In case y’all haven’t noticed, we live in a deeply sexist country. I don’t think I really understood the true depths of that sexism until 2016. I knew the country’s founding documents — you know, the ones talking about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? — had been written solely to benefit rich, land owning white men. If we look back at the Cliff’s Notes version of our history, black, brown, indigenous, and female folks have had to fight tooth, nail, and whatever else to gain the same access to freedom, education, the ballot box, property, etc. that said men received by virtue of their being born rich and white. These fights are still going on today.
But, I guess what I’m saying is, though I knew we had a long way to go where matters of racism were concerned, I thought we’d gotten a whole lot further along the road to enlightenment where issues of sexism were concerned. I mean, there are lots of white women running around, right? And they benefit from systemic white supremacy the same way white men do, right? Wrong. Their access to power runs through the white men standing next to them. They don’t own it. They only borrow it, which means that access is precarious at best and can be torn away at any moment.
Back to the 2016 election. Actually, let’s take it back a little further to the 2008 election. I supported Hillary Clinton from the beginning in that primary. I just figured there was no way in hell this country was ready for a black president. But an accomplished white woman? Now, that was doable. Also, I really thought someone would assassinate Barack Obama, and that feeling never dissipated after he won the primary and eventually the presidency. It only intensified. That was something about which I’m glad to have been proven wrong.
So, naturally, when HRC ran again in 2016, I was a supporter. We had our first black president, which I hadn’t thought even remotely possible, and I therefore thought getting our first female president would be a BREEZE (next step, a black female president!). And when I saw the asshole that ended up being her Republican opponent, I really thought we were in for some smooth sailing. Remind me never to get into the prediction business…
Everything that could go wrong in that race went wrong, but the sustained and scathing media scrutiny of HRC surprised me in a way that it just couldn’t when it happened again during the current election cycle, this time focused on the many women running for the highest office in the land of the free. Because I saw the process clearly for what it was: this country’s collective refusal to accept a woman daring to rise to the highest level, the level reserved for men. That’s what this electability argument is all about, and you’ll hear it trumpeted from the rooftops by men and women.
Madeleine Albright once famously said that there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women. That hell is happening now. We’re living in it. We were born and raised here. Many of us just didn’t realize the full extent of the shitty landscape until after 2016. I’ve been a proponent of burning down the patriarchy since I understood what it was, but the fact that women might be its most loyal foot soldiers never quite hit home the way it did during that election. I can call it out now because I possess the ability to see it clearly for what it is. But when I watch other women jumping to do the work of the patriarchy and tear down another woman before she rises too high, it still saddens me.
Ladies, we’ve got to talk about internalized misogyny, and why it’s one helluva drug.
It’s bad enough when guys limit us because of our gender, but it’s doubly fucked up when another woman does it. But this happens all the time. Why?
Think of it like hazing. It’s absolute, unmitigated hell to get through, and you’d think, given your experience, you’d never want to pay that forward to anyone else. But you do, and with glee (just an FYI here: I’ve never been hazed, nor have I hazed anyone else; fuck that shit). Internalized misogyny works the same way, except the hazing never ends, even once we start paying it forward to other women. And remember what I said about white women and their proximity to white male power? Well, if you don’t tow the patriarchal line, you might lose some of that power. And that’d be like being forced to sit next to the lavatory in Coach after traveling your whole life in the cushy comfort of Business Class (First Class is still reserved for white dudes only, ladies, sorry). The horror.
Don’t get it twisted. Internalized misogyny isn’t just for white women. It may be a garment that fits them the best, but we have women of color out here wearing it too. It doesn’t quite fit the same way, but we can make it work. And it’s not really surprising. The foundations of this country aren’t just racist. They’re sexist too, and that means we’ve all grown up in an environment where women were judged to be inferior. This omnipresent misogyny infects us, and we eat it up, eventually learning to turn it against each other. The patriarchy hides. It protects itself. And its greatest trick is convincing women that we can’t support one another. It makes us believe that there’s only space for one woman at a time in a position of power, though not the top position. It makes us think that the only road to success runs through other women, that we have to tear each other apart and step on each other’s backs to get to the next level. Success is being the badass exception that proves the rule about female inferiority. Whose rule? The patriarchy’s, silly. It sets the music, and we dance.
But what if we’re tired of dancing? What do we do about it? How can we change the toxicity of our culture? The way we were raised? How we learned to treat other women and girls?
Step one: admit that we have a problem.
Step two: commit to doing something to solve it.
That means policing your behavior. That means challenging those around you. That means calling out misogyny wherever we see it, especially in ourselves and other women. If we can’t be on our own side, how in the hell are we going to deal with any of this mess? This isn’t a quick fix, ladies. But this shitshow didn’t come together overnight, which means it’s not going to be dismantled overnight either. This kind of massive shift in our collective behavior means we have to get used to being uncomfortable. It just so happens that discomfort is the condition for change. And, goddamn, we’re already uncomfortable enough with the patriarchy’s bootheel on our necks. Might as well go for it.