Internalized Misogyny and the Return of "I'm Not Like the Other Girls"
Writer: Veronica Yung
Editor: Adelyne Koe
Graphic Designer & Artist: Benedict Shafira
Internalised misogyny is the subconscious projection of misogynistic or sexist ideas by women onto other women or themselves. In simple terms, it is the idea that women can be sexist against other women. Internalised misogyny is the result of the patriarchal system rooted in society for centuries, valuing masculine traits over feminine ones, and subsequently forming mindsets that view ‘feminine’ traits as unpleasant, and women as lesser objects rather than people.
Internalised misogyny might develop in an individual as a result of how people are influenced to see stereotypically ‘feminine’ traits as negative. For example, women are not put in places of power because they are too ‘emotional.’ Alternatively, it could also be because throughout history, women are often taught to need male approval, with many, as children, being told that they needed to be more ladylike, otherwise they would not find a boyfriend or a husband. This is problematic not only because it teaches women that they need to rely on male approval, but also because it is extremely heteronormative.
Media, such as music and movies, plays a huge part in perpetrating femininity as negative. A notable example is Taylor Swift’s ‘You Belong with Me’ song, which gives feminine traits, such as wearing short skirts or being a cheerleader, negative connotations. Movies, especially early 2000s rom coms and chick flicks were largely influential in creating internalised misogyny in young girls.
‘Mean Girls’ (2003) is a widely popular and successful example, depicting the transition of the main character, Cady Heron, from a nice and innocent teenager into a fake, mean, ‘plastic’ through the growing feminisation of her character. She visibly changes from wearing little to no makeup, ill-fitting, tom-boyish clothes to wearing makeup, doing her hair and wearing tighter, more feminine outfits. The ‘Plastics’ in Mean Girls are also largely reminiscent of many female antagonists in this film genre from the era. They are generally portrayed as popular, overly promiscuous and, oftentimes, air-headed. These characters are placed in contrast to the unpopular, smart, nerdy girl who often ‘gets the guy’, and is sometimes complimented by being told that she is ‘not like other girls.’
Many people socialised as women go through the ‘I’m not like other girls’ phase, which reached a peak during the early 2010s. Women who see themselves as ‘not like other girls’ take pride in not enjoying what is mainstream to a point where they believe they are better than anyone who does. A common element of this phase includes the idea that other women are ‘too much drama’ and that men are much better friends, which is misogynistic as it perpetuates the stereotype that women cannot be genuinely nice to one another, reinforcing the idea that women are constantly in competition with each other.
The separation of the ‘other girls’ from someone who is not like them places women into false dichotomies - the idea that women cannot be smart and feminine, or enjoy reading and going to parties at the same time. This is reminiscent of the Madonna-whore complex, identified by Sigmund Freud in the 1900s, a psychological dichotomy Freud saw in men, who saw women as either pure and ‘virginal,’ or entirely sexual.
While many have pointed out the harms of the ‘I’m not like other girls phase,’ it is still continuing, albeit in a different form. In 2020, a trend on TikTok grew where teenage girls would post videos with the caption, ‘introduce yourself as why [the reason] girls hate you.’ This is almost an exact rehash of the ‘I’m not like other girls’ phase from the early 2010s as it places the poster as an ‘other’ compared to other women, and takes a lot of unwarranted pride in it.
Internalised misogyny also has more serious effects, often stemming from the dichotomies women are placed into. Slut-shaming is a very common result of internalised misogyny, usually taking the form of the humiliation of another girl’s style and supposed level of sexual activity. While it can be projected by women onto other women, it can also be seen in dress codes, which mainly restrict girls to wearing more modest clothes due to the ‘distracting’ nature of women. This is extremely harmful because it promotes victim-blaming in sexual assault, which leads to questions like ‘what was she wearing at the time,’ placing the blame on the women for being assaulted rather than the assaulter.
Internalised misogyny has also had a large effect on feminism, as people find themselves refusing to identify as feminist because of the belief that it is ‘man hating.’ This is because having a lot of internalised misogyny leads to seeing everything from the stereotypical male point of view, in spite of the fact that it fights for equal rights. This takes a highly westernised view as many countries still have much fewer rights for women as opposed to men.
So what can be done about it?
An important step would be to fully understand what internalised misogyny is recognising as many aspects of it as possible. While it is hard to do so, it is important to recognise internalised misogyny within yourself--whether you are putting other women down in order to lift yourself up, or placing other women into one end of a false dichotomy. This change does not happen overnight, but correcting yourself when you realise you are being inadvertently misogynistic is something that has to be done, because adopting this mindset and letting it develop has much more harmful effects than what originally meets the eye.