THOUGH YOU WILL READ THIS AFTER, as I write it is International Women’s Day, a day to highlight the progress toward equality that women have worked toward. It’s part of Women’s History Month — 31 days dedicated to reflect on and celebrate the contributions women have made to U.S. History — contributions that have often been ignored or overlooked.
But after the disastrous Democratic primaries that pushed every single woman out of the race for president, and even though those primaries have not concluded, I’m having a difficult time thinking in positive terms. Not when the entire world seems to be sliding backwards into a patriarchal darkness. Not when a woman’s right to make choices about her own body and her own healthcare continues to be questioned and decided upon by men, and by the women who support those men. Not when the most accomplished and powerful women are still, somehow, not good enough for the highest office in our land.
Women have worked hard and continue to work hard to be equal in all ways with men. We should be equal. We are just as smart, talented, strong, hard working, resilient, and capable as men. Perhaps more so in some ways as a direct result of the thousands of years of oppression we’ve experienced as a group.
Be we haven’t yet managed to overcome one of the most insidious challenges to that equality — and that is us. We remain victims of our own subconscious, internalized oppression. Even those of us who are privileged (i.e. white and middle class or wealthy) and live in a relatively free country are subject to deceitful self-sabotage.
Do you disagree? Don’t think you have internalized your oppression as a woman? Or you’re a man who thinks that women in the U.S. have reached gender parity with men?
Internalized oppression occurs when a group who has been oppressed by another group believes the stereotypes, myths, and lies that have been told by the dominant group — imprinting in their subconscious that they are inferior in one or more ways.
These beliefs are typically formed during early childhood, based on what we are told by our parents, and other caretakers, and what we observe to be true in the world around us. The things we experience regularly as we grow up and through our adult lives influence our core beliefs about who we are and, in turn, how we behave.
Here are a few obvious examples of internalized oppression in women who are part of one of the major religions in the world.
- A woman who believes that men are the head of the house and that women’s role is to support their men, take care of children, and make a home, has internalized oppression, because she has believed the stereotypes she was told about a woman’s social purpose.
- A woman who believes that the government should have authority over women’s healthcare (what healthcare women do or do not receive and whether we are able to make our own choices about our bodies) has internalized the lie that women are somehow mentally or emotionally weak and not able to make good choices. Instead, women must have an outside agency (typically made up of men) make those decisions for us.
- A woman who believes that a woman should wait until she’s married to have sex or that it’s okay for men to sleep around, but not women, has internalized the idea of women as property belonging to men.
What about not so obvious examples? If you’re a woman,
- Do you or have you ever felt less than another woman because of your physical appearance?
- Have you ever looked down on or spoken badly about a woman who liked to flirt with men?
- Have you ever felt that you needed to hide how smart or how capable you are in order to please someone else?
- Have you ever judged another woman, but not her male partner, by how clean or dirty her house was?
- Have you ever hesitated to apply for a better position at work because you were worried you weren’t qualified? Or have you tended to minimize rather than inflate your qualifications in general?
- Have you ever blamed yourself for someone else’s anger or violence toward you?
- Have you ever had a male boss take credit for your work and stayed quiet about it?
- Have you ever distrusted an ambitious woman?
I could go on and on, but you probably get the picture. Every one of these behaviors is an expression of internalized oppression.
Do you think I’m exaggerating, blowing this out of proportion? Think about it: women are half the world, half the voting power in the U.S. If all women banded together and every woman voted for the woman candidate whose position was closest to her own values, there would still be at least one woman in the race for president.
But instead, we women (and I’m speaking of us as a whole) abandoned our female candidates because of fear and internalized sexism.
We demeaned, delegitimized, and devalued every one of those women. They were “too angry,” or “too strident.” Or maybe they were “too soft” or “not charismatic enough.”
We worried that even though we thought that Elizabeth Warren or Amy Klobuchur or Kamala Harris was smart and competent and would make an excellent president, our neighbors probably wouldn’t vote for them. We worried that they weren’t “electable” by the masses.
As a recent opinion article in the Washington Post explains:
Research does show that women win elections overall at the same rate as men, but they have to clear more hurdles to do so. They have to be likable, whereas men don’t necessarily. They need to strike a balance between being confident and combative, but not too aggressive. Women have a harder time winning executive office, where they would be the primary decision-maker, than legislative office, according to research from the nonpartisan Barbara Lee Family Foundation. That might help explain why Warren’s loss comes after historic gains by women in Congress.
We want our vote to count, so we worried about the polls and second-guessed our own opinions and feelings (a symptom of internalized oppression) and went ahead and en-masse threw our support to one of the men. And now we hope the man who wins the nomination will pick the woman candidate we favored to be his vice-president. Because, you know, that’s a safer place for a woman politician.
So yes, I’m disheartened and discouraged at the state of the world today when it comes to recognizing women’s true place in the world, as powerful in our own right and not needing the permission of any government or group to be so.
We need a Women’s History Month and an International Women’s Day to remind ourselves of our own value.
And that just makes me sad.
I’m sure I’ll get over it and feel more hopeful tomorrow. Because, after all, isn’t that what women do?
Interesting related articles:
- Why Women Hurt Women — Understanding and Overcoming Internalized Sexism
- Elizabeth Warren was a Once-in-a-lifetime Candidate — What Happened?
- We still have a problem with female authority: how politics sets a trap for American women
- 2020 International Women’s Day
- The New York Times Endorses Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar