On social media I follow a page (name withheld), that’s used as an advice forum for Zambians seeking advice pertaining to a number of issues ranging from relationship woes, to marital disputes, and so much more.
While most of the time just reading the page provides comic relief because it’s 50 shades of foolishness; a lot of the times I cringe at the number of sexist and misogynistic remarks in the comment section attempting to offer advice on the issues at hand.
Women putting each other down and saying things like “you aren’t a real woman if you don’t … [insert stereotypical domestic role or chore]” or slut shaming and a whole lot of other mess!
The reality is however that this internalized sexism on Zambian social media is merely a reflection of the internalized sexism witnessed in everyday life world over!
I touched the surface of this topic in my objectification article but I feel this needs to be explored further because it needs to STOP!
Internalized sexism is defined as the “involuntary internalization by women of the sexist messages that are present in their societies and culture”. Emphasis on CULTURE (and tradition)!
Why? Because in Zambia (and many African, as well as other third world countries) we perpetuate sexism and misogyny then label it as “culture”. Insinuating that the unequal standing of women is a part of culture and that it’s therefore justified.
While misogynistic points of view come from our patriarchal societies, and the men who have the upper hand within them- notions are often times perpetuated by women.
The unfortunate reality is, as a young Zambian/ third world girl, your first encounter with sexism probably wasn’t with the boys or men in your lives; but the women you looked up to or fellow girls around you.
Often times my mom tells me about how she was ridiculed by fellow women when she was younger because she wasn’t the best at domestic duties. Labelled inferior because her cooking wasn’t great in her 20s. Her worth measured by how well she could clean or not.
While this was over 20 years ago, nothing much has changed for young women coming up today! We perpetuate sexism by internalizing nonsense.
Surely in 2018 we shouldn’t live by the notion that “a woman’s place is in the kitchen- barefoot and pregnant”, but we do.
This dictates how we view ourselves. We put so much pressure on ourselves from a young age and pass it on.
We make sure we don’t talk too much, so we’re good girls.
We make sure we don’t look a certain way because “guys don’t like ugly girls”
“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.”
― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,
With time we take in all this nonsense, internalize it, then perpetuate it by passing it on.
As we grow it becomes worse as things like slut shaming and body shaming come into the picture. Especially in societies where women exploring their sexuality and/or embracing their bodies is frowned upon.
WE BECOME OUR OWN WORST ENEMIES! This makes progress even harder!
In many instances, I’ve found that a majority of people who’ve disliked me and my African feminist agenda were women who claimed I was tarnishing our culture.
Sexism has been so engraved in us that equality and the mere notion of it feels wrong and unfathomable.
We police our own behavior and that of fellow women in order to conform to detrimental societal norms that devalue women.
We judge women who are over 30 and single, because there must be something wrong. Shame!
We go to the hospital and see a woman in scrubs automatically assuming she’s a nurse. NOPE, SHE’S A DOCTOR/SURGEON!
We applaud men when they contribute to the cooking and cleaning in their homes, because it’s actually the woman’s job right?
We see a girl with a lot of make up? JEZEBEL!
We blush with flattery when guys say things like “you’re not like other girls”, because that’s a compliment right?
Apparently… girls are annoying and dramatic. Maybe it’s better to hang out with guys. Girls= drama
We carry our entire bag to the bathroom when we’re on our period, because GOD forbid we take out a tampon in front of people. TMI!
We may not want children but are certain we’ll change our minds with time.
If we do want children, but meet someone who doesn’t, there must be something wrong with her! That’s what women are made to do!
If we have kids early … we’re probably promiscuous. Our parents must be so ashamed!
Yup, THE VICIOUS CYCLE OF INTERNALIZED SEXISM!
From an African prospective, its bad enough that we have things going on within our culture such as ridiculous, tiring and extremely uncomfortable training for women to ensure they please their husbands adequately (but never the other way around?), but now we’re becoming our own worst enemies.
As women, a lot of us don’t even realize just how deep internalized sexism runs within us and how much it affects our daily lives.
I too, have found myself partaking in internalized misogyny more times than I’d like to admit.
Over time we’ve learned sexist behavior and enacted them upon ourselves.
We cannot blame ourselves, but it is a problem.
Its not just limited to the act of inflicting inferiority upon ourselves, but also perpetuating the inadequate notion that we’re second class citizens as women.
‘Unlike Other Women, I Have Morals’
‘I Would Rather Hang Out with Boys Than Girls – Girls Are So Much Drama!’
As a perpetual practice it poses an actual threat to the establishment of equality among the sexes; that could result in the definition, establishment of achieving equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for women.
Statistics show that in the 2017 US elections, a large majority of women voted against Hilary Clinton and opted for Trump largely because they couldn’t really see the country being ran by a woman amongst other things .
This is despite the fact that the current president isn’t exactly for women or any marginalized group really.
The same goes for Zambia and many African nations.
While we’ve seen a number of exceptional female politicians, Africa has only seen 2 female presidents. Ellen Sirleaf and Ameenah Gurib-Fakim.
While a majority of men don’t favor the idea of a woman being in power for obvious patriarchal reasons; women too seem to fail to have faith in their fellow women to run their county, because they’ve been programmed to believe a woman is incapable of doing so. That her judgement may be impaired by her estrogen.
Heck, she many not be able to think clearly because, as Trump put it, she may have “blood coming out of her wherever”.
The result? Voting according to sexist preconceived notions resulting in lack of female representation, and ultimately as the US is learning… political mayhem.
This not only happens at a political level, but at professional and academic levels too. The thought of having a female boss? Unfathomable!
Academically? Well, in Zambia our highest learning institution seems to think that only men are capable of holding the highest position. This is despite the number of, shall I say, OVER QUALIFIED women within the institution able to fill the position.The furthest they’ve gone is having a woman “act” as head of the institution when a man wasn’t available to do so.
YES, THIS IS A REAL PROBLEM Y’ALL!
The only way we can stop this is to start by accepting the fact that internalized sexism is a thing and it is a problem.
Its hard to overcome what you’re used to, and actually change because it becomes second nature.
It similar to escaping a cult in some ways, and learning to think on your own. You have all these ideas embedded in your mind and with time, you start to believe they’re true.
Thankfully the world has seen a surge in the number of feminist movements worldwide all aimed towards eradicating misogyny and sexism with the ultimate goal of achieving equality.
Within patriarchal societies , collectively as women, we have the power to change our destiny and alter any misconstrued perceptions about ourselves.
But it all begins with us.
Each one of us.
So, dear awesome lady reading this…
When you feel the little voice of internalized sexism creeping up within you, just remember the words Viola Davis’ character in The Help recited to that little girl:
And know that so is every other woman in the world around you. Let’s stop putting ourselves and each other down. Let’s stop the cycle today!