It’s of no surprise that women negatively judge other women who post sexy pictures online, going as far as to assume that these women are less friendly and competent than their modest counterparts. In our society, internalized misogyny runs rampant and sets the guidelines for how women interact with other women — the media bombards women with standards and judgments through television, film, magazines, billboards, commercials, all telling women how to carry themselves, think, and feel. If we exist in a society which feels entitled to judge us, why wouldn’t women feel that it’s okay and natural to judge one another, too? In our society, we judge and determine a value for one another based on anything — it’s simply natural that we judge each other for posting sexy selfies on the internet, too.
This cycle feeds into the struggle for power which is inherent in our society. When people feel oppressed, limited, or valueless, they often strive to become part of the oppressor’s circle to gain status and power. Will making a snarky comment on another woman’s Instagram selfie get you a promotion at work? Probably not. But will it make you feel superior to her when you share your quip with your friends? Probably, and that’s where the dangerous foundation for internalized misogyny festers.
As women, we’re taught to make ourselves smaller — cinch in our waists, lower our voices, and apologize for speaking. But the other, oppressive, side of the coin tells us that feminism is irrelevant — men and women have equality now and there are no excuses when it comes to getting women into male dominated fields like STEM, all the while ignoring 64 percent of young female scientists who report experiencing sexual harassment at a field site. No matter how empowered, aware, and educated we are as individuals, we all experience the pressures of a largely stifling society and we all struggle to deal with it — some of us have better days than others, but no one is entirely hardened to a life time of judgments and expectations. So for many women, we gain the power and privilege we seek through throwing other women under the bus.
These judgments between women aren’t restricted to social situations, either. A recent article in The Atlantic reveals some startling and disturbing news: while both male and female employers judge prospective candidates with vocal fry negatively, female employers judge female candidates with vocal fry more negatively than their male counterparts. Vocal fry (otherwise known as “creaky voice”) in itself is another judgment on women — it’s been said that people with lower speaking voices are considered dominant and better at achieving leadership roles, but as The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan points out, “it appears they shouldn’t let them dip too far, lest they enter the treacherous vocal fry range.” Women can’t seem to ever win, and this internalized misogyny only operates to hurt more women and keep more women from advancement.
Women are in a constant battle between two conflicting standards: be strong, but not too strong. Be modest, but not too modest, because then you’re a prude. Entice your partner sensually, but don’t be promiscuous. Wear makeup to appear more competent, but not too much. Strive to meet society’s standards for beauty, but don’t show off your results, because then you’re self-centered. Care about your appearance, but not too much, because then you’re ditzy and insipid. Speak in a lower, masculine voice, but not too low — then you sound nervous and untrustworthy. Get a good job and contribute to society, but fill the role society expects you to fill, and don’t make waves.
Any oppressed group can only take so much. Women’s equality has made enormous progress, and many will agree that life for women in the USA is still much, much better than life for women around the world — but the battle hasn’t been won yet, and internalized misogyny is particularly dangerous because it operates from the inside. Pitting women against each other is a great strategy to keep women at odds with one another, and one that women can fight against through awareness and some honest looks in the mirror — calling each other “crazy” is something most women have participated in, but we’re only hurting ourselves, each other, and our progress.
Making fun of another woman’s appearance requires almost zero thought because we’re exposed to that type of language and tone every single day — and when you’re able to do that from the anonymity of a computer screen or a smartphone, it’s that much easier to speak hatefully and hurtfully because you know that woman whose nose or outfit choice you’re critiquing isn’t there to defend herself. This sort of behavior is nothing more than a cheap blow, but it’s also a dangerous one, because is speaks to the larger issue of internalized misogyny which will keep hurting women — including ourselves — if we don’t, as a society, work to change the status quo and continue empowering women in both the small and large scale.