“You really hate other women,” my ex-boyfriend said to me after I changed the car radio away from a Paramore song, citing that I couldn’t stand “chick bands.” “Yeah I mean, a lot of women think they’re better people just for being women. Whatever.” I responded as I rolled my eyes.
I felt pangs of regret in my chest as I uttered these words. In addition, I was confused. He himself regularly told me how generally incompetent women were. Didn’t he want me to hate other women?
This boyfriend (who I’d been with around four years at this point) often told me how inferior women were. All of the stereotypical things many of us have heard repeatedly our whole lives: we’re bad at math and science, we’re less intelligent than men in general, we are jealous of one another, we deserve to get paid less, and we absolutely should submit to men (especially male romantic partners, if we have them).
It didn’t matter that I got just as good (if not better) grades than this boyfriend at the same college; it didn’t matter that I was a talented, had great friends, and generally held my own in the world. No. I am a woman, and that, in the context of this relationship, meant I would never be good enough at anything and couldn’t be taken seriously.
Because I had been treated so poorly and with such sexist ire in this relationship, internalizing sexism became a survival tactic and defense mechanism for me. Earlier on in our time together, I had repeatedly pushed back against the verbal abuse leveraged against me and women in general, but he was relentless in his beliefs. Somewhere along the way, I found myself parroting what he said. It was easier to play along than to resist.
It got so much worse when I started to really believe some of the things I was saying. I was so worn down dealing with hurtful treatment from my significant other, that I started to think that maybe being a woman really did make me less of a person, and maybe other women were less worthy of respect, too.
Compounding my feelings further was the fact that my boyfriend had also been caught cheating many times, so I had trained myself to immediately suspect all women as one who would potentially take my partner away from me (because he sounds like such a catch, right?). My fear of being cheating on warped into a distrust of women, and a feeling that few other women would ever be trustworthy.
When, several years later, I left this relationship, I quickly remembered how deeply important my bonds with other women have always been to me, and how other women had been there for me, cheered me on, and supported me for my whole life.
Away from the psychological confines of that relationship, I was able to come to terms with the ways I had been manipulated into judging all women, including myself, based on a misogynistic outlook on the world.
Now, all aspects of my life thrive because of my relationships with women, and because I have embraced feminism back into my life. I depend on women to provide guidance and support in my professional endeavors; I enjoy deep and close bonds with very dear female friends; I feel compelled and am content to uplift and encourage the women in my life.
All of this has resulted in an extreme boost in my once abysmal self-esteem, better judgement in romantic relationships, and better career success than I ever thought imaginable.
Did I ever really hate other women? I’m not so sure. I think more than anything, I wanted to be the sort of woman who was sure of herself, vocal, and who stood up for herself, and I was envious of women who seemed free to be that way while I was feeling trapped and alone. But fortunately, now find myself surrounded by a huge community of exactly this kind of woman, and wouldn’t have it any other way.