I remember the first time someone called me a slut. It was grade four, I was playing hopscotch, and another girl was mad at me for hogging the pavement.
I remember the first time I called someone else a slut. It was grade six, and a girl wore a push-up bra to school.
Where did I even learn what it means, I’ll never know.
Slut. Bitch. Whore. Tramp. Psycho.
All words that were simply interchangeable with her.
I’m not sure when it truly clicked for me, but if I had to dwindle it down to a moment, it was when I was stalking my ex’s new girlfriend on Instagram for the 100th time (around 6 years ago).
Every time she would show up on my timeline, I probably did what every other teenage girl would do to the girl who “stole” her man: get sick to my stomach, compare our faces, compare our hair, compare our bodies, and decide that I’m better than her to conclude that I could steal him back, and move on.
Then one day out of nowhere, she posted a selfie, and it was beautiful, and I just thought to myself—I don’t even know her; she did nothing wrong.
We girls grew up, naively so, thinking that empowerment came from being better than other girls, that of which was so heavily built into our culture that we couldn’t help but believe it.
Internal misogyny, it’s the antithesis of feminism. The internalized prejudiced behaviours and attitudes that we as women, project upon not only each other, but ourselves.
For me, I see two main reasons why internal misogyny continues to persist into this day, the first being the most common link back to evolution.
The days where women would all be competing to get the prime hunter, the optimal man, who would provide for us, keep us safe, and give us the best bloodline to carry on—every other woman being a threat to our success.
And look, I don’t discount evolution and our human nature, but I also believe that we have progressed past the point of using evolution as points of excuse for our destruction and oppression.
We know we have certain instincts, but we also know that they are forced to persist due to patriarchal Eurocentric social constructs, among other factors.
Who Wore it Best columns, Miley vs. Selena, and the one consistent romantic comedy plot line of the awkward weird arts kid taking off her glasses, letting down her hair, and stealing the football quarterback from the hot, thin, Satan’s spawn, head cheerleader.
And while Taylor Swift’s You Belong with Me, or Avril Lavigne’s Girlfriend, or Paramore’s Misery Business make great additions to the pre-party playlist, the lyrics and stories they tell are internal misogyny served on a silver platter with entertainment as a cherry on top.
We are built to believe that we have to please the male gaze because that is the only way we will survive.
If men stand with you, then you’re safe. But if you displease them, whether it be with looks, attitude, or simply just existing, then you’re left standing naked in the cold, ready to be attacked.
If you push someone else down far enough, someone who is already seen as lesser than in society, someone who will be easy to isolate because they too are not seen as equal, then they become the target, not you.
Who better than another woman.
You know it works. You know that it will leverage you because somewhere along the lines people were manipulated into believing that to be a feminist was to be anti-male, striving to turn the oppression onto men.
No wonder they fight back so hard.
If you label yourself as anti-feminist, then you label yourself as pro-male, and you win in the fight to secure the male gaze, and then you survive.
While we now see “women supporting women” and modern-day progressive feminism flooding our timelines, internalized misogyny still reeks through the stench of the content that is mistakenly celebrated as feminism, the Call Her Daddy podcast being a prime example.
A podcast led by Alex Cooper (and formerly Sofia Franklyn) that can sometimes be the source of good advice, smashing taboos around women and sex and trying to train women to break gender norms, leaves a sour taste when stating that if you fail to complete their version of empowerment, well then, you’re weak as shit.
It’s not shocking that this steamy podcast laced with misogyny was planted in the soil of Barstool Sports—the perfect representation of “I have a mother so I can’t be sexist”, run by men who still think a video of women with some pumpkin spiced latte joke as the caption is still funny in 2021… well, cause women, get it?
While the organization has some reputable men who engage in important conversations – such as the Spittin’ Chicklets podcast – and have performed humble acts of charity and service that have helped those in need during the pandemic, it’s hard to back an organization where the founder–Dave Portnoy– has a striking history of promoting rape culture, making any supposed feminist efforts tainted.
While the foundations of Cooper and Franklyn’s hetero-centered stories are nothing beyond anything you wouldn’t already hear in the living room of a student house, the target goal of their promoted female empowerment, and lack of non-heteronormative acknowledgment, still centers on the need to please the male gaze.
If you are a girl, you must do this to please HIM, if you are low on a scale from 1-10, do more for HIM to make up for it, take the power back because HE’LL find it hot, if you do this, HE won’t want you.
It’s normal to want to feel sexy and desired, but empowerment is not measured by one’s ability to please a him, but rather, to please oneself.
But I would argue that there is a second factor to it, and while we as women are drastically shifting the trajectory away from giving in to please the male gaze, there’s a deeper wound that is going to take a lot more effort to heal.
In an oxymoronic kind of way, I believe that internalized misogyny is persisting because women have a subconscious acknowledgment that we live in a dangerous patriarchal society where we just want one another to survive.
It’s a deeper systemic issue, built into everything: schools, dress codes, familial structures, pay distribution, corporate hierarchies, sports, the workforce, the porn industry, but most importantly, the gender-based violence statistics.
We project onto other women what we’ve internalized from how we’ve been told we must navigate the world in order to not become one of those statistics.
Cover up, sit down, shut up, don’t respond, let it go, please him, be more comforting, what do you mean you don’t want kids, you won’t feel complete unless you’re married, who will protect you if you don’t get married, smile more, say yes, suck it up, it’s a part of being a woman, do you want to get hurt, you’re going to get hurt… and on and on and on.
It will always come back to that—safety.
But no matter how silent, obedient, pure, passive, and nurturing we are, the majority of us will still become the statistic.
Women are not the problem, they never were.
While internalized misogyny stands to be a major block in the road to gender equality, we must not forget that the block was built and continues to be used as a distraction by the patriarchal society.
When we dismantle our own internalized misogyny, we stop pulsing blood towards the beating heart, making it weaker, and making us stronger.
Header Image: Sadie Levine – @sadiesartthings
HALEY MARANDO IS AN ONLINE CONTRIBUTOR FOR MUSE ONLINE.