Tales Of Internalized Sexism: How A Nora Ephron Obsession And A New York Times Newsletter Subscription Helped Me Understand What Self-Love Really Means
By Emily Ferman
I’d like to think I’m part Gloria Steinem, part RiRi, part Diana, princess of the Amazons. I’ve always been an active voice in my family’s frequent casual conversations about careers and sports and the home; I always, always try to give the womxn perspective-- despite efforts made by the men I love- and really truly do admire so much- to shut me down. I love being treated well and I actually do like the idea of being taken out on a date.
Until college, and specifically, this past year and a half, I don’t think I fully realized the extent to which I’ve internalized many of the motions that I’ve gone through in romantic situations. Now, I say “situations” because I- like the many imaginative and creative womxn of my generation- have a very romantic view of the world. Not just in terms of “romance” and “love”, but also just the way I see the world and my place in it.
It’s taken me 21.75 years to really love myself and everything- every bag(gage)- that comes with me. I’m a warrior, yes. But I’m also in a place in my life where I’ve begun to realize how different ‘things’ in my life encourage the internalization of sexism and that such an internalization has vastly affected the romance (or lack thereof) that’s (not) been present in my life. Even a womxn warrior like me finds it increasingly difficult to get through a 24-hour cycle without seeing how the Netflix shows, gym guys, bump-ins at the bar, and even parental interactions influence the way I think. Sexism is constantly reinforced all around me, and I internalize it-- whether I know it or not.
Internalized sexism is compulsory. It’s involuntary and sometimes, it can’t be helped. Yes, it registers in my big old brain as sexism, but what I do with it often translates into me staring at myself in the mirror attempting to convince myself that I am not what the TV or my mom or dad or brothers or the random-guy-at-the-gym (probably, maybe, I don’t know? He’s probably not even thinking about my existence to begin with) thinks and says I am. I developed body image anxieties in middle school because I didn’t look like the popular girls and I wore one-piece bathing suits because I felt like I had to hide my body from the world, to protect it from my ghastly appearance. I didn’t love myself at all, and more importantly, I didn’t know how to like myself. No one ever verbally told me anything about my body or my appearance-- it was all in my head, but I couldn’t help thinking that way.
Commercialism, capitalism- whatever you may call it- reinforces gendered stereotypes by telling us how to think, what to think, and why we need to think those things. When we’re subjected to this every day, it becomes very difficult to get back to our Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie-Roxane Gay-Simone de Beauvoir mindsets and continue fighting.
It’s as invisible as the bangs I’ve “convinced” myself “not” to get for the umpteenth time, as invisible as I feel in the sea of millennials apparently applying to the exact same jobs.
Internalized sexism permeates all our lives-- especially the parts where we put ourselves out there and go on that blind date that our sneaky aunt Sheilas and third-cousin-twice-removed Brians set us up on. We’re afraid to eat in front of our date because we don’t want them to judge what we eat and how we eat it; sometimes, we even tell ourselves we want the salad because we’re not even really that hungry. We take pride in the few or many pounds that we lost and shame ourselves and judge others for pounds gained. Womxn especially, conform to ideals that oftentimes put in danger their physical, mental, and emotional health. When we congratulate ourselves for that increasingly minimizing number on the scale, we’re unconsciously and internally encouraging ourselves to perpetuate the very glorified standards of beauty that hurt us.
For anyone and everyone that needs to hear this: you don’t have to tell yourself you need to be more of one thing when all that you are is enough-- you are enough. It is possible to love yourself for all that you are and are not, but first and foremost, it is so important to like ourselves before we can truly love. Reevaluate, reassess, refresh.
I like that my Nora Ephron obsession fuels most of my dreams. I like that I can only eat tomatoes not as ketchup, but in their natural form or in a homemade tomato sauce that NYT Cooking delivered to my inbox. And I love that I know what I want and that I deserve it all-- especially those beignets from Café du Monde that I’m seriously considering ordering online while John Mayer sings sweet nothings into my ears because I’ve cheated the Spotify system and still, by some freaky miracle, have my student subscription. Reevaluate, reassess, refresh. That’s it.