex partners (slut shaming)
- perceiving women’s bodies as essentially sexual – needing to display or not display certain areas of their bodies (objectification)
- seeing other women as emotionally unstable and incapable of holding positions of power because of their menstrual cycle
- reprimanding women for speaking up
become a standard which women hold themselves and others to.
As insidious as it sounds, internalized misogyny acts like a parasite. Continually looking for different bodies to spread to while perpetuating the host’s marginalized condition.
So when we have figures like Trump step onto a public stage, he can freely defame, insult, objectify, mock, harass and talk about assaulting women, yet still garner a significant portion of vote from them. Not because women are actively against their own, but because they’ve been targeted to accept a reality in which benefits men at their own expense.
What’s the solution?
While internalized misogyny doesn’t just magically disappear overnight, the most important part of unlearning internalized self-doubt and shame is taking some time for yourself. Sit down, think, ask yourself some questions:
- “Why do I think this?”
- “What is it about this that makes me uncomfortable?”
- “Why does another woman doing, saying, or acting this way make me uncomfortable?”
- “Why do I hold this to be true?”
Connect with other women
After you have a good long time chatting with yourself, realize you’re not alone. Reach out to other women in your community, engage each other. Share your thoughts in an open way.
“Listen to understand, not to respond.” – Stephen R. Covey
Let your conversations be constructive and build off one another and grow to include all communities of women other than your local circle.
Connect with other communities
Women are not alone, other marginalized communities also deal with large amounts of internalized oppression. That’s just the nature of oppression. However, knowing that we can help one another, reach out to other communities: people of color, the queer community, and other minority groups who share similar struggles. By working together, not only do we come to find a sense of solace in the struggle to overcome oppression but are also able to strengthen our efforts to rid ourselves of internalized shame and the practices that allow those oppressive cultural and systemic forces to function.
Feature photo credit: Thomas Brault