Internalized misogyny, also called “girl-hate,” is when women are sexist toward their own gender. Most of us women probably have internalized misogyny to some degree–it’s just a side effect of living in this culture. A prominent example of internalized misogyny is when women say, “I’m not like other women” to mean that they’re not catty, gossipy, air-headed, etc. I know I’ve said something like this before, and I was even complimented as a child for mainly hanging out with boys–people thought it must mean that I didn’t like drama and wasn’t catty. Now I see that what was a compliment to me was an insult to females in general.
Us vs. Them
Now to the Church: There is an obvious Us vs. Them mentality that is fostered in the Church (the “Us” is the Church and the “Them” is the World). Us vs. Them is the propensity to label everyone from one group of people as being right and the other group as being wrong. (A prime example is in politics: some people want to believe that all Republicans are one way and all Democrats are another; read through the comments on any liberal or conservative Facebook page and you’ll see what I mean.) To the Church, “the world” represents everything that is wrong and evil. Now, I don’t think that most Church members would say that everyone outside of the Church is evil, but they are at least implying that people of the world are doing something majorly wrong every time they use the Church vs. the world dichotomy.
Internalized Misogyny and Us vs. Them in the Church
How do internalized misogyny and false dichotomies in religion go together? In quotes like this one from Margaret D. Nadauld, a former Young Women president:
Women of God can never be like women of the world. The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity.
I know this sounds harsh, but this is just veiled girl-hate. “We can’t be like other women. Other women aren’t like we are.” We get enough girl-hate from “the world”; do we have to be getting it from religion, too? (Also, I understand why being rude, coarse, and vain are looked on as faults, but why is it a fault for a woman to be tough?)
We find this idea in another quote, this time from Spencer W. Kimball. He says:
this [major growth in the Church] will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.
Luckily, just before then, he at least mentions that some women of the world are good and have “an inner sense of spirituality.” However, that doesn’t change the fact that he still labels them as “women of the world” even though they’re “good,” and that he urges us to be different from them. This has been quoted more recently by women like Elaine L. Jack, Silvia Allred, and Julie B. Beck.
Notice how it is women who are quoting him, urging other women to distance themselves from “women of the world.” We’ve all probably seen the habit people have of holding up one person as a representative of his or her entire gender. This relates with the current topic, because some people will say that if a woman says something addressing other women, then it by default can’t be misogynistic or sexist. Well, we can see that’s wrong for a number of reasons, including: 1) Women can be misogynistic and 2) what one woman says is not the same as what all women in unison say. In this case, I can see people saying that Kimball’s “distinct and different” quote can’t be harmful to women because now women are quoting it, and the first quote can’t be harmful because it was spoken by a woman. (Of course, then there’s also the habit that some members of the Church have of denying that a leader can say something truly harmful: they’ll say the obligatory “our leaders aren’t perfect–they’re human and fallible too” line but still not grasp that sometimes, leaders can actually make significant mistakes that do wound people.)
I wouldn’t say that misogyny is worse when it comes from women (wouldn’t that be a little misogynistic itself?), but it’s definitely a special brand of it. It’s insidious and might even be taken to heart more. Like I said before, people tend to believe that a woman addressing other women wouldn’t say something that’s misogynistic, so it’s harder to detect. People are already incredulous when you point out that a well-respected man is saying something sexist–but it is perhaps harder for people to believe in internalized sexism.
What can we do about it?
We can be more aware of internalized misogyny in other women or ourselves. Perhaps if you are questioning whether a woman is being sexist against her own gender, think of a man saying what she said: if it would sound sexist coming from a man, it’s probably still sexist coming from a woman. Next time someone brings up a “girl-hate” quote in Sunday School or Relief Society, we can comment on how drawing a thick line between us and them is counterproductive and uncharitable.