As a kid, I had always defined myself as a tomboy.
Throughout my adolescent life, I felt pride in my ability to out-run my peers, my almost natural knack for video games, and my capability to out-eat nearly all of my guy friends in one sitting. There was almost merit in being considered “one of the guys”, in which case I felt value in escaping traditional femininity that was typically associated with drama, nagging, emotions, and superficiality. I contrasted these “female” qualities by highlighting my ability to accept offensive jokes with ease, emphasizing my relaxed personality, and mirroring male humour.
And while I held onto this fabricated characteristic that distinguished me as a female that was “not like other girls”, I was unknowingly diminishing femininity and participating in internalized misogyny. Silvia M. Dutchevici, LCSW MA and Critical Therapy Center founder, defines internalized misogyny as the subconscious internalization of sexist and adverse attitudes and actions against women that exists within our culture. Internalized misogyny also encompasses negative sexist attitudes towards persons of the same sex, often passed through cultural norms and socialization
This internalized and subconscious negativity concerning hyper-femininity and all things “girl world” contributes to the demeaning attitudes women develop towards themselves and other women and girls. The problem with internalized misogyny is embedded in the underlining notion that women, or characteristics, attributes, and interests related to femininity and women are inherently uninteresting and unintelligent. Men describing women, or women describing themselves, as “not like other girls”, suggests that there is value and worth in a female that does not possess traditionally girly attributes or characteristics.
Internalized misogyny also encompasses negative sexist attitudes towards persons of the same sex, often passed through cultural norms and socialization
Rebecca Crosby in her article “‘You’re Not Like Other Girls’ Is An Ingrained Sexist Stereotype”, outlines that the narrative behind the phrase “you’re not like other girls” is a description rooted in a deeply ingrained sexism that allows men to believe they are serving a compliment, rather than encouraging sexist stereotypes about women’s intelligence and capabilities. Ascribing to such false flattery justifies societies authority to interpret feminine qualities, interests, attributes, and characteristics as having less value to its male counterpart.
In an article published by The Guardian titled, “Modern Women Think Pink Stinks, But My Daughter Taught Me ‘Girly’ is Great”, Jessica Valenti questions her rationale behind her distaste towards her daughters natural liking and fondness of traditionally girly activities and all things pink. She outlines that while there is nothing inherently negative with young girls playing with dolls as opposed to action figures, or dressing up as princesses instead of superheroes, likings linked to hyper-femininity are often deemed as less worthy of our respect. She notes how parents balance their daughter’s femininity by buying masculine toys to accompany their Barbie collection and shines a light on the contrast of boys possessing traditional female toys or attributes, and how it is commonly seen as negative. Negatively perceiving typical feminine tastes or interests perpetuates the false idea that possessing masculine traits should be praised.
In a research review on an analysis of the development of gender identity and gender bias, May Ling Halim et al. states that only 30 to 40 percent of girls in middle childhood describe themselves as traditionally “girly” or as having interests commonly associated with women. To contrast, several studies reveal that approximately one-third to three-quarters of women had previously described themselves as tomboys. As elementary school girls show an increased interest in “masculine” activities and behaviours, such as playing sports, wearing pants, and adopting masculine behaviours and speech, research suggests that girls develop an aversion to feminine or girly interests, activities, and characteristics.
only 30 to 40 percent of girls in middle childhood describe themselves as traditionally “girly”
While it may seem like the world is against femininity, there is something to be said about femininity and young women and girls as our future. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Harry Styles defends his young female fans when asked about the potential of entering and catering his music to an older demographic. Styles considers why young girls are dubbed to have worse music taste than “a 30-year-old hipster guy”. He continues saying that music is always changing, and young girls tastes should be taken seriously. In addition, he outlines that young girls are the world’s future doctors, lawyers, mothers, and presidents, giving credibility and validation to the interests of young girls.
While each of us has had our part in internalized misogyny, whether we have degraded other women for their hyper-femininity, or for not being feminine enough, I encourage all of us to take a step back and consider the toxic narrative behind demeaning femininity. Teach your nieces, your little sisters, your daughters, and your cousins that they are the future, and their passion, emotions, empathy, tenderness, and characteristics that come along with femininity are powerful tools that help shape the world.
The next time you hear the misogyny behind the phrases “I can’t believe a girl listen’s to this type of music”, or “Not a lot of girls understand sports”, and my personal favourite, “You’re not like other girls”, challenge those stereotypes and support other women’s likes or dislikes, whether they encompass “traditional” femininity or not.