Wasn’t the world a simpler place before we knew all about our privilege and our misfortunes? I miss being young enough to not have experienced everyday sexism and to believe that the worst thing anybody could face in life was having to do a poster on French prepositions for homework. Those were the days. Alas, there comes a point in every destined feminist’s life when they must become enlightened and emerge from the placenta of cosy ignorance.
I like to think of this enlightenment as coming in three phases. The first phase is characterised by the fact that you get very, very angry about things that you previously thought were just features of everyday modern life – catcalling, pay differences, the definitive difference between the word “slut” and the word “stud”. You’ll want to tell the world just how messed up it really is (and you probably will, via the medium of Twitter). The second phase is when you recognise your privilege and become hyper aware of it, trying to keep it in check at every opportunity. Granted you may have to deal with a man shouting “nice tits” at you in the street (pretty crappy, I’m sure we can all agree), but at least you don’t have to consider the possibility of FGM, sex-selective abortions, having no access to sanitary products or a plethora of other feminist issues that don’t even touch the UK. And finally, the phase that makes you go, “holy shit, I have so much internalised misogyny that I want to throw up”. You start to wonder whether you can even call yourself a feminist when a mere three years ago you were still busy pretending that black was your favourite colour, when it was actually pink. Yikes.
If you’ve not had such an experience yet, you either came out of the womb as a strident feminist and were able to somehow dodge the mirage of social conditioning, or you’re still blissfully ignorant to your internalised sexism and have a hell of a journey in front of you. Throughout that journey, you’ll probably start to hate/feel sorry for your past self. But it’s okay. You’ll get over it and come out even stronger, with a built-in internalised sexism translator. Now, I’m not saying that I’m completely fluent in the language of sexism just yet, but here are some phrases (and their translations) that I very quickly learnt were not as benign as they may first appear.
“I’m not like other girls”
“Please love me. I don’t wear pink or heels and I go out of my way to not adhere to having a classically feminine persona. I think that this makes me better than other women”
“She’s such a slut”
“I have been brainwashed into thinking that a woman’s worth is based on whether or not they are sexually active. I have not yet been fully enlightened and still judge whether I should respect a fellow female’s opinion based on how much cleavage they have on show in an Instagram picture.”
“I only hang out with boys, there’s just less drama”
See: “I’m not like other girls”
“Oh darling, that toy is for boys/girls.”
“I am going to brainwash children into conforming to ridiculous gender expectations regarding everything they do.”
“She wears way too much makeup”
“It’s not a woman’s choice what she does with her face, it should just look aesthetically pleasing for the majority.”
“Women are better at multitasking”
“Although I have it written in my twitter bio and have heard Beyoncé say it many a time, I’m still not 100% sure on the definition of feminism. In order to make me feel better about being a woman, I make ridiculous generalisations about the sexes that damage both men and women alike.”
“Grow a pair”
“Act more like a man so that people respect you.”
“I don’t want to waste my life being a housewife”
“I feel the need to validate my decisions in life by degrading other women’s choices. Since having a career is the more ‘modern’ thing to do, I will not get criticised for my anti-feminist ideology, despite the fact that feminism is defined by the idea of choice.”