Internalized sexism takes the form of sexist behaviors and attitudes enacted by women toward themselves or other women and girls.[1][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."[1]


Internalized sexism has potential to lead to body issues, lack of self-confidence, competition, and a sense of powerlessness.[3] It is a major setback in resolving issues of sexism as a whole.[4] Ties to psychological distress such as anxious, depressive or somatic symptoms, have been identified as results of internalized sexism.[5] Possible effects can be depression and suicidal impulses.[6]

Additionally, studies have found connections between sexual objectification as a result of internalized sexism and body shame, sexual objectification, and disordered eating.[7] Internalized sexism also plays a role in lowered academic goals[8] and diminished job performance.[9][page needed] 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.[4]


Internalized misogyny

Misogyny is the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls. Women who experience internalized misogyny may express it through minimizing the value of women, mistrusting women, and believing gender bias in favor of men.[5] 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.[1] The implications of internalized misogyny include psychological disorders such as depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and less social support among women.[5]

Internalized heterosexism

Dawn M. Szymanski and colleagues write:

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.[10]

Internalized heterosexism is generally defined as the internalization of assumptions, negative attitudes and stigma regarding homosexuality by individuals who do not identify within the heteronormative spectrum and/or are categorized as sexual minorities to varying degrees.[10] 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 heteronormative values into their worldviews.[citation needed]

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).[6] 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.[6]

Toxic masculinity, machismo, and hypermasculinity

The term "toxic masculinity" originated in the mythopoetic men's movement of the late 20th century and has seen wide use in both academic and popular writing during the 21st century.[11][12] Toxic masculinity refers to damaging traditional and cultural norms associated with masculinity that can be harmful to men, women, and society overall. The concept emphasizes the harmful effects of idealized traditional masculine behaviors such as dominance, self-reliance, and competition, resulting in internalized stress, body image problems, substance abuse and poor social functioning in men.[13] According to sociologist Michael Flood, this includes "expectations that boys and men must be active, aggressive, tough, daring, and dominant." The American Psychological Association has warned that "traditional masculinity ideology" is associated with negative effects on mental and physical health.[14][15] Men who adhere to these traditionally masculine cultural norms (i.e., violence, dominance, apathy, competitiveness, promiscuity and cultural capital) tend to be more likely to experience depression.[13]

Machismo, a related concept from Hispanic American culture, is similar to the idea of toxic masculinity and is associated with "a man's responsibility to provide for, protect, and defend his family."[16] Negative connotations around machismo have been its association with violence, apathy, homophobia, dominance, fixation on success as it relates to cultural capital, and unhealthy lifestyle.[17][18] These behaviors were discussed by researchers in 1986, who cited a gender role conflict for men and men's possible fear of femininity.[18] Evidence suggests that gender-role conflicts inflicted by machismo can lead men to suffer high levels of anxiety and low self-esteem, as well as anger, depression, and addiction.[19][20]

The hypermasculine ideas found in toxic masculinity and machismo have documented negative impacts on men and their emotional wellbeing. Culturally, if a man cannot meet the designated masculine criteria determined by his society, the common outcome is feelings of insecurity, inferiority, and overall psychological distress.[21]

Scheff (2006) writes, "Repressing love and the vulnerable emotions (grief, fear and shame, the latter as in feelings of rejection or disconnection) leads to either silence or withdrawal, on the one hand, or acting out anger (flagrant hostility), on the other. The composure and poise of hypermasculinity seems to be a recipe for silence and violence."[22]

Toxic femininity and Marianismo

Brenda R. Weber uses the term toxic femininity for a code of conformity and social pressure to rigid feminine gender roles, reinforced through (sometimes unconscious) beliefs, such as viewing oneself as unworthy, and imperatives to be consistently pleasant, accommodating, and compliant. According to Weber, such beliefs and expectations "[suggest] there is no a priori female self" apart from the needs and desires of men and boys. Weber associates these norms with "usually white, mostly middle-class, relentlessly heterosexual, and typically politically conservative" expectations of femininity.[23]

Marianismo is a term developed by Evelyn Stevens in a 1973 essay as a direct response to the male word machismo. The ideas within marianismo include those of feminine passivity, sexual purity, and moral strength. Stevens defines marianismo as "the cult of female spiritual superiority, which teaches that women are semidivine, morally superior to and spiritually stronger than men."[24] Hispanic-American feminists have criticized the concept of marianismo as it is often presented the opposite of machismo, which thus puts femininity "the realm of passivity, chastity, and self-sacrifice."[25]

Roopika Risam writes that charges of toxic femininity have become an Internet meme, exemplary of tensions between feminists online over the concept of intersectionality, and directed primarily towards non-white feminists who are seen as disruptive of mainstream feminist discussions (see Misogynoir).[26] For example, the writer Michelle Goldberg has criticized online call-out culture as "toxic," likening it to feminist Jo Freeman's concept of "trashing."[26]

Hostile and ambivalent sexism

Social psychologists Peter Glick and Susan Fiske have posed a theory of ambivalent sexism, which presents two types of sexism: hostile and benevolent.[27] Hostile sexism reflects misogyny and is expressed more blatantly to the observer.[28] Benevolent sexism, on the other hand, appears much more positive and innocent to the observer, and possibly even to the receiver as well. However, benevolently sexist statements and actions end up implying sexist notions or stereotypes.[29][30] Glick and Fiske elaborate on the definition of benevolent sexism in their paper:

We define benevolent sexism as a set of interrelated attitudes toward women that are sexist in terms of viewing women stereotypically and in restricted roles but that are subjectively positive in feeling tone (for the perceiver) and also tend to elicit behaviors typically categorized as prosocial (e.g., helping) or intimacy-seeking (e.g., self-disclosure) (Glick & Fiske, 1996, p. 491). [Benevolent sexism is] a subjectively positive orientation of protection, idealization, and affection directed toward women that, like hostile sexism, serves to justify women’s subordinate status to men (Glick et al., 2000, p. 763).[30]

Modes of internalization

Early childhood inculturation

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Just as misogyny can be acquired through multiple external sources, internalized misogyny can be 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. Internalized misogyny is learned in tandem with female socialization, the idea that young girls are taught to act and behave differently than their male counterparts. 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

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.[31] One of the primary problems in mass media is the under-representation of women in widely consumed productions.[32]

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.[33] The Little Mermaid has been criticized[34] because it tells a story of a young woman, Ariel, who gives up her natural identity as a mermaid in order to meet the preferences of her love interest, a human male.[32]

Language and communication

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, called derogatory terms, or invalidated not just by men, but other women as well. Other forms of language use toward women include the use of derogatory terms, such as "bitch," "slut," and "hoe," 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. The latter two in particular is an example of slut-shaming, which, either consciously or unconsciously, is prevalent in discussions surrounding women. These conversational practices objectify, invalidate and perpetuate internalized sexism.[citation needed]

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. They 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.[9][page needed]

Combating internalized sexism

While a lot of research has been done on internalized sexism, many in the field believe substantially more is needed.[35] Research is aimed at bringing to light cultural practices that result in internalized sexism and 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. By raising awareness of the findings regarding these conversations, and any broader systems of sexisms they may be considered a subset of. 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.[36] Combating the effects of internalized sexism promotes collaboration and support between individuals of the same gender, and empowers women and men to accept their bodies.[1]

See also


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