Whenever someone asks me when I think will be the right time to get married, I tell them I’m not worried about it because I don’t plan on getting hitched. It’ll be the same answer whenever someone asks me when I think I’ll have children or whether I want a boy or a girl.
There’s a term for situations like this – thoughts like this – it’s called internalized sexism.
For example, when a group of people decide to tell you that your happiness can only be found in children and marriage, instead of your own success – internalized sexism. Or when you see the news and a woman was raped, and you think that it’s the woman’s fault for seducing the rapist somehow – internalized sexism.
Internalized sexism is not always done consciously. You may proclaim yourself to be a feminist, an egalitarian, but internalized sexism can still occur in the best of us.
Internalized sexism is acted out within or between people of the same sex, men or women. For example, a woman who believes that her own sex is inferior to the male population, undeserving of equal rights.
According to a theory by Bearman, Korobov, and Thorne, internalized sexism is not just about women being sexist to other women. It is helpful in maintaining sexism as a part of the norm of the social structure, installing unrealistic expectations for both genders.
Our biological sexes do not define our gender. We are born with either a penis or a vagina, but we are expected to play in accordance to the gender role as assigned by our appendage attached to our crotch – or lack of one.
Here’s the thing, though: Women are not the only ones affected by internalized sexism. Victim blaming, catcalling, objectifying, molesting, lack of control of our bodies – I can list out more.
But that doesn’t mean that we are the only ones to have the privilege of such treatment, men are also affected by internalized sexism!
They come in the form of unwillingness to wear colors that they deem feminine, like pink or purple. They come in the form of refusal to cry because strong men don’t cry, damn it. They come in the form of the need to almost destroy oneself – or actually destroying oneself – just for that Arnold Schwarzenegger bod. They come in the form of berating themselves just because they don’t make more money than their wives. They come in the form of a stoic and stern appearance because it is weak for men to show their emotions, damn you.
Men and sexism are not mutually exclusive. And the same thing goes to men and internalized sexism. Sure, they don’t experience sexism as severe as women do – I mean, they’re getting more pay than us, most of the executive positions in the country are held by men, and they generally just get away with things easier than we do – but if we’re really gonna do something about it, let’s see things from both sides of the spectrum and not turn into misandry slaves ourselves.
Sure, we may have come a long way from the times of witch hunt and polygamous marriages, a long way from women not being allowed to vote or be in the workforce. Women are starting to stand up for themselves, asking for what we deserve, and calling out those who do not give us the respect we ought to get. But that’s only overseas – where there are Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, Meghan Markle, Gal Gadot etc.
But here in Malaysia? We still see rape cases where the perpetrators get off easy and the rape victims get the blame. We still see women who berate other women for not following the incredibly faulty social norms that have been set for our gender. We still see men who do not allow their wives to work. We still see men who adamantly refuse to show emotions.
I think that for us to progress, for us to fix gender inequality, for Malaysia to start making their way towards gender equality, we have to start with ourselves first. Deal with internalized sexism first, and then handle external sexism.
Show them that feminism doesn’t mean you hate men – just that you want equal rights between women and men.