Tekanji has written a great new Feminism 101 FAQ article on internalized sexism. I think this is one of the more difficult things to talk about within feminist communities, as well as one of the more important. No individual can be unaffected by the sexist messages of our culture, and yet I often expect myself to somehow be different–I think I should be “smart enough, educated enough or vigilant enough” to overcome it. That’s not just refusing to fight internalized sexism by denying it in myself, it’s an expression of exactly the anxiety and self-hate that Tekanji describes. I sometimes feel I’ve failed in my feminist role if I catch myself thinking or speaking a certain way, as though it’s an all or nothing proposition and as though I somehow deserve to be judged for my limitations.
One point that I think she makes extremely well:
If a little girl is told to not speak up because that’s what “good little girls do”, she is not necessarily going to internalize that literally. She could have any number of reactions, including (but not limited to): “I want to be a good little girl, so I will speak up less” (acceptance), “If being quiet is what ‘good’ girls do, then I want to be a ‘bad’ girl” (mixture of acceptance/rejection), or “I am a good girl and I don’t want to always be quiet, therefore that person was wrong” (rejection).
Rebelliously doing the exact opposite of what people tell you is “good” and wearing it as a “bad girl” mantle is working within the system. It’s accepting the virgin/whore dichotomy created for women, and while it may claim to be about making the marginalized pole more acceptable, it doesn’t create extra options. It doesn’t create an “opt-out” space where women’s sexuality and behaviour is just not judged at all, whether positively or negatively, and it’s therefore part of the problem.
Internalized sexism is the reason (in addition to the more obvious ones) that it’s unacceptable to say “I’m a woman and I think/don’t think [x]” or “I’m not offended by [x], therefore it’s okay”. It’s also, to me, one of the most damaging aspects of living in a patriarchal society–the ways it’s inescapable even from within one’s own head–and I’d therefore like to be called on it when I’m expressing it, and to have the courage to call it out when I see it among friends. As Tekanji says,
the line between critique and attack is not easily drawn, nor is it easy to differentiate between righteous anger and unfounded attack…But, despite the pitfalls and the problems, not trying is not an option.