Internalized sexism

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Internalized sexism is sexism that occurs on an individual level.[1] Internalized sexism is when an individual enacts learned sexist behaviors and attitudes towards themselves and people of their own sex.[2] On a larger scale, internalized sexism falls under the broad topic of internalized oppression, which "consists of oppressive practices that continue to make the rounds even when members of the oppressor group are not present".[2]


Internalized sexism has potential to lead to body issues, lack of self-confidence, competition, and a sense of powerlessness.[1] It is a major setback in resolving issues of sexism as a whole.[3] Ties to psychological distress such as anxious, depressive or somatic symptoms, have been identified as results of internalized sexism.[4] Possible effects can be depression and suicidal impulses[5]

Additionally, studies have found connections between as sexual objectification as a result of internalized sexism and body shame, sexual objectification, and disordered eating.[6] Internalized sexism also plays a role in lowered academic goals[7] and diminished job performance.[1] On a larger scale, the presence of internalized sexism in the world is believed to alienate those affected from each other and thus further promotes continued sexism as a whole.[3]


Internalized heterosexism[edit]

Heterosexism, a term developed within the LGB rights movement and modeled on political concepts, refers to an ideological system that operates on individual, institutional, and cultural levels to stigmatize, deny, and denigrate any nonheterosexual way of being.[8]

The general definition of internalized heterosexism is defined as the internalization of assumptions, negative attitudes and stigma regarding homosexuality by individuals whom do not identify within the heteronormative spectrum and/or are categorized as sexual minorities to varying degrees.[8] Internalized heterosexism is a manifestation of internalized sexism that primarily affects sexual minority populations (composed of people who identify lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or other), however, it can also affect heterosexual populations by dictating how they interact with and relate to non-heterosexual peoples. This phenomenon manifests when sexual minorities begin to adopt rigid, restrictive heteronormative values into their worldviews. Examples of these heteronormative values are fundamentalist religious doctrines that condemn non-heterosexual orientations and activities, concepts of masculinity and manhood that emphasize restricted emotionality (scholastically referred to as RE), or restrictive affectionate behavior between men (scholastically referred to as RABBM).[5] The internalization of heteronormativity often create Gender Role Conflicts (GRCs) for people whose actions fall outside the parameters of acceptable cultural norms that promote unrealistic and constricting ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman in modern society. One of the most common consequences of internalized heterosexism is intense depression fueled by self-loathing and sexual repression.[5]

Internalized misogyny[edit]

Most dictionaries define misogyny as the hatred of women,[9][10][11] and as "hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women".[12] which can lead to the interpretation that it is a male trait. However, the sociologist Michael Flood at the University of Wollongong notes the following:

Though most common in men, misogyny also exists in and is practiced by women against other women or even themselves. Misogyny functions as an ideology or belief system that has accompanied patriarchal, or male-dominated societies for thousands of years and continues to place women in subordinate positions with limited access to power and decision making. ... Aristotle contended that women exist as natural deformities or imperfect males ... Ever since, women in Western cultures have internalised their role as societal scapegoats, influenced in the twenty-first century by multimedia objectification of women with its culturally sanctioned self-loathing and fixations on plastic surgery, anorexia and bulimia.[13]

Women who experience internalized misogyny may express it through minimizing the value of women, mistrusting women, and believing gender bias in favor of men.[4] Women, after observing societal beliefs which demean the value and skills of women repeatedly, eventually internalize those misogynistic beliefs and apply them to themselves and other women.[14] The implications of internalized misogyny include psychological disorders such as depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and less social support among women.[4]

The actress Anne Hathaway spoke about her own internalized misogyny during a 2017 interview on the American interview show Popcorn with Peter Travers, saying that she feels she may have trusted female directors less than male directors because of gender bias and that she found herself much more critical of scripts directed by women. When speaking about the director Lone Scherfig, whom she worked with on the film One Day, she said, “I’m so scared that I treated her with internalized misogyny."[15]

Internalized misandry[edit]

Misandry is the hatred of, violence against, or discrimination of men and masculinity. Internalized misandry, then, is the act of identifying as a man and discriminating against oneself and one's masculinity. Raewyn Connell notes in her 1987 book Gender and Power: Society, the Person and Sexual Politics, different masculinities retain different authorities across performance so that one version of being a man is valued over another.[16]

Modes of internalization[edit]

Early childhood inculturation[edit]

Just as misogyny and misandry are acquired through multiple external sources, internalized misogyny and misandry are learned from those same external forces, in a converse way. Internalized sexism may be promoted through the demeaning of men and women on the basis of their gender in relation to societal and behavioral standards. These same societal and behavioral standards are also thought to be spread through exposure in the media, which reflects the standards of the society that it serves to inform and entertain.

Television and cinema[edit]

There is a long-lasting connection between misogyny and mass media. Comedic sitcoms often portray men degrading the value of women and commenting on women's weight and size. This contributes to the internalization of gender size stereotypes, sometimes negatively affecting the mental and physical health of females.[17] One of the primary problems in mass media is the under-representation of women in widely consumed productions.[18]

The context of children's entertainment is especially pernicious because young minds are highly impressionable and cartoons have been known to play a pedagogical role in childhood development.[19] The Little Mermaid has been criticized [20] because it tells a story of a young woman (Ariel, the aforementioned mermaid of small stature) who gives up her natural identity as a mermaid in order to meet the preferences of her love interest, a human male.[18]


By constantly creating ads that represent women in positions of bondage, women being sexually harassed, and/or women as sexual objects, advertisers are constantly beaming misogynistic messages into the public consciousness.[21] Multiple campaigns that are critical of sexism in commercials have pointed out that women are represented in much more degrading ways than most men.[22]

Women are not the only folks under assault in the world of advertising. Sexual minorities and non-straight populations are often demonized or marginalized by popular media representations too. In some cases, advertisements have been shown to be overtly homophobic,[23][24] but in more subtle ways, commercials can reinforce heterosexism by promoting hyper-masculine behavior and re-entrenching rigid norms that govern the way gender is performed in the view of the public.[25]

Gender differences in language and communication[edit]

Differences in communication across genders is influenced by internalized sexism portrayed in everyday conversation. The main target of internalized sexism are predominantly women who are regarded as inferior. In everyday conversation, women are scrutinized by objectification, use of derogatory terms, or invalidated either by other women or men. The manner of communication and language use, objectifies the woman. Other forms of language use toward women include the use of derogatory terms such as; “bitch” slut” “hoe” etc. as forms of invalidation. These terms are used as a form of gender role policing, for women who defy gender norms or hold more assertive and vocal qualities. These conversational practices objectify, invalidate and perpetuate internalized sexism.

There are significant differences in language use between genders. Language can also act as a moderator of the maintenance of power imbalance between groups. Derogation and criticism perpetuate social stigma which then become internalized by those affected who become critical of themselves and members of their own gender or diminish their own voices. This is known as horizontal oppression influenced by systematic invalidation and internal dynamics of internalized sexism.[26]

Combating internalized sexism[edit]

While a lot of research has been done on internalized sexism many in the field believe substantially more is needed.[27] Research is aimed at bring to light cultural practices that result in internalized sexism, helping people to understand how to bring about positive change. For example, observations of conversation have been made and published, raising awareness of conversational practices deemed to promote internalized sexism. These include qualitative studies of interpersonal conversations between women, followed by collaborative coding of instances of internalized sexism within parameters agreed by the researchers, followed by raising awareness of the findings regarding these conversations, and any broader systems of sexisms they may be considered a subset of.[28] Other methods include encouraging people to be intentional and decline to participate in derogation, invalidation and objectification of members of the same gender. Empowerment, support, and collaboration are all effective ways to combat internalized sexism.[29] Combating the effects of internalized sexism are promotes collaboration and support between individuals of the same gender, and empowers women and men to accept their bodies.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c David, E.J.R. (2013-12-09). Internalized Oppression: The Psychology of Marginalized Groups. Springer Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0826199256.
  2. ^ a b c Bearman, Steve, Neill Korobov, and Avril Thorne. "The fabric of internalized sexism." Journal of Integrated Social Sciences 1, no. 1 (2009): 10-47.
  3. ^ a b Paludi, M. A. The Psychology of Teen Violence and Victimization, Volume 1. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c Szymanski, Gupta, and Carr. 2009. "Internalized Misogyny as a Moderator of the Link between Sexist Events and Women’s Psychological Distress." Sex Roles 16, no. 1-2: 101-109.
  5. ^ a b c Szymanski, Dawn M., and Ayse S. Ikizler. 2013. "Internalized heterosexism as a mediator in the relationship between gender role conflict, heterosexist discrimination, and depression among sexual minority men." Psychology of Men and Masculinity 14, no. 2: 211-219. doi:10.1037/a0027787
  6. ^ Moradi, Dirks, and Matteson. 2005. “Roles of Sexual Objectification Experiences and Internalization of Standards of Beauty in Eating Disorder Symptomatology: A Test and Extension of Objectification Theory.” Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52(3): 420-428.
  7. ^ Montanes, de Lemus, Bohner, Megias, Moya, and Garcia-Retamero. 2012. “Intergenerational Transmission of Benevolent Sexism from Mothers to Daughter and its Relation to Daughter’ Academic Performance and Goals.” Sex Roles 66 (7-8): 468-478.
  8. ^ a b Szymanski, Dawn M.; Kashubeck-West, Susan; Meyer, Jill (July 2008). "Internalized Heterosexism". The Counseling Psychologist. 36 (4): 510–524. doi:10.1177/0011000007309488. ISSN 0011-0000.
  9. ^ The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles (Oxford: Clarendon Press (Oxford Univ. Press), [4th] ed. 1993 (ISBN 0-19-861271-0)) (SOED) ("[h]atred of women").
  10. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin, 1992 (ISBN 0-395-44895-6)) ("[h]atred of women").
  11. ^ Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged (G. & C. Merriam, 1966) ("a hatred of women").
  12. ^ Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary (N.Y.: Random House, 2d ed. 2001 (ISBN 0-375-42566-7)).
  13. ^ Flood, Michael (2007-07-18). International encyclopedia of men and masculinities. ISBN 978-0-415-33343-6.
  14. ^ Bearman, Steve; Korobov, Neill; Thorne, Avril. 2009. "The fabric of internalized sexism." Journal of Integrated Social Sciences 1, no. 1: 10-47.
  15. ^ Gwilym Mumford, Anne Hathaway: I regret not trusting female directors, The Guardian, 20 April 2017.
  16. ^ Connell, Raewyn. 1987. Gender and power: society, the person, and sexual politics. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.
  17. ^ Fouts, Gregory, and Kimberley Burggraf. 2000. "Television Situation Comedies: Female Weight, Male Negative Comments, and Audience Reactions." Sex Roles 42, no. 9-10: 925-932.
  18. ^ a b Wood, Julia T. Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and Culture. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 1994.
  19. ^ Wojik-Andrews, Ian. Children's FIlms: History, Ideology, Pedagogy, Theory. New York City, NY: Garland Publishing. 2000.
  20. ^ Maio, Kathi (December 1998). "Disney's Dolls". New Internationalist.
  21. ^ Leo, Alex. “Five Sexist Trends the Advertising World Just Can't Shake,” Huffington Post, July 10, 2010, accessed November 7, 2014.
  22. ^ Johnson, Margaret. "Sarah Zelinski, Kayla Hatzel and Dylan Lambi-Raine, Students, Challenge Sexist Advertising With Gender Role Reversal," Huffington Post, May 13, 2013, accessed November 7, 2014.
  23. ^ Jennifer Whitehead. "WKD ad is third in three weeks accused of homophobia". Brand Republic. Retrieved 2015-10-26.
  24. ^ David Smith in Johannesburg. "Unilever apologises for 'homophobic' Flora advert in South Africa | World news". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-10-26.
  25. ^ Huffington Post. "Be A Man: Macho Advertising Promotes Hyper-Masculine Behavior, Study Finds," Huffington Post, May 7, 2013, Accessed November 7, 2014.
  26. ^ Amrhein, Marielle; Bearman, Steve (2018-12-05). Girls, Women, and Internalized Sexism. Springer Publishing Company. doi:10.1891/9780826199263.0008. ISBN 9780826199256.
  27. ^ Becker, Julia C.; Zawadzki, Matthew J.; Shields, Stephanie A. (2014). "Confronting and Reducing Sexism: A Call for Research on Intervention". Journal of Social Issues. 70 (4): 603–614. doi:10.1111/josi.12081. ISSN 0022-4537.
  28. ^ Bearman, Steve; Korobov, Neill; Thorne, Avril (2009). "The Fabric of Internalized Sexism" (PDF). Journal of Integrated Social Sciences. 1 (1): 14.
  29. ^ Becker, Julia C.; Zawadzki, Matthew J.; Shields, Stephanie A. (2014-12-01). "Confronting and Reducing Sexism: A Call for Research on Intervention". Journal of Social Issues. 70 (4): 603–614. doi:10.1111/josi.12081. ISSN 1540-4560.