Please tell me about ways you have overcome internalized misogyny.
December 23, 2015 8:27 AM   Subscribe

I've always been a nerd/geek girl and as a result I have internalized a ton of toxic misogyny. As I get older I'm finding it difficult to accept (and god forbid love) my femininity. I know I need to learn to be OK with being a woman, but it feels shameful and gross. Help?

I see books or videos or greeting cards or motivational posters or whatever about celebrating your wonderful free womanlyness and dancing like nobody's looking and celebrating the goddess by throwing rose petals around. I'm being sarcastic but I think you know what I'm talking about.

Part of me DESPERATELY wants to feel that way. I want to feel OK with the whole free-spirit Earth mother thing. I want to be that self-loving woman.

The dominant part of me looks at that whole mentality and thinks it's bubbleheaded, self-indulgent, and shameful. That part of me thinks that self-love is weak and idiotic and unjustifiable. But I'm starting to become skeptical about that harsh interpretation. It's probably rooted in the internalized misogyny and belief that emotions=bad that I grew up with.

What has helped you find reconciliation with this?
posted by MetaFilter World Peace to Human Relations (53 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
I kind of feel that it ought possible to be a self-loving feminine woman if that’s what you want to be without having to be a fee-spirited Earth mother who also embraces her inner goddess when she isn’t tossing rose petals around the place if that doesn’t feel like your thing. There are lots of different ways to be a woman & all of them are perfectly valid ones.

On self-love & it not being weak, idiotic & unjustifiable the thing that helped for me were friends & some (CBTish) therapy.
posted by pharm at 8:37 AM on December 23, 2015 [15 favorites]

Geeky woman here who also feels a bit eye rolly about that stuff. But are you sure it's internalised misogyny? Not just that you feel annoyed that apparently you're 'meant' to be like that? You're allowed to think it's stupid. I don't like stereotypical macho dickhead men but I'm not a man hater.
posted by KateViolet at 8:38 AM on December 23, 2015 [15 favorites]

I totally get you on this--that concept of wanting on some level to embrace a more femme side and feeling like it's somehow not appropriate or that you'll feel ridiculous doing it echoes a lot of my experiences--and for me I think it was about taking small steps and not expecting that this will be a simple point A to point B type of journey. Just do one or two "girly" things at a time, like a nice haircut or a trip to Lush or going to MAC/Sephora/whatever and having a consultant do your makeup for you or getting an article of clothing you wouldn't normally wear but have always envied or reading a Harper's Bazaar and not giving a fuck. I think a lot of my worries with this stuff were also that others were going to judge and police my level of femininity, and while I'm younger than you, the older I get the less this seems to just randomly happen. The Sephora consultants are really kind and good at talking to newbs without making you feel stupid. But you can also try stuff on in your own home if you aren't comfortable stepping it out into the world just yet.

And you might want to also start to sit with the possibility that maybe you'll never be 100% "OK with the whole free-spirit Earth mother thing". I've struggled a lot with my gender identity and now identify as genderqueer. (Even though I am content to use feminine pronouns, present as femme, etc.--for me, it's always been about my self-image rather than how others view and perceive me. YMMV on this.) Realizing I was never going to achieve that sense of connectedness with women--and that this wasn't a failure--was pretty freeing. As was realizing that some days I want to embrace my masculine side and shift my dress and presentation accordingly. It's all good, and it's all me.
posted by capricorn at 8:40 AM on December 23, 2015 [8 favorites]

What about being a woman feels shameful and gross to you?
posted by bunderful at 8:43 AM on December 23, 2015 [7 favorites]

I don't think you HAVE to be any "kind" of woman.... women are complex creatures and don't exist only in one form or another.

For instance, I couldn't give a SH*T about Michael Kors handbags or watches... I own maybe 10 pairs of shoes and honestly, I can't even fake excitement when my girl friends are talking about their newest shoe purchase or the new Kate Spade handbag. It bores me to tears. As a woman, I have often felt that it was my "duty" to care about such things, and I tried, really I tried.

I'm so Un-girly that sometimes I find myself commenting that I really should have been a man, just in so many of my feelings towards things and interests outside of work.....

But so help me I love The Bachelor, Sex and the City, - quintessentially "girly" things that by all accounts I should HATE.

I guess my point it, you can be whatever woman you want to be, and I found that the closer I get to 40, the less I give a sh*t about who I SHOULD be, and I just embrace who I am. You sound like an intriguing person, let yourself just breathe. Embrace the stuff you want to, even if you find it self-indulgent and weak, and if you find yourself having negative thoughts, just push them away. You are allowed to do whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it and just take some time saying that to yourself and I think you'll be just fine!

Be an anomaly! Most women are.....
posted by JenThePro at 8:45 AM on December 23, 2015 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: OK maybe I should explain a bit -- what I'm struggling with is a basic premise that being female is worse/bad/gross because of all the dumb emotions and irrational feelings. I keep thinking that I ought to be a beep-boop robot, and don't "deserve" to love myself. The need for self-acceptance to me feels like a flaw, and a gendered one at that.

It's not so much about wanting to do more femme-ish stuff (I'm fine with not being traditionally feminine in most outward ways).
posted by MetaFilter World Peace at 8:46 AM on December 23, 2015 [6 favorites]

Just erased a lot of stuff because I'm going to just recommend therapy, actually. (Sorry. This is my first time actually doing that. Be gentle.) This isn't really an issue of gender, it's an issue of self-esteem. And you're making assumptions about the inner life of dudes vs. ladies/other that aren't actually true.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:51 AM on December 23, 2015 [28 favorites]

It's probably rooted in the internalized misogyny and belief that emotions=bad that I grew up with.

This penultimate sentence resonates with me. I'm not always comfortable or certain about my relationship with femininity. But if there's one thing that's made me both a better feminist and generally more comfortable with my own needs and in my own skin in the past year or two, it's been doing some real work on allowing myself my own feelings. I even made up my own stupid little mantra. "It's okay to have these feelings," I tell myself. "It's okay to feel like this." And I'll be honest: a lot of times I resent the hell out of those words. Just saying them made me feel more upset, for a long while. But I think somewhere along the line my mindset has shifted, and once I started giving myself permission to have needs and wants and feelings, I suddenly felt a lot more comfortable with myself and my decisions around performing (or more often not performing) femininity. Which has come as a complete surprise to me, but I'll take it.

So I guess all I'm trying to say is that you can actually get to self love by way of letting yourself have emotions, and you don't have to drop everything and flip some switch in your brain to magical self acceptance free spirit earth mother goodness and light to get there. It does take work, however.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:51 AM on December 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

It sounds to me like you need more/better female friends. What does your female friend landscape look like now?
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:51 AM on December 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ah, fair enough! In that case, I went into therapy for anxiety and ended up finding it amazingly helpful with self-acceptance. I think gender does play a role here, but nonetheless it's something everyone struggles with on some level, and if you're at a place that you're not comfortable with, then that's something a professional can help with. Look up Dialectical Behavior Therapy in particular. Self-acceptance is a major theme.
posted by capricorn at 8:52 AM on December 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would stop thinking that "self-acceptance" is a flaw or gendered. Maybe reading feminist literature like Judith Butler would help. Our culture devalues certain types of bodies and supports others. Like others have said this sounds like an issue you need to talk through. If you don't want to talk to a therapist, perhaps there are discussion boards to join.
posted by turtlefu at 8:55 AM on December 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

That part of me thinks that self-love is weak and idiotic and unjustifiable

It might be an interesting/revealing thought experiment to consider whether you think men ought to be allowed to love themselves, or whether self-love is unjustifiable for everyone, or whether it's actually just unacceptable for you.

Another interesting experiment to run would be to identify all of the ways every man in the world has dumb emotions and irrational feelings also. I mean, just read the news for 10 minutes and you'll find three dozen articles about some man being an absolute mouth-frothing blithering idiot, overwhelmed by fears of imaginary threats and throwing tantrums based on perceived slights--and he's running for president!

These probably won't do the whole trick but they might start to nudge your perceptions toward a healthier understanding of the thing you intellectually know but haven't internalized: that women and men aren't all that different and both are just fine. Or, you know, at least that men and women are equally capable of being epic disasterfests. And it's okay.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:57 AM on December 23, 2015 [21 favorites]

You know, everyone has emotions and feelings. It's not part of being a woman, it's part of being human. And men are hurt, as well, by the pressure to not express and accept their own feelings and selves.

The suggestion above for therapy is a good one. It may also help you to surround yourself with people who accept and express their feelings in healthy ways. And to read / watch stories about women who have strong feelings and are guided by them to do good or even great things.

The other thing here is that your emotions are valuable. They are constantly giving you clues about how to interpret and deal with the world around you. Acknowledging them, if only to yourself, is important. You don't have to proclaim every feeling to the world, but your own life will be better if you don't pretend you aren't having them.

That said, I'm having some feelings lately that are hard to accept. Like deludingmyself, I find it comforting to tell myself "It's okay that I feel like this."
posted by bunderful at 8:58 AM on December 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Have you read the emotional labor thread yet? Read the entire set of comments (it'll take a while) and think about all the ways in which the emotional work that people do is WORK. And how women end up doing a lot of it because they're socialized to, not because they have some magical emotion gene or because men don't have one.
posted by MsMolly at 9:18 AM on December 23, 2015 [9 favorites]

your descriptions seem to neglect a whole middle ground of being both intelligent and emotional. and if you could aim towards that middle ground then you might feel more comfortable.

i've always that i can be a better engineer/scientist if i can use more tools. and i see no reason why i need to be restricted to science, math, and logic. caring about the more "arts" side of things can help you - even if you remain a nerd/geek. this really doesn't have to be either/or and you don't have to "give up" anything. caring for yourself, emotionally, for example, doesn't invalidate any of that. it doesn't make you somehow less logical, or less practical, or less efficient. and that's not even starting to think about creativity...

now i type this out it seems awfully obvious, so forgive me if i wandered in here and missed the point completely. but your question and clarification read to me like there was some kind of struggle in your head because you felt torn between opposites. it's not like that. they're not exclusive. you don't have to give anything up. you just try to get even more awesome. you can contain multitudes, and be better for it :o)
posted by andrewcooke at 9:18 AM on December 23, 2015 [7 favorites]

Also I mean yeah, there are a hell of a lot of feminine archetypes out there; it's not Earth Goddess Mother or nothing, you know? Maybe your feminine self-acceptance looks more like Kathleen Hanna or Joan Didion or, like, Kaylee from Firefly.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:21 AM on December 23, 2015 [13 favorites]

I think I get what you mean. I was always close with my dad and he would praise me for not being the cheerleader type of girl. Instead I'd help him build the deck, or grill meat, or rock out to music. As I grew up I started saying things like "I just get along better with guys" or "girls are just so much drama!". Also I'm fat and not traditionally attractive so all "girly" interests seemed both unattainable and frivolous. And my mom was also not into makeup or clothes so I never really had that modeled for me.

Over time, my opinions grew and shifted. I'm 33 now and I wear dresses every day. They're comfortable as fuck, honestly. I don't care about makeup though. I still like tools but I'm also into shoe shopping. Women don't have to be one thing or another, we're just people. You can be whatever kind of woman you want to be and it doesn't make you less of a human or something. I'm not sure how I changed my opinion but I think a lot of feminist reading on Tumblr and shit like that? Basically we are definitely conditioned to think feminine interests are inferior and it does take work to get over that. But it's really freeing to not judge other women on their appearance or other easy assumptions.

You may never be an Earth Goddess or whatever but there's middle ground between that and thinking that all women and their interests are stupid.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 9:22 AM on December 23, 2015 [26 favorites]

So there are two different things you could mean here:

1. Being okay with "stereotypical feminine stuff/gender roles."


2. Literally being okay with being female.

For the latter, I just toss the whole thing on its ear and realize that everyone is disgusting. There is no strength in any one version of humanness. There is no "better." Yeah, periods and childbirth are gross. So are balls. So is pooping. Sports are a useless waste of time when we're all going into the void. So is baking. Am I making sense here? We're ALL on the lowest common denominator. Shame at personal weakness is pointless because we're all walking meat sacks who are going to die. Life is hilarious and brief. Learn to accept weakness in all forms. Learn to laugh at yourself. This works for all forms of shame- toxic masculine shame as well as others. Instead of elevating menstruation to something "beautiful" and woo like that, pull down "masculine stoicism" to the same level and realize it's all silly.

As for the "stereotypical feminine stuff" you may or may not be okay with that and it doesn't matter. Or you may pick and choose and follow along with some of it, or some of it at different times and not others, etc. Much of it is a stupid construct, a tale we tell ourselves like, I don't know, "vitamin c cures colds" -some truth to it but a lot of oversimplification, magical thinking and a lot of misunderstanding. Again, this is human weakness on a societal level. Laugh at the collective weakness of humanity as well.

I hope this helps, sorry if too abstract/existential.
posted by quincunx at 9:24 AM on December 23, 2015 [17 favorites]

That part of me thinks that self-love is weak and idiotic and unjustifiable.

What if you start out just by trying not to be actively mean to yourself? What I mean is, it sounds like you are probably saying all sorts of nasty things to yourself in your head. If that's true, then start there. From now on, try and talk to yourself and treat yourself like you would treat a best friend or someone you care about (or even a beloved pet who is anxious or upset or angry!). Actually, if you're anything like I was, the rule could be: "If you wouldn't say something aloud to someone else, then don't say it to yourself!" because I realized at some point that I was a lot kinder to complete strangers and random acquaintances and people I sort of disliked than I ever was to myself. If you catch yourself in the middle of a really nasty internal monologue about all of the ways you suck, stop yourself and re-word it to something you would say outloud to someone else.

And instead of trying to force yourself to feel any particular way, start just acknowledging your emotions to yourself and reminding yourself that it's okay to feel that way. I'm not talking about cheesy affirmations or anything; you can just say things to yourself like, "I feel really crappy right now. And that sucks," or "Just because I feel like a useless person right now doesn't mean that's actually true."
posted by colfax at 9:30 AM on December 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

MetaFilter World Peace: "what I'm struggling with is a basic premise that being female is worse/bad/gross because of all the dumb emotions and irrational feelings. I keep thinking that I ought to be a beep-boop robot, and don't "deserve" to love myself. The need for self-acceptance to me feels like a flaw, and a gendered one at that."

Okay once I have recovered from rolling around on the floor laughing not at you but at the men in your life who are feeding you this idea -- DUDES WHO THINK THAT EMOTIONS AND FEELINGS ARE DUMB AND ILLOGICAL ARE WITHOUT EXCEPTION THE MOST EMOTIONALLY-DRIVEN, IRRATIONAL, ILLOGICAL PEOPLE IN THE WORLD, because they are totally incapable of recognizing that they ARE emotional, feeling beings who don't exercise perfect logic. They use "logic" not to think through a problem from first premises, but to provide a veneer of post-hoc justification to an emotional, irrational decision they have already made. In my experience they are often tightly-wound little balls of anxiety and emotion just WAITING to lash those feelings out at any moment because they spend so much time repressing them instead of learning to cope with them.

Don't buy what these guys are selling. It's nonsense, and it renders them less-competent as human beings and less-competent as thinkers. If your starting point for thinking is "Emotion never interferes in my logical reasoning!" then you have no ability to correct when it always and inevitably does appear.

You are a mammal. A monkey. Logical reasoning does not come naturally, and to pretend that you can IGNORE all of your more primary layers of thought full of instincts and drives and needs and emotions and JUST work on the logic that is a very recent overlay onto the buggy human operating system is a fairy tale, and it's a fairy tale that people (mostly men) who are really bad at critical thinking tell themselves to feel better about how terrible they are at it. "It's not my poor self-understanding and my fear of coping with feelings I find scary; it's that other people are really bad at thinking and that other people who have a more holistic view of human nature are thinking wrong! Yeah, that's it! More information and understanding of complex systems is BAD! When everybody simplifies the model down to just the parts I can understand, that's the true test of being good at thinking!"

Set yourself a task of observing the world as an alien anthropologist for a while, and watch how often the most "logical" among your friends have already made up their mind and have strong FEELINGS on some issue (where to eat, what to do), and are using "logic" to attempt to argue everyone into submission. Or using "logic" to attempt to avoid dealing with something they find uncomfortable, or to explain away why something they said that was hurtful shouldn't actually have hurt anyone's feelings. People who are able to recognize, name, and understand their emotions are much, much more able to deal with those feelings appropriately and constructively, and -- counterintuitively! -- to set those emotions to one side when thinking about complex issues. People who pretend they don't have emotions, because they're gross or unmanly, can't control how those bubble through their thinking because they can't acknowledge they're there. Insisting the color green doesn't exist doesn't stop it from existing!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:45 AM on December 23, 2015 [137 favorites]

Roller derby was what kickstarted me out of the worst of my internalised misogyny, and it's been a process since then. But spending a lot of time with some awesome, smart, funny, weird and generally feminist women was the kicker.
posted by corvine at 9:53 AM on December 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I self-love all the time because I came to see clearly that my lack of self-love was screwing me over big time. The choices I have made and the SHIT I put up with! The times I didn't feel strong enough to get up and walk out. The times I put myself last and then paid the price for it. The times I was too good for this but didn't realize it. I'm not that person anymore. She's dead and I killed her.

I now love being a woman because we are powerful when we recognize ourselves. I love my feminine side because it is powerful, like an atomic bomb sometimes. I love my high heels, because when they click on the ground I am twenty feet tall. I cultivate those things because I need to for my own broken spirit. If that makes me some self-indulgent bubblehead, well, I'm okay with that because I can go into a room and own it. I can dance like nobody is watching. That did not exist for me until I started to really love myself and recognize how powerful women really are. Feminine, masculine, and everywhere in between. We have power.

I'm still a feminist while being feminine. I dare you to say I'm not. You know what I mean? Call me an airhead to my face. That's the power. That's my womanhood. I can be whatever I want to be.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 9:57 AM on December 23, 2015 [8 favorites]

The need for self-acceptance to me feels like a flaw, and a gendered one at that."

Oh wow, I missed this on first read. Yeah no this is not a flaw, but it is DEFINITELY not a gendered flaw. Men absolutely struggle with a need for self-acceptance and if they seem to struggle somewhat less, or have somewhat more success, it is only because our bogus society offers them substantially more external acceptance (which is tremendously helpful in removing obstacles to developing self-acceptance).
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:58 AM on December 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think you might be conflating the entire idea of self-acceptance with this one very narrow subset of how some people (not just women) express that self-acceptance. (Have you never heard a man utter a variation of the "dance like no one's watching" phrase? Because boy, I sure have! Maybe another thing you need to do is widen your social circle, and get some exposure to new kinds of people?)
posted by palomar at 10:00 AM on December 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

The only way for me to reconcile these things was to slow fade from the people (primarily dudes) in my life who promoted that view of women. And boy howdy I do not miss them. Also, holy crap they used up a lot of energy when they were around.

I still have dude friends, just not *those* dudes.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:02 AM on December 23, 2015 [16 favorites]

I think what you're saying is that society devalues emotions in everyone because emotions are coded as female, and things coded as female are devalued. Is that right?

Mindfulness meditation helped me a great deal (and it's something I'd like to restart). I worked on just noticing the bodily sensations I was having, or the emotions, without judging or explaining them ("I feel sadness" rather than "I'm sad because of X, Y, or Z"). It helped me get out of my head and into my heart/body in ways that carried over to my non-meditating time.
posted by jaguar at 10:18 AM on December 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

Men feel stuff all the time. The stereotype, though, is that feminine people talk about and insist on dealing with feelings, and that other, more "serious" people, don't waste time on that stuff -- they just get things done. History has repeatedly shown that while getting things done is important, ignoring feelings is pretty stupid. Those matronly types with the large floral prints who insist on making everyone sit down to dinner, attend social events, and talk about how they feel are the ones who made society work and are probably responsible for the kind of culture that supported the development of universities, hospitals, Stephen Hawking, and the Internet. Without that kind of emotional work, we'd basically kill each other. With it, we can build things.

Tough guys die alone and, while they may be able to create one or two solitary works, nobody accomplishes much without either dealing with feelings or relying on the work of other people who deal with feelings. Ignoring this is a huge problem.

You, though, understand the attraction of ignoring this whole system of emotional labor (yes, there's that word again). That means that, as you learn to respect it, and to respect your own feelings, and maintain respect for your own abilities, you can be a powerful force for moving the people you know toward a greater understanding.
posted by amtho at 10:32 AM on December 23, 2015 [18 favorites]

Also: I don't care what gender you are. You're a person. Feelings are why you do things.
posted by amtho at 10:35 AM on December 23, 2015 [14 favorites]

Seconding what jaguar said. Mindfulness is a great way to discern what emotions you're actually feeling and figure out what you want to do with them.
posted by missrachael at 10:41 AM on December 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I always find the distinction between emotions and logic to be so strange. They actually work in concert with one another, informing one another and being informed by one another in ways we cannot really understand. Take a moment to think about something very basic in us: fight or flight. I'm not usually one for evolutionary psychology (in fact, I have huge problems with it) but I think it provides an excellent example in this case. Animals (including humans) feel unsafe in response to a stimuli, and they respond by fleeing or fighting (or sometimes freezing, which happens when emotional regulation is off-kilter) - this is life or death, and it's informed by emotion. It is a physiological response that neatly describes how feeling and logic work in concert to create action in animals.

So this idea that "being female is worse/bad/gross because of all the dumb emotions and irrational feelings" is a bit odd. You're describing being human. And because of that, I will recommend the ol' standby of therapy. If you do not like being human, you must dig - dig - dig into why that is. Because feeling emotions is not irrational. It is part of being. What we do with our feelings is what matters, and therapy might be a helpful way for you to determine what you feel and how you act based on those feelings.

Best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 10:45 AM on December 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

There's some pretty great writing that isn't all sentimental. Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine is on my to-read list. Bad Feminist is one place to start. There's a photo collection by Peter Cohen called Snapshots of Dangerous Women. There's wicked films like All About Eve (film has IMHO gone quite backwards) and books like Atwood 's The Robber Bride. I'm on my phone so building a list is hard, but if you want more let me know.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:07 AM on December 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

being female is worse/bad/gross because of all the dumb emotions and irrational feelings.

In the course of raising my aspie-ish kids, I read up on various studies about how people actually work, cognitively. One study indicated that people who are more emotional are able to make snap judgments. People who lack affect, cannot do that.

Emotion is, in part, a useful form of memory. If you have been badly burned, your knee jerk negative reaction to X can save your life or protect you from egregious harm. Yes, it can also be an error prone means to make a decision, but when time is of the essence, snap judgments matter. The military has a saying "Sometimes, a 90% solution now is better than a 100% solution later."

One of my sons largely lacks affect. He is very socially impaired and cannot make snap judgments. He has to study the problem. My other son is prone to big feels. He can make snap judgments. It is also a wonder he hasn't been arrested yet because he has a talent for pissing people off.

Men are not less emotional than women. Expressions of emotion get fundamentally interpreted differently when coming from a woman than from a man. I work on surrounding myself with decent people who don't do shitty things like that. I work on understanding the value of emotion as a source of information about the world around me. If something pisses me off, there is probably some level of threat or injustice happening. Being numb or blind to such things does not make life better. In fact, it is downright dangerous to be oblivious to such things.

There are a lot of good things about being a woman. I generally try to view all traits or circumstances as neutrally as possible and list both the good and bad points. I also try to disengage from toxic people and I have studied women's issues, cognitive stuff, sexual morality etc. all of which helped me get past this ridiculous idea that women are dramatically different in the way they are wired, their wiring is bad/gross/inferior, etc.

What is gross is how women get treated. I think a healthier reaction to that is to be mad as hell about that rather than self critical.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 11:09 AM on December 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have struggled with EXACTLY this problem for most of my life, and I only pinned it down and started to tackle it within the past 3 years. Here's what helped me.

1) Therapy. See above.

2) I sought out books about and by women I found admirable by even my skewed views: Hua Mulan, Hashepsut, Boudicca, Joan of Arc, etc. Over time I transitioned myself to women who presented as slightly more femme and were total badasses: Emilie du Chalatet, Mae West, Josephine Baker. One thing I found really interesting was the way their femininity was weaponized, the way they found power in it. YMMV but there are definitely books about women you will find admirable.

3) I sought out art and essays about what I considered to be the frivolous, unimportant, or frankly silly parts of femme life: makeup, emotional labor, motherhood, etc. I gained appreciation for how hard it is and how much it costs - in every sense of the word.

4) I also took a long, hard look at my heroes, almost all of whom were men. Most of them were garbage to women, and almost all of them were completely reliant upon women for vast amounts of emotional labor and managing their ridiculous, toxic lives.

5) I made friends with some kickass women, online and off. Some of them hold multiple black belts and own their own businesses. Some of them are brilliant, creative women who've opted to be full-time caregivers to their children. It took me a long time to stop secretly seeing the former as inherently superior to the latter, but in time I got there. At the same time, I cut off my toxic male friends who made jokes about me belonging in the kitchen and complained about what bitches all women were.

6) Did I mention therapy? More therapy.
posted by a hat out of hell at 11:11 AM on December 23, 2015 [11 favorites]

I was going to say something along the lines of what Eyebrows McGee said, but she's put it so much better than I could have. There's a subset of self-identified nerds and geeks, mostly but not entirely dudes, who are all LOGIC LOGIC LOGIC YOU'RE BEING IRRATIONAL, and that attitude is tedious and dumb and little more than an intellectual dick-measuring contest. The people who are all logicky like that don't really want to communicate, or understand other people's perspectives or even make other people understand theirs. They just want to be right, according to their narrow definition of right.

If you hang out with people like that, either in person or online, it's hard not to come away feeling bad about yourself just for being a normal human with emotions. It will slowly poison you. I used to have friends like that, and hang out in online spaces like that, and I feel so much better - not to mention I've learned a lot more - after leaving them.

There are scores of women out there who love and accept themselves and roll their eyes at all that luscious-goddessy stuff. Seek them out. Poke your nose into spaces where lots of women show up; if you don't like the vibe, you're free to go, but eventually you'll find people you'll click with. The more people you seek out, the more different ways of being a person you'll find.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:21 AM on December 23, 2015 [10 favorites]

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is great for this. I suggest reading "Feeling Good" by Dr. David Burns and doing the exercises for a few months to work through these negative thoughts.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:31 AM on December 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I struggle a bit with a similar issue, but without so much internalized misogyny.

I feel pretty uncomfortable with all things woo, which I've expanded to mean anything remotely emotional. I've been conditioned to believe that emotions lie to such an extent that my emotional side and I aren't on speaking terms. I'm slowly unraveling this with my therapist, and it's hard. I was only able to get myself through the door because there's plenty of science pointing to a strong correlation between the social (aka stupid feelings) and anxiety/depression (diagnosable and tangible real things). And as these stupid feelings are coming to the surface, that's the thread I'm holding on to in an effort not to run away from the entire process.

Before I was able to get to the point of feeling justified caring about myself, feminism and political activism was a pretty significant part of that healing process. I can't recognize that I am worth fixing. But I can recognize the innate humanity of all people, and the value of improving their lives. It helped in two concrete ways: 1) it forced me to recognize that I was part of society, not above or apart from it or able to fully escape it's faults. 2) as a woman, there is some transference that helped me recognize that I deserved better than I was getting. So while I don't think internalized misogyny gets to the real heart of your issues, I do recognize why it might be easier to approach from that angle.

But I will say, it's also somewhat of a double edged sword. Even as a woman, I have a ton of privilege. And it's very very easy to conflate the idea the non-privileged deserve a better life with the idea that privileged folks deserve a bit of suffering. Especially when you start out programmed to believe you shouldn't take care of yourself. So try to be aware of that emotional lie. It stopped me from seeking help for a stupid long time.
posted by politikitty at 11:45 AM on December 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

so many great points already - about emotional labor and yes, all humans have feelings...and I've personally made a lot of use of therapy. CBT is darn good stuff.

I'm not the type of woman/person to care about clothing name brands, but it was important for me to understand that fashion is a legitimate creative endeavor. Sit with the idea that "fashion = fine art".

I have equal interest in traditionally feminine and masculine things - I'm a seamstress AND a carpenter, I watch action movies AND Dr. Phil...etc.

To get kind of meta on this (where else would I do so, right? ;-)), it was a relief to me that feminism wasn't my only ideology. I found liberalism/progressivism via feminism. As an example of this, the only kind of shopping I can do for "fun" is in secondhand stores. Not just because I don't make that much money, but because I try to be an ethical consumer. Even before I understood the human rights abuses that occur because of fast fashion, I wasn't much of a "let's go shopping for fun" kind of person. Takeaway point: it's helpful and sometimes interesting to tease out where these beliefs and inclinations come from.

A lot of the earth-mothery stuff gets on my nerves too, because it's not feminist enough for me, haha! (a lot of the ways that it's phrased can be very gender-essentialist - guys need to be encouraged to be nurturing and introspective as well)

I wish you much luck, self-acceptance and love on this journey - sounds like you're off to a good start!
posted by leemleem at 12:08 PM on December 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

There's a lot of stuff in your OP I recognize from my younger self. For me, part of it was my upbringing as well: emotions are bad. Not just crying, etc but really any acknowledgement of an emotional self (for this, I recommend Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect). But it was also the fact that my mom was not into most of the stereotypical-coded-feminine things, like makeup, shopping, hair, crafts, etc. Things boys and men did were worthwhile, talked about, praised; things women typically did were dismissed as frivolous, vain, a waste of money, or only relevant in how they related to men (e.g., cooking). I couldn't be "one of the boys" but was told "being girly" was negative too - there was no room for me to develop a sense of self in the world envisioned by my parents (who love me and are generally ok, but really don't get "it" like at all). I feel a lot of empathy and understanding for women who do pursue those "girly" things now, and were able to do so in childhood. You take the small piece of pie the patriarchy gives you and you try to make something of it - makeup, hair, crafts, these are all artistic pursuits that can demonstrate real talent and be enjoyable and create communities -- I've adopted a lot of these hobbies too over the years. The recent FPP On Pandering is great, particularly the section "Watching Boys Do Stuff."

I understand where you're coming from; I could write pages and pages on this. Therapy can help. But reading more about women's lives -- from women's perspectives -- and reducing the amount you read/watch about men's stories (or women's stories written by men) can do wonders. Read the emotional labor thread, read stuff by Alana Massey and Anne Thériault, watch Shonda Rhimes shows, read The Handmaid's Tale, etc. I also try not to criticize the choices (or lack thereof) of other women (excluding political/corporate actions that affect other people) [see this recent FPP]. We're all living in an oppressive system - one that affects some more than others (kyriarchy) - and we each cope with that in different ways. I'm not a religious or spiritual person, but I do believe in the power of collective action; you can love yourself and support other women without any of the woo.
posted by melissasaurus at 12:45 PM on December 23, 2015 [11 favorites]

Here's a way to think of self-acceptance that might help you: your relationship with yourself is the longest and most fundamental relationship of your entire life. The one person you will never, ever be able to escape or avoid or leave behind is yourself. In this context, self-acceptance and self-love are not flaws, they are requirements for living well in the world. Now, loving yourself is hard, because you know your own flaws and you have a front-row seat to all your mistakes and shitty thoughts. So if you think self-love is unreachable right now, shoot for self-acceptance instead. Maybe you can't love yourself yet, but at the very least, you can accept who you are now. I think mindfulness helps with that, and is pretty crucial to learning to live with and accept your emotions.

But yeah, also definitely therapy.
posted by yasaman at 12:54 PM on December 23, 2015 [9 favorites]

I got over it by spending time with men who really love women - love their makeup, love their perfume, love that they like to shop, love that they have a circle of girlfriends etc. They loved the otherness of women; they loved that they were not men. They didn't find their feelings irrational. They loved their moms. Men who had healthy appreciative views of women. Who saw them as individual people not as a collective representation of all women.

In this instance it was men not from North America but Europe and other countries. I don't know if the two are related.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:59 PM on December 23, 2015 [7 favorites]

Also, regarding femininity, there's no one right way to be feminine, there's no One True Femininity. You can pick and choose the things you like, and leave out the things you don't. Like I love cute dresses and skirts, but I don't give much of a fuck about makeup, and I don't think that makes me less feminine. But I also don't judge other women for being into makeup.

I don't know, I think a lot of my fundamental conceptions of what it is to be a woman, and how I live as a woman, were formed by a class on Female Sexuality I took in college. The community of women in that class covered just about every part of the femininity spectrum, and we had a lot of discussions about our experiences as women. I'm not sure how to replicate that kind of safe space and community of women outside of college. But deliberately building a social group of diverse women would surely help.
posted by yasaman at 1:06 PM on December 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Okay, so I read your update and it sounds to me like you're on a quest for self-love because not loving yourself is making you miserable. But you think you shouldn't "need" to love yourself. And only girly women "need" to love themselves.

Well, you don't really "need" to love yourself, do you? You're alive. The current status of not loving yourself has sustained life. So there is no "need" on the most basic level.

I also wonder if the concept of "loving yourself" is even useful. I don't love myself all the time. I don't hate myself either. I just AM. I don't think its really possible for a person to exist in a continual state of love every second of their conscious thought. Not even the girliest of girls could do that!

I think what you mean is more like, "when I am not busy thinking mundane thoughts like 'I need to remember to buy milk' and my thoughts turn to the topic of myself, I feel ashamed and unhappy. Or at least I don't feel proud or positive towards myself. Other people seem to."

I wonder if you shouldn't re-frame "self-love" as something like "self-acceptance" or "self-neutrality." Hating yourself is a problem. Not loving yourself isn't as much of a problem, IMO.

I have an attitude of general bemusement, wonder, and amazement at myself most of the time, I think. A sort of "oh, self. Aren't you interestingly you. Aren't you the only one who did that silly thing when you were younger. And now you've grown so much. Oh, self. It was so funny when you did that silly thing. You know, you're alright, buddy."

Maybe even imagine you giving you a big ol' hearty masculine slap on the back or bro fist bump or something. Absolutely no rose petals allowed.
posted by quincunx at 2:03 PM on December 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

What helped me the most* in overcoming attitudes like these was becoming good friends with more women. Not just any women, and definitely not specifically feminine women, but women that I generally liked/respected and had something in common with. Many of them tend to the "less feminine" side like me, but most of them (us) still enjoy at least one feminine-coded hobby, at least occasionally. It's hard to maintain even internal misogynistic judging of typically-feminine traits like "people who wear makeup are superficial" or "people only wear revealing clothes for sexual attention" if you know at least one of your friends is included in those groups, and they're pretty cool and not like that at all. Bonus: friends like that make it way easier and more fun to improve your skills in those areas, if you never learned them. If you have a friend who always has great hair, I bet she'd love to share some tips with you. And it's much easier to enjoy makeup etc once you know how to use it properly.

It's also hard to maintain dumb stereotypes like "being female is worse/bad/gross because of all the dumb emotions and irrational feelings" when you have a bunch of female friends who don't seem any more irrational or burdened by emotion than your male friends (note: this is why it's important to make sure you're befriending women you actually like, not just arbitrarily trying to make female friends...and also important that you're correctly assessing emotions/irrationality in your male and female friends and not ignoring the more "male-typical" emotional displays like anger).

In other words, I think it's important to separate the "I'm not like that" thoughts from the "people who do that are bad" thoughts. You don't have to change your own behaviour or force yourself to like things you hate just to overcome internalized misogyny - if you want to avoid makeup etc and be less emotion-focused than the average woman, that's totally fine. It's only a problem when you start judging the behaviour itself as silly or bad just because you don't like it and/or it's "girly" and/or society devalues it.

*I am still very much a work in progress...I still roll my eyes at a lot of things people (male or female) do that seem dumb to me, and I will probably always be a lot less emotion-focused than most people (male or female), but at least I don't really have the automatic "girly things are dumb/girls are boring" thoughts anymore.
posted by randomnity at 2:37 PM on December 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm sure this is a very personal thing, but for me the most helpful aspects of feminism that have actually touched my life and my sense of self and helped me to be empowered are general principles of social justice that apply to all human beings. *this may sound preachy* but I am motivated by the desire to be a more just human being. Since principles of social justice apply to ALL human beings, that means they also apply to ME. Therefore, if i wish to become a more just human, I have a moral responsibility to treat myself as a full adult human with valid experiences and ideas and skills and time that deserves to be treated like anyone would treat their sister or best friend. To do any otherwise is actually an injustice. How could you hate a woman?

I get what you mean about self-love being associated with hokey imagery and weird yoga mantras, and it doesn't have to be that at all. You don't have to attach your self-love to any particular images if they don't resonate with you. Doing so is probably what makes you so skeptical of the whole concept. The reality is that it comes from within, and you need to detach from the ideas of what it should be.

Another thing that is helping me A LOT is reading novels by women. Margaret Atwood, Zadie Smith, Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, are just a few. It helps SO MUCH to be able to re-read the world from a woman's perspective. I recommend reading the novel Sula by Toni Morrison. It's about a very poor black community in the South in the early 30's. There are some female characters in there who will do things that you will want to judge, and I challenge you to read that book and not to judge them, and to see their experiences as valid.

Also, here is an article from Everyday Feminism (which if you don't know it, you should subscribe to their facebook feed ASAP!) : On ‘Choice’ Feminism and Internalized Misogyny: Why We Participate in Patriarchal Oppression

I hope some of this helps. It's hard to fight against systemic misogyny but it starts with your relationship with yourself. It gets easier once you realize there is a huge worldwide community of feminists that have your back and that have been through this struggle and come out stronger.
posted by winterportage at 3:01 PM on December 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm a nerdy queer woman who doesn't conform to gender norms, and this has been a hard question for me too, partly because it's been very hard to separate out what I don't want to do myself from what I actually find distasteful and all the more so in the context of the pressures to be someone I'm not.

It's helped me to get to know women who are okay with themselves, and to see what they like about various expressions of femininity beyond the social conformity aspect. I have a few friends who are very feminine in unconventional ways, and getting a taste of their self-perception has been fantastically healing for me.

I'd also recommend reading Julia Serano's Whipping Girl, which talks about the devaluation of femininity by women and in various feminist spaces.
posted by bile and syntax at 4:01 PM on December 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

As a side not to all of the above, I would challenge your premise that emotions are irrational. I examine my emotional reactions and make sure they're proportional; when they are not, I examine the thing upsetting me to better understand and analyse the root of what I think. My emotions are instructive and useful, in addition to being both human and normal.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:48 PM on December 23, 2015 [7 favorites]

I've always viewed the concept of self-love as just a fun repackaging of confidence

surely you can get behind that?
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:30 PM on December 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I see a lot of those 'earth goddess', 'celebrating femininity,' etc., things as sort of... not a bandaid but a crutch or a stepping stone maybe?

For me it comes down to that great quote, 'feminism is the radical notion that women are people.' So many things in our culture tell us that we're not really people. Human means men and men define what it means to be human, and we're kind of adjunct humans. In a patriarchy-free world, I don't know that we would see or need all those very specifically female-oriented women-empowering tropes because empowering ideas would not need to be gender specific to feel like they are truly speaking to us and for us.

I wonder if part of you is reacting to them with a thought that we should not need them and that needing them is a sign of weakness, of not already feeling fully like 'people' and turning to this kind of extra, gender-specific help. And in a way it is - it's a sign and maybe in some ways an unpleasant-to-you reminder that women are not equal and that to the extent you move in the world perceived as a woman this permeates your experience.

I guess I wonder if you could shift your thinking away from thinking that these trends are a sign of weakness of the women who turn to them and towards thinking that they are a sign of weakness of our culture that does not really see women as fully people. But the individual women who turn to these tropes are showing strength by finding ways (that work for them) to empower themselves - even if they may (and I kind of hope so) ultimately turn out to be stop-gap measures on our societal journey towards equality.

I wonder whether part of your intolerance of yourself is an internalization specifically of the misogyny that says you are not really people, and your impatience for these trends is also a kind of resistance (albeit I think self-defeating) against that idea.

Many of these tropes don't speak to me much, really, but I try to be happy for the women that they do work for and remember that 'to each, their own' applies to us women too!

I wonder if you would like Gloria Steinem's "Revolution from within." It's been a long time since I read it but if I remember correctly it's very much about the idea that we need to fight our internal demons at the same time as we are fighting the external ones.

I think I want to say that as hurtful as the nagging part of you that's judging yourself and other women is, I bet there is a flip side that has been protecting you in some way, and it's worthwhile to try to figure that out and honor it so that you can grow (past it) in a way that's authentic to you.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:52 PM on December 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

Here's an interesting Radiolab episode which talks in part about the value of emotion.
posted by bunderful at 6:56 PM on December 23, 2015

If you're looking for another community of interesting women talking about and interrogating questions like this from a variety of perspectives on what it means to be a woman, self-care, self-acceptance, and occasional misandry, I find both the Toast and the Establishment to be very helpful, interesting, and thought provoking!
posted by ChuraChura at 7:16 PM on December 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, with regard to the idea that emotions are irrational, you might be interested in Martha Nussbaum, a philosopher who I believe has recently written a book which proves the opposite.
posted by winterportage at 5:45 AM on December 24, 2015

This is a really great question.

I remember 10 years ago being in bible college, thrilled with my theology classes and kicking ass. I remember the floor dropping out one day. I was standing in the library and realizing that they were all men. All the readings. All the profs. All the reference points. It was really difficult to see a way forward for myself. And it was really difficult not to resent my femininity, this core aspect of myself that locked me out of this long line of thinkers I wanted to join.

Then the next semester I had a literature prof who I adored. She did so much stealth feminism in one semester. She told us about her own life, going back to get a PhD after raising five kids. She introduced us to Mrs. Dalloway, Their Eyes Were Watching God. She showed us how the sentences sang, how the female characters were strong and deep. She gave me something all my theology classes couldn't: power and a future and a hero I could think of becoming like. She was not soft or frivolous. She was warm and whipsmart and she saw me and pushed me forward.

Your hero doesn't need to be an earth mother. She could be someone like Stumptuous's powerful no-nonsense weight lifting women or Nathalie Angier giving you your body new and wonderful or Koharu Suguwara's way of dancing powerful and woman but not superfemme. When you find her, you will find parts of yourself.

I also think you will find a kindred spirit in Brené Brown, the last woman in the world who wanted to give a TED Talk on vulnerability.

Have you listened to the invisibilia podcast yet? There's another two nerd girls you may like.
posted by sadmadglad at 5:37 AM on December 25, 2015 [8 favorites]

I'm a dude, so take this with a grain of salt.

You can both love yourself and find motivational posters about doing exactly that... tacky, forced, and fake.

Unless you're all about those motivational slogans, and a lot of us have trouble understanding those folks some days.

(And a huge +1 to Stumptuous, who got me into some shape again.)
posted by talldean at 9:07 PM on December 29, 2015

« Older I changed my full name (and gender). What account...   |   What accessible, but not pop-science, linguistics... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.