The United States is an inherently patriarchal society. This means that the power structures in this country are set up to keep men in power and to keep women out of power. Nothing made this more clear then the election last week, when a completely unqualified man beat out an overqualified woman for the most powerful job in the country, maybe even the world. In order to ensure that men stay in power and women stay out of power, patriarchal systems instill a deep sense of misogyny in the people, especially women.
Patriarchal systems used the media to depict women in ways that decreases their value by making their worth tied to their appearance. Double standards in the workplace ensure that when a woman displays what are seen as leadership qualities in men, she is seen as aggressive. These double standards also mean that a woman has to work twice as hard as a man doing the same job and may never see the benefits of that extra work.
This results in few women in leadership roles, which reinforces the idea that men are better in leadership roles. The less we see women in leadership roles, the less likely we are to believe they are competent in leadership roles. The same is true for women in politics. Every action they make is harshly critiqued by their contemporaries and the media, holding them back from achieving leadership positions.
All of this results in a society where we have very few examples of women in leadership roles and women are valued for their appearances and docile personalities rather than their skills and abilities, even if those skills and abilities are equal to or surpass a man’s.
In a society that is so clearly against women, it’s not surprise that women internalize misogyny. Women are indoctrinated to believe that they are worth less than men, so on a subconscious level they begin to believe they are worth less than men. Any intelligent, ass kicking woman knows that this isn’t true, but somehow she can’t shake the lingering feeling that she doesn’t deserve that promotion or that she’s not pretty enough or that no one should take her seriously. This is internalized misogyny.
So how can we ass kicking ladies fight internalized misogyny so we can overthrow the patriarchy? Here are a few of my ideas.
1) Educate yourself about feminism
Oooh, the F word. Feminism has become another dirty F word. How, you may ask? The answer is always the same: patriarchy. The male dominated power systems are, rightfully, threatened by the idea of equality for women, so for years the systems have slandered feminists. Did you know that feminists in the 60’s never actually burned their bras? That story was made up by a male dominated media that wanted to make feminists seem scary and crazy. The media also spends a wild amount of time talking about the ugliness of feminists. In a world where women’s value is linked to their appearance, calling feminists ugly has been a way to discredit feminists and their movement.
In short, the media has made up all sorts of stories about feminists to make them seem like awful people as a way to discourage women from being feminists. Don’t believe the hype. Read some books. Like “The Feminine Mystique“, “The Beauty Myth“, “We Should All be Feminists“, and “The Feminist Utopia Project“. Read articles on sites like Everyday Feminism, Bitch Media, Adios Barbie, and The Body is not an Apology. Listen to podcasts like Call Your Girlfriend, The Guilty Feminist, and The Bodcast. Find out what feminism is really about (hint: it’s just the idea that women are equal to men and should be treated as such). Find out how patriarchal systems have affected your perception of yourself and your daily life.
If you’re not angry enough to shout from the rooftops about the patriarchy after all that, find more resources to educate yourself. Educate yourself until you understand how badly the patriarchy has screwed you and then get ready to fight back.
2) Talk to other feminists on a regular basis
One of the ingenious ways the patriarchy has kept women from overthrowing them is by keeping women apart and at each other’s throats. Women have been taught their whole lives that other women are the competition: for jobs, for success, for men. The patriarchy has taught women to compare themselves to other women constantly and to be jealous of women we judge as better. We’ve also been taught to try to tear down women so that we can succeed as if success is a finite resource that can only be possessed by a few women. Unfortunately, the systems that keep women out of power reinforce the idea that success is finite and only available to certain women. In short, the patriarchy has kept women from connecting in order to ensure we will never band together to overthrow the system.
In the sixties, when the Women’s Liberation Movement really began, women started hosting get togethers at their houses where women got to know each other. These get togethers were also used as a way to educate women about the Movement. Women at these get togethers shared their experiences, which led to the realization that they all faced the same sexism in their homes and offices. When these women realized they were not alone, and became friends, they created a powerful force that allowed the Women’s Liberation Movement to succeed.
So, ladies, you need to get you some awesome girlfriends. I know this can be really uncomfortable at first. Many women, myself included, have been taught to believe that they just can’t be friends with women. Too much cattiness, too much drama, too much trouble. But it’s actually not.
Find a core group of women and start talking to them about the sexism you experience. They’re going to tell you that they’ve experienced the same. Bond over the frustrations of being a woman in this world. Don’t just talk about makeup and clothes and men. Talk about changing the world. Build each other up. Compliment each other on things other than appearance. Tell each other how smart and brave you are. Reflect their value back to them. Start to make them believe that they deserve everything.
3) Work on a self acceptance/self love practice
The words “self acceptance” and “self love” used to make me throw up in my mouth. Every time someone said “love yourself” or “accept yourself exactly the way you are” I wanted to punch them in the mouth.
After entering recovery for an eating disorder and starting to educate myself on feminism, I discovered that my self hatred was a result of internalized misogyny. Women are constantly told by patriarchal systems that they are less than and that they are not worthy or love or acceptance. The media, beauty, and diet industries all profit off telling women that there is something wrong with them and that they need to change. This barrage of negative messaging results in women being literally unable to accept themselves, let alone love themselves.
The patriarchal systems of power are never going to teach women to accept or love themselves, so we have to do it ourselves. How, you ask? Good question. There are plenty of ways to start recognizing your own value and to start working toward self acceptance and self love. You just have to get over the hokeyness of them and do them without judgement. Or with as little judgement as possible.
Try writing affirmations on your mirror like “you are worthy of love” or “this mirror is a lie, your value is not tied to your appearance” or “you are a strong, smart woman”. Whatever it is you want to believe about yourself, write it on your mirror and read it every time you brush your teeth or work on your makeup. While you’re at it, say “I love you just the way you are” to your reflection in the mirror. Start a daily journaling practice and write things that you like about yourself or think that you’re good at. Before bed, write down all the things you did well during the day. Call a friend and ask them to tell you what they love about you.
I know all these things seem stupid and awful, but I’ve done all of them at some point over the past couple of years and my perception of myself has infinitely improved. So suck it up, swallow the mouth vomit, and give these things a try. You won’t be willing to fight for your worth if you don’t believe you have it in the first place.
Women face an uphill battle in patriarchal systems. At every turn they will be pushed back and told to be quiet. Unless women confront their internalized misogyny, they won’t be able to fight back and shout loud for the things they deserve. And trust me, you deserve everything. If no one’s ever told you that before, listen closely: you deserve everything.
Now go forth and educate yourself, find some other bad ass women, and learn to love yourself so we can start another revolution.