What does a color stand for? Or better yet, what does color have to do with something as complex as internalized misogyny?
That was a question I tried to answer in my second year of college. I was a psychology student with a growing interest in the intersection between advertising and psychology which sounds like a contrived anecdote for the sake of jumping into a really #woke topic, but really, I’m just a big nerd. So there I was, trying to figure out what my sophomore thesis would be until I stumbled on color psychology.
Color psychology is the study of the psychological effects and mental associations we have with color. In my thesis, we found that bright green, red, and yellow helped stimulate the appetite and communicate ideas of freshness (green), urgency (red), and happiness (yellow), all good things to have associated with a fast-food brand.
Of course, any nerd worth their salt will take any opportunity to jump into vaguely related rabbit holes which is how I ended up reading about pink. Pink is a lighter red, a soft, feminine color (at least in our time), that symbolizes love and girlhood. But Hailey van Braam, a cognitive psychologist from the University of Amsterdam, also points out that the color “can seem weak, vulnerable, and silly” while also being able to “inspire feelings of weakness, especially in men.”
Weak. Vulnerable. Silly. Pink is a feminine color that dominates the girls’ side of children’s clothing and toy sections and suddenly, what seemed to me as an innocuous shade of red became another symptom of a system of biases that penalized me (and other women) for something we had no control over: being a girl.
What Is Internalized Misogyny?
There are a ton of ways misogyny and misandry show up in the world around us. And sure, after a while, you’re better off learning to pick your battles and put up with it sometimes. The problem is that it starts early in childhood, far before you have any idea of what it’s doing to you, let alone how you can protect your self-image from it.
For most of us, our first encounters with the limits of being born male and being born female start with toys. Firetrucks and action figures for the boys, dolls and kitchen sets for the girls. There’s nothing wrong with them, both are fun even if we don’t realize how we reinforce this divided when we go shopping for Christmas gifts.
Kids of all genders having fun is all that matters, so far so good. But then little Tommy wants to paint his firetruck pink with mom’s nail polish and his older sister’s bottle of unused pink glitter.
When someone catches him, it’s going to be one or both of two things: Tommy gets told off for making a mess and/or he gets told off for trying to feminize his masculine toys. No adult likes cleaning up kids’ messes, but when was the last time you stopped to think “What’s so bad about feminine things?”
A go-to answer is that it’s bad because it’s for girls or that associating young men with “girly” things makes them gay. But that’s not really where it ends. When you follow that line of reasoning, that men being interested in traditionally feminine things is wrong because it’s for women, there’s one question that needs to be answered next:
“What’s so bad about being a woman?”
Misogyny, as you may already know, is a belief that is prejudiced against women. What counts as misogyny depends from person to person. Some feminists will tell you even holding the door open for women is misogyny because we don’t do that for men. Others might say that misogyny is only misogyny when it’s causing “real” harm against women (typically physical, though this position assumes that’s the only way to hurt a group of people).
Misogyny is the unseen beast that stalks women throughout their lives. It’s the nosy adult who questions your interest in sports in a way they wouldn’t do to a young boy. It’s the gynecologist who won’t give you access to reproductive health services, like tubal ligation, unless your husband signs off or your future husband, in case you meet him someday.
It’s the employer that won’t hire you because they don’t want to pay for a pregnant woman’s leave, in case you decide on having kids. And it’s not even about men because for every male misogynist who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at domestic abuse, there are thousands of women who are more than eager to teach you the ways of misogyny.
Because misogyny doesn’t just consume women’s lives, it also asks that women consume it.
Internalized misogyny describes women’s own sexist beliefs about womanhood. Years of training to think of womanhood as something flawed (whether that’s weak, vulnerable, or silly) eventually leads young girls into becoming women who believe that they deserve to be treated that way and that other women and other young girls should accept that treatment too. What really stings about misogyny is the fact that most of the time, it is other women who teach it to you.
In her poignantly titled confessional “Misogyny is everywhere, even in me,” Ria Parker wrote, “I joined my 9th grade peers in calling a classmate in a tight dress a ho…My male relatives constantly comment about how girls are dressed, declaring anyone in crop tops and short shorts a ho.”
One Redditor replying to a thread titled “What is an example of internalized misogyny that you had to overcome to improve yourself?” replied, “The idea that liking stereotypical ‘girly’ things was bad, because the kind of person who did couldn’t be taken seriously, because girls are obviously (subtly!) inherently inferior and it was undesirable to advertise such aspects of myself or encourage their development.”
And I had never felt so attacked in my entire life.
Why Learning Misogyny Is Learning to Hate Pink
Full confession: it was me. I was the “not like other girls” girl. I was the pop-punk edgy kid who went through a Taylor Swift hater phase because she thought Taylor dated around too much, rolled her eyes at “bossy” women, and looked at traditionally feminine women and saw nothing but what I hated about being a girl.
Weak. Vulnerable. Silly.
The annoying thing about womanhood and identifying as a woman is that it’s so complicated. You get messages coming at you left, right, and center about what you should be and what you should like.
Girls like dolls and pink. Okay, fine, I thought that it was fun anyway. I’ll wear pink dresses, put on shiny tiaras, pretend I’m a princess while I run around the house with a Barbie doll. It was a charmed childhood because my mother, a Gen Xer with an assertive streak a mile wide, shared a love of girly things with a daughter who she never taught the sacred trifecta of “meekness, subservience, and fragility.”
Throughout my childhood, this woman was my only reference for what it meant to be a woman. As far as I knew, there was nothing wrong with being a girl who liked girly things. But all childhood fantasies are washed away the moment we grow old enough to understand the world around us.
It wasn’t until I turned 13 and left childhood for true girlhood that I started to realize people expected certain behaviors of me. Seemingly overnight, there was something wrong with the carefree abandon of how I moved, sat, spoke, or literally anything I did. This was when I learned a word that still makes me mentally retch whenever I hear it.
Ladylike is how misogyny showed up in my teenage years. If you’ve been reading my column here at A Little Bit Human, you might already know that I spent my teens in very traditional Catholic and Christian schools. It was always, “don’t do this or that because it’s unladylike.”
The behavior policing came with something more insidious: teachers, most of them women, teaching you and dozens of other young girls that you have inherited the moral weakness of Eve so your judgment can’t be trusted. Unless, of course, that judgment is to used for dressing modestly so as not to lead young men unto temptation.
It was simple. Women and girls are inherently flawed, subservient, and every other nasty thing that a man was expected to not be. Women and girls like or at least should like dressing up, getting their hair and nails done, shopping, gossiping, and pink.
Weak, vulnerable, and silly women liked pink.
Growing Out of Internalized Misogyny
Right up until I reached 19 and had a proper feminist awakening, I was what my fellow Gen Zers today would call a “pick-me girl.” The “pick-me girl” is another product of internalized misogyny, the shadow twin of the misogynist woman who forces other women into traditionally feminine roles.
The “pick-me girl” is as complicated as the subject of womanhood itself. She is both a rejection of the limiting beliefs taught to women and a defense mechanism against a society that tells her she’s worthless, if not outright worthless, for not fitting the expectations our society has around women and womanhood.
A self-hating feminist, if you will, who struggles with centuries of social and cultural messages about the inferiority of being a woman. With that comes the shame of being feminine.
There’s no one way of existing as a woman in the world, but it’s hard to deny the grip that the unabashedly feminine feminist has on Gen Z’s collective consciousness. Elle Woods, the iconic and proud bimbo protagonist of Legally Blonde, is a poster child for this kind of femininity: loud, flamboyant, but every bit as competent as every other woman or man in the room.
The movie’s characters poke fun at Elle for being a feminine woman, especially as a feminine woman in a traditionally masculine field of study, law. But it never punishes her for being a girly girl. The movie actively goes out of its way to tell us that we, the audience and the other characters, are the ones who are stupid for expecting her to be stupid just because she’s feminine.
Boom. The clouds part, the angels sing from above, and down comes the laurel wreath crown on my head as I receive my second feminist awakening. In these past few years, I’ve grown out of internalized misogyny and began to explore the aspects of “traditional” femininity on my terms, the way every woman deserves to. Turns out, I’m still not a big fan of pink because deep reds suit me more.
If that ticks you off because you think it’s just another overly woke, overanalyzed life journey that only I experienced, believe me, I wanted to believe that, too. Because the alternative is accepting that other women have been subjected to the emotional roller coaster that is unpacking their internalized misogyny.
Pink Is a Symbol of Womanhood
“Not liking pink or blue has inherent connotations that go beyond the matter of personal preference.” The ladies over at Hormona.io wrote. And it’s true. While not every woman has gone through this psychological conflict about pink, enough women have that it actually baffles me that it’s so common.
Annabelle Schmitt wrote about the associations between being a “less than” woman and liking pink four years ago and in her comments section, you have other women talking about their hatred of pink for no other reason than that it’s “girly” and they’ve been conditioned to think there is something “wrong” with that.
If you are a woman, I wish you didn’t have that phase.