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True Life: I Used To Be A Sexist

By January 7, 2016 1
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As a younger, inquisitive college student I slowly but surely educated myself on the topic of modern-day sexism, until one day in recent years I came to an alarming realization: younger me was a sexist.

(insert gasping noise here)

Could it be true? Me…? Of all people?

Yes, it’s true; even me. As I brainstormed for this article I caught myself cringing several times as I recalled some of the typical misogynistic views about women that I used to hold, and unless you were born and raised in a secluded hippie commune on the Galapagos Islands which also happened to be free from The Patriarchy (I’m going to break it to you: you weren’t), I can guarantee that you also have held similar views at some point in your life, whether or not you were aware of it.

Let’s talk about this. 

Internalized misogyny; it’s a daunting term. Everyday Feminism defines internalized misogyny as the idea that we “hold misogynistic ideas ourselves, even though we are women. It’s involuntary because the sexism that is present in our culture is taught to us through socialization, a process we don’t have much say in.”

Yes, even us women have aided in the perpetuation of sexism.

It all starts when we’re wee little squirts. Girls are traditionally associated with and given “feminine” things such as dolls and dresses, whereas boys are associated with “masculine” items like toy trucks and dinosaurs. As we grow up, these seemingly trivial classifications define who we are. Over time, girls are told that the things they take interest in are tedious and unimportant to the boys, and it’s around grade-school age that boys are shamed if they display interest in anything “feminine.”

I specifically remember when I was in the fourth grade: my teacher warned all of the girls in the class about our future worst enemies: each other. She informed us that since middle school was creeping up on us, we should be aware that our days of innocence were just about over; that in middle school, other girls wouldn’t want to be our friends anymore. There would be abundant cattiness, gossiping, and downright bullying based on the brand of our shoes. Of course, fourth-grade me and my friends thought our teacher’s cautionary tale was absolutely ridiculous.

And then seventh grade hit me like a ton of bricks.

The next thing I knew, I was lost in a sea of cattiness, cliques and rampant gossiping. Adults had warned me about how “middle school girls are the worst human beings,” and thirteen-year-old me was starting to believe them. Interestingly enough, no one ever warned me about how mean the boys would be, with their constant taunting and bullying.

The middle school girl-on-girl hate was real. The nature of the game was that no girl could win, regardless of which clique she belonged to. The popular girls were called out for dressing “slutty” or wearing too much makeup, while the dorky, unpopular girls (i.e., me) were made fun of on a consistent basis for not wearing the right clothes or not having the right hair styles (real talk: my clothes back then were a disaster, but I digress). I talked my fair share of shit, but all the while I was secretly jealous of the popular girls who got all of the attention from the cute boys in class. It was a vicious cycle that had no end in sight.

Is some of this typical middle-school-girl behavior due simply to nature and raging hormones? Probably. I’m inclined to believe, however, that it’s at least in-part due to a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

It was around this age that I began to put on my “not-like-the-other-girls” facade to avoid the catty, superficial stereotype that inevitably came with being a teenaged girl. Us teenaged girls were constantly being told, both subliminally and directly, that caring about makeup and clothes was superficial, and so I pretended not to care about them. I immersed myself in sports even though I was terrible at most of them. It didn’t matter though, because I had successfully managed to fool people into believing I was a special snowflake; that I was indeed not like the other girls.

I’m not proud to admit that I carried on this charade well into my college years. While I did eventually outgrow my pretend hatred of makeup and clothes, I continued to put down other women for choosing not to put effort into their appearances as I myself did, or for dressing too immodestly at frat parties. And here’s a classic that most of us can relate to: I led myself and others to believe that I didn’t like being friends with women. I was convinced that men just understood me better, and I understood them. They didn’t gossip behind each other’s backs like women and they weren’t catty and superficial.

“Women are just catty by nature, after all.”

If you’re curious as to what made me eventually see the light, I can tell you that curiosity and subsequent education, and perhaps some influence from feminist peers in my college classes played large roles. I started watching feminist YouTubers and reading up on ingrained sexism. I came to the novel realization that it’s okay to like sports and makeup. I’m still what most would consider a “tomboy,” but enjoying traditionally “feminine” things in addition doesn’t make me superficial or any less of an intelligent human being. I eventually came to the realization that I was buying into this seriously messed-up, vicious cycle that gets women to continuously put one another down, which in turn keeps us all down in order to cater to patriarchy.

This realization was a tough pill to swallow, but it’s true what they say: we all make mistakes, but that’s okay as long as we learn and grow from them. As women we have to support one another, not relentlessly tear each other down. The only way to fight the vicious cycle of internalized misogyny is to become educated on the matter and for us to stand together.