Some forms of sexism are easier to detect than others. For instance, we automatically know that when a child is told that they “throw like a girl,” he or she is being insulted. Despite the fact that none of those words alone are negatively charged, we can draw from societal context that “throwing like a girl” is bad, and, at the very least, not as good as “throwing like a boy.” This kind of sexism is pretty black-and-white: it points to misogynistic residue that exists today, with entire campaigns dedicated to combatting it.
However, when sexist language directed towards females comes from females, the issue becomes more nuanced; particularly when the sexism is largely implicit. The irony of insular misogyny is both sad and abundant: girls condemning girls for being girls.
I heard a lot of this at the beginning of the semester, when girls were rushing sororities. “I could never live in a house with 60 girls” and other similar statements were common amongst those who didn’t, implying that having 60 girls under one roof would inevitably lead to drama. This reasoning struck me as flimsy. Girls aren’t inherently dramatic, humans are dramatic, and approximately 50 percent of humans just happen to be female. With that broad intersection, if you already believe the stereotype that females are hysterical, confirmation bias will surely rake in enough examples to prove your claim. All of these conversations lead me to think about how females locate themselves with respect to the female collective and how girls are often hesitant to associate too closely with one another.
“I can’t be friends with other women, they’re too dramatic.” On a superficial level, this is just an obnoxious statement, but here there are two larger implications that transcend the significance of individual conversations and are characteristic of misogyny among women. First, the speaker implies the presence of a negative trait on behalf of all other females. Second, she identifies herself as somehow separate from other females—missing this negative trait, superior. Although statements like these are short, they say a lot about our gender views—even when that gender is our own.
I don’t write this with the intention of charging these women with intentional malice—especially because, at some point, I’m sure I have been guilty of doing the same thing. Rather, I write this because I think that it would be beneficial to think about why this kind of misogyny exists among women, and then we can meditate on ways to combat it.
So first, we have to trace the problem back to its roots. Why do we see this phenomena? What do women think they accomplish by differentiating themselves from other women? What systematic issues have led to the trending of these statements?
One thing to point to could be the past. Historically, women have been a disadvantaged group—as indicated by lagging women’s suffrage to current wage gaps. This strong legacy of inequality continues to bleed into the perception of females worldwide. Because of this, stereotypically “male” traits tend to have higher value in society, and are often taken more seriously. In an effort to escape the consequences of belonging to a disadvantaged group, many women use misogyny to get ahead, and begin seeing it as an accomplishment to “not be like other girls.” I don’t think women strategically set out with the intention to do this, or even necessarily realize that they are doing this; I think it’s just become something of a defense mechanism.
That being said, this kind of separation isn’t without a victim. Declaring oneself an exception in a positive light casts a negative shadow, because it disparages other women in the process. The consequence of juxtaposing one’s positive qualities to the negative qualities of feminine stereotypes is harmful because it categorizes other women as homogenous, negative, and simple; which is false.
Another question to consider when thinking about this is whether or not women have the authority to cast judgment on their own gender. I would argue that, while one undoubtedly has the right to say whatever he or she wants, misogyny isn’t excused — or verified — just because it comes from a woman. In these cases, women aren’t simply poking fun at themselves at their own expense. On the contrary, they’re degrading an entire gender in order to elevate themselves, using other women as a springboard and a template of what they are not in order to portray themselves as someone worth taking seriously.
Very rarely does this kind of sexism manifest in applied ignorance; instead, it usually emerges in statements that just feel natural for one to make. We must step back and ask ourselves why it feels natural to associate over-dramatic tendencies, and even a lack of seriousness, with females. Did we come to these conclusions on our own, or have we simply internalized them? If we could be just a bit more conscientious, we could avoid this phenomenon of insular shaming altogether.
If a male told me that females were collectively “too dramatic” to be friends with, I would be bothered, and so would many of my female friends. However, it is often the same females who might find this offensive coming from a male, who feel they have the grounds to make similar statements themselves. Being part of a group does not give you a free pass to condemn it, at least not without consequence. Being female doesn’t make it okay to be misogynistic.
Jacqueline Groskaufmanis is a freshman studying English and Government in the College of Arts and Sciences. Her posts appear on alternate Tuesdays this semester. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.