There has always been a lot of discussion regarding how patriarchy undermines women. However, all women must have had an experience where they have either shamed other women or have been shamed by other women. This is called internalised misogyny. Take a second to think about all the women you dislike in your life. Are they more confident than you, more sexually open, more thoughtful and considerably excelling in a specific area of their life? Is this where your dislike ultimately stems from? If the answer is “yes” to both the questions, you have fallen victim to internalised misogyny.
What is internalised misogyny?
We are born and raised in a patriarchal society and that means everything women do is viewed through the lens of censorship. They are scrutinised and conditioned to cater to the needs and the gaze of men. When one exists in such a system for a long time, we begin to internalise these values and objectifications, believing them to be the norm.
As children, girls are taught to be compliant wives, empathetic caregivers and pure in spirit and body. In simple terms, a ‘good’ girl or a ‘good’ woman. Any woman who deviates from this norm, is immediately criticised and silenced by society (both men and women). If you attribute your value or the value of other women to how men perceive you/other women, you need to engage with your internalised misogyny.
Here are seven ways in which this phenomenon manifests in everyday speech and popular culture:
Cooking onnum padichille ethu vare? (Haven’t you learnt any cooking yet?)
This is a very common line thrown at women in their ‘marriageable age’. Every woman would have been asked this at a party or a wedding or even by guests at their own house. Many versions of the same are the favourite passing comment in the kitchen. Sure, cooking is an essential skill, but why is this misogynistic?
Because it immediately assumes that cooking is an ‘essential skill’ for women to please their in-laws. Any woman who does not know how to cook is frowned upon and is not a worthy wife.
Avalu nallu anneinde phalam cheyum. (She is equal to four men.)
This statement is often handed out as a compliment to women when they do things that are conventionally done by men. Obviously, things like lifting heavy objects, visiting the market place and engaging in political discussions earn them this honour. The problem is obvious as well, why should a woman be equal to four men? Why isn’t her own existence enough, does she have to be in competition with other women and men to earn respect?
Mole, engineering okku eduthittu ende cheyan aa? Penungalku teaching aa nalathu. (Dear, why have you chosen engineering as a profession? Teaching is the best profession for women.)
The idea that women are less capable than men, especially, in the STEM fields is not an uncommon one. However, what has changed is that this view is not only propagated by men now but women too. Women are shamed for engaging in professions that require more commitment to their careers. While teaching, on the other hand, is often regarded as a docile profession that would allow women to be ‘working’ and ‘family oriented’. The latter is, of course, the greatest duty of women, right?
Avalu rathri late ayittu okke aa varunathe. Avalu nalla kochu alla. (She comes home late, so she is not a good girl.)
Every girl/woman who has had nosy neighbours must have experienced this at least once in their lifetime. Women are not expected to have a social life that bleeds past 6:00 PM. The moment she does have one, she is suddenly bullied and slut-shamed, suddenly she is impure and does not have good morals.
If something were to happen to the said girl, it is implied that the blame would be shifted on her. Her predicament is the result of her own behaviour.
The ‘not like the other girls’ hype.
We have all said this atleast once in our lives. Or somebody has given us this apparent ‘compliment’ and we have been ecstatic about it. The ‘other girl’ is the embodiment of femininity. She is the make-up wearing, pink-loving, floral dress-adorned, coffee drinking cliche girl.
Also Read: What Makes Most Men Mock Makeup?
As women, we are shamed for both, being the ‘other girl’ and not being one as well. Sure, it is necessary to be unique, but the moment this statement becomes a compliment, we are also putting down other girls/women who are happy in their idea of femininity. Books, movies, music and popular culture revel in this hype of ‘not like the other girls’.
Vanitha Magazine: Streekalde swantham vazhikatti (Vanitha Magazine: The guidelight of women)
Consider this age-old magazine that calls itself a ‘guidelight’ for women. What content does it promote? The magazine often features women who are admired within the popular circles, however, what is important here is that these women are also married, entirely devoted to their families besides their careers. Other features of the magazine include sex-ed tips to please husbands, stories with swooning brides and sexist jokes, cooking, art and craft, frugal shopping (and how not to spend the husband’s money), motherhood, housekeeping, cosmetics and anti-ageing remedies. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the content it offers, the problem lies in the marketing and the branding. What kind of an example is this magazine setting and who exactly is it being a guidelight to?
Internalised misogyny is so embedded into our understanding of the world that it is not possible to destroy it quickly. But the first step lies in identification with the fact that we were born into this system and contribute significantly to the success of this system. It is also about recognising ourselves in all the other girls and building a universal feminine space with them founded on love and empathy.