14 years ago, in a posh school in a rich but small town, a bunch of 16-year old boys were discussing the appearance of the girls in their class – in particular, their newly-developed breasts. After discussing a number of girls, a boy mentioned my name. A bully among those reprimanded that boy, saying, “She is a good girl. Let us not discuss her.” They moved on to discuss the ‘not-so-good girls’ of the class. My friend, then one among this bunch of hormone-triggered boys, mentioned this incident to me a couple of years ago.
For ages, the world has categorised girls and women into two kinds: good and bad. The categorization is based on certain characteristics reinforced continuously. A good girl thus is coy, quiet, does not laugh out loud, covers herself up, does not talk back, takes care of her appearance but is not too much into her appearance, smiles through pain, does not complain, seeks permission, values her role as a caregiver, prioritises family over career, values motherhood over anything else, is not sexual, does not talk about her desires – in bed or otherwise, does not have an opinion of her own and does as she is told. A bad girl, thus, is one who would rebel against this definition. Non-rebellious women exhibit a subset of these characteristics, but they too cannot manage to comply comprehensively. Instead of getting two kinds of women, therefore, we end up having a spectrum of women. How preposterous!
For ages, the world has categorised girls and women into two kinds: good and bad.
Each one of us though has managed to make our own definitions of good and bad. So, while I find a woman shameless for exposing her midriff at a party, you would dislike women who seem to have an opinion on everything. I may say, “I gel better with boys,” and you may blush if your date told you, “You are not like other girls.” You and I have managed to internalise misogyny, for we find something intrinsically inferior about our gender. We want to either disassociate ourselves from the entire gender or from those we consider ‘bad girls’.
Have you noticed this?
- In Jab Harry Met Sejal, when our hero Harry bumps into a woman he had dumped callously, Sejal settles the matter by offering her a compensation of twenty euros. Sejal presents foreign women as lusty and greedy, thus bad. Do we not buy into such narratives all the time? Have we not heard how western influence is bad for what we claim to be a ‘pure’ culture?
- Dr Lillian DePaul is a character in a series called Masters of Sex. In this historical fiction series, this character is a qualified gynaecologist in a male-dominated profession in 1960s America. With women primarily working as secretaries, Dr DePaul is given a desk in the secretaries’ room. Amidst her struggles with systematic sexism, there is a conversation among secretaries where they agree that the idea of going to a female gynaecologist is repulsive. That women are incapable of certain work is misogyny; when women believe it, it is internalised misogyny.
- A video has been doing the rounds wherein a woman was accosted for expressing a regressive mindset in disturbing words. She shamed some young women saying they ought to be raped because of the length (short) of their clothes. This woman had, of course, identified these young women as ‘bad girls’ as per her definition. She was called out for her wretched words, rightly so. Amidst the barrage of sentiments she was subjected to, there was one that indicated that she was jealous because she didn’t have the figure to flaunt clothes like these. For these young women, their harasser was a ‘bad girl’ too for she did not take care of her appearance a certain way. On one hand, there is shaming directed at women who are comfortable with their bodies, sexuality and pleasure. On the other, there is shaming towards women who do not fit into the societal definition of beautiful – too fat, too thin, dark, hairy etc.
- Swara Bhaskar played a character using a vibrator in the movie Veere Di Wedding, and now every time anyone wants to counter her voicing opinions (how dare she!), they bring up her self-pleasuring (how dare she!) scene. Bhasker is a ‘bad girl’ for not only does she enact the sacrilegious idea of women’s pleasure, but also dares to speak her mind. Women distancing themselves from someone like Bhasker do so for we continue to seek the ‘good girl’ validation from the society.
We have not been othering our own gender only because we want the good-girl tag though. Our need to be identified as individuals has also caused us to distance ourselves from the definition of our gender. “Girls gossip”, “girls love shopping”, “girls hate sports”, “girls like makeup and jewellery”, “girls are not funny”, “girls are delicate”, “girls whine” are notions we have internalised growing up. So, to highlight the individualistic characteristics in us, which are different from these notions, we distance ourselves from the entire gender. This othering, thus, ends up strengthening the stereotypes for it now includes our voices too.
The best way to fight internalised misogyny is by enabling thoughts first and offering solidarity thereafter.
Can we really fight this? Should we call out every instance of misogyny in our surroundings? Yes. But shall we not shame our sisters? Getting rid of misogyny that we have observed and absorbed inadvertently over the years is not a one-day task. Given that internalised misogyny requires us to look within, letting it go becomes all the more challenging. Most of us are better people today than we were yesterday. This growth requires identifying prejudices, privileges and questioning the status quo. This growth requires thinking. When you notice someone exhibiting internalised misogyny, don’t shame them – instead, enable them to ponder upon the whys and whats of that sentiment.
Women are women’s worst enemy is a cruel narrative propagated to keep women apart. The best way to fight internalised misogyny is by enabling thoughts first and offering solidarity thereafter. Let one woman not shame another when she observes misogyny in the other. May every time two women discover a moment of internalised misogyny, they go ‘Aha!’
Featured image used for representational purpose only. Image source: Feminism In India