The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Misogyny Is Everywhere
Ria Parker

When I was in middle school, I wanted more friends that were boys because I felt like girls were too much drama. If a girl wore makeup, or seemed more focused on her physical appearance than her inner qualities, I’d say things like, “You should be natural” or “Don’t wear makeup to impress a boy” or “You’re more beautiful without makeup.”

We wear uniforms at my high school, but there are days when we can dress down. One Friday in 9th grade most of us were wearing jeans, skirts, or sweatpants. One girl came into 1st period history class wearing a tight, short dress. It showed off her body and the teacher said it violated the dress code. He said she had to put something over it or change into the uniform.

When she left to change, one of my classmates said, “She knew they’d make her change, so why did she come to school dressed like that?” I agreed and decided that because she came to school in a revealing dress, she was a ho.

During lunch, the same girl was hanging out with a couple of boys and seemed to be flirting, even though she had gotten out of a relationship the day before. I nodded toward her and said to my friends, “Doesn’t she seem to be…” but my friends cut me off, nodding. They knew I was about to say: “acting like a slut.”

I didn’t realize it at the time, but having these opinions about this girl was internalized misogyny, which is a hatred of women that is practiced by women against other women or even against themselves. I was judging her based on how she liked to dress and talk to boys. But in reality I had no idea what kind of person she was.

You Throw Like a Girl

My male relatives constantly comment about how girls are dressed when we’re out. “If she wants to be a ho, then let her dress like that,” my cousin has said of girls wearing crop tops and short shorts.

They are no better with me. If my cleavage is ever showing they tell me to cover up. They say it in a way that makes me feel ashamed of my body. There is no equivalent for guys, though.

In school, as early as kindergarten, I heard phrases said to boys like “you throw like a girl,” “you’re a p-ssy,” or “man up.” They made me think girls and qualities associated with them were weak and inferior to men.

For example, the expression “You throw like a girl” implies that girls can’t be powerful athletes, or powerful at all. To me the phrase also says indirectly: Whatever you do, don’t be like a girl.

“Man up” means stop being emotional like a girl. I hear this expression particularly when boys cry. This shaming made me feel like I should try not to show my emotions either.

image by YC-Art Dept

Embracing my Feminine Qualities

Last summer, I came to examine the responses that had always come so naturally for me. I was on Instagram and an activist I follow posted something about internalized misogyny and how she used to have it until she educated herself about it.

I went to Google to learn what internalized misogyny was. I realized that I was guilty of inflicting on others and myself more than half of the examples given, such as slut-shaming, victim-blaming, shaming girls for their interests, shaming girls for their choices including not shaving, or being a stay-at-home mom, saying things like, “girls are too much drama,” or, “I’m not like other girls,” and rejecting my feminine traits.

I thought about myself and how I tried to reject my stereotypically feminine qualities and focus more on my masculine qualities. My feminine qualities are being sensitive, gentle, and emotionally expressive. My masculine qualities include being independent, assertive, persistent, and emotionally stoic. But I have both sets of qualities. Everybody is complex. The qualities I like in myself are both the feminine and masculine.

Now that I have educated myself about internalized misogyny I feel more comfortable expressing my feelings. I don’t worry about looking like I’m creating too much drama or looking weak. If you think about it, even the scariest animals show their emotions and that doesn’t mean that they are weak.

I read up on ways to catch myself and change my way of thinking. For example, when Kim Kardashian posted a picture of herself naked on Instagram, many on social media bashed her, calling her a ho and slut. My initial response was to agree, but then I checked myself; if she’s comfortable in her body then let her do what she wants. I also told myself that all women are valuable whether they cover their bodies from head to toe or if they wear nothing.

Becoming an Ally

At school, if I overhear girls talking about their sexual encounters, rather than my usual “girls shouldn’t—” I cut myself off because now I know sex isn’t something women should have to be quiet about. If men can talk about it so can women.

I have also become an ally. If I hear misogynistic talk among my friends, I point it out.

One day at school one of my friends asked a few of us whether we thought she should wear a top because she’s busty. While our other friends said no, I said, “Wear whatever you feel comfortable in.”

In October, we had our first Girls Day at school. It was a day devoted to female empowerment. In the morning, we all met in the gym and everyone settled down on the bleachers. My English teacher took the mic: “…Us ladies have to stick together especially in this world where our race and gender is an issue…Us black women have the highest college graduation rate….”

My teacher’s words reinforced what I had discovered about myself: I was unconsciously turning on other women. I was victim-blaming, slut-shaming, or simply criticizing women for being women. And I can’t do that. My teacher was saying that if we want to have rights and be feminists then we can’t go around calling our fellow females names that we wouldn’t like to be called by males. In the end, we don’t have to like each other—we just need to respect each other.

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