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  • Tanya Mackenzie

My Struggles with Internalised Sexism

Originally I was going to call this post ‘My Struggles with Internalised Misogyny’, but after doing my research I realised that this would not be correct.

Misogyny: dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women. (Oxford languages)

So what would ‘internalised misogyny’ entail? Well, the same hatred and prejudice but directed at oneself (if a woman) or other women. This can rear its ugly head in various ways such as severe self criticism about one’s own body and abilities, sexual objectification, denying prospects to other women due to mistrust, or believing that men are generally superior in various ways, and so on and so forth. I do not have a hatred or contempt or even distrust of women, or myself. I do not believe in the superiority of men over women, my experience is a little more benign. So I went with ‘internalised sexism’. It is the ‘roles of the sexes’ that I struggle with.

I used to have an eating disorder but I’m not sure that the reason was a bias against women. In fact, I think women are great; I think I, as a woman, am also pretty great. What I struggle with personally is the innate need to be a certain kind of woman, to fulfil a stereotypical and so-called ‘traditional’ role as a woman. That is, caring for one’s home, one’s family, being clean and tidy, keeping up one’s own appearances to please oneself and others, being sweet and charming and kind, and so forth. These don’t seem like negative things at all, so most would say: if it makes you happy, live your best life being a ‘traditional woman’.

But while it does make me happy, I also HATE IT. It frustrates me and makes me so uncomfortable just seeing it play out around me and within my own life. The only other people around me I see behaving in this way give me a hugely negative view of such an attitude or lifestyle. The first: ‘tradwives’; traditionally feminine, randomly stuck in the mid-century, highly religious women who believe that this is the ‘right’ way to live because men are the leaders in the family and women are designed to support men, and raise children etc. The main difference here, other than the fact that I am extremely anti-religious, is that they believe this to be the ‘correct’ way to live and that all women are meant for this purpose. I wholeheartedly disagree. The reason I am a feminist is because I believe that women, and in fact anyone, should have the CHOICE with regard to the way they live and what kind of role they fulfil. Even if I wanted to be a housewife (which I’m not and I’m not sure if I want to be either), then I would completely support people of other genders also living this way, and also support women pursuing any career they so choose.

The second type: regular heterosexual couples around me where both partners work, but it is clear that the woman is also fulfilling the home-maker and supportive companion role at the same time. As an example, I go to people’s houses as part of my profession, and in almost all households where both partners are working from home, if there is a home office available then the male partner will occupy it, while the female partner may work in the kitchen or living room, perform all the childcare, cook the meals, go shopping and do laundry and so forth at the same time as working. Often women seem to work part time in order to be able to fulfil both roles, while men do not tend to think in this way. It is not a question in anyone’s mind, seemingly, who should be the one doing most of the home-related work, and sacrificing career-related work as a result. I should say, not all couples are like this but I can’t help but notice that it is the vast majority. The reason I bring this up is because it contributes to my negative opinion of my own seemingly innate desire to carry out this kind of role. It is very clear from an outside perspective that this just isn’t right. It isn’t a fair arrangement and it reeks of sexism, internal or otherwise.

And not just sexism towards women. Men I’m sure are also stuck in this role that has been assigned to them for most of history: the provider. Through media, advertising, parental and societal pressure, and examples drawn from real life, they have always been told that a woman wants a ‘good provider’. I can’t imagine what kind of pressure that creates for a man, when perhaps they might want to slot in to the more ‘feminine’ role in the home, traditionally speaking. At the same time, infantilising men by not expecting them to do the house work or to do it well, is also not doing them any favours. It perpetuates an endless cycle where nobody wins.

I recognise the sexism on both sides, and see it as wrong. So why do I feel like I want to do these ‘feminine’ things and carry out this kind of role? Why do I feel guilty when my perfectly capable and willing partner does housework instead of me? Is it just because I work less and therefore earn less, even though we both contribute financially to the household equally? Why do I have a craving for the days when housework was actually referred to as ‘work’, when housewives were respected for the work that they did, but minus all the negative aspects of that era of course. I may enjoy wearing a frilly apron and cleaning but I would never choose to live in a time rife with racism, homophobia, transphobia and inequality between the sexes, to name a few issues that come to mind. My point stands; that house work is hard work. On days when I am not working outside of the home I have the urge to do all of the work in the home (again, I should say that my partner does keep telling me to stop doing this) and it takes me ALL DAY. It doesn’t stop, you can’t clock off or retire. Breakfast, washing up, cleaning, shopping, lunch, washing up, gardening/childcare/more cleaning/errands/laundry, dinner, washing up, more childcare…I use these as example. Idon’t even have children yet and it’s already tiring.

So my question still stands: why do I want to do it…? It is a constant internal battle that I don’t understand at all. One theory I have is that women are brought up in a different way to men, or at least we have been in my generation and previous generations. It doesn’t help that one half of my family is Russian, where things are still pretty ‘traditional’ at least in comparison to the UK, and especially so if you go back to the society within which my mother grew up thirty plus years ago. But leaving that aside, I do believe, upon observing other families too, that this is a common issue across my generation and probably others too, though I cannot attest to their experiences. Even though we are pleased to have left an unequal society behind, theoretically, we still feel its effects as parents and grandparents still tell us how men and women ‘should’ be, and many boys were still raised differently from girls; not expected to help around the house, to take care of themselves and others, to learn how to cook and so forth. We have still been so conditioned, but due to our modern society which also of course desires equality, women are also expected to work full time jobs, and so are men. The economy and housing costs depend on dual income households being the norm. And so women of this generation are pushed into an almost impossible position of being expected to achieve both ideals at the same time. Not all women feel so pressured, I’m sure, but this does seem to be the general trend as far as I have observed, and what my own experience has been. But again, I don’t personally necessarily feel ‘pressured’, but I feel like I WANT to do both, though especially the traditionally feminine which is now neither practical nor desirable at the societal level.

Now back to my original point. I am unsure of how to feel about my desire to achieve a ‘traditional femininity’ when what this seems to uphold is pretty disgusting. I am not even a Conservative, I am very much left leaning, almost as far left as you could possibly lean. I recognise that I need to work full or almost full time just to make ends meet as it is only possible nowadays for the very upper classes to depend on a single income, and I also do not desire to be financially helpless or dependent on other people even if I’m in a coupled partnership, and I also recognise that I will burn out if I place the responsibility of both outside and inside work upon my shoulders. And yet this gnawing feeling persists. I really struggle to live in the modern age, modern enough that men and women are theoretically equal, but not modern enough that this is the complete reality.

I will repeat though that equality works both ways. While women should be able to go out to work, they should also be able to pursue work in the home if they so desire. While men should be able to go out to work, they should also be able to pursue work in the home if they so desire. This of course applies to everyone on the gender spectrum, though I have focussed a lot on the gender binary when talking about what are considered to be ‘traditional roles’ within the home and society.

It feels to me, in short, that we are in a time of transition that leaves many of us confused. Women who have been raised by parents who still believe in the binary roles of men and women, take to social media to degrade and shame other women who have become free of this. This is more internalised misogyny. I feel that what I have described is wholly different, internalised sexism but again perhaps in its most benign form. The cause could be the same for both. Perhaps I’m the only one who struggles with this particular issue, but I doubt it. I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject though. Leave a comment or drop me a message to let me know if you experience this same gnawing, nagging endless battle between wanting to be a modern badass bitch and a classic lady. Perhaps we can be both, but personally I need to decide whether the classic lady is good or bad in the first place, and what makes her good or bad? I carry on being confused.

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