Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Misogynists are women, too

Being a woman and identifying as a feminist does not mean that I am not a misogynist. Ever since I read Rachel Simmons's Odd Girl out and Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs, I have been thinking the silent prevalence of female misogyny and about my own misogynistic tendencies. By misogyny, I mean judging women by harsher standards than those used for judging men.

While it is easy to identify blatant cases of misogyny, it is difficult to recognize misogyny that echoes society's views and/or reaffirms what people often want to think. More obvious cases of misogyny in society are public figures like Camille Paglia, a self-proclaimed feminist who has said things like "Women are forever softening, censoring, politicizing." There are also the women who adopt society's language for oppressing women, denouncing other women as "sluts" and "whores." Then there are the women who don't trust the abilities of other women before they prove themselves, who don't think women have the same baseline ability as men, who enjoy being "not like the other women," and who get annoyed with some women for being so bubbly and so... girly. (Don't they know they should act more like men?) I used to be this kind of woman.

There are many reasons why women have misogynistic tendencies. Many women in our society grow up internalizing misogynistic values, so it is to be expected that these values will be reflected in attitudes towards other women. There is also the element, which Rachel Simmons describes, of the oppressed oppressing based on the same criteria. It is also easier for women--or anyone--to believe that they are somehow different and special rather than accept society is unfair, and in particular unfair to people like them.

Like everyone, misogynists can change. The first step is to recognize misogynistic tendencies--the most pernicious behaviors are those that you don't know about. Before writing off a woman as a bitch or whore, it may be good to ask what factors influenced you to see the woman that way. When you meet a woman, be conscious of how you are judging her and recognize how much you are expecting her to prove herself. How does this compare to when you meet men? Do you dismiss women for being incompetent, a bitch, or a slut? Awareness can go a long way in changing behaviors.

Women need to recognize female misogyny so they can improve the way men see women and the way they see themselves. Men and women need to recognize that female misogyny occurs not because women are petty, irrational, or unworthy of respect, but because of much more complex factors. It is everyone's duty to call out misogyny whenever they can, even (and perhaps) especially when it is exhibited by women--even if it may be a sensitive subject.

* This issue has been addressed by works such as Rachel Simmons's 2003 book Odd Girl Out and the 2004 movie Mean Girls.

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