I come from two countries—Mexico and Kazakhstan—where explicit sexism is the social norm and where the word feminism evokes fear in most girls and laughter in most guys. Naturally, when I arrived to Canada I thought that the emotional abuse and inequality I had lived with for years were finally left behind. For the first few months of living in this wonderful country, I deemed it a land of justice and freedom, and was blind to the sneaky, almost implausible manifestations of misogyny that flourish under our noses every day. It wasn’t until I joined Greek life, getting out of my circle of international friends, that I realized that while “sorry” might be the most popular word in Canada, many Canadians think of politeness as a social norm and simply avoid talking politics or discussing their views on major social issues, like feminism.
I joined a sorority in January, so I made friends with frat guys and with girls from different sororities, I met people at parties who were not even part of any sorority or frat, and I started noticing things. It might be that I took off the rose-colored glasses I had been wearing since I came to a first world country, or it might be the fact that I got closer to people, just close enough for them to drop the politically correct act, but suddenly I witnessed conversations that reminded me of a past I thought was long gone. I heard judgmental jokes and comments regarding women’s appearance, complaints about girls who were too friendly with guys—and too “slutty”—but also about those who were shy and “socially awkward.” Suddenly, all those unattainable expectations that society had put on women in both my home countries were resurfacing here, in a place I believed to be liberal and accepting, and women themselves were the harshest critics of all.
As absurd as it might sound, internalized misogyny is almost unavoidable in a world where we all have been raised to fit into the societal standard of gender roles. Although the feminist movement has been around for years, women are still bombarded with guidelines and expectations from the media and their families throughout their lives, and this social pressure doesn’t need to be explicit to affect a person.
In Kazakhstan, I would get attacked by older women for kissing my date in public, often hearing statements like, “You’re a lady! Behave yourself!” In Canada, people have been subtler about their prejudices towards me and other women, manifesting their views through mild comments about how men are the horny, infantile ones and girls should know better, and if the girl doesn’t know better, then she’s desperate, or immature, or just craves attention.
I have seen women that claim to be feminists criticize other women who are sociable and feminine, but nevertheless smile to their face. I have also encountered the opposite scenario, where shy, studious women who don’t pay attention to their looks are called weird or lazy. I myself am guilty of assuming things about my female acquaintances based on their looks and behaviors, before even bothering to get to know them.
While the phenomenon of internalized misogyny is a universal issue, that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to practice it. One of the main weapons that allowed feminists to successfully fight for women’s rights over the past century is their focus on creating a sisterhood of trust and support. If women continue to judge and marginalize each other, then the patriarchal figures that have oppressed us for millennia can sit back and relax because as soon as females fight one another, they won’t defeat the real bad guys. Thus, we have to look out for toxic misogynist behaviors in ourselves and truly take to heart the phrase “sisters over misters,” because girls, we truly can’t win this battle alone.