“..and this way they won’t recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming;…”Girl by Jamaica Kincaid
In a college English class, I read Jamacia Kincaid’s Girl. It’s a short story of a continuous dialogue between a mom and daughter. Well, it is more of a list of advice and scolding from the mom. The daughter only got to speak twice. For me, the words in Girl felt familiar. Even though the story is set in a completely different culture than mine, it still felt similar. I don’t need to know how to grow okra like the girl in the story, but I have also needed to learn how I fit into society.
The advice had harsh insults and focused on the perceptions of others on the daughter. I listened to the other women in my English class discuss this short story. Like myself, many of them felt that it reminded them of their own families, mothers, and insecurities. I think the story shows a dilemma that many mothers face trying to raise a daughter and help her survive in a sexist world.
Accordingly, a study published in 2011 found that mothers had the most significant role in transferring sexist ideas to their daughters. A sad truth is that internalized misogyny is first learned at home. Internalized misogyny occurs when we believe that sexist rhetoric about women, such as negative stereotypes, is true. And we hold onto this rhetoric letting it guide how we feel about ourselves and other women. Mothers can implement these ideologies through the chores, the praise, and the type of criticism they give to their daughters.
Generations of internalized misogyny
For instance, in my own family, I have seen a long line of moms enforcing sexist stereotypes and certain ways of thinking onto their daughters.
Firstly, my grandma expressed that her own mother was very critical of her. She expected her to do most of the household chores and even made harsh remarks about how she looked. Sadly, my grandma is no longer alive for me to ask her how this affected her life. But I can only imagine how that affected how she viewed herself and the standards that women should be held to.
Secondly, my mom has expressed to me that my grandma was also very critical of her. She enforced sexist ideas of what appropriate behavior was for women. My mom felt scared to talk about sex or even periods. She even felt that no one would want to be in a relationship with her because she didn’t met up to the sexist standards my grandma enforced.
Lastly, my own mom has also enforced some of these sexist ideas onto myself that I have abandoned. However, I spent a lot of time as a teenager worried about my appearance or weight because of the comments from my mom.
When your own mom reinforces sexist ideas onto you, it makes the ideas seem even more real. It affects how you see yourself and the women around you. Involuntary sexist rhetoric can live in your head, making you question and guilt yourself. It can also make you push these ideas onto other women.
Overall, the lessons of internalized misogyny are harmful. It can manifest in many damaging ways. Women may be more likely to put up with sexist behavior, abuse, and misconduct. They may also be harder on themselves and find it difficult to accept themselves. They may try to change their personality or looks to fit into sexist standards. And they may also be suspicious and judgmental of other women. Thus, it makes it harder to establish loving friendly relationships with women that can uplift them because they don’t know better. All this can make it harder for women to truly succeed at being themselves and loving who they are.
How can we heal?
Having your own mom push sexist ideas onto you, can make you want to resent her. We wish our moms taught us to love ourselves and to fight against a sexist world that wishes to bring us down. But we live in a world where our moms also suffer from having internalized misogyny. Thus, they also push it onto us. It feels like a cruel, endless cycle from generation to generation.
What can we do to fix this? A first step would be to forgive your mom or the women that raised you. It must be hard to raise a daughter, especially in a sexist world. When I read Girl, I saw a mother who wanted her daughter to succeed and thrive in their society. The mother was harsh, but she felt that was how she needed to be.
The women who raised us were also victims of internalized misogyny. It affected their own worldviews and what they thought was best for us. Although their advice and comments were hurtful and damaging, they may have been trying to protect us. In understanding our moms and forgiving them, we can start to heal from the wounds of internalized misogyny.
Another important step is to try to unlearn internalized misogyny for ourselves and future generations. This is obviously easier said than done. It takes being conscious of when and why we have misogynistic thoughts. And it also takes an understanding of why these thoughts are incorrect. This process is an active and ongoing one but worth it.
When we start to unlearn internalized misogyny, we are beginning to slowly end the cruel cycle. I’ve seen my own mom do this while she raised me. She didn’t want me to feel the shame she felt around sex and reproductive issues. Thus, she made sure to teach me about it early on, and she made sure that I knew that I could talk to her about these issues. In this way, she ended part of this cruel cycle. Hopefully, more women will be able to begin ending this cycle in their families and began to heal.