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CHALLENGE INTERNALIZED SEXISM

Wait. What is sexism?

LEARN. One of the most useful models for shifting negative attitudes toward women is by psychologist Carl Jung, who wrote that we all have archetypically masculine and feminine traits within us, and we're most effective in the world when we can express each when necessary. It’s impossible, though, to be neither or both at the same moment, because the qualities are opposites of one another, and it’s impossible to express both or neither of anything at the same moment. These are not stereotypical gendered traits. He was referring to qualities of males and females across time and cultures. If the quality isn’t associated with maleness or femaleness during all historic periods or in a given culture, it’s not part of the definition of masculine or feminine here. Naturally, then, there are only a few which qualify:

Archetypal Masculine qualities: hierarchical, protective, physical strength, action- and goal-oriented

Archetypal Feminine qualities: harmony-seeking, nurturing, receptive, evaluative

The rare person of any gender who spends much more time developing their masculine qualities than their feminine qualities risks sacrificing their own protective aspect, potentially becoming destructively aggressive and unwilling to pause, whereas the rare person who develops their feminine qualities without also developing their masculine qualities risks sacrificing their own evaluative aspect, potentially becoming passive and unwilling to act. All of us use both sides of ourselves every day. Imagine a person who was only one or the other: they’d either die of exhaustion within days from taking constant, pointless action, or would never do a single thing. A goal of individuation is to develop both sides of the personality, the masculine and feminine, and to be able to use each when appropriate. Native Americans acknowledge the dance between the two sides of the self in a movement called two spirit.

But most of us have learned to devalue the feminine side of ourselves. We feel guilty if we relax, rest, recharge—as if those things were somehow less important than doing, being, accomplishing. We want to know what to “do” when we find ourselves in trouble, when often what’s required is waiting, reflecting, seeing what comes, and deciding if that’s acceptable or not. Jungians point out that western culture is and has been biased toward masculine qualities and the feminine side has been degraded, insulted, hidden. There’s ample evidence for this point of view in current films and television shows, as well as in other media, in women’s pay and position inequity, the amount of domestic violence against women, and across the spectrum of sexist, negatively gendered comments about women, culminating in the election of a man who made some of the most disgusting, misogynistic comments about women many have ever heard. Apparently, that didn't matter much.

Almost immediately, when American women first learn of this model, they recoil away from the idea of expressing their feminine side, as if it were bad, as if it means they are weak or less than, to be taken advantage of or harmed, to be passive. In fact, the feminine is strong as steel: it waits to see what comes, and then evaluates whether or not what comes is acceptable or not. It is firm and clear in its acceptance or rejection. At the same time, males also recoil from the idea they have feminine qualities within—again, as if that is bad, or makes them weak or ineffective. Why are those qualities seen as negative? Don't we need them? Aren't we desperate for them?

A woman who expresses more of her masculine side, who achieves, is seen as a “ball-breaker,” “arrogant,” and “condescending.” Many studies (e.g., this 2011 study from the Stanford Business School) have shown the double-bind women face. For example, if she expresses more of her feminine side, she’s taken less seriously, more likely to be spoken to with simple words, to be perceived as less intelligent, to be ignored in conversation. As the Stanford study suggests, she can’t win either way, unless she learns to self-monitor her masculine and feminine traits, turning the masculine ons on and off (and then risking being called "manipulative").

A man who expresses more of his feminine side suffers, too. He is called a “wussy” or worse, seen as weak, is more likely to be bullied in school, and is judged as less successful when an adult. This is unpleasant, but studies have found that if men express more of their masculine side, both women and men perceive them as more competent, intelligent, and successful. Men can win by being masculine. In fact, tall, masculine men close to the age of 35 have been found to be perceived as more dominant than others, and dominance in the workplace is associated with success. No wonder, then, that research suggests that people who express more of their feminine side have been found to experience the highest rates of depression, and more masculine people the lowest. Women suffer up to 40% more mental health problems than men "due to the stress of juggling roles," according to a study reported in the UK Daily Mail (Brady, 5/23/13)

Transgendered individuals are helping to break this constrictive situation where we are expected and seen to be only one or the other, not both (see LGBTQ section for resources).

TAKE ACTION

(1) Take the Bem Sex Role Inventory to see where you fall on feminine-masculine-androgynous (on the Bem, androgynous means you tend to express both sides). The test is not mapped onto the Jungian system, but it’s close. If you score highest on feminine or masculine, that doesn’t mean you haven’t developed both, just that you may prefer to express one or the other. In any case, practice expressing both masculine and feminine qualities. You’ll find your appreciation of the feminine rising!

(2) Watch classic films from the 1940s. Actors such as Katherine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall presented a mix of feminine and masculine qualities we rarely see in today's mainstream American films, where women's roles are severely constricted.

(3) Watch Sexy Baby, a surprising film about young girls and the dramatic transformation they experience in early adolescence in response to images of women they've seen thousands of times on the internet, on television, and in films.

(4) If you have, or are in contact with children or adolescents, talk to them about feelings they have about the two sides of their personality (they're more aware than you may think!), and how they view men and women. Support their expression of both sides of themselves. Encourage them to question their negative comments and attitudes about women and girls by pointing them out when they occur.

Go to:

Human Rights: Sexism: Challenge Internalized Sexism

Human Rights: Sexism: Did Sexism Affect the 2016 Election?

Human Rights: Racism (interacts with sexism in all cultures)

Human Rights: Women's Rights

Human Rights

Healthcare: Mental Health

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