Have you ever experienced misogyny at work?
Most women will say that they have experienced some form of misogyny, or sexism, from managers, co-workers, clients, or colleagues.
And yet there is another place where this breeds. Somewhere quite unexpected, especially for those of us who consider ourselves feminists. A more internal source, one that’s quite close to home – ourselves.
Internalized misogyny happens because patriarchal systems and beliefs have become so ingrained in our minds that sexist thoughts and behaviors towards ourselves and other women have become our subconscious default.
Growing up, I used to love watching shows like The Facts of Life, Eight is Enough, and The Partridge Family, to name a few. But, when I pulled them up to share with our ‘tween daughter, I had all sorts of explaining to do. In my mind, I had remembered them as fun, harmless shows that had some strong female characters. And yet, the stereotypes and blatant sexism were abhorrent.
And yet, those were the stories that were ingrained in my subconscious. Some part of them moved into my adulthood with me and informed my thoughts and actions.
You see, because of the society we have grown up in, no matter how careful we are about the way we think, talk, and act about ourselves and other women, we invariably end up perpetrating sexist norms without our knowledge or consent.
And it’s these thoughts – largely subconscious – that hold us back in our careers, impact our relationships, and degrade the core of our self-esteem.
And just to be clear, this is not a blame game. Misogyny, sexism, and patriarchal norms existed long before we started doing this to ourselves. Internalized misogyny is not the reason we historically make less money, are overlooked or interrupted in meetings, or receive fewer promotions. It is because we have been habituated for generations to think and believe a certain way that no matter how much we disagree with those norms, they still subconsciously exist in our psyches.
So, what are we to do?
Here are a few thoughts on ways I believe we can start working on retraining our brains, supporting ourselves, and the other women around us.
Stop Glorifying Busy-ness
How many times have you or someone you know worn the phrase “I’m so busy!” like a badge of honor? Our society has an obsession with productivity. This obsession comes from the patriarchal norms that are reflected in the behaviors of those in power. Those who are not within the circle of power (women and other marginalized individuals) put tireless energy into getting as close to it as they can.
This is what causes us to push harder. To prove ourselves. To show our worth.
In our society, women have been disproportionately targeted with the idea that busy equals better. Being busy has become so glorified that many people prioritize their health and well-being as less important than taking on one more work project, volunteer position, family commitment, or social obligation.
How can we start to be and encourage others to end this cycle of busy-ness?
1. Ask a different question. In our every day conversations, we default to asking about work. When we say “What’s new?” or “What do you do?”, we’re telling them that their DOING is more important to us than who they are BEING. This energy perpetuates the idea that what we do and how busy we are is key to our worthiness.
2. Find time to reflect. Set aside time each week for reflection. This can include journaling, reviewing what you’ve done and who you’ve been over the past week, meditation, or working with your coach or therapist. Repeated over time, these activities start to train your brain to slow down and not look for busy-ness in your life as the default setting. Once you shift out of that space, it’s easier to support others to do the same.
3. Delegate & delete. Take a look at your To Do list. Write down all of the things on that list someone else can actually do, even if you don’t know who it is, yet. Now, write down all of the things on the list that are “busy work” (i.e. they’ve been on your list for so long you’re not quite sure what it actually means anymore). These are held temporarily in a parking lot until you can get back to them. Now you’re left with a list of items that you can focus on. Over time, find someone to handle the delegable tasks (interns, family members, colleagues are great for this and feel wonderful to be given an opportunity to help). From time to time, check on your parking lot items to see if any need has returned to get them done, or move them off the list completely.
Don’t Be Afraid To Negotiate
Over the past month, I have had no less than a dozen conversations with women who are questioning the need and/or their ability to negotiate their salaries. And, they’re not alone. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, women are far less likely to negotiate their salaries than men. Studies have shown that women often enter the negotiation process willing to settle for less than men, particularly if they anticipate hostile or unfair treatment. In addition, a Harvard Business School study showed that even women who are empowered to negotiate their salaries are far less likely to have a positive outcome, consistently underperforming men in similar negotiations. Time and again, other studies have also shown that when negotiating on behalf of someone else, women are able to secure high salaries and promotions that they struggle with for themselves.
The bottom line here seems to be that we are not valuing ourselves and our time the same as others. How do we change this narrative?
1. Ask for their number. Don’t be afraid to ask what they have budgeted for the role, especially if you are applying for a new position. The organization has this information and if they are not sharing it with you this is an indication that they are stuck in a place of implicit bias and are not likely ready to move away from norms that keep the organization in power and the individual subservient.
2. Know your bottom line. If you don’t know how much you want to make in this role, you are automatically ceding power back to the organization.
3. Don’t be afraid of “No.” We spend a great deal of time worrying about someone else saying “no” to us, especially when in the workforce. You are bringing your expertise and knowledge to this role. They are lucky to have you. If they say “no” to your salary request, find out why. If they aren’t ready or able to meet your needs, it’s not the right job for you. In other words, stop settling.
Stop Questioning Your Qualifications
You’ve likely heard of the theory of the “confidence gap,” which states that men tend to overestimate their abilities while women tend to underestimate theirs. While some level of a confidence gap does exist, this also leaves women with the idea that they need to be more like men to get ahead.
In order to stop the internalized sexism, it’s not important that we think and behave like men. Instead, we have to know and believe that who we are, as unique individuals, is enough.
1. You’re not an imposter. You’re not struggling with confidence. You’re not too quiet. You’re not too kind.
2. You are an expert. Whatever experiences have brought you to this point make you so.
3. You are worthy and enough. It’s the voices inside your head that are telling you otherwise. A great way to start to lean into seeing your own worthiness is to have it mirrored back to you. Coaching is a great place to practice this.
When women fail, they tend to blame it on their ability, while men are more likely to point to outside forces. It’s great to own up to your mistakes, but this can go too far, making it harder to bounce back and take future risks.
When you are as kind to yourself as you are to others, when you advocate for yourself the way you do for others, when you set aside your judgements of yourself as you try to do for others, you can start to quiet those internalized misogynistic voices that are trying to keep you safe in a world filled with norms that were not built for you.
Misogyny is deeply entrenched in our lives and societal subconscious. Learning to hold ourselves accountable will allow us to grow as individuals and society as a whole.
While I don’t think we will ever completely remove misogyny from our society, I do believe we can educate ourselves and unlearn harmful habits.
It’s difficult, but it’s not impossible.
It’s time to start recognizing these unconscious patterns of internalized misogyny and reclaim your full power. Are you ready?
Content provided by Women Belong member Kim Romain