Most women could tell you they've experienced misogyny from co-workers, clients, or colleagues. But sometimes, workplace sexism comes from a more internal source: ourselves. Internalized misogyny at work can hold us back in our careers without us even knowing.
If you haven't heard the term before, internalized misogyny is what it sounds like: a set of sexist ideas women themselves learn to adopt and reflect in their behavior. Patriarchal belief systems infiltrate all our minds, including women's, in sneaky ways. Even the most feminist women behave in misogynistic ways toward themselves and other women because these behaviors are ingrained in us from a young age.
To be clear, to say that women experience workplace sexism at their own hands is not to blame women for making less money, receiving fewer promotions, or being interrupted in meetings. Sexism doesn't start with us. It has been around since before we were born, and we couldn't help but internalize it through no wrongdoing of our own.
That said, here are some ways in which internalized ideas about women's incompetencies or lack of worth may have held you back at work. It's not your fault that you've been influenced by these beliefs, but you can still challenge them.
1. Questioning Your Qualifications
According to a study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and reflected in a large body of scientific literature, women tend to feel less confident than men. This could explain why women won't apply for jobs unless they meet all the description's criteria, while men will still go for it if they're missing a few, according to a Hewlett-Packard report. Self-doubt can backfire on women by making them less likely to go after jobs, promotions, assignments, and salaries that they want. Speaking of which...
2. Accepting Whatever You're Given
Women are less likely to negotiate their salaries than men, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study, which makes sense given that women who negotiate are viewed less favorably, according to another study in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. However, sometimes women's reluctance is related to inadequate self-evaluations as well as external perceptions: We don't negotiate because we don't believe we're worth more, which can maintain the gap between women's salaries and their male co-workers'.
3. Dismissing Female Co-Workers
According to a study in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, both men and women tend to interrupt women more than men. In general, both men and women are guilty of all the gender-based biases our society fosters. Double standards show up in the way we treat ourselves and in the way we treat other women. A female boss, for example, might offer a woman a lower salary than she offers her male employees without realizing why. Women also might judge the way other women speak more harshly than they judge men.
4. Putting Up With Harassment
Over half of people have been sexually harassed at work, and 79 percent of these victims are women, according to the Association of Women for Action and Research. Twelve percent of victims received threats of termination if they didn't comply with their harassers' requests, and only one-third were aware of policies for redress. Perhaps this is why, according to a survey by Cosmopolitan, women only report workplace harassment 29 percent of the time. In addition, women may sense that they won't be believed or sympathized with. Sometimes, though, women may internalize the belief that what happened isn't serious or they deserved it. A Merit Systems Protection Board survey found that victims often don't report sexual harassment because they don't think it was serious enough to bring up. We put up with mistreatment because we've been taught it's just how things are.
5. Thinking About Your Looks
Women are taught to constantly monitor their looks, and this monitoring shows up everywhere, including in the workplace. Since women are frequently accused of presenting themselves in a way that's too feminine or too "slutty," women may begin to view their own appearances negatively and feel ashamed if their shirt is low-cut or they're wearing all pink to work. They may even experience appearance-related thoughts that aren't work-related while they're at the office. According to a survey by Glamour, the average woman has 13 body-hating thoughts per day — enough to distract anyone from their job. This is a sign not of vanity but of internalized misogyny.
6. Withholding Your Opinions
At a past job, I consistently got the feedback that I needed to speak up more in meetings and sound more confident in my ideas. I had taken public speaking classes and knew how to project confidence, but the problem was that I didn't believe I deserved to project confidence. I thought that because my work wasn't important to the company's larger goals, I needed to speed through my progress reports to avoid boring people. Would I have felt this way if I were a man? Maybe, but given the gender confidence gap, it's quite possible that a man would consider his ideas more worth hearing. When we choose not to voice our opinions, it's often because we've been taught women's opinions are less important.