Let go of the ‘Mean Girls’ narrative: Dismantling internalised misogyny

Most Yellow Eve readers are likely to identify as feminists, but in this article I want to explore whether we actually wholly understand our relationship with feminism and how it reflects how we interact with other women. It’s only recently that I learned of the phrase “internalised misogyny” and actively worked on myself to dismantle it in my own life.

What is “Internalised Misogyny”?

Internalised misogyny can be defined as projecting sexist ideals onto ourselves and other women. These sexist norms are perpetuated in a patriarchal society through different mediums including, but not limited to, culture and the media. Women become witnesses to a sense of degradation in their daily live and so it becomes difficult to identify internalised misogyny. There are almost too many preconceived notions of how women are expected to behave based on societal norms and ideals.

Challenging sexist societal norms and values and viewing yourself out of these constructs does not come easy – but it is not impossible. You need to begin with identifying the patterns and ideals society has perpetuated and instilled in many of us. Once you have identified the stereotypes, you have also exposed the ways in which you have been maintaining these ideals. Instead of just questioning yourself for maintaining these ideals, you need to break out of them. Within that process, you are also consciously changing your ideas and views about other women as well.

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie famously said, “Women are taught to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or accomplishments, but for the attention of men.” Patriarchal standards impact all aspects of our lives; women inherently view each other as competitors instead of a companions. Instead of manifesting a strong bond with other women, there is sometimes a race to out-do one another, even putting down other women to perhaps gain the approval of men.

Are female friendships problematic?

In my own experience, I have often heard women say that they prefer making friends with men because female friendships are ‘problematic’ or too ‘dramatic’. For me, it is almost absurd to think that men can offer women the same level of empathy and understanding as women from a friendship perspective; after all, men are not subjected to the same levels of sexism at work or anywhere else for that matter. Women know what it’s like to be a part of a constant political debate and have their bodily autonomy questioned and therefore, in my opinion, can offer an extremely valuable companionship.

More often than not, internalised misogyny does get in the way of women’s relationships with one another. That competitiveness and urge to be superior often intensifies in the workplace. In a competitive environment, women can feel threatened by more successful or better-skilled colleagues. Instead of supporting female colleagues, they turn to competing with them. Does this familiar story resonate with you?

It is because of internalised misogyny that there is a constant unhealthy competition to either gain attention of men or prove that we are superior to others. Instead of competing with one another, women should focus on being more understanding and supportive towards their female friends. It’s only then that we can change patriarchal culture.

In order to progress, it is important that we collectively let go of the ‘Mean Girls’ narrative. Women need not be in constant competition with one another. Instead, they can provide one another with strong companionship based on mutual understanding and consideration. Research has proven that strong companionship between women has even helped women combat life-threatening diseases such as breast cancer!

When dismantling internalised misogyny within ourselves, it is important to let go of the sexist ideals, not just about ourselves but those that we hold about other women as well. It is an ongoing learning curve to stop projecting patriarchal standards onto other women. We need to recognise that we place an added value on male approval that is often reflected in our standards of approval. To combat patriarchal standards disrupting women-women relationships, we need to offer one another comfort, support, and empathy instead of competition.

Ayesha Mirza

Ayesha Mirza is a journalism intern at Yellow Eve. She is passionate about dismantling patriarchal structures and uplifting the voices of marginalised groups.

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